If the Shofar is sounded in the city, will the populace not tremble?
The blow of a Shofar is a call to arouse us from the lethargy of routine in which we have been immersed and to stimulate us to teshuvah. But what if someone hears the Shofar and is not moved by it?
A village blacksmith’s assistant once visited a large city and sought out the local smithy. He observed that the workers there used a bellows to fan the flames in the forge. The bellows were much more efficient than the exhausting manual fanning which he did back in his master’s shop. He promptly bought a bellows, returned with great enthusiasm to his master, and informed him that there was no longer any need for them to exhaust themselves fanning the flames. He then set out to demonstrate the magic of the bellows, but alas, regardless of how vigorously he pumped, no flame appeared.
“I can’t understand it,” he said. “In the city, I saw with my own eyes the huge flame produced by the bellows.”
“Did you first light a small fire?” the master asked.
“No,” the assistant replied. “I just pumped the bellows.”
“You fool!” the blacksmith said. “The bellows can only increase the size of the flame when you begin it with a spark. When you have no spark or fire, all the pumping of the bellows is of no use.”
Like the bellows, the Shofar can only arouse us if we have in us a spark of teshuvah, just a rudiment of desire. If we feel ourselves unmoved by the Shofar, we had better try to light a spark of teshuvah within ourselves.
Today I shall…
…try to begin teshuvah, so that the service of the approaching High Holidays will have the desired effect on me.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Elul 26
I’m writing this on Sunday instead of going to church, though you won’t be reading this until Tuesday morning. Given what I wrote in last week’s “What I Learned in Church” blog and subsequent commentaries, I’ve come to the realization that I owe Randy and everyone who reads this blog an apology. Regardless of my reasons, I took my criticism of Randy’s sermon way too far and I probably shouldn’t have written anything public about it at all.
But that’s water under the bridge and the damage is done.
I emailed Randy on Shabbat after much consideration and prayer with my personal apology and asked him for forgiveness. As I write this, I haven’t heard back, and perhaps I shouldn’t expect to. In addition to writing him though, as I said, I need to make my apology public just as I made my criticism.
Although I don’t think religious leaders should be “criticism-proof,” so to speak, they also should command a certain amount of respect, and just because we have a difference of opinion, even about the important matters of Biblical interpretation, the fact that we disagree doesn’t mean he did anything wrong. His sermon was well within the norms of Christian Fundamentalism and it is backed up by a great deal of research on his part. He has the right and responsibility to “feed his flock” with the “spiritual food” he believes is beneficial for them, and I have no right to stand in his way, not that I could really affect anyone’s viewpoint at church about his sermons.
But realizing what I’ve done and how often I’ve risked collapsing the Tent of David (with apologies to Boaz Michael), I feel that my time at Pastor Randy’s church has come to an end. It had been my hope that I would provide added value to discussions in Sunday school, my personal discussions with Randy, and anyone else who wanted to interact with me. Two years ago as I was approaching this path back to church, I had high hopes that I could live out Boaz’s vision as chronicled in his book, but I see now that instead of being a light in the church, all I’ve done (for the most part) was act as an irritant.
Even those few people who were interested in what I had to say, particularly about the New Covenant, once they fully realized what I was communicating, acted confused and hesitant. I guess I was asking far too much of the people around me and my basic theological foundation, which makes a great deal of sense to me, is a strange and alien land for most Christians, particularly Fundamentalists.
It’s my place to be an opportunity of sorts, an option, a door to another perspective, not a hammer hitting people over the head. Over the past two years, although I tried to make a niche for myself in the humble walls of that little Baptist church in Meridian, Idaho, I never truly found a place where I fit in. I look like everyone else and I go through the motions of singing the hymns and shaking hands during services, but what I understand about the Bible might as well be light years away from the people I’ve “fellowshipped” with.
Please understand, I bear no ill will toward Randy, the other Pastors, the board members, and the people I’ve worshiped and studied with. I regard them all with the warmest of feelings. That we disagree doesn’t mean I think they are bad or even wrong. We’re just very different and I have no desire to hurt anyone or get in the way.
I suppose I could still attend the church and just keep silent, but that wouldn’t work for two reasons. The first is that my very presence is likely to continue to irritate or annoy Randy because of the aforementioned offending blog post and my general disagreement with him. The second is I seriously doubt I could rein in my verbal and written responses to the sermons and Sunday school lessons, at least for very long. I’d be unhappy at my self-imposed censorship and when I finally opened my mouth, I could possibly say something unkind or at least unwanted.
I want it to be known that the only person responsible for these events and their outcome is me. It’s my responsibility to conduct myself as a true disciple of the Master both in church and everywhere else, both in my spoken word and in what I write.
Erev Rosh Hashanah is tomorrow at sundown (as you read this) and in the spirit of repentance and renewal, I must offer my sincere public apology to Randy, his church, and you readers, and also I believe it is the best choice now to end my sojourn at church.
It may sound strange, but in being inspired to return to church, in part by Boaz Michael’s aforementioned book, I’ve thought of my return to Christian worship as something of an “experiment,” and I don’t mean that unkindly or clinically. As I said before, I had hoped to be a light and to represent a particular viewpoint as illumination. Did I fail completely? Did I just waste the last two years of my life in church?
I would say not, although I think I gained more from the experience than the people at church gained from me. What I know about “formal Christianity” including the history of the Church as been quite lacking, and Randy opened all that up to me. He has an excellent command of Christian history and for a year or more, he guided me on a personal journey on what it means to be a believer, particularly from a Fundamentalist point of view. I also learned how friendly, kind, and generous the people around me were, and how patient and tolerant they could be to an “oddball” like me, especially Randy.
No, it was hardly a waste of time. I only regret that they could have as much of a benefit from my presence as I did being among them.
I can only hope that others like me in other churches have better outcomes in terms of the impact they have on their fellow congregants.
Once again, I’ll be without a congregation. What will this mean for my faith? I may not be going to church, but I haven’t left faith in God or discipleship under the Master behind.
Will I try to find another church to attend? Not at present. I don’t see it working out any better in another Christian venue than it did in the one I just left, and I have no intention of adding insult to injury, so to speak. Inflicting myself on another Pastor and another congregation will just make matters worse. I’ve heard stories about how well some Messianic Gentiles find it in some churches. They are invited to teach HaYesod and other related classes and, according to reports, the information is well received.
But that requires two things: the right kind of environment and the right kind of presenter. I know that the church I’ve attended just wasn’t ever going to be receptive of such a view of the Bible and certainly the perspective was not requested nor required. I was wrong to force it on anyone without being asked.
Also, since I know Randy’s views on what he wants taught at his church, the fact that I was speaking to anyone at all about my opinions was risking the integrity of the doctrine being taught and I can only guess from Randy’s point of view, represented “wrongheadedness” and even a potential threat to anyone who listened to me and took my words seriously.
So no, I’m not going to seek out another church. Even if an appropriate Messianic congregation was available in my area, as I’ve said numerous times before, I wouldn’t attend, at least regularly, out of consideration for my wife, who is Jewish and not in the least Messianic.
I’ve been talking with a friend about starting up a Torah study between the two of us. The only thing in the way is working out the timing in our schedules. Even he and I don’t see precisely eye-to-eye, but we have more in common than I have with most Christians.
I’ll keep blogging as usual, but this will be the last time I intend to mention Pastor Randy or anything about the church he shepherds. I wish them all success, peace, and the presence and blessings of God.
Since the New Year is upon us, I suppose this is the perfect time to retool my studies and rededicate myself to my understanding of what it is to be a Messianic Gentile.
Someone said in a comment on one of my recent blog posts that if “a Christian is truly repentant then he will extricate himself from an anti-Judaic religious system (i.e. Christianity) and cease to identify as a Christian.” I disagree. There are many fine Christians and many fine churches, including the one I used to attend, and they perform many kind and generous acts of “Torah” (though they don’t call it that), such as feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and loving each other. I’m not ending my relationship with them because they are not good and kind people, but only because I’m not a good fit for them (nor sadly, they for me) and I have no desire to continue to be an irritant in their presence.
I know that some people like me there and maybe would even be surprised if they read this blog post, but most of them don’t really know me. If they did, I’m not sure what they’d think. It’s better that they don’t find out. God doesn’t love them or me any less because of our divergent perspectives. In the resurrection, if not before, He will guide us all to a better understanding of all truth in Him through Messiah.
May he come speedily and in our day.
May you all be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for a good year.
To Randy and his church, I again offer my sincere apologies, beg for forgiveness though I don’t deserve it, and offer my fondest farewell to you all.