I’m Not Who I Was

changing-courseDo not be dismayed by the hypocrisy of others, nor by your own inconsistencies. Our lives are all journeys through hills and valleys—no person’s spiritual standing is a static affair.

But the good each person achieves is eternal, as he connects to the Source of All Good, Who is infinite and everlasting. The failures, on the other hand, are transient and superficial, fleeting shadows of clouds, as stains in a garment to be washed away.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Hypocrisy”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I’ve written over 900 blog posts for “morning meditations” and 214 for my previous blog (which stopped being active in 2011) called Searching for the Light on the Path. That’s over 1100 blog posts that record my progressive journey of faith, attempting to discover my position along the trail that leads to God.

In all that time and in all those blog posts, my opinions and beliefs have shifted a bit; perhaps more than just a bit in some areas. I’ve explored and opened myself up to some concepts and investigated and shut down others. Some people who were my friends or who were at least friendly to me have dropped me like a hot rock as I’ve developed my understanding of God, the Messiah, and the Bible in directions that oppose their belief systems. Other people have opened up to me and shared their highly valuable insights when seeing that I am not trying to impose my will on others, but seeking to discover God’s will for me and the world around me.

I suppose that last part sounds a bit narcissistic but then again, no one blogs except from their own perspective and as a means of presenting that perspective to anyone with Internet access.

I haven’t been directly accused of this, but I remember one blogger accusing another of hypocrisy based on the changing of the second blogger’s perspectives over time.

But aren’t we supposed to change? Aren’t we supposed to grow? What would happen if you learned basic arithmetic but never progressed beyond that point? What would have happened if no one anywhere across history ever developed algebra, calculus, or trigonometry? What would have happened if the best telescope we had in the world was still on the level of the one created by Galileo? What if our best medical technology for curing fevers and multiple other ailments was to apply leaches to human beings?

Are you a hypocrite if you learn something new and it changes how you see things and how you think?

As Rabbi Freeman said above, “Our lives are all journeys through hills and valleys—no person’s spiritual standing is a static affair.”

It’s interesting that a religious person should be the one to say that because, at least in Christianity, after achieving a certain level of knowledge, the expectation (this is just my opinion, of course) is that we should stay “static” with “the truth.” I’m not denying that there is Divine and eternal truth in our universe. Our universe was created by such truth. But that hardly means we know everything that there is to know about God or faith or that we even know enough. Is it enough to answer some altar call or to raise your hand in church as a profession of your faith in Jesus Christ? Is it enough to be saved?

It seems that a lot of Christian Bible studies and Sunday school classes aren’t really designed to teach people new ideas or to help people explore uncharted territory in theology, but to continue confirming what everyone already knows. Earlier today, I reviewed a television episode produced by First Fruits of Zion describing the meaning behind the name “Jesus.” However, the information presented, though very basic from my point of view, was designed to be new and even a tad bit “revolutionary” to the traditional conservative Christian audience targeted by these programs.

iam-not-a-numberIf someone who had been raised and educated spiritually in a “typical,” “ordinary” American church saw this or some other episode of FFOZ TV, they would very likely encounter what for them would be brand new information about topics they thought they knew completely.

I recently reviewed Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. In the book, McKnight recounts a conversation he had with another Pastor about the meaning of the gospel. That Pastor too had stopped learning a long time ago and if he was studying at all, it was for the purpose of maintaining the pattern and level of knowledge he already possessed:

I replied, “A book about the meaning of gospel.”

“That’s easy,” he said, “justification by faith.” After hearing that quick-and-easy answer, I decided to push further, so I asked him Piper’s question: “Did Jesus preach the gospel?”

His answer made me gulp. “Nope,” he said, “Jesus couldn’t have. No one understood the gospel until Paul. No one could understand the gospel until after the cross and resurrection and Pentecost.” “Not even Jesus?” I asked.

“Nope. Not possible,” he affirmed. I wanted to add an old cheeky line I’ve often used: “Poor Jesus, born on the wrong side of the cross, didn’t get to preach the gospel.”

In my weekly conversations with my Pastor, I find myself challenged by a person who does study a great deal and who presents me with information I don’t possess which, in my case, is how traditional Christian theology, doctrine, and dogma works. For a Christian, I don’t know very much about how the formal “church” conceptualizes things. I often reference Jewish sources for my studies, both because I’m drawn to them and because they challenge my “Gentile” way of understanding God and faith. Both my Pastor and my studying help me grow, at least a little bit at a time.

We’re supposed to grow and we’re supposed to help other people grow. In the church (and in other Gentile-driven religious contexts based on the Bible), we have adopted a philosophy, not of growth, but of comfort. We want to be comfortable in what we think, feel, and believe. We don’t want to be challenged. Our day-to-day lives are challenging enough. We want to spend our Sunday services and Bible studies with people who think just like us, discussing things that we all understand in exactly the same way.

I know that sounds cynical, but it’s actually very human. All people who identify with a group that thinks, feels, and acts in a particular way relative to the larger environment want that. Christians want that, and religious Jews want that, and Hebrew Roots people want that, and progressives want that, and atheists want that, and everyone else wants that, too.

God is transcendent. He doesn’t fit in the little boxes we try to put Him in (if we are people who believe that God exists at all). Our hope, our goal, our journey should all be pointed in the direction of transcendence. We can never completely know the infinite God all in all, but we are tasked with approaching Him as closely as we can, knowing that it won’t be incredibly close.

Instead, we’ve reached an area of comfortable equilibrium and there we stay. It’s like two married people who behave more like roommates, including sleeping in separate bedrooms. It may be comfortable, but you’ll never experience passion that way.

The Rebbe would sit down with his students and say, time and time again:

The Baal Shem Tov taught that from every thing a person hears or sees in this world he must find a teaching in how Man should serve G‑d. In truth, this is the whole meaning of service of G‑d.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“All the World is My Teacher”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

icarus-seeking-lightIn Greek mythology, the wings of Icarus melted when he flew too close to the Sun and he fell, but we will freeze into complete inaction and be totally ineffectual if we stay away from the flames of wisdom and knowledge. Challenge involves risk and risk feels dangerous. Sometimes we accept a challenge and the danger and then we (seemingly) fail and fall, ending up not getting what we want. Moses accepted the challenge of leading the Jewish people through a desert for forty years at the behest of God, and in the end, he was denied entry into Israel. He failed the challenge.

Or was it a failure?

Chassidic teaching explains that this is the deeper reason why Moses was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel. If Moses would have settled us in the Land, we could never have been exiled from it. If Moses would have built the Holy Temple, it could never had been destroyed. If Moses would have established the people of Israel in their homeland as a “light unto the nations,” that light could never have been dimmed.

If Moses would have crossed the Jordan, that would have been the end: the end of the struggle, the end of history.

G-d wasn’t ready for the end yet. So He decreed that Moses remain in the desert. But He did allow him to see the Land. And because Moses saw it, and because the effect of everything Moses did is everlasting, we, too, can see it.

At all times, and under all conditions, we have the power to ascend a summit within us and see the Promised Land. No matter how distant the end-goal of creation may seem, we have the power to see its reality, to know its truth with absolute clarity and absolute conviction.

We are still in the midst of the struggle. It is a difficult, oft-times painful struggle; but it is not a blind struggle. Moses has seen to that.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Land and See”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

building-the-templeAll that isn’t in the Bible, but let’s go with it for now. If Moses had entered the Land, would the Messiah have come? What would have happened to the people of the nations of the world? Would we all have been drawn to the light of Israel in the days of Moses? What would that have meant? Becoming gerim, “resident aliens” and then having our descendants being assimilated and absorbed into tribal Israel? That would mean anyone outside of the original Israelites and their descendants would have had to ultimately become part of tribal Israel to become Holy unto God. But what about the rest of us?

God wasn’t ready for the end, perhaps not because of what it would have meant for Israel but because of what it would have meant for the majority of the world. All those things midrash says Moses would have done will actually be performed by Messiah, Son of David. But Israel had to suffer because Moses didn’t enter the Land and instead died in the desert. That’s a horrible realization; not comfortable at all.

We won’t come to learn the reality of our existence in a world created by God if we allow ourselves to remain in a comfortable place. Moses died, and Joshua was challenged with conquering a nation. David founded Jerusalem but the task of building the Temple was left to Solomon. Israel fell into exile on multiple occasions, her Temple destroyed, her Land lost for centuries. The Messiah came and died. Then he rose. Then he ascended. And then he didn’t come back. Human history has been spinning out of control ever since, or so it appears.

What can we do? We can stop being comfortable. “Comfortable” is not the condition of our current world. We need to read, to study, to challenge ourselves, to change as we encounter each new spark of the Divine that has been left here for us by the Source of that fire. We’re meant to grow, to develop, and to act. How else can we prepare the way for the return of the King?

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17 thoughts on “I’m Not Who I Was”

  1. James, I find the implication that one is hypocritical for changing one’s viewpoints over time bothersome. A hypocrite is one who acts in contradiction to his stated beliefs, or puts on a false impression of virtue. It’s about behaviour, not change.

    I think it’s natural to grow in and out of viewpoints and opinions. It would be foolish not to change one’s mind about something, if appropriate, when presented with new information. And you’re absolutely right: sometimes that’s not very comfortable. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Anne.

    I wrote this blog post for a couple of reasons. One was because of the implication made by Rabbi Freeman that we could perceive others or be perceived by others as hypocritical when we make certain “adjustments” to our thoughts/feelings/behavior during our spiritual journey.

    After reading his brief missive, I was reminded (this is the other reason) of how a blogger and some of his “fanboys” criticized another blogger, who is also a published author, for having expressed different points of view about a particular issue over time. The blogger/author in question had written something on his blog, and a “spirited discussion” ensued. Then someone found a book written by said-blogger/author some years in the past that seemingly contradicted what was on his blog.

    Accusations of hypocrisy resulted.

    The implication, at least within the context of the author/blogger’s critics, was that one may never change and grow, or at least not publish evidence of your changing and growing, within the realm of religious belief.

    That’s like saying that a young person who held racist beliefs in the 1960s and 70s was forbidden from changing and growing beyond those beliefs in order to learn and practice human equality forty or fifty years later. It’s ridiculous, but functionally what the blogger/author’s critics were declaring.

  3. James, there are denominations who change their minds and belief time and time again according to where the wind blows…Shall we call it growth?

  4. Dan, I think you know the difference between being inconsistent and what it is to grow spiritually through painstaking study, contemplation, and prayer.

  5. James, a few thoughts. Now, I have only read a few of your posts. You were searching for light on the path, but if you are on the right path, the path itself is lighted, as, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.” His word (dabar) is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. The word used is not torah, but dabar. I heard it explained that the dabar elohim is his prophetic empowerments, as when he said, “Be light, and there was light.” One problem with innovators and those with fresh revelation, is that innovation and fresh revelation also becomes ensconced as doctrine and is untouchable and unquestionable, as its proponents exploit the power and words of heaven to build their own personal kingdoms. That’s why we were told to scatter over the earth and populate it, rather than gather together in cities to build a tower unto heaven. And that is why Yeshua told us to go into all the world and spread the life-giving news, rather than make names and organizations for ourselves, as Babel’s builders sought. James, you received the Jer. 29:13 answer, as you sought the Holy One wholeheartedly, earnestly and without reservation. Some seek, but only want to find the Holy One within their own paradigms, and I believe he obliges them, but with sadness. “Is this all you want of me,” it seems he would say.

    I can tell you a story about hypocrisy. A friend invited me to join a parenting class many years ago. Just to let you know, my kids are grown and have managed to survive my efforts at raising them properly. I came home from the class and yelled at my kids who were acting up. Then my husband said I was a hypocrite to go to the class, ostensibly to improve my parenting abilities and then come home and probably act in opposition to the techniques and theories I had learned. But I realized, that while I am a sinner, I am not a hypocrite. To desire to improve oneself, and to be aware that there is a yawning gap between where I am and where I would like to be, who I am and who I would like to be is not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy was a local radio program where a couple claimed to offer marriage advice, and I knew from personal experience that this couple were not in any situation to be giving anyone else advice. This is part of the problem with modern and Greek methods of learning. Talmidim in ancient Israel lived in the homes of their rabbis and traveled with them. They saw how they treated their spouses, children, family members, servants and all they encountered on their journeys. Disciples could see up close and personal if their rabbi lived what he taught or not. The couple’s radio program didn’t last long, and I assume they abandoned ministry as shortly afterward, while at the movie theater, we saw them in an advertisement for their real estate business.

  6. But I realized, that while I am a sinner, I am not a hypocrite. To desire to improve oneself, and to be aware that there is a yawning gap between where I am and where I would like to be, who I am and who I would like to be is not hypocrisy.

    That’s pretty much my point, Princess. The path of spiritual growth isn’t a gentle ramp that consistently leads us upward and a nice, easy, predictable pace. For some folks it’s a wild, rollercoaster ride. For others, it’s not quite so dramatic, but it usually isn’t always predictable. Sometimes we have to descend before we can ascend.

  7. You don’t know what I know, so explain it to me….

    As you wish, Dan.

    I’ll make up an example to illustrate my point. Let’s say a person comes to faith in Jesus and spends several years to several decades going to church and learning what they teach. Let’s say this is a church that teaches on a traditional supersessionist model, “the church” has replaced Israel in all of the covenant promises.

    Then, after awhile, the Christian in question encounters other resources, reads books, alternate Bible studies, and interacts with Jewish believers who show him the message of the Bible isn’t one describing how the Gentile Christians replace the Jewish people. After much studying, praying, meditation, and many, many Internet debates, he is finally convinced that supersessionism is not supported by the Bible.

    Yet he continues to go to his old church because he has encountered God within its walls and in spite of some of the dodgy teachings, there are many Godly people there who have dedicated their lives to feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, ministering to the poor and the disenfranchised, and who are authentically doing the will of Messiah.

    Someone looking at this Christian’s situation might call him a hypocrite for continuing to go to a church that teaches supersessionism when he has changed his beliefs on that issue. However, it is probably more realistic (and more gracious) to say that he is developing in different spiritual and social areas and still working through the best way to express his spiritual development. Should he try to tell his friends at church what he’s learned or simply leave for “greener pastures?” The resolution may not be obvious to the person in question. He’s not a hypocrite. He’s just changing and growing one difficult day at a time.

    Does that help, Dan?

  8. Ok, I’ll try again. James, I wanted to say, that you were seeking for light on the path. But we are told that the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. So, if you are on the right path, there is light. We are also told that the word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths. Now, the Hebrew used there is “dabar,” not “torah.” I’ve heard it explained by Bill Bullock of The Rabbi’s Son, that when scripture talks about the word of elohim, it refers to a prophetic empowerment, such as when elohim said, “Be light, and light was.” Jer 29:13 says that you will seek me and you will find me, when you search for me with a whole (earnest, undivided) heart. Some search, but only want to search within what they believe are rigid parameters that keep them safe. And as C.S. Lewis told us, “He is not safe, but he is good.” I believe the Holy One obliges them, with sadness.

    The sad thing about innovators and those with fresh (not new) revelation, is that they too usually succumb to the same doctrinal, organizational and hierarchical pit and tombs. Our ancestors were told to scatter over the face of the earth and subdue it, but they gathered in cities and built a tower unto heaven. In the same way, these want to make a name for themselves, an income, a career and a dynasty, rather than go into all the world and spread the life-giving news of Yeshua. And as we see, the Holy One confuses their languages, so they cannot fulfill their desires. Those who have left Babylon once, may find their new home has also become a Babylon, and they will have to leave again. The Son of Man has no place to lay his head, and we who follow him may not either.

  9. Reblogged this on Endtime Chaverim and commented:
    This is my reply to James’ blog post: James, a few thoughts. Now, I have only read a few of your posts. You were searching for light on the path, but if you are on the right path, the path itself is lighted, as, “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.” His word (dabar) is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. The word used is not torah, but dabar. I heard it explained that the dabar elohim is his prophetic empowerments, as when he said, “Be light, and there was light.” One problem with innovators and those with fresh revelation, is that innovation and fresh revelation also becomes ensconced as doctrine and is untouchable and unquestionable, as its proponents exploit the power and words of heaven to build their own personal kingdoms. That’s why we were told to scatter over the earth and populate it, rather than gather together in cities to build a tower unto heaven. And that is why Yeshua told us to go into all the world and spread the life-giving news, rather than make names and organizations for ourselves, as Babel’s builders sought. In the same way, these want to make a name for themselves, an income, a career and a dynasty, rather than go into all the world and spread the life-giving news of Yeshua. And as we see, the Holy One confuses their languages, so they cannot fulfill their desires. Those who have left Babylon once, may find their new home has also become a Babylon, and they will have to leave again. The Son of Man has no place to lay his head, and we who follow him may not either.
    James, you received the Jer. 29:13 answer, as you sought the Holy One wholeheartedly, earnestly and without reservation. Some seek, but only want to find the Holy One within their own paradigms, and I believe he obliges them, but with sadness. “Is this all you want of me,” it seems he would say. They believe they are safe within their walled off areas, but, as C.S. Lewis told us, “He is not safe, but he is good. He is not a tame lion.”

    I can tell you a story about hypocrisy. A friend invited me to join a parenting class many years ago. Just to let you know, my kids are grown and have managed to survive my efforts at raising them properly. I came home from the class and yelled at my kids who were acting up. Then my husband said I was a hypocrite to go to the class, ostensibly to improve my parenting abilities and then come home and probably act in opposition to the techniques and theories I had learned. But I realized, that while I am a sinner, I am not a hypocrite. To desire to improve oneself, and to be aware that there is a yawning gap between where I am and where I would like to be, who I am and who I would like to be is not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy was a local radio program where a couple claimed to offer marriage advice, and I knew from personal experience that this couple were not in any situation to be giving anyone else advice. This is part of the problem with modern and Greek methods of learning. Talmidim in ancient Israel lived in the homes of their rabbis and traveled with them. They saw how they treated their spouses, children, family members, servants and all they encountered on their journeys. Disciples could see up close and personal if their rabbi lived what he taught or not. The couple’s radio program didn’t last long, and I assume they abandoned ministry as shortly afterward, while at the movie theater, we saw them in an advertisement for their real estate business.

  10. Hi James, I have stopped by your blog, from time to time. It is refreshing, although I don’t comment much, I still enjoy reading your blog.
    Blessings,
    Michelle

  11. James, this is perhaps my favorite of all that you’ve written so far in Morning Meditations. As I read this morning’s “meditation,” I thought of two different writers: Thomas S. Kuhn and Paul Phillip Levertoff, the former a scientist-philosopher and the latter, as you know, a Messianic Jewish rabbi-writer.

    Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” and Levertoff writes of “the lower water” weeping.

    Kuhn captures the phenomenon of the scientific community’s tendency to reject every anomaly in favor of that which reaffirms the status quo, often losing the opportunity to generate a “scientific revolution” in the process of maintaining their preconceived world of thought.

    Levertoff writes of the lower world of materialism weeping as the King inhabits the “waters above” which represent the spiritual realm.

    Some of us in the “lower waters” are like the flame of the candle seeking to leap off the wick and be joined with the King. [Levertoff, Love and the Messianic Age, 51; Tanya 19 (Kehot)] Others sit and weep, doing little or nothing in terms of seeking passage out of their current condition. To light a candle means to take a risk of being burned or starting a fire. It also gives us the hope that we might one day leap from the wick and see the face of Aveinu Melcheynu, our Father, our King. Some refuse to light the candle and wait in darkness. Others light the candle and risk being burnt or starting a fire. A holy fire, one hopes.

    What Kuhn writes about the scientific community applies to the religious community, as well. Within the Christian community a certain Kuhnian syllogism seems to be at work:

    – An anomaly is feared as it represents a threat to the status quo.
    – The Messianic (or any divergent) approach to one’s particular Christian faith perspective is seen and feared as an anomaly.
    – Therefore, any divergent approach to faith in Yeshua represents a threat to the particular Christian perspective of choice.

    But often, as Kuhn points out, the anomaly represents the next “revolution” in growth and insight and ascent into higher places.

    “A Jew is like a candle,” the Rebbe once explained to a Chassid, “and his task is to light up other Jews.”
    The Chassid asked, “Rebbe, did you light my candle yet?”
    The Rebbe replied, “No, but I have given you the match. You must now strike it and ignite yourself.” [“Self-Refinement,” Chabad.org]

    No one lights the match for you; not a pastor or a rabbi or a friend or family member. I must take the match and ignite myself daily in my zeal to leap off the wick and come as close to seeing the face of the King as is possible in this life.

    This is what I hear flowing beneath the surface of your words. Whether ’tis true or not, I am encouraged. Toda raba. You made my day. 🙂

  12. Wow, Dan!

    To have my writing compared to Kuhn and Levertoff, even tangentially, is high praise indeed. Though I know I’m not worthy of being in their company, thank you for your very kind words and your encouragement. You made my day. too.

    Blessings.

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