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I am committed to a life provoking the invasion of The Coming Kingdom through: human service, ecstatic prayer, halakhic observation, community building, nurturing hope, and drawing down abiding faith...

Thursday, July 29, 2010


"Art does not draw from itself alone what it gives to things; it spreads over them a secret which it has first seized by suprise in them, in their invisible substance or in their endless exchanges and correspondences...a world more real than the real offered to the sense"-Jacques Maritain

This is a quote used as the introduction to Markus Bockmuehl's, Seeing the Word, a work offering insights as to how faith-centered academia can re-focus New Testament studies. Bockmuehl's initial metaphor views the Gospel authors as artists paining a scene, and the quote serves to make this comparison all the more powerful: The Gospel accounts are very much like artistic representations of encountering Yeshua. Because of this they are not necessarily meant to answer all of our questions or give us all of the information, rather they are meant to give over to us the deepest truth of the encounter, its majesty, its power.

This is what Maritain's quote would look like if we inserted the "Gospels" in place of the more generic, "art":

The Gospels do not draw from themselves alone what they give to things; the Gospels spread over things a secret which their authors had first seized by suprise in them, in their invisible substance or in their endless exchanges and correspondences...a world more real than the real offered to the sense

As we continue our own journeys with Yeshua, let us not forget to allow ourselves to be arrested by the encounter, to know that there are certain experiences that cannot be explicitly expressed by anything less than the holy imagination those experiences engender.

An Important Statement

A dear teacher of mine, Dr. David Rudolph, submitted a paper for the online journal, Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations. This paper is titled, "Paul's "Rule in All the Churches" (1 Cor 7:17-24) and Torah-Defined Ecclesiological Variegation

This is an important article for understanding one of the clearest exegetical bases for the Messianic Jewish community.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Heisenberg and the Kingdom of God

Heisenberg postulated the "Uncertainty Principle" based, in part, on his observed premise that the more you know the location of an particle, the less you can now about the speed at which it is moving, and vice-versa. Inevitably, this would leave one "uncertain" about either or both measurements at any given time depending on where the observer is focusing. If something has a definite position, then it has no definite momentum; if something has definite momentum, then it has no definite position. Interestingly enough, if this principle is applied "beyond" the realm of quantum physics and into the realm of complex dynamic systems more generally, Heisenberg's discovery has some powerful implications...

(lest you think my blog very rapidly turned into being something very different than what you were expecting :-)

The Kingdom of God is a dynamic system. It is a culture and system organized around the creative, revelatory, and redemptive work of God. Yeshua tells us that No one can know the hour of the fullness of the coming kingdom except the Father (Matthew 24:36). WHY? Because the Son IS the Kingdom coming NOW (Matthew 3:2)! The Son cannot determine its speed because He is focused on where it currently is, where He currently is. We cannot determine the velocity of the coming Kingdom, and that as why we are told simply that it IS HERE. So long as we are focused on when it will be, or where it is going for that matter, we will be unable to detrmine where it is now. This is why we are warned to not predict the end, but rather to discern the times. We need to know where we are, where the Kingdom is, and stay on board because this journey is unpredictable.

One might ask, "What about the prophets?"

Most (if not all) prophets prophesied based on what they heard and saw as in a present vision or voice, as if what will be was happening in front of them imminently. They could tell you that is was real because they knew where it was and that it was coming, but they could not predict: exactly when it would come to pass, what people's response to it would be, or what God's response would be. Anyone remember Jonah? The prophecy didn't even happen, all collapsed in the face of its indefinite location and momentum.

Alright then...What's the point of this confusion?

The more we realize God is coming, we miss where He is now. The more more we realize where we are now, we cannot know how fast (or slow) we're moving-or if we'll ever arrive. Yeshua teaches us where to put our eyes, what to know for sure, and what to leave uncertain. The point is that we musn't miss the Kingdom that is at hand because we are too frightened of the uncertainty that results in the inability to determine its ETA. God will always be full of suprises, and we will not likely arrive at any time that we can determine of a certainty. The comfort is in the realization that we know He is here NOW, and our motion toward Him needn't be definable...I'm certain of it :-)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Halakhic Observation

Terms like: Orthodox, Observant, Frum, and Shomer Mitzvot all conjure up images of a very specific kind of Jew. This is an individual who is scrupulous in living according to the norms and customs established and interpreted through the Shulchan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law). This individual likely sees him/herself as as halakhically centered, focused on a way to "properly walk" before God. Unfortunately in the Messianic Jewish community (inherited from secular, conservative, reform, etc. Jews), stereotypes and malicious feelings have arisen do to the behavior of some Jew who adhere to this way of life. This usually results in snide remarks about dress and behavior and generally leads to small attacks on any individual seeking to grow in "halakhic observance."

"Don't go too far."

"I don't want to see you in a black hat."

These are the kinds of remarks one can often hear if (Heaven Forfend) he/she is caught bentching when no one else around is doing it. The meta-communication is: "Be observant...but not TOO observant. And above all else HIDE your observance lest it ruffle too many feathers." While this kind of attitude is often flaunted as seeking to live a balanced approach to Jewish religious life it ends up normalizing, at best, dividing at worst, and it rarely harmonizes. I pray that this pervasive attitude will be replaced with a more "sterling way."

I have a modest suggstion to offer for our consideration...

At issue is not whether or not Messianic Jews look like Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Renewal, etc. The question is how we can be the best followers of Yeshua and live out the very best that Written Torah, Oral Torah, and the Living Torah have to offer. I want to offer the term: Halakhic Observation.

Halakha literally means "walk;" it does not mean "law." We Jews have laws, and halakha teaches us how to walk in those laws. The aversion the early Rabbis had in writing down halakhot was due to the fear that halakha would be elevated to the level of undisputed authority in the same way the Written Torah is; to write it down could end the halakhic discussion and make it difficult to adapt the Torah to new circumstances for the Jewish community. Sadly, the Rabbis fears came true in many ways, and most Jews think only of the Shulchan Arukh when they speak of living "halakhically." Now before we start wagging our fingers at the Orthodox again I want to remind us that other branches of Judaism have done the same with their own standards, and it behooves us to look at the problem with new eyes. We need to begin a communal process of dialogue not only about what our halakhic norms should be, but also how to think and live as halakhic communities. This could enable us to avoid the pitfalls of emphasis on norms at the expense of learning the principles that guide the norms.

For example:
Do we drive on Shabbat because "we don't live in the shtetl anymore," or because we see the opportunity to hear the Torah as a community on Shabbat morning as a mitzvah that will bare more fruit in the long term. I pray it will one day be the latter reason.

Halakhic Observance has come to mean "observing halakha." Halakhic Observation means that whatever we encounter, we live in it halakhically. Halakhic Observation means that we observe the world around us, our communal lives, our relationship with one another, and our relationship with God by means of our walk in God's perfect guide...It means that we observe every aspect of our lives as an opportunity to do a mitzvah...It may enable us to truly be living Torahs ourselves...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Beit Midrash...A taste of Shamayim

I remember when I first read the Talmudic accounts of Shamayim (Heaven) being like a giant Beit Midrash (House of Study) and feeling a little bit like the Rabbis were creating heaven in their own image. The whole thing seemed a little puzzling to me. I, like many others in the Messianic Jewish movement, was taking for granted the role of learning and learning communities. This is not that uncommon in the wider Jewish world either. Gemilut Hasidim and Avodah are treated as superior devotional categories in liberal branches of Judaism. Torah is practically treated as the smallest of these pillars and relegated to the realm of scholarship, with very few exceptions. Torah learning is not seen as devotional but the realm of the intellect which as a result of our platonic inheritance is seen as separate from intuitive experience and physical action.

The beginning of my week-long Rabbinical school intensive didn't seem to offer anything new to shatter the status quo in this regard. Very early on I was told that the experience would be a combination of the intuitive with the academic, achieved through two classes: "Experiencing the Ruach in Jewish Space," and "Seminar in Rabbinic Texts: Eikha Rabbah" each corresponding to one of these modes, respectively. No one mentioned the academic value in the Ruach class, and even few explored the intuitive spiritual value of the Midrash seminar. Nothing could have been further from the truth...

Both classes required academic skill. Both classes connected me more deeply to God, Am Yisrael, The Body of Messiah, and my own soul. The experience of all of us learning and living together enabled me to: be spontaneous in the siddur, be liturgical in free-form prayer expressions, feel deeply in working out translations, and to excercise my intellect in devotional meditation. The dichotomies and tensions I once lived with vanished and I knew I would never be the same. Why this sudden change?

We all came together primarily to learn Torah, and that included living together in intentional community (making breakfast, cleaning up after lunch, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.), praying together, and sharing together. I grew closer to everyone during this time in a way that I didn't anticipate but am eternally grateful for. The crying, laughing, thinking, praying, yelling, whispering, and general intimacy came because we did acts of kindness for one another, we prayed together, and we learned together. It was truly a Beit Midrash...

It dawned on me that willingness to learn together is so under-appreciated in our community and this is a major hinderance to our growth. We're all looking for common theology and the perfect prayer services. Without learning together, where will our familiarity with the language of the siddur come form? Without learning together, where will the arousal to speak to God from what we have first heard come from? Without learning together, where will the knowledge of one another come from? Charity is important. Theology is important. Intimacy with God is important. Sharing meals together is important. But it is the Torah which first taught us these things are important, and without its reminders and potential for new revelation we will most certainly forget and these important categories will lose their power in our lives. I am convinced that it was our learning together fueled the intensity of our davening and communal connection with one another.

I encourage all of us to work toward the formation of learning communities within our movement. I know my first experience of one was a little taste of Shamayim...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Av: At Night, Weeping...In the Morning, a Cry of Joy

Crying is an emotional expression I am not very good at any more. Rarely do I allow myself to feel something deep enough that I can cry. The month of Av is, to some extent, a month very much connected with crying. First and foremost, it holds the commemoration of the destruction of both Temples. The weight of these catastrophic events cannot be underestimated. I have had the privelege to begin a class on the midrashim of Eikha Rabbah (I will will be learning more inside for the first seven days of Av for an MJTI Rabbincal intensive in L.A.). The willingness the Rabbis have to portray God as a mourning Husband, Father, King, and even Mother is profoudly moving. It demonstrates to me the the Rabbis are trying to get Jews distant from the Destruction of the second Temple to understand the extent of its impact. This event changed Judaism and Jewish life forever. Even the rebuilding of the Temple cannot erase the long dark history of this exile. In my community, it is in this time that we take the opportunity to reflect on Messiah's execution. This is also an event that that changed the course of history forever. This year, I want to be able to cry over these events. I want Am Yisrael to be able to cry over the memory of tumbling walls, screaming children, watching our wives get raped, our children get trampled, our King get beaten, and His tired flesh bruised and bloody...

But then there is another kind of crying in Av...

The Talmud relates that the 15th of Av was, along with Yom Kippur, the most joyous day of the year. It was the day of young maidens going out into the city of Jerusalem to find their bridegrooms. There is often alot of crying at weddings and engagements! These are joyful times to celebrate the beggining of new life, the end of an old life. It is likely no coincidence that the 15th of Av is the full moon of that month. The evening of the 15th of Av is the brightest night in the darkly burdened night that is the month of Av. As a follower of Yeshua I want to go out into the world on the 15th of Av dressed in white, with all of Am Yisrael, seeking our Bridegroom with plenty of oil in stock. I want us to remember the coming Kingdom, and to cry for Joy together...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Isolation, Desolation, and Miracles

As we have begun our journey through three weeks of reflection and consciously facing our pain, I wanted to share a former Set Table piece I wrote that expresses my faith that it is in the midst of desolation that the miraculous power of God can shine forth and conquer...

Much of the work of Messiah as presented to us in the Besorot has to do with overturning forces that keep the body and soul imprisoned. In fact, it is this very overturning that threatened all establishments; his radical invasion of governments, power structures, villages, homes, bodies, souls, and hearts. This theme is found in the Torah.

In Exodus, before any Promised Land is given to the nation of slaves coming out of Egypt, they are called to the Desert (Exodus 5:1). They are called away from the cacophony of an empire in love with the sound of its own sin. Moses prays to YHVH “outside of the city” (see Exodus 9:33). In fact, all of his encounters with YHVH are away from the presence of Pharaoh. This illustrates the need for the silence that comes from isolation in desolate places; it is the beginning of fear of God. Before a connection characterized by love was established, there was fear and apprehensiveness. This apprehensiveness is also a desolate place from which the power of God can become manifest.

YHVH begins to become known in the desolate places, to those who will heed the call…to those who will carry the Presence into “society”. Nothing established is left safe. Tolerance of oppression, tolerance of pain, tolerance of fear, tolerance of men-gods, tolerance of god’s made by the hands of man, and tolerance of empire’s “creating of worlds” (see Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 3:5) are all obliterated by YHVH’s defibrillator for creation: the miracle.

Fast-forward to Mark 1:29-45. It begins with Yeshua casting out the illness of Shimon’s mother-in-law. This doesn’t happen publicly. It happens in the privacy of a home, in the presence of few. Then it is not until the beginning of night that he heals many people’s illnesses and cast out their demons. Finally, he keeps the demons from revealing his identity (see Mark 1:29-34). Mark is showing us that Yeshua was keeping much of His power and identity veiled. The desolation of the not-yet-fully-revealed needed to be maintained.

The mystery of the power of God can be a frightening thing. It is secretive yet penetrating. It is something less than welcomed by crowds. It is something that necessitates the retreat of its bearer before it can become manifest publicly:

“Early in the morning while it was still like night, he got up and went to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (The New Covenant, Barnstone).

After healing the leper in the following section, Yeshua specifically instructs him to keep quiet about the miracle, but the man does not listen. What follows is what the NIV so poignantly translates as Yeshua “stayed outside in lonely places” (Mark 1:45).

Every mother feels her birthing pains alone, and these pains are the antithesis to the joy that results from them. The birthing pains of the miracle, and of its agent, are desolation and loneliness. Maybe it is only in desolation can we learn to need God fully. Our joy is that it doesn’t end with desolation. It ends with homecoming, the building of a kingdom, and the conquering of death!

Accidental Commonality and Unity

My trip to Italy was filled with amazingly beautiful and powerful experiences that will be with me all of my life. It was especially challenging to confront the barrier between Christianity and Judaism in Europe, and the suprising place in which those lines broke down...

The divides between Judaism and Christianity over history in Europe is familiar to most people and the fact that this divide would still be so strong (though not as overtly violent) would also not likely be suprising to people. This divide is most profoundly expressed in the traditional Roman Catholicism that is predominant as well as the lack of: Conservative, Reform, Renewal, etc. Jewish presence. The potential for a strong Messianic Judaism in Europe is significantly dampened by both parties strong adherence to religious traditions uncomfortable with redefining boundaries. With that said, there was one area where the artisitc paved a road toward commonality (though entirely without intention).

Italy is home of some of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, particularly in Florence and Venice. Interestingly enough, the main Synagogue in Florence, and the Synagogues in Venice are also some of the most beautiful in the world. The Synagogue in Florence is the same shape as the famous Duomo in the same city. The inside of the Synagogue has a pipe organ, pulpit, and the ark is placed right where the altar would be were the building to be a Church. Amazingly enough, this particular Synagogue was commissioned by the Orthodox community. They had no intention of using the organ on Shabbat or the pulpit. It was designed this way because they hoped to attract more Jews who had strayed from Judaism through creating a place similar to a Church. The starkest difference is that the scrolls of the Torah replace the image of Yeshua on the cross. Incidently, the Synagogues in Venice were also not built Jews because in order to be an architect one had to be a member of a guild, and Jews were not allowed such memberships.

What we have here is an ironic twist provoked by a need for both the Church and the Jewish people to have beatiful places to worship God where the difference between them, visually, lies in the exaltation of the written Word (Scrolls and Hebrew letters) for one, and the Fleshly dimension (images and the Living Word) for the other. As the title of my blog would suggest, I see these two categories is indivisibly ONE.

What a beautiful thing to know that when Jews and Christians in this period decided to build their beit t'fillot all the differences in theology couldn't keep out the unbreakable link between them.