Tag Archives: culture

When Does a Faith Become a Culture?

This morning on Fandango’s This, That, and the Other blog, I read a post of his called Share Your World — Coffee and Climate. He was responding to a Share Your World challenge on another blog.

One of the questions was If you drink coffee, how do you like it best? Hot, cold, iced, with cream, with sugar or black as black?, however it was Fandango’s answer to Global warming? Reality or myth? that I focused on. His answer was:

Global warming (aka, climate change) is reality. The Bible is myth.

He used the photo below to emphasize his point:

bible myth
Found at the “This, That, and the Other” blogspot – Photo credit unknown

I thought about his answer while I was getting ready for work, and then crafted this response:

Interesting that you brought the (Christian) Bible into the mix since the question had absolutely nothing to do with it. I can only assume that you deliberately were taking a shot a Christians just because you could.

Now I would never try to convince you regarding my belief system. You’re not interested, it would take too long, and adopting a faith in an all-powerful Creator is as much a metaphysical experience as it is anything else.

However, you probably didn’t think through the ramifications of your statement. I mentioned the “Christian” Bible before, but the first two-thirds of it, what Christians call the Old Testament, make up the Jewish Bible.

The writings in the Jewish Bible are the very basis for the existence of Israel and the Jewish people. I know liberal, secular Jews who would disagree with me, but given that my wife is Jewish and I’ve had extensive experience in both some churches and some synagogues (I know you might not believe this, but not all Christians and not all Jews are the same, and in fact, there are churches and synagogues, even here in red state Idaho, that are highly progressive), so my opinions are not entirely uninformed.

So in calling the Bible a myth (and that’s your right), you may well be invalidating every single observant Jewish person in the present and for the past 3500 years, as well as the Jewish people as a whole. I know you didn’t consider the implications of all this, but the Holocaust tried to do the same thing (and I’m absolutely not accusing you of being anti-Semitic or a Holocaust denier).

Yes, I’m going to extremes but to make a point. Whether you believe in something or not (speaking of Colin Kaepernick), it doesn’t mean those who do are invalid. The Bible, once you study it (and Bible studies are complicated) is an incredibly nuanced and complex document, and I’m the first to admit that most churches don’t even know how to study it (I’ve argued endlessly with many Christians on this point).

I am curious about your opinion of the Koran (it’s transliterated from Arabic, so it can be spelled different ways in English). Is it myth as well? Would you stay that on your blog if you know Muslims were reading it?

I know you made the comment casually, but words have power. As writers, we should be aware of that.

Oh, I take my coffee black, nothing else in it.

Now, I wasn’t the first reader of his to object, and his response to her was:

You’re right. I was expressing my opinion. The nature of the Share Your World prompt is to get people to share their opinions. And yes, Christians are entitled to believe whatever they want to believe. It was not my intention to mock and scorn. My philosophy is “whatever floats your boat,” and I wasn’t taking a dig at your beliefs as much as I was expressing my own, personal opinion in a post on my blog that the stories in the Bible are mythology. If you choose to believe in and accept that mythology as your religious truth, go for it.

As I was composing this missive, he did respond to me directly:

Whether the Bible (Old or New Testaments), the Koran, or any other religious text, they are all, in my opinion, myths. I assume at least some Muslims have stumbles across my blog, but perhaps not. So while I used the Bible as an illustration, I was not intending to limit my belief that all religions are base [sic] in mythology to Christianity.

Why did I bring it up at all? Just to offer a contrast between those who deny climate change and those who eagerly embrace religious mythology. I also don’t think you need to be religious in order to believe that the Holocaust happened and to be embarrassed by the inhumanity that humans perpetuate against one another in the name of their favorite god, for “ethnic cleansing,” or for the whatever religious beliefs to which they adhere. Is all that part of GOD’s infallible plan? That millions of people — his children — shall be killed and persecuted in his name?

I am not a religious person in any way and I believe that all religions are based on made-up bullshit. But I don’t deny that there is much to be learned by reading religious tracts and that if it helps people make it through their lives, then who am I to be critical of them? But that doesn’t make me believe that the Bible is any more true than Tolkien’s Middle Earth, for example,
or other fantasy tales. It’s great literature, but it’s mythology at its finest.

Okay, enough of this meandering response to your comment.

As if all Christians or people of faith are Luddites and don’t believe it’s possible for human beings to damage the global environment.

I suppose I should just drop it at this point, but then there’s my original intention in crafting this blog post, plus another concern Fandango’s most recent comment brought up. I’ll take the latter first.

I also don’t think you need to be religious in order to believe that the Holocaust happened and to be embarrassed by the inhumanity that humans perpetuate against one another in the name of their favorite god, for “ethnic cleansing,” or for the whatever religious beliefs to which they adhere. Is all that part of GOD’s infallible plan? That millions of people — his children — shall be killed and persecuted in his name?

Ah yes, the fallacy that people only kill other people, at least on a large-scale such as war, because of religion, and if there were no religions, we’d all love each other and there’d be peace forever.

Okay, I’m overstating the matter, but to make a point. John Lennon’s classic Imagine (YouTube video) makes this point as well, along with doing away with the concept of nations (sort of like Katy Perry’s more recent no borders comment). Lennon’s lyrics also suggested having personal possessions as a problem, so I suppose anyone agreeing with his “no religion” statement should advocate for dismantling all national borders and the laws pertaining to them (good luck with that), and should give away all of their possessions thus eliminating want and greed everywhere (I don’t see that happening either).

But I digress.

Blaming all forms of mass violence on religion denies the vicious acts of Stalin, Mao, and others who ran secular, atheist, totalitarian regimes. The only problem with an organized worship of God (or governments for that matter) is people. People have a tremendous capacity for twisting any institution to their own needs, so yes, in the name of God, millions have been enslaved, tortured, and murdered.  Whole cultures have been destroyed forever. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church and wider Christianity have been doing such to the Jewish people. The early Christian Crusaders murdered Muslims as well as Jews (which some say has led Islam to develop a fundamental hate of Christianity that persists to this day).

This also denies the tremendous good Judaism and Christianity have done across their respective histories. For instance, according to numerous sources including Bible Mesh, CNS News, and Breakpoint, the modern institution of the Hospital owes its existence to both Judaism and Christianity.

Beyond all that, I refer interested parties to William T. Cavanaugh’s book The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (84% of the reviews on Amazon are four and five-star if that sort of thing matters to you).

However, my main point has to do to my original response to Fandango. At what point does a body of faith become a culture?

It’s an interesting concept. Various aspects of Judaism or collective bodies of Jews are certainly cultural. While I don’t believe most reasonable people would object to differing groups of human beings behaving out of and celebrating their cultures, should they object to a culture based on that body having a covenant relationship with God? This is an especially poignant question given that during this week, millions of Jews all over the world are celebrating the festival of sukkot, many eating and sleeping in a sukkah, celebrating the protection of God over the Jewish people and nation.

Let’s use a specific example. I was once online friends with a person who was an atheist. We had a shared interest in the Linux operating system and performing charitable acts toward disadvantaged children. However, he posted a meme on Facebook several years ago ridiculing the practice among Orthodox Jews of having young boys wear Payot (click the following link to learn more about this and Upsherin) and even calling it a form of child abuse.

payot on yemeni boys
Source: Zio Mania

We “discussed” it, he was unrelenting, and this was the first and last straw for me as far as his opinions were concerned.

Is Christianity a culture? On first blush, it certainly doesn’t seem that way, though even among Jews, not all Jewish groups have uniform practices and beliefs (but at the end of the day, they’re still all Jews), particularly between the observant and the secular.

My last experience in a church taught me many things (one of them being that I don’t belong in a church), but one important realization was that the church had a sort of “culture,” a collection of ideations, beliefs, and practices that, however subtle, were unique to that group. Of course, I can’t make the same case for Christianity being a culture (and as a whole, I doubt it is) as I can for Judaism, so again, I digress.

I can understand that plenty of folks out there are atheist and believe anyone who is religious must be brain-damaged or incredibly superstitious. Having known plenty of Christians and observant Jews over the years, I can attest that isn’t true (for the most part…there are always outliers), but let’s roll with this. Okay, you believe an all-powerful, intelligent, creative being is impossible and even mythical. I really don’t mind. I don’t mind that you make your beliefs public. After all, your free speech rights are my free speech rights.

But at what point does that become denigration, especially if you also value a diversity of human beings in your environment? Does diversity hit a brick wall when religion comes into play?

I may be chasing a cat up the wrong tree, so to speak, and my commentary is probably all for nothing, but when does a religious person get to say, “I respect you as a human being though you disagree with my beliefs, but when will you respect my humanity and worth as well?”

No, I absolutely don’t believe Fandango intended all of that. He was merely speaking his mind. But as I told him before, words have power. We know that for an absolute fact. This is why you don’t casually lace your speech and writing with racial or ethnic slurs. Because they can cause emotional pain. As people of faith, we are commanded to treat others, especially those who are not like us, with kindness and compassion. Being human though, we sometimes don’t obey that command, and in my experience, Christians can be pretty biased, both relative to secular people as well as to each other (you have never been in a contentious community until you’ve been involved in religious blogging).

I’ve been an atheist, so I know how that looks and feels, and I know religious people who have left the faith, so I know how strong their feelings and viewpoints are as well. However, if you have been a life-long atheist and never, ever have had a faith in anything outside of yourself, society, or some other human construct, then you can’t possibly imagine how or why an intelligent, competent, educated, and accomplished person could also have faith in God.

If you don’t understand us, try not to judge us. Chances are, you’ve only met the worst, and most “fringy” Christians. You don’t know the rest of us.

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Have We Lost The Next Generation?

I just read (skimmed really) an article published online by Charisma Magazine called Year in Review: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel. Among other things, the article defines three different types of Christians. I’m listing them below because they’ll factor into my essay by the by:

  1. Couch-potato Christians: These Christians adapt to the culture by staying silent on the tough culture-and-faith discussions. Typically this group will downplay God’s absolute truths by promoting the illusion that neutrality was Jesus’ preferred method of evangelism.
  2. Cafeteria-style Christians: This group picks and chooses which Scripture passages to live by, opting for the ones that best seem to jive with culture. Typically they focus solely on the “nice” parts of the gospel while simultaneously and intentionally minimizing sin, hell, repentance and transformation.
  3. Convictional Christians: In the face of the culture’s harsh admonitions, these evangelicals refuse to be silent. Mimicking Jesus, they compassionately talk about love and grace while also sharing with their neighbors the need to recognize and turn from sin.
culture wars
Image: © Istockphoto/Thomas_EyeDesign – found at Charisma Magazine

While the author is focused on this crisis in Evangelicalism, it’s not unique to Christianity. One of the long-standing issues in Judaism is assimilation of Jews to either secular culture or conversion to Christianity.

Last May, Arutz Sheva published Assimilation, the Jewish people’s worst nightmare outlining this, although a little over two years ago, Tablet Magazine posted an article called Why the Myth of Vanishing American Jewry is so Hard to Dispel.

All of these essays are very long and I’ll admit in not reading the entire content of each one.

In general though, the blame for Christians leaving the church or creating churches that are largely secular in their values, as well as for Jews assimilating and either identifying as cultural (but not religious) Jews or at least joining liberal Reform synagogues, is laid squarely at the feet of popular, secular culture, and by that I mean progressive liberalism.

I recently reviewed a book written by the late Andrew Breitbart titled Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World. It was written during the Obama administration and covered how the news media, entertainment industry, and university system have all been co-opted by socialism and liberalism so that they have almost overwhelming control of the national “message” being transmitted today.

But while Breitbart was addressing how Tea Party conservatives could fight back and send a message of their own, I can see parallels between his points and how religious structures in our country, really in western culture, are being impacted in the same way.

The question is, assuming all this is correct, how can Jews and Christians (and I’m including Messianics in this mix) successfully communicate their/our values to the next generation and make it stick?

chanukah
Chanukah 2016

As I wrote in my previous blog post, I haven’t been particularly successful in that arena.

Of course this comes to mind:

Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6 (NASB)

That sounds nice in theory, but is it really successful?

You aren’t her parents anymore, her parents are Axl Rose and Madonna, you can’t compete with that kind of constant bombardment.

-Albert Gibson (played by Tom Arnold)
from the film True Lies (1994)

As our culture increasingly diverges from the values taught in Christianity and Judaism, it sends a powerful message to everyone, including younger people who want to be relevant and not perceived as an enemy or bigot by their larger peer group.

And our modern culture has a much larger and louder public relations department than the family our religious instructors.

So is it hopeless?

I hope not. On the other hand, you’d just about have to keep kids locked in a closet and never let them on the internet, watch TV, listen to the radio, go out to watch movies, or go anywhere and associate with anyone except like-minded religious people.

Only the most conservative and reclusive groups do that kind of thing. In fact, I’ve encountered some progressives that think raising Jewish children as Orthodox and controlling their hair styles, clothing, and educational environment is a form of child abuse (although for some strange reason, they don’t have the same problems with Muslims).

Not only does secularism teach values different from the Church and Synagogue, but they teach that Christian and Jewish values (conservative or traditional ones) are bad, wrong, homophobic, islamophobic, racist, sexist, patriarchal, misogynistic, and so on.

judeo-christianNo one wants to be thought of as a bigot, but the message being transmitted is that religious thought and observance is all of those things, and the only way to not be a bigot is to stop being religious (or create a religion that embraces secular progressive values).

I’m sure there are young Christian and Jewish people out there who have adhered to their religious values to one degree or another, but it certainly seems as if we’re trying to repair a ripped artery with chewing gum and scotch tape.

I know there are plenty of pundits who have written about the “culture wars” and what to do about it, but I’m not so sure how successful their solutions are (if they have any).

One problem that I don’t think is being addressed was raised by the Charisma Mag author:

Convictional Christians: In the face of the culture’s harsh admonitions, these evangelicals refuse to be silent. Mimicking Jesus, they compassionately talk about love and grace while also sharing with their neighbors the need to recognize and turn from sin.

The problem is whether their values are truly based in the Bible, or based rather upon conservative Christian interpretation and tradition?

I came across the notion of “teaching correct doctrine” in my previous sojourn in church. I left over two years ago, but my experiences are still vivid in my memory.

christians vs gaysThe problem might not always be religious vs. secular values, but how religious values are defined and understood.

Messianics, by definition, have come to the conclusion that normative Christianity does not have an entirely correct understanding of the Bible, especially when it comes to the Torah, Israel, and the Jewish people.

In fact, at least in my own experience, the Church has been wrong about so many things, that I’ve re-examined at large number of topics, including Christianity’s and Judaism’s stand on Gays in the church as well as in the Synagogue.

I came up with an answer that is a lot more nuanced than “Homosexuality is an abomination,” but still determined that Same-sex sex and marriage is not presupposed anywhere in the Bible.

But I looked, I didn’t just assume.

That might be a big problem younger people are having with religion. Conservative Christians and Jews rely on what they were taught and the explanations they were provided without engaging in an honest investigation into those beliefs.

Instead of just telling some young person “Homosexuality is a sin” or “Eve made Adam sin with the apple,” maybe engaging them and taking them through an investigation as to why these values are adhered to. Further, if a traditional value is discovered to be false (“the Church replaced the Jews in all God’s covenant promises”), adjust or eliminate the value.

While some churches have done this relative to Israel and the Covenants, other Christians have found it necessary to leave the Church and to either join Messianic congregations or, lacking access, finding online venues to nurture their beliefs and values.

But conducting an extensive investigation of scripture to define religious values takes time, effort, and resources, plus the willingness to question your own traditions. Christianity and Judaism might not be willing to do that, since tradition has a tendency to take on a life of its own.

father and sonOne final point, and this has been said before, is that parents and religious teachers must walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Most younger people will learn more about your values by watching you live them out (or your failure to do so) than anything you’ll ever tell them.

That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but you do have to be consistent. If cultural values lure you in at one level or another, you will probably lose the war for the next generation.

I wonder if we already have?

The Candles in My Heart

Chanukah MenorayThat the spark of G-d within us will ponder G-d, what is the surprise?

But when the animal within us lifts its eyes to the heavens, when the dark side of a human creature lets in a little light, that is truly wondrous. How can darkness know light? How can earth know heaven?

Only with the power of He who is beyond heaven and earth, and so too is neither darkness nor light.

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

The Candles in My Heart: An Unusual Chanukah Story

I think there must be something wrong with me. I don’t know what it is exactly, except I keep getting that square peg in round hole feeling. It happened last night, the first night of Chanukah (it’s early on Thanksgiving morning as I’m writing this), when I realized that my wife had lit the first candle in the menorah and hadn’t called me in to watch. Actually, I was a little surprised.

She was supposed to be back from work by mid-afternoon Wednesday night, but didn’t make it home until nearly sunset. I thought about getting out the menorah and setting everything up, but lately, she’s gotten a tad annoyed when I’ve intervened in “Jewish” matters around the house. So I let it be. I saw that she had bought candles but wasn’t sure if she’d light the menorah on the first night since she was late.

But she did and I missed it…

…and I miss it.

That’s what I mean about being strange or out-of-place. I, a Christian, going to a Baptist church, meeting with my Pastor for private talks every week about Christianity, and I still miss seeing the menorah being lit on the first night of Chanukah.

It’s almost like I’m this person (although, of course, I’m not Jewish).

Two years ago I was in Baltimore on business, and happened to pass by the public menorah in front of Johns Hopkins University just as the first light was being lit. My eyes welled with tears. Although I was raised a secular Jew, my family has always celebrated Chanukah. To be away from my family that first night of the holiday felt cold and lonely. Now, seeing the lights of the first night’s flames of that big menorah, my heart lit up also, and I felt the warmth of my people all around me.

-Laura P. Schulman
“The Menorah That Lit Up My Life”
Chabad.org

The story goes on about how the next day, Ms. Schulman was approached by a Jewish “young man in a black hat” and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jewish?” The transaction between them, as well as the gift of a “Chanukah kit,” complete with menorah, candles, and instructions, sent Schulman on a journey to rekindle the Jewishness of her soul and the unique covenant connection she has with God.

And she’s not the only one:

We talked about friends we had or hadn’t kept in touch with from high school. “You know, I talked to Artie right before my trip,” I told him. “He says he went to Hebrew school, already knows all about Judaism, thinks you’re flipping out, thinks I’m wasting my time. But you can’t believe how much I’ve learned in the last couple of months that he has no clue about – about Jewish law, and philosophy, and the meaning of historical events, and the return to the Land, and all that. He thinks because he knows something, he knows everything – and he knows practically nothing!”

Then Jake said, “That’s what I think about you!”

-Eric Brand
“When God Sends You a Message…”
Aish.com

jewish-handsIn this article, Brand talks of reuniting with an old friend after a lengthy separation, and discovering his friend had moved to Israel and “become religious”. His friend Jake, or rather Yerachmiel now, was thought to be crazy, even by his own mother. Brand thought so too for a while, only to realize that at a critical moment in the conversation over pizza, Yerachmiel was just a messenger. God was talking and calling Eric back to Him.

I think God calls to all of us, Jewish or not, to come to Him, but for Jewish people, it’s especially unique because Israel was called out of the nations to be a treasured people to Him first. I can see it in my wife. It’s like God flipped a switch and sent a signal to a homing beacon in her soul and she had to return to Him.

Granted, it comes in stages, as it does with the rest of us, so I can only hope and pray that as time goes on, she’ll move more in the direction God wants her to go.

Sometimes, because I’m not Jewish and particularly because I am a Christian, I think I get in the way of how far she could go, the distance that people like Laura Schulman and Eric Brand have traveled.

But then, if Jesus is indeed the Jewish Messiah, then ultimately, he’s the King to both of us, as he is to everyone. Ultimately, there will be no dissonance, even though, in the present age, the disconnect is huge.

An Israeli immigration judge has ordered the deportation of a Messianic Jewish man from England who was arrested last week for taking part in an evangelistic event in southern Israel.

Barry Barnett, 50, a worker with Jews for Jesus UK, was ordered on Sunday (Nov. 24) to leave the country by Dec. 3. Barnett, who is based in England, was volunteering at the Jews for Jesus “Behold your God Israel” campaign around the city of Be’er Shiva when he was arrested Wednesday (Nov. 20) at about 4 p.m.

According to his wife, Alison Barnett, six immigration control officers took him from Be’er Shiva, 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Jerusalem, to an immigration office in Omer, just outside of the city. He was held there for several hours without charge, then transferred to an immigration-holding unit of a prison in Ramle, near Tel Aviv. He spent four days in jail before his court hearing.

-from “Israel Orders Deportation of Jews for Jesus Missionary”
Christianity Today

The thing is, Barnett hadn’t done anything illegal. According to the article:

…the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Christian group Yad L’Achim had followed the Jews for Jesus teams to their campaign sites in Israel since the event started. Yad L’Achim has a long-standing history of links with sympathetic government officials who issue legal actions on their behalf.

In the past, I’ve written quite a lot about Christian supersessionism or the theology that “the Church” has replaced Israel in all of God’s covenant promises. This is a reprehensible artifact of Church history and I deplore its continued expression in any sense in the community of Jesus.

But there’s a flip side to all of this. It’s an understandable flip side given the history of enmity between Christianity and Judaism, but it results in such actions as Barry Barnett’s illegal arrest and detainment without charges in Israel because he represents Jews for Jesus.

I even read a comment on the blog commentary for this story published at rosh pina project where a Jewish gentleman called Barnett a “murderer.”

So I suppose, putting things into context, me being not invited to the lighting of the menorah on the first night of Chanukah in my own home isn’t so bad.

candleBut I still miss it.

I find reading “testimonials” like those written by Ms. Schulman and Mr. Brand heartwarming; Jews being called back to Judaism and to God. Why don’t I have the same sort of feelings about people being called into the Church and to Christ?

It’s not as if I’m opposed to my own faith, but the cultural context gets in the way. No, it’s not like I’m in any way “culturally Jewish.” I’m about as white-bread American non-ethnic anything as it gets.

But I’d rather spend the festival of Sukkot once a year in a place like Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship than all the Sundays there are in a traditional church setting. No, I don’t disdain worshiping with other Christians in the body of believers, but the music, the patterns of worship, the traditions, the prayers, the Torah readings, all call to me in a way that Christian hymns seem to lack.

I know I sound ungrateful. I’m not, really. I appreciate the opportunity God has afforded me to be with my fellow believers, to hear my Pastor preach each Sunday morning, to participate in Bible study after services in Sunday school, to meet and speak with people far closer to God than I.

But I’ve called myself a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism for a reason.

I don’t know why, but when God set off my own “homing signal,” it called me in an unanticipated direction and that direction continues to pull at me. No matter where I am or whoever I’m with, I cannot be diverted from that path. Even if I never see another Shabbat candle lit, never hear another Hillel in Hebrew, never am present when a Torah scroll being removed from the arc, I cannot become that which I am not.

I’m not Jewish. I’m not Israel. I completely understand that. My wife once called me a “Jewish wannabe” and although that still stings a little, I can’t completely deny the validity of that statement. I just don’t know why it’s true of me.

I also can’t be a “traditional Christian,” although I think it would make my Pastor’s life a little easier if I’d just give in and assimilate theologically and culturally into the church environment as it exists in our little corner of Southwest Idaho.

I may never be invited to see the Chanukah menorah lit in my home or even the Shabbos candles, but I am not in darkness. God lights them in my heart and it’s by their illumination that I am guided to Messiah, particularly during this season.

For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 7:16 (NASB)

And then, last Thursday evening, amid the frenzied activity of getting Thanksgiving dinner ready (and it was a wonderful repast), everything stopped as we all gathered around the menorah and my daughter said the blessings and lit the second light of Chanukah. And we, as a family, were blessed. May the lights of Chanukah and the light of God illuminate you.

That Square Peg in a World of Round Holes Feeling

Worker Hammering Square Peg into Round HoleAccording to Ezekiel chapters 40-48, the millennial age will feature a magnificent temple (much larger than any historic temple of Israel) that will serve as the center for the priestly rituals and offerings. In attempting to explain the sacrifices of this temple, the thought is not that the death of Christ is insufficient but rather that the sacrifices are a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, much as those in the Old Testament looked forward to the fulfillment in Christ’s death. (emph. mine)

-John F. Walvoord from his book
Major Bible Prophecies
as quoted in my Sunday School class notes for Sept. 22nd

I’ve got material in my head for three, maybe four blog posts, but I’ve only got time to write one. So which one shall I write?

In going over my notes of Pastor’s sermon on Sukkot, I could make a blog post out of it, but I really think Pastor did a very good job on this topic. Nothing he said particularly surprised me and I don’t have hardly anything to disagree with him on (except maybe to say that while the future of Sukkot is the “meat” on his plate, we don’t have as much linkage into the future of “the feast” without a present, lived experience).

I have somethings I want to say about reading the last entry in the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Torah Club and ending my year-long study of Volume 6, Chronicles of the Apostles, but I think I’ll save that for another later this week.

Especially as the Torah cycle is ending and about to begin again, which marks the approach of the first anniversary of my return to church, I want to write an update to my review of Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David, describing my own experience, but I’ll need more time to re-acquaint myself with the book’s material and view it through fresh eyes.

But I do want to comment on my experience in the Christian church through the lens of today’s Sunday school class. Notice in the above quoted passage from Walvoord’s book, I emphasized text that threw me for a loop. Am I reading this wrong, or is Walvoord (and by inference, my Sunday school teacher), saying that the Israelites of old while making offerings to God realized that somehow this was all deficient and they looked forward to their fulfillment in Christ’s death? Of course, after reading the sentence a few dozen times, I realize Walvoord may not have meant that the ancient Israelites thought this way, but that the Temple sacrifices “looked forward” to a time when they would be fulfilled (ended) by the crucifixion.

Either way though, the anachronism is blatant.

jerusalem_templeFrom the context of the Israelites at the time of the Tabernacle, and later, Solomon’s Temple, the sacrifices were korban, a way of drawing closer to God, by removing barriers and obeying the God who gave them the Torah through Moses at Sinai. I seriously doubt that most of them considered a future time when the Temple would not exist and certainly they never would have imagined that Messiah, hung on a tree to die, would kill the sacrificial system. Sure, from a traditional Christian perspective, we’ve been taught to believe such things, but that means we become incapable of putting ourselves in the shoes of a Jewish person of old and comprehending his or her lived experience and how wonderful they thought the Torah mitzvot were (and modern religious Jews continue to see the Torah as a joy). Read Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 for examples of what I mean.

How about this?

Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

Zechariah 14:16 (NASB)

It shall be that all who are left over from all the nations who had invaded Jerusalem will come up every year to worship the King Hashem, Master of Legions, and to celebrate the festival of Succos.

Zechariah 14:16 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Now, here’s one of the questions in my Sunday school notes regarding this verse:

In verse 16, what will the unsaved Gentiles in the Millennium be required to do each year? (emph. mine)

Excuse me? Unsaved Gentiles? Where does it say that in the verse? Actually, the answer has to do with my teacher’s perspective on “the end times” and the “Millennial reign of Christ” based on very traditionally Christian sources. I actually challenged him, saying that the term “saved” was being anachronistically inserted into the Jewish text. It just says that each of the nations that went to war against Israel will be responsible for sending representatives to Jerusalem at Sukkot to pay homage to the Jewish Messiah King and to celebrate the festival. There’s no implication regarding their spiritual state.

(For an alternate commentary on this passage, see Toby Janicki’s blog post God-Fearers: Zechariah 14, Sukkot, and Anti-Semitism.)

churchesBut then I realized that he believes (or could believe) that all of the “saved Gentiles” were living with the “saved Jews” in Israel and only “unsaved Gentiles” lived in the other nations of the world. Of course, that implies that somehow we believing Gentiles are given a portion of the Land, of Israel, during Messiah’s reign. I’m not sure how or if that sort of thing works out and I’m inclined to believe it doesn’t.

Pastor preached on this when he said that once the Church is “raptured” (in his view, up to Heaven) with Christ, they (we) will return to Earth with him with special jobs to do, especially during Sukkot. This is very confusing because it seems as if there aren’t very many believing Gentiles and Jews around if we can all fit in a country about the size of New Jersey. It’s also rather strange if only we believers live in Israel and the rest of the world are “Goyishe sinners” living in all of the other countries on the planet…and yet somehow, they acknowledge that they are ruled by the Jewish King from the Jewish Kingdom of Israel.

I guess the idea is all of those “unsaved Gentiles” will use the time and opportunity to become “saved,” but then, as my Sunday school teacher asked, will they receive “glorified bodies” instantly or will only their children get those? My question is, when a Gentile is “saved” during the “Millennial reign,” do they immediately “make aliyah” to Israel?

I’m putting a lot of words and phrases in quotes because most of them are Christian anachronisms and theological concepts being forced into the Jewish text (and let’s keep in mind that the New Testament is also a Jewish text). I think I’m getting a headache.

Here’s something else from my class notes. I’m not sure if it’s from Walvoord since the citation seems a little confused:

Note: The battle of God and Magog here (after the Millennium) is totally different from that in Ezekiel chapters 38 & 39 (during the Tribulation) -Walvoord. There, Israel is attacked (while her “friends” watch) by a coalition of Russian and Muslim nations from the north at a time when Israel is at peace. (emph. mine)

Not that it couldn’t happen this way, but how can the author possibly know with such certainty exactly which nations/powers are involved? Couldn’t some European (or other) nations also be attackers (and the way the EU and especially the French have been treating Israel lately, I wouldn’t be surprised)?

In discussing Revelation 20:11-15, the class notes ask the question, When they face Jesus Christ as their Judge (II Tim. 4:1, Phil. 2:9-11), what 66 “books” will He open to judge “their works”? In class, the teacher said he supposed other books could be involved besides the Bible, but even putting such a detail in these notes assumes quite a bit about what we think we know.

The last such “interesting” bit of wording I’ll insert comes from the notes for next Sunday’s class on Acts 15:1-21 (one of my favorite themes):

In Acts 15:1-2 and 15:24, Now with what Satanically inspired and dogmatic false teaching did these “certain men from Judaea” try to infect the church at Antioch, and why according to Galatians 2:4-5? (emph. mine)

Apostle-Paul-Preaches“Satanically inspired” teaching? Since when is discussing opposing theological viewpoints considered Satanic. Most Wednesday evenings, I meet with my Pastor to discuss similar topics and we don’t always agree with each other. Is that disagreement “Satanic?” Am I being “Satanic” when I disagree with my Pastor, since he represents a more mainstream Christian theological perspective?

I know it seems I’m really bashing my Sunday school teacher. Actually, he’s a great guy and I like him. He teaches a lot of the retired guys in the church on Wednesday mornings, which I consider a mitzvah. He obviously loves his wife and she loves him. He has a heart for Christ and is enthusiastic about the Master’s return and the restoration of Israel and the world.

But there are just some times I get that “square peg in a world of round holes” feeling, particularly in Sunday school.

Addendum: See an extension to this “meditation” by reading The Obscured Messiah in the Bible.

Pop!

balloon-poppingAuthor’s note: I started writing this on very little sleep, which means that my internal filter, normally thinner than most bloggers, is approaching full transparency. I’m sure when I wake up tomorrow, things will look better, but right now, my “culture clash” with church life is experiencing a power surge.

Pop! That’s the sound of my balloon popping. I suppose I could have titled this “WHAM!” and said it was the sound of my crash dummy hitting a steel wall at 60 mph, but that might be a bit much. Let me explain.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-14

Pastor Randy (he’s back from Brazil…yay!) was preaching on Acts 11 today, specifically on verses 19-30, and saying what a great guy (v 24) Barnabas and outlining all of Barnabas’ good qualities and why he was a terrific choice to send to Antioch. Of course, as Pastor rightly says, no one is perfect. Pastor mentioned the above-quoted verses from Galatians 2 and said something like (I can’t quote him word for word, so this is an approximation):

Paul criticized Peter because Peter had slipped back into some practices of Judaism and pulled Barnabas down with him…

Like I said, it’s not an exact quote but it gets the point across. Galatians 2 is coming up on the list of things Pastor and I will be talking about during our upcoming Wednesday night discussions. You see, I don’t think Peter’s problem was that he “slipped back into Judaism.” I think he was intimidated by “certain men” sent from James who weren’t on board with Jewish/Gentile table fellowship and he made the mistake of backing off. Maybe he started listening to the old and mistaken halachah that said “Gentiles were unclean,” but it’s not like Peter “came out of” Judaism and then slipped back into it, as if Judaism and being a disciple of the Jewish Messiah are mutually exclusive terms.

I flashed back to last week’s hollow man experience, and even though I subsequently regained some balance, my experiences during today’s service and in Sunday school afterward reminded me of the gulf of culture between me and normative Protestant Christianity.

It’s the feeling I get when one of the Pastors leads the congregation in an “old-time” hymn that “everyone knows,” except I don’t know it. It’s the feeling I get when people in Sunday school start using “Christian-isms” in their speech, and even if I understand what they’re talking about, it still sounds like a foreign language. Ironically, the person I’m thinking of used the “Christian-ism” term “baby Christians” when describing how more mature members of the faith can erect barriers at a number of different levels that inhibit very new Christians. Without realizing it, she was exhibiting the very behavior she knew put off “baby Christians.”. While I suppose I’m not a new believer, I’m fairly new to normative Christian culture. This re-entry thing has lots of trapdoors.

Another way I felt pretty strange today was noticing how, in our discussion about the events of Acts 11, modern Christian missionary concepts were dropped with complete anachronistic abandon into the synagogue (“church”) at Syrian Antioch. I don’t think that the Jewish Hellenists who fled Jerusalem after Stephen’s death were witnessing to the Greek-speaking Gentile pagans on the street. In fact, I don’t think that full on idol worshiping Gentiles were even “witnessed to” by Jewish disciples until Paul’s encounter recorded in Acts 14:8-18. The world of religious Judaism would have been exceptionally difficult to describe to pagan Gentiles. It’s far more likely that God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogues were the first non-Jewish audience (outside of the Samaritans) of “Jewish evangelists.”

tape-over-mouthBut I kept my mouth shut. As I’ve already said, I didn’t sleep well last night and got up at 4 a.m., so I was (and still am) pretty tired. It was wiser for me to be silent than to open my mouth and inject everything that was going through my head into the middle of the Sunday school class conversation. It’s not like anyone was saying anything wrong, but the perspective from which they were looking at the Acts 11 material was completely off to one side of how I see it. It’s not that I must have my way, but it just seemed like the story of the ancient Jewish and Gentile believers in Messiah had been stripped of its religious and cultural Jewish context and had been remade out of wholly Gentile Christian cloth…from the twenty-first century.

In presenting Acts 11:27-30 the study notes for today’s Sunday school lesson read:

How did this church respond, and what is there about Christians that gives them such joy in giving away what the world worships?

Paul and Barnabas were charged with taking a donation to the Jewish population in Judea when a famine is prophesied as relief for the suffering. The donations were given with abundance and joy but is this a “Christian” quality and one that had never been seen before in Israel?

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44

I suppose I could have mentioned that tzedakah was Jewish value long before there were such people as “Christians,” but it didn’t seem worth it to drop a bomb in the middle of the room. I figured this was just another indicator of the cultural and perceptual rift between me and the rest of the class.

Then I thought of another one. As I listen to people talk, in the foyer before services, in the sanctuary before (sometimes during) and after services, in the hallways between services and Sunday school, during and after Sunday school, I realize that these people have known each other for quite a while. I can’t believe they’ve developed these relationship seeing each other just once or twice a week at church. They probably associate with each other outside of church, go to lunch, go to barbecues at each other’s homes, and that sort of thing.

I remember when my wife and I were invited to a Christian’s home a few years back. My wife said it was OK if I went but she wasn’t interested. She doesn’t invite her Jewish friends to our house. She sometimes is involved in social activities at the synagogues here in town, but she doesn’t feel comfortable in primarily “Christian” environments and she doesn’t feel comfortable taking me to primarily “Jewish” environments. I kind of doubt I’ll be inviting people from church over to our home for a Sunday dinner any time soon.

This is quite an interesting effect of a “bilateral” life. It doesn’t affect anything else in what you would consider normal, family life, but my family life, defined as it is, will never intersect with my religious life.

If I can separate my experience from my emotions for a minute, this could actually be a useful study of the impact of the propositions put forth in Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David. One thing I am hoping Boaz will do eventually is to collect the stories of people who have actually followed his pattern of returning to churches to find out the real results in people’s lives and in the church environment.

I’m atypical in that my wife and I are not only intermarried, but I’m a believer and she isn’t (in the Messianic world, there are many intermarried Jewish/Gentile Christian couples, but they share faith in Jesus as Messiah). I know I’m only one voice, but if Boaz can bring together enough voices, we can all see the outcome of returning to the church for those folks like me who think so differently about God, the Bible, Messiah, and everything.

My day at church wasn’t a complete loss, though. I usually don’t care much about the music at church. It’s more something I tolerate than enjoy, but occasionally a little gem will be sprinkled in among the usual fare.

Don’t seek Judaism and don’t seek Christianity. Seek hope in God.

149 days.

The Hollow Man

clickedIt clicked when I saw this photo. I realized what’s been bothering me all along. I finally got why I was counting time down. Why I was waiting for it all to end. Why I didn’t believe my life in the community of faith was ever going to last. I realized I didn’t belong. I wasn’t part of the whole. No matter how hard I tried, I’d always be on the outside looking in.

Let me explain.

In reading the Rudolph and Willitts book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, I found a confirmation of what I believed about Jewish/Christian relations on so many levels. It all made so much sense. Chapters 17, 18, and 19, written by Craig Keener, William Campbell, and Scott Hafemann respectively, all spoke of Jewish and Gentile interdependence within the body of Messiah, specifically accessing Paul’s letter to the Romans. I’ll write about those chapters in more detail some other time, and I believe that there is an interdependence between believing Jews and Gentiles, but there’s a puzzle to solve, at least for me. The contributors to the Rudolph/Willitts book universally present the Messianic Jewish movement as one that is a home to believing Jews who are ethnically, culturally, religiously, and experientially Jewish. You cannot separate the lifestyle of being Jewish from the person who is Jewish, regardless if they have come to faith in Jesus as Messiah or not.

However, for the vast amount of Gentiles who are believers, their culture is the church. I know there are multiple expressions of the Christian church in our world, but they all have one thing in common. Their culture isn’t even remotely Jewish. Jewish religious and lived culture isn’t even remotely Christian. It’s like two different worlds that are trying to intersect and as interrelated as they are in Messiah, I’m not sure how they’re ever going to fit together.

And then there’s me.

No matter who you are as a believer, you “fit” somewhere. There are Gentiles, just tons and tons of them, who fit extremely well in the church. I’m anticipating seeing a lot of them tomorrow morning, Sunday morning at the church I attend. They are all very comfortable where they are. I’m the only one who sticks out like a sore thumb.

No, don’t tell me to go to a Jewish religious venue. None are accessible to me and even if they were, I don’t fit in there, either. Even if I fit in, that wouldn’t “fit in” with my wife. She’d feel extremely uncomfortable with my being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. And that’s what I’d be. My past participation in pseudo-Jewish Hebrew Roots wouldn’t even come close to preparing me for an actual Jewish cultural encounter.

I like to think of myself as a person with a foot in each of two worlds but the fact is, I am only standing in between them. I’m not in contact with either one. I don’t belong in either one. That isn’t to say I don’t believe, but faith and religion and worship don’t exist in a vacuum, they exist in community, and I don’t belong in any of them.

It’s like someone tried to transplant a heart into my chest, but my body is rejecting it. It doesn’t belong. It’s alien. Without it, I’ll die (metaphorically speaking, of course), but I’m not being nourished by it, either.

A friend of mine once said, don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism, but rather, seek an encounter with God. But how do I meet God without a context and a culture? People can’t experience God in raw, unshielded contact. We need an interface, layers of abstraction so we can make sense of what’s happening to us, so we won’t be obliterated by connecting to God. For Jews, that interface is Judaism, cultural, Talmudic, tradition-based Judaism. For Christians, that’s the church and all the culture and traditions that are attached to the various “Christianities” in our world.

But I don’t connect to either one. I don’t belong. That’s the problem. I can read the Bible, but if I read it in a Jewish or Christian framework, it seems alien. Only just plain reading it makes any sort of sense to me, but then I’m limited to my own experience. To access the sages and the experts, I have to apply a context, which puts me in contact with denomination, with doctrine, with theology, with culture, and while that seems to work for everyone else, it doesn’t work for me because their doctrine, theology, culture, and context doesn’t belong to me and I don’t belong to them.

Classic approach-avoidance syndrome or as put more plainly, can’t live with it and can’t live without it.

That’s why doing my homework for Sunday school seems like an exercise in emptiness. It’s a culture that I don’t relate to, a perspective that seems hollow. If I’m ever going to experience God, it will be somewhere outside religion and culture, but that’s impossible for a human being. So where does that leave a “hollow man?”

157 days.