30 April 2014

Vandalism

I honestly don't understand these companies. The custom around Sydney is that glass repairing places have the right to affix stickers on your front door, to make themselves available in case someone (else) vandalizes your property and smashes your glass. I'm not sure who first started doing it, but I am amazed. On one property across the street, I saw 9 such stickers from various glass repairing agencies. Fairly obsessive and over-the-top for decoration, to be sure.

So last Wednesday I noticed that two such companies had offered their services to me by posting stickers on my door. OK, no problem. This happened a few years ago across the street, and all I had to do was to ring the company, ask them to remove it and to put us on a 'no sticker' list. Done.  Only not this time. It's now been 8 days and I'm still waiting for these very bad companies to remove a simple sticker. They were in the area long enough to vandalize our door; they ought to be able to find their way back to remove the sticker, don't you imagine?

But each of them is reluctant. I don't want to be petty, but if I were to go put a sticker on their door, they might not be happy. And what right do I have to sticker their office or shop anyway? What ever happened to putting leaflets under the door and offering a service? That seems a reasonable way to live and a way to cooperate, doesn't it? Or am I getting snarky and old?

When I rang last week, each of them told me 'by the end of the week, we'll have that off." Neither said, "sorry" but simply told me quickly "no worries' and hung up. OK, no worries; makes sense to me.

Only now it's been 8 days and I'm not worried; I'm bothered. Is there a company watchdog to whom I can report these two wayward vandalizing companies? The companies are named Superior Glass and Ace Glass. What (else) should I do?

No worries.

26 April 2014

It's Jewish to believe in Jesus

Lately a couple Jewish men in their 60s have professed faith in Messiah Yeshua. And their stories, half a world from one another, have the same ring to it. Their self-evaluation is twofold. One, they are more at peace and have a life that handles situations so much better as a result and two, they are still Jewish. Now to be fair, we've been saying and hearing this for a long time, but that these two gentlemen are saying it so clearly this month to me is noticeable.

"Don"* in the US South says, "ever since deciding to declare my acceptance of Yeshua, I have felt a greater sense of calmness and serenity.  I now know that this was and is the right decision, and the right path for me to follow.  The key to this sense of fulfillment and calmness is in the understanding that first and last, I AM STILL A JEW.  This is also the reason why continuing to be involved with the synagogue here doesn’t cause me any stress.  After all, I am the same person I was before – a committed Jew – just less conflicted over my thoughts and feelings about how to either accept or ignore Yeshua"

"Pete"* in Australia writes, " Just read the article on forgiveness. Thought you'd find some interest in it. 
Forgiveness is something that up until now has been somewhat very difficult for me to truly feel and provide. I admit to harbouring many thoughts and feelings of hate, revenge and scorn for some throughout my life until now, but somehow those harmful sentiments have become those of pity and sadness for those that had hurt me.  
The support of the Prince of peace in my life has been the most wonderful enhancement making my existence so much more fulfilling. 
Wishing you a true Shabbat Shalom. 
With love"
They both continue in synagogue. They both love the women in their lives and are continuing to live a stable life in that regard. God is overseeing their walk with Him and that's so comforting to those of us in ministry.  They still observe Shabbat. They will continue to study the Bible, including the Newer Testament. One has gone forward in immersion (Messianic mikveh) and the other will consider that, too. 
They are not the only ones doing this. My friend "Gavin"* has been walking with Messiah for a few years and only recently began sharing what he believes with others at his synagogue.  He finds it exciting and helpful to them, to those with whom he's sharing, to pass on to them what he believes.
Last Thursday night we had Bible study on Exodus chapter 9 and I shared about compromise and overcoming that in a 'face-like-flint' approach to life. I said, "Living a life of convictions makes others to know what we stand for, and gives them a chance to follow as well."
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I guess my feelings today are filled with pleasure as I ponder how these men and so many others are living honestly, living forthrightly, living a Jewish life in recognition of the Prince of Peace, Yeshua from Nazareth, who died for our sins and rose from the dead. He's awesome. He's worthy of your consideration also. Won't you ask Hashem who Yeshua is? And listen for the answer?

Shabbat shalom.

* Not his real name

14 April 2014

Finding reason in shootings and deaths




The news is just coming in and more will be revealed as the day goes on, but it's clear that a shooter came into Kansas City's suburban Jewish Community Center in Overland Park and shot people, then traveled the 2.6 miles to Village Shalom, the retirement and assisted living center nearby, and shot more. Three were dead in this shocking dual event.

Here's channel 41's news report in Kansas City:
KC News

The shooter cried "Heil Hitler" on the eve of the Jewish Passover, the season of our Redemption which begins on Monday night worldwide.

Two weeks ago another shooter walked onto the base at Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas and like happened in 2009, killed innocent victims nearby. The shootings happened at several locations on base.
Four people, including the gunman, were killed, while sixteen other people were injured. The shooter, 34-year-old Ivan Lopez, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.


Senseless shootings; innocent victims; the phrases ring in our ears and pain us like a punch in the gut. Why did these madmen do what they did? Why does anyone do such irrational things?

Of course, here's the problem. We are seeking to know about rationality in irrationality.

Ayn Rand said, "Rationality is man’s basic virtue, the source of all his other virtues. Man’s basic vice, the source of all his evils, is the act of unfocusing his mind, the suspension of his consciousness, which is not blindness, but the refusal to see, not ignorance, but the refusal to know. Irrationality is the rejection of man’s means of survival and, therefore, a commitment to a course of blind destruction; that which is anti-mind, is anti-life."

These madmen and any number of others--think Columbine, think Port Arthur, think all wild and crazed murderous attacks-- they are irrational. And thus, anti-life. Shame.

Tonight begins the holiday of Passover, an eight-day holiday celebrating the deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt about 3,500 years ago. And Friday here in Australia, a national holiday is titled "Good Friday." This commemorates the death of the Jewish messiah in Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago. His name was Yeshua and although he had done no violence. The Jewish Bible predicted this about him, "He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed."
 (Isaiah the prophet, chapter 53, verses 3-5)

In the natural, looking for reason from those who killed Yeshua, some might have cited sedition or heresy. But really there was no really good reason to kill the innocent Son of God. No deceit was in his mouth. Isaiah goes on to say, "But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief." (verse 10) So although naturally there were no good reasons, and Ayn Rand would have cited something about the irrationality of the murderers, God had another plan. It's 'good' Friday because God saw to our problem, He saw to our need for forgiveness and delivered us from a tyrant far worse than Pharaoh. He delivered us from sin. No wonder the Lord was pleased. God wanted us back in relationship with Him, and only forgiveness could accomplish this.

I pray for all the victims and the families of the victims in Kansas City and in Texas. Let's work this year to make sense out of other people's sufferings and to live a life that pleases the Almighty.

13 April 2014

Funerals and living

My brother died and was buried on the first day of US spring. He was a fighter to the end as liver cancer beat him. Although it could be said that he drank himself to his grave, my sister wanted to say that he insisted on living life like Sinatra: his way. Death and life... what do they have to do with each other?

The rabbi gave a wonderful eulogy, of a person she'd never met. Her text is here. Eulogy 

My friend Tom was in attendance at the funeral and I handed him my camera to shoot some stills. He did a great job and the photos are here on my Flickr page

As a result of Michael's passing, I have been grieving for the last few weeks, saying Kaddish, wearing my black torn ribbon, pondering what it all means. Death is seriously part of life.

My brother had no relationship with his family for about 50 years. Oh sure he'd attend to various required moments and at brief times even seem to enjoy them, but his distancing himself from life as we knew it in the 1950s and 1960s in suburban Kansas City, in an Orthodox Jewish home, in black and white normalcy, was apparent to all who knew him. Don't get me wrong; he wanted to live his life out loud. He married twice. He had a family in California with whom he had no relationship for decades. He had a son from his second wife with whom he 'was tight' but who had not been home in over four years. He didn't even know he was a great grandfather, three times!

But then the pain in his hip was unbearable. He went last June to a doctor in KC and they found his body was suffering from Stage 4 Liver Cancer. Immediately Michael met death in the face. He was terminal. And if that be so, then how shall he die, and how shall he live?

As if the clock turned back to 1963, Michael became familiar again. He still had too many dress-up clothes, like 15 pairs of suspenders and suits he hadn't worn in years, but he reached out to and welcomed family contact. His daughters reconnected with him; his son came back twice in the 10 months until he passed. My time with him was renewed. I saw and spent time with him three times, in July, October and January. Those times were immeasurable. They were great. 

I wanted so much for him to say "Yes" to living in faith in the living God and in His Son Yeshua who died for him. I wanted Michael to encounter eternity in the person of Messiah, but that wasn't what Michael wanted.  I wanted him to read the Bible I gave him, and to be fair, he did glance at it a bit. Eternity is not mine to judge or oversee, and for that determination we await the Master's voice.

But in this transitory life, Michael found living again. Death is part of life. He didn't break relationships; he welcomed them again.  I'm glad for our final days together. I'm glad for his kindnesses to our sister especially. She served him tirelessly to the end as she had done with our parents in their days which ended a decade before.

Michael's life was much more than these photos of his life.

His was a hard life. His was a 68-year life.

Moses, the leader of the Jewish people 3,500 years ago, wrote a psalm. Most of the psalms in our Bible were written by King David 500 years later, but Moses wrote one of them. We call it Psalm 90.  In verse 3, we read of life's endings, "You turn man back into dust and say, 'Return, O children of men.' " As for the endings of our days, they usually are fadings, turning the lights out. Moses says of it, "We have finished our years like a sigh."  And in verse 12, the key is found. What does it all mean for us, who remain alive, who have a lot of living to do? "So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom."

That's it. Knowing that all of us are terminal should help us number our days, to make the most of the days in which we find ourselves. Now there are two ways to ponder and deal with this. We can 'live for today' with a 'devil-may-care' attitude and live as if there is no tomorrow. We can plunder savings accounts, cast off restraints, and fuggetaboutit all. But that's not what I mean.

Horace's famous "carpe diem" is not what I'm recommending. His quote is here: "Ask not—we cannot know—what end the gods have set for you, for me; nor attempt the Babylonian reckonings Leuconoë. How much better to endure whatever comes, whether Jupiter grants us additional winters or whether this is our last, which now wears out the Tuscan Sea upon the barrier of the cliffs! Be wise, strain the wine; and since life is brief, prune back far-reaching hopes! Even while we speak, envious time has passed: pluck the day (carpe diem), putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow!"

In that famous ode, Horace seems to be recommending to urge us to embrace the pleasures available in everyday life instead of relying on remote aspirations for the future. Green Day sing "Carpe Diem" and their words "Getting off a binge; get a second wind" remind me that some see 'oh well, there's no tomorrow, let's party" as the answer. But that's not the best.

Think of Eleanor Roosevelt's quote, "The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” The carpe diem style of Thoreau comes out in his “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

I even liked what AA Milne wrote when Winnie the Pooh asked “What day is it?" "It's today," squeaked Piglet. "My favorite day," said Pooh.”

So, death is part of life. When we are met with death, we have choices to make. Live as if there is no tomorrow, or live in making the best of today because there might not be a tomorrow. The nuance is subtle; the differences are monumental.

Eminem is no hero of mine. I don't listen to his songs, but this one which focuses on the nonsense of his rise to fame and the madness of people on so many levels, from police to parents to attorneys to the youth who listen and worship him and his songs caught my eye today. He says, "That's why we seize the moment try to freeze it and own it, squeeze it and hold it Cause we consider these minutes golden. And maybe they'll admit it when we're gone Just let our spirits live on, through our lyrics that you hear in our songs and we can...

Sing with me, sing for the year
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me now, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away"

This carpe diem reflection is exactly NOT what I'm saying. You do have a life to live. Make the best of it. Live today as if there were no tomorrow, not without care, but with great care. Live today because it's the best day you've got. Serve people. Serve God. Learn something. Give something. Dance, sing, enjoy... of course. At your own expense, not theirs.

Yeshua said it this way, "Seek first God's kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6.33-34)  Let's serve others; let's make today count. And when tomorrow comes and we wake up in eternity, we can thank God that His purposes were met. That will be the most satisfying day of all.

Sounds like Moses. "Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom."

Death is part of OUR life. Let's make the best day ever. Today. 

02 April 2014

Noah, the movie with help from R. Fink

OK, I'm in the US and will see the movie Noah in due course.

So many in Tennessee are saying it's not worth seeing. But I'm in the bastion of the Bible belt, just miles from the venue for the Scopes trial. Fair enough. Here are some comments from others, and I will add my own in due course.

Sides are being chosen. HotAir’s Ed Morrssey calls it “a mess,” while Steven D. Greydanus says it’s “deeply serious.” while cultural critic R.J. Moeller noted that “biblical scholars [also] criticized Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments when they came out.” This is just a sampling of opinion.

Darren Aronofsky's new $100 million blockbuster film Noah opened on Friday in 3,936 theaters to a huge wave of media attention. Google News lists over 1,400 stories on the film this morning and IMDB lists 2,217 articles -- many of them evaluating its merits or assessing the public reaction. Mainstream reviews are mostly solidly positive (Rotten Tomatoes 73, Metacritic 68) but the film is being blasted, damned and condemned in many conservative Christian circles. So far it has been banned in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, as well as Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE -- but here in the U.S. those objecting most strongly to the film are Christians who find its portrayal of the Noah story "unfaithful" to the Bible.

Ken Ham, the self-styled Kiwi "Creationist" tells TIME magazine that the film is an insult to Christians, with "barely a hint of biblical fidelity," and thus "unbiblical" and "pagan." Glenn Beck, labels the film a "100-million-dollar disaster," objecting, among other things, that it is "pro-animal" and "anti-human." Erick Erikson, on his Redstate blog, concludes his scorching review with the suggestion that "we might should consider burning at the stake any Christian leader who endorses this movie." His tweet was picked up by MSNBC and other TV media last night and has now gone viral. Brian Godawa calls the film "Godawful" in the Christian Post, referring to "the sick twisted agenda that seeps through every frame of this movie."

Rabbi Fink from LA wrote this on his blog and this may help you understand where many of the stories came from: 
"In general, I’m not much of a Bible movie guy. But I was excited for Noah because I think it’s a story that is rich with complex questions that leave a ton of room for exploring old and new ideas. In this respect, Noah excelled. It did explore old and new ideas. Some of it was odd and very far afield, but it all makes sense in the context of the story.

That’s why I say Noah is a very Jewish movie. As far as I know, Christians have pretty monolithic views of the Old Testament. It’s just not as important as the New Testament to them and perhaps that is why there is less creativity and homiletics in Christianity. Also, Christianity is not a text based religion so there are fewer scholars and fewer opportunities to analyze text. Further, when studying religious trends, one scholar refers to “Biblical Literalism” as a marker of devotion to Christianity. Even the most fervent Orthodox Jews are not Biblical Literalists. Orthodox Jews treat the Old Testament as the basis for a sophisticated oral tradition. We are absolutely not Biblical Literalists. There are certainly boundaries of acceptable allegory and well established interpretations that are preferred over others. But it’s not true literalism.

For Jews, Midrash has such a prominent place in Torah study. There are many kinds of Midrash, and one form of Midrash adds details and background to the Biblical narratives. It’s common for great Torah scholars to learn a new approach or twist on a Biblical story found in a Midrash. Our versions of these stories encompass competing and contradictory views. Even today, long after the closing of the Midrash texts, many great rabbis, especially in Chasidic circles, will derive new lessons and find new twists in the story to teach an important idea.

In that sense, Noah takes the Jewish approach. The movie strays very far from the text. In the Bible, the story of the flood is long on construction details and specific dates but short on lessons and drama. The movie contrives much of its drama, but it’s not completely Hollywood imagination. Many of the superimposed conflicts and stories have roots in Torah and Jewish tradition. Whether it’s borrowing from the Book of Enoch or adapting from actual Midrashic teachings, much of the movie, with one giant exception, felt familiar enough to me.

Perhaps the most vocal and most common criticism I’ve seen from conservatives has been their objection to the ecological overtones of the movie. Aside from my personal opinion that worrying about this kind of not subliminal, subliminal message in a movie is silly, the truth is that our tradition supports this idea.

One Midrash teaches us that until Noah saved the animals in his ark, Man was prohibited from eating meat. Adam was a vegetarian. The animal world was protected and Man had no right to kill for his lunch. Only because Noah was responsible for the survival of the animals was he permitted to eat meat after the flood. Another tradition says that we couldn’t eat meat for our personal pleasure until we entered the Land of Canaan in the time of Joshua. According to one stream of Jewish thought, even then, eating meat is not ideal. Rav Kook famously held that vegetarianism was part of the Utopian Messianic era. This is not hippy drippy Hollywood. This is Judaism.

Similarly, in our tradition Noah was named for his farming innovations. One Midrash says that Noah invented the plow. It’s not a disconcerting invasion of foreign modernity to see Noah as a symbol of agrarian life. Another Midrash teaches us that Noah was super sensitive to the needs of the animals in the ark. He was a sort of proto-animal rights activist. That’s not the liberal movie industry, that’s Torah.

Throughout the movie there is a magical light source called zohar. It can be mined like a precious stone and could provide light and fire if used the right way. I thought this was a clever adaptation of the Midrash that explains the “tzohar” that Noah placed in the ark for light. One opinion in the Midrash is that the tzohar was a precious stone that provided light. It seems obvious to me that this is the source for zohar in Noah. The movie simply turned tzohar into zohar (which means radiance) and assumed that these stones were available to everyone.

Here are some other adaptations from Midrash that occurred to me during the movie. Don’t worry, I won’t reveal how these examples are used in the movie.  There is a Midrash that says that the animals came to the ark on their own. One Midrash teaches that people began to attack the ark as the rains began and the wild animals surrounded the ark to protect Noah and his family. Some rabbis teach that Noah had little faith and did not enter the ark until the water rose above his ankles. We have a tradition that Og was a kind of stowaway on the ark. There are more examples, but you get the picture. To someone familiar with Midrash, embellishments like these are expected and accepted. To Biblical Literalists, they might be offensive.

I also loved the portrayal of Noah as a conflicted hero. He is so easy to love and admire for much of the movie. Later in the movie he becomes an anti-hero. You’re rooting against him. To me, this was a modern take on the famous dispute between the rabbis about whether Noah was only righteous compared to the sinners of his time or if he was truly righteous despite his evil milieu. Before everyone is killed in the flood, Noah is objectively good. He is good compared to the people of his time. But when it’s just him and his family, there are no more evil people to compare with Noah, he falls and seems less righteous.

Noah is a pretty good movie. For people accustomed to learning lessons and studying rabbinic teachings that add to the Biblical text, the movie should not offend. But I do see why Biblical Literalists are so disturbed. I just don’t understand their expectations. At worst, they could view the movie about a fictional Noah the way they might view Neo from the Matrix as a fictional version of Jesus.

I thought it was really cool to see a modern retelling of the Noah story. Of course there is a ton of stuff that is decidedly not Torah or Judaism. But that didn’t bother me. I didn’t see the movie to learn the story of Noah. It’s a movie that tells the story of Noah in a new way but borrows heavily from text and tradition. Its purpose was to entertain, but it also has the side benefit of promoting discussion and debate about Torah. That’s a good thing too."

I'll see it and wonder later this week why the noise. They love making "Jesus" and "Bible" movies and releasing them near Passover/ Easter. Good profits, I should think. We'll see.