“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.” So begins Vonnegut’s absurdist 1969 classic. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.
from the Amazon.com description
of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel
Slaughterhouse-Five (or The Children’s Crusade)
“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”
I received an email just a little while ago (as I write this) that reminded me of what was most important about the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference which I recently attended. I plan to post a lot of material about the various conference presentations over the course of the next few weeks and my personal observations about them, but the man on the other side of the email said something that touched me in a personal and painful way. What he said doesn’t make for a great quote, but it does transcend the world we live in and connect to the spirits of man and God.
I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse-Five when I talked with Lisa about her grandfather.
Let me back up a step.
I have what you might call “limited social needs.” I can only take so much of a room full of people over the course of a day before I am “done.” I like my space and I like quiet. I know this makes me sound terrifically anti-social and even a little misanthropic, but it’s just me having my “social needs cup” filled to the brim, and then to overflowing, and then to spilling all over the joint. It gets to be a mess.
So when everyone else was downstairs eating, drinking, and socializing late into the evening, I walked back up to the “sanctuary” (probably not the right word) to be alone.
But I wasn’t alone. Lisa was there. She was on the phone talking to her grandfather, who is in his nineties, for the billionth time that day.
Lisa’s grandfather suffers from dementia. He experiences a lot of different points in the past but almost never the present. He’s a man who has become unstuck in time. During a single phone call, he can be fighting in the Pacific during World War II. He can be walking down a road in the snowy woods when he’s five. He can be buying a pack of cigarettes at a local bar and remembering that he can’t let his wife know he smokes. He can look at a picture of his wife with fond love and remembrance and blissfully, gratefully not remember that she was taken from him many years ago. Because that sorrow would be too much to bear.
He’s lived a good life.
And he’s become unstuck in time as he wanders with each step along that life.
Lisa told me her children wouldn’t consider her a patient person, but she’s very patient with her grandfather. Most people wouldn’t be. Most people wouldn’t be patient listening to a man who is unstuck in time shifting up and down the corridors of his life, second by second, as he appears here and there, and he reorients himself to being a young adult one second and a small child the next.
And who is he talking to when he’s five years old and his granddaughter Lisa, who has children in their late teens herself, is on the other end of the phone?
I felt the tears welling up in my eyes as I listened to her tell me about her grandfather. When Billy Pilgrim became unstuck in time, the reader of Vonnegut’s story discovers a grand adventure with measures of sorrow and tragedy, but one that ultimately ends in victory.
But Lisa’s grandfather isn’t on an adventure. He’s old and, in those moments when he comes to himself in the present, he is terrified that he no longer has control of his mind.
Let me tell you another story. It’s about miracles and it’s also about one miracle that hasn’t happened.
But let me back up a step…let me take one really giant step backward.
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.
–Romans 9:2-3 (NRSV)
Do you realize the depth of what Paul’s saying? He’s declaring to the readers of his letter to Rome and by inference to us, that he would deliberately surrender his salvation; his relationship to Messiah and to God and everything that means, for the sake of his people, the Jewish people; for the sake of an unbelieving Israel who absolutely needs to know their King.
One evening at the conference, Boaz Michael made a suggestion. He wanted us to talk about miracles. He asked people in the room to share their experiences with the Spirit of God.
Many people had such experiences. I was shocked at how many people raised their hands and wanted to share. I was astonished by the passion, the holiness, the sorrow, the glory, the love of God for all of those people.
A woman named Karen came home because her mother was dying. Her mother was in the last stages of life. She was bedridden. She was ready to die at home.
Karen was sleeping in the room with her mother. She woke up surprised to see her mother standing beside her bed. At first she tried to get her mother back into bed but then she realized her mother was wearing a party dress. But…why? Her mother came up to her and touched Karen’s shoulder…and it was the exact feeling she remembered as a child on all those occasions when her mother took Karen in her arms and embraced her. It had been such a very long time since she had felt her mother’s loving arms around her.
The vision passed. Maybe it was a dream. But the next day after receiving a few phone calls from siblings, she realized it was real. Each of them had seen the same vision of mother in her party dress at the exact same moment.
And then Karen’s mother went to her party to dance with the bridegroom.
Let me tell you my story. I have no miracles. But “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” Like Paul, there is someone I would give up everything, even my relationship with my Master, even the grace and salvation of God, so that she could love Him and know Him.
If only my wife could know Moshiach and love Him. I would turn my back and walk into the distance and the darkness, like the foolish virgins who did not keep their lamps filled with oil while waiting for the bridegroom.
If I could have one miracle from God, that would be it.
Why am I telling you all these things? What possible difference does it make to touch the lives of a few people who have been happy and sad and whose fingers have grasped the hem of the garment of God?
Because each of these people are precious in the sight of God and in my sight as well. There are some people out there who have spoken unkind things about these wonderful people and the time we spent together last week. I’ve been spending time exchanging emails with some of the people I met at the Shavuot conference. I’ve also been reading the comments of some of the critics of these people and their displeasure about why we came together. I even know someone who is a critic who was invited to come and to share but who declined the invitation.
More’s the pity. I wish he’d have come. I wish I could have met him.
I’m heartbroken that anyone could be angry at people like Lisa and Karen (though I frequently experience my critics’ anger towards me). No, these angry people don’t even know Lisa or Karen (though they may think they know me) and so it’s not personal.
Except it is.
Because God loves Lisa…and Karen…and amazingly, even me. And God loves each and every person who criticizes us and who is angry, maybe not at us, but at the people who attended the Shavuot event because of their issues with First Fruits of Zion or Boaz Michael, or whoever, or whatever.
I’m heartbroken because of a man who has become unstuck in time. I’m heartbroken because of a woman who held her daughter one last time before she wore her party dress to attend the banquet of the King. I’m heartbroken that my own miracle has yet to come (if it ever comes). I’m barely holding back my tears as I write this, because the things that some of the people of God need to understand, they don’t understand. And out of that ignorance, they criticize, berate, disdain, and sometimes even hate.
Jeffty is Five is a short story written by Harlan Ellison which I first read in 1978. I also heard Ellison read the story aloud at a Science Fiction conference a year or so later. It’s the story about a little five-year old boy named Jeffty and his five-year old friend. Jeffty’s friend grows up. Jeffty never does. He stays five. He’s stuck in time. Time moves all around him, going forward and taking everyone and everything else with it…except Jeffty.
Jeffty never notices and his friend stays his friend. The fact that Jeffty never grows up slowly erodes the minds and feelings of his parents but Jeffty has a friend who protects him. Jeffty stays in a world where there is no such thing as television, and where the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, and the Shadow still save the day in weekly radio programs, not just in his imagination…when Jeffty turns on a radio, those programs are brand new and real.
Eventually, Jeffty is neglected by his friend, now a very busy adult, for a few minutes and the present intersects with Jeffty and his world. And the present wears him down. His soul becomes sick. He “unsticks” in time but there is too much of him that needs the world that isn’t the past but the world that should have been…and Jeffty dies.
That story broke my heart too, but it’s fiction. Jeffty couldn’t live when his world encountered what you and I call “the real world.” But the world of God and the human world intersect all the time, and in experiencing the world of harshness intersecting with one of holiness, I’m heartbroken.
If only you’d come into the world I lived in last week. If only you’d pray with us, sing with us, listen to Torah with us. If only you’d eat with us, drink wine with us, sing songs with us…
…then maybe you’d understand. Then maybe you could let your heart be broken too by a man who has become unstuck in time and a woman in a party dress. Maybe you could stop being critical and start being human. Maybe you’d realize that we’re human too. Because if we don’t each become heartbroken, then it’s God’s heart we are breaking. What sacrifice would be too great for us to make for the sake of God and for each other?
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
–Psalm 51:16-17 (NRSV)
There are a lot of other stories I experienced at the conference that are woven from the sincere fabric of the lives and spirits of many other people I met last week. I’ll write about this in more detail in a few days, but a wise and kind man named Carl Kinbar told a story about building the House of God. One of the most essential materials required to build God’s House is a broken and contrite heart, not just broken for God, but for each other.
It is only when we bleed and when we cry for the sake of not only our families and our friends, but for strangers and even “enemies,” that the sacrifices we offer up to God are accepted. Only then will we be able to build His house using living, crying, bleeding stones.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
–Psalm 34:18 (NRSV)
11 thoughts on “Gifts of the Spirit: Even the Living Stones Weep”
I would have loved to have been there last week. And I shall be praying for your miracle.
Thank you, Linda. May you join us next year and may we all be joined, each one to every other, through the Spirit of God.
James, I don’t think my post on your earlier blog about the conference posted but I wanted to let you know it was good to see you again even if I didn’t really get to visit with you. My heart aches with you because of all the division and meanness that seems to come through so many internet “conversations” that occur among believers. I put conversations in parentheses because they don’t seem to be real communication since they lack the tangible human element. I heard someone say that it is an illusion that communication is actually taking place on the internet . It’s as if we were on the back deck of our house yelling into the woods to no one in particular. But the problem is our words do communicate on some imperfect level and they are able to impart joy and affirmation or pain and condemnation not only by how we say the words but also by how they are heard. And lacking the real human element of face-to-face conversation so many things are missed and misunderstood.
Over the past few years, about 8 or 9 I think, my wife and I have studied FFOZ’s material and on a limited level have come to know the people involved in the ministry. We were able to go to Israel with some of the family and teachers a couple years ago, we have accepted their gracious invitations to visit them for different occasions at their ministry office, had phone conversations and business dealings with some of the staff, as well as attending a couple of conferences. The way they live their lives and communicate with humility and grace has taught us as much about Torah as the actual teachings themselves. I know it made a lot of people mad when they made a theological shift a few years ago, but for us it spoke to their integrity that they were willing to be true to what they saw and actually act on what they believed the Scriptures were communicating. It caused us to have more respect for them as real people.
Having said that, when I read some of what sounds to me like mean-spirited comments toward Boaz and the ministry of FFOZ it causes me to feel pain on some level because we have come to regard them as a part of our spiritual family. And its not just criticism that hurts. Maybe it’s valid criticism in some cases but does it have to be so personal and question their character and motives? It’s as if someone did that to our immediate family. It hurts and I always want to ask the question “Do you really know them?”. I know there are a few people who apparently have sat down with Boaz and still did not come to agreement, but I just don’t see the mean-spirited responses and attitudes from FFOZ as those that are hurled at them.
One of the main things that really struck me at the conference was what Rabbi Kinbar said about the difference between the Mishkan and the spiritual building that God is putting together now. Whereas God waited for the Mishkan to be completed before filling it with his presence, He now dwells in the spiritual building among believers while the living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:4-5). He is among us while the building is “under construction”. Maybe if we remembered this and had a more conscious awareness of His presence we would have a more gracious attitude toward the other “living stones” who are still being fashioned as parts of the structure.
I agree with what you said that if some of the critics would have attended a conference like this, actually experienced the passion of the hearts there from very diverse backgrounds, they may have come away from there with a different perspective, not only of what God is doing throughout the world that has been lumped under the label of “Messianic”, but perhaps also a different perspective of their own part in the process and how God is using these people they seem to so vehemently disagree with.
I look forward to the rest of your blogs about this past week to help me process what we heard and hopefully, God willing and with His help, to put some of it into practice.
You are a blessing brother and a tremendous asset to the Kingdom. I feel a renewed hope for seeing the Kingdom of Messiah established soon and in our days, and I hope you feel renewed and spiritually energized too. And I’m going to add your wife to my list of people that I long to see come to know our gracious Rabbi and King and I will be praying in agreement with you that she will know Him soon.
I know. I’m sorry we couldn’t spend time together. There were so many people I wanted to catch up with but it seemed like time just got away from me.
Thank you for your warm and heartfelt endorsement of FFOZ and the fine people who are a part of their organization. Each time I talk with Boaz or Toby or Aaron or Daniel or anyone else in their group, I am always impressed by the humility and integrity they communicate about their lives and their walk with God.
But it isn’t just FFOZ the organization, it’s everyone who reads their books, listens to their audio lessons, watches their TV show, or otherwise accesses and consumes their fine teachings. They bear the brunt of unkind comments just by doing something as simple as attending a conference!
I was inspired to write this “meditation” to try as hard as I can to put a human face on each and every one who is associated with FFOZ, regardless of the role they play.
Whether we agree with each other on all matters of theology, doctrine, or whatever…it is vital for us to grasp that we are all united in the Messiah if we are truly called by his name.
I like what you said about Rabbi Kinbar. I was able to meet with him for a short while at the conference and we impressed with his humility and his humanity. Really, all anyone would have to do is talk with him for thirty minutes…then any criticism a person might have about him would melt like mist in sunlight.
Also, thank you for your kind comments about my wife. I don’t often give in to those emotions but at the conference, they became overwhelming. I can only trust that God has a plan and that He will not fail one of the daughters of Zion. And as selfish as it may sound, may Mashiach delay just long enough for my wife and my children to turn back to him.
Blessings, Mel and blessings to your lovely wife.
Hello friend ~
I was blessed to read about what touched you so deeply at the conference. It truly was an amazing experience – for me a deeply healing process that you also participated in, though you may never know quite how. And I, too, hurt when men I respect and deeply appreciate are viciously attacked. Like Mel said, it is someone attacking your spiritual family and there is offense taken for their sake. It hurts all of us. But I think that your response, to peel back the curtain and reveal some of the tremendous experiences from just one conference, is the perfect way to combat it. You have put real people in the places of “them” and real lives in the location of “what they do”. You have shown your readers a glimpse of your heartfelt experiences, and you are not alone.
I have added your beloved to my list of friends to pray for. May the Father woo her to Him and may she discover her love for HaShem and for His Messiah. May your home be filled with the light of two who are one serving the Father together. Keep loving your bride and being patient with her, your tender heart toward her is precious. I believe it will speak volumes to her throughout your lives together.
BTW – I am wondering what the count-down at the end of your blog posts is in reference to.
Wish i could join you, but South Africa is a tad far! I agree on the criticalness of Christians, very sad.
P.S – I had to laugh at your “limited social needs” comment as I am exactly the same! hehe
@Lisa: If I was able to be part of your spiritual family and contribute in positive way, then I’m glad. It was a pleasure to meet you and your children. I’m still “rebounding” from the experience and it won’t truly be complete for me until I write all about it (which will take some time).
The countdown marks (more or less) the date of my first anniversary of my return to church, which coincides with the end of Sukkot. I like these little markers in time as they serve to remind me to re-examine my decisions and at that point, to reaffirm what I have done or to make some changes.
@Kingintraining: There actually was a fellow from South Africa at the conference. Of course, he didn’t travel all that way just to visit Hudson, Wisconsin. He was touring the east and west coasts as well as selected points in-between. I do believe that Boaz Michael periodically visits and speaks at venues in your country, though. All that said, if you ever happen to be in the U.S. near Shavuot, I hope you’ll be able to join us, raise a glass, and celebrate unity in Messiah, may God be willing.
Reblogged this on Ghost River Studios Blog.
Wow…what a powerful blog post!
Thanks, Rabbi Josh.