Monday, December 26, 2016

Encouraging one another: God's social media addiction solution #2

As I mentioned in my introductory post on social media addiction inspired by an article on Breslev Israel's site by Lori Steiner, I believe our individual identity is firmly rooted in our relationship with God. Her article identified the recent social app driven surge of fear in youth stemming from being part of the wrong social crowd and its confirmed influence towards a general state of unhappiness. Ms. Steiner recommended three Judaic solutions for combating social dissatisfaction for these disaffected souls including encouraging one another through inspiring or educational words.

Educating others

As an educator I know that it's more important to give a student encouragement for effort than to give an assessment on their quality of work. Anyone can get someone these days to tell them what they think is wrong with the world, your life, or the president. I think it may be a too common habit learned from the educational process to find flaws and set yourself up as an expert in a logical experiment to find a new premise and support it even if you're not very good at it and it's really just a pedantic style of complaining.
Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Pro 12:25
Students need the self-confidence that it takes to keep grinding away at the same problem or topic for years without losing hope that it will be wasted. Even students who are not looking for a degree have the same need to come to terms with the complexities of business theories as they work their way through life and their career. Sometimes that difficult day is just improved by a smile and a recognition that doing a mundane process is being noticed and appreciated.

When God encourages

A critical spirit will sap the life from a creative spirit and turn an idea into an impossible journey when it's the journey that is the joy. To bring an inspiring word to someone who is on the path to a seemingly unobtainable goal is to dispel the despair of existentialism by letting the light of our Lord God who shines in us into the shadows of life.
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Pro 17:22
Sisyphus forever pushing a boulder up the hill represents the Greek standard we are bound to that excludes any hope and creates a crushed spirit. But in this season of Hanukkah, the Greeks are the defeated ones, and our Lord God, who encouraged Zechariah through a vision for the rebuilding of the second temple begun also on 25 Kislev, brought encouragement through the miracle of purified oil on that same day.

Inspiring others

Family members and friends need that support also for trying to do things the right way even though they may be using bad tactics or old habits that irritate you.  But I would always choose a kind heart over a unfriendly demeanor to be with. And if they need some reinforcement, there's nothing like recognizing a good trait in them.

Even our leaders need a good word even when they seem like they are doing just fine. But the tasks of leadership can be overwhelming and hidden from the people they are responsible for. I think it's important to take a minute and let your boss know that you like a particular decision or bring a small gift at an appropriate time.
But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” Deut 3:28
I don't think Joshua would have been so willing to take over the leadership role to lead the children of Israel had Moses told him that he'd never live up to his standards but it was still God's will for him to follow in his footsteps.

Your inspiration

Words about God are words that will inspire you. The mere existence of the world and its wonders should inspire you. Sunrises and sunsets are worth paying attention to just because it's a divine art gallery that you can visit twice a day. Let's look for where our Lord God has put a canvas painted with life and practice to finds words to appreciate that. I can suggest a chapter if you need one.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy. Psalm 65:8
So, with all this encouragement and inspiration, the glamour of social media should lessen. The words on the Facebook posts should look weaker and the followers should turn into just numbers that can't become a person you confide in. The weak links of relationships in social media can't become strong because it isn't built that way. The only way to get a meaningful relationship is through the power of God and following his commandments.

May the Lord God of the universe give us the eyes to see the abundance of examples of encouragement in the world and the amount of detail that exists in harmony to inspire us. Let us give back in worship and praise to the creator who has seen that all parts of our physical world encourage and maintain all the other parts of these perfectly aligned systems. And let Him who has allowed us to live and toil in this creation be blessed by our praise and our encouragement to others to praise him.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Helping others: God's social media addiction solution #1

As I mentioned in my introductory post on social media addiction inspired by an article on Breslev Israel's site by Lori Steiner, I think that our individual identity is firmly rooted in our relationship with God. The point of her article was to identify the recent social app driven surge of fear in youth stemming from not being a part of the right social crowd and its confirmed influence towards a general state of unhappiness. Ms. Steiner recommended three Judaic solutions for combating social dissatisfaction for these disaffected souls one of which was helping others.

A sacrifice of our time

Helping others requires a sacrifice of our personal life resources whether it be the time we are unable to recover or the money which we use our time to replace. This sacrifice of time might be thought of as a loss but because of the reversing nature of this simple mystery, the one who sacrifices is the one who gains. Out of a true sacrifice, a person will discover that they are the one who receives the blessing.

There are many examples of this kind of blessing through sacrifice. The one example that caught my interest recently was when the Israelites came out of bondage into freedom into the desert. The life jeopardizing commandment given from God was to not do work of the kind that creates resalable value on one day during the week so that they inwardly turned to God regularly, and externally puzzled the rest of the ancient world who had no precedent for not working except in the royal classes. The God of Moses asked him to sacrifice a day per week as part of the covenant between them
Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. (Exodus 31:14)
The type of work that creates value is my modern interpretation of this word work (melakah), where doing something that creates value is like God creating a universe that has become our elegant home. It is in direct opposition to a priceless act of work (avodah) or selfless servitude that turns us to rescue another or to worship God and the result can not be bought for any price. Of course, my Hebrew needs a lot of work so I'm open to influence and correction here.

An altar all alone

The social media emptiness accumulating through shallow communications we have with people online is creating our loneliness. We interact with messages, false messages, and ads but never a whole person. Honor has been downgraded to a number of likes and not praise. Influence is counted in fickle followers and not obedience. People hide behind their avatars.

There's a spot inside of us where that loneliness is like a vacuum, waiting to be filled. It's an altar for sacrifices where we can find the history of our life much like blood sprinkled on the sides of the temple altar left for the observers to remember. If our sacrifice is a true one, then the life of that sacrifice turns into a blessing of life for us, in a mystery of atonement. Sacrifices when made from real value create lasting memories. And if there is such a thing as the blood of our spirit, it has to be flowing with the memories of those sacrifices.
But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. (Deut 12:16) 
We all have an internal altar or at least a psychological representation of one where we try to fulfill our rite of atonement in other ways. Magazines create sensational headlines calling our seeking for this acceptable sacrifice, the quest for happiness or other flavors of pabulum just to sell issues for the ad revenue. But it's just emptiness on an unused altar.

What if there's nothing on our altar to atone for our sin and we long to find something? Then we find a powerful foreign god to put there. And since there is no life in that idol, then there will be no life in us. So we find another idol and another until the altar is filled with useless distractions of technological power creating the excess of activity seen with keeping up with trying to be popular on social media. Our power pantheon of apps and high-tech devices has grown out of a need to find life, but these bloodless substitutes leave us with memories lacking in meaning.

Our smart phones have a memory of our lives by taking photos and storing thousands of images. But what sense is it to let the phone stand between you and the life that is taking place waiting for you to step into the dance that you find yourself dutifully recording? Will your memory be richer because you can replay one of a hundred different events you didn't participate in or will be you changed because you connected with another human being and it forever impressed you?

A powerless idol

You tell yourself that if I just had something that made me happy, I'd be closer to God. So instead of listening to Hashem tell you about the ways of his righteousness, you run off and try to put something on the altar that makes you feel more like you have the power of a god. The symbols of power are just symbols of the misguided's attempt to be happy. The need to get closer to a source of the power is the same reason they killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.

When you place a power symbol on your altar, it becomes a hope of what god should want. But does God seek any power? He has all authority and power. Looking at another's altar can tell you a lot about a person's hopes. It's a mystery that our God seeks to be in a helpful relationship with us, this very jealous God who found it pleasing to create more suns in more intergalactic miles that we could ever count, to keep us forever humble.

That place of attention always feels empty because it is the place reserved for a gift of life. And unless God takes that life and returns it to you, there will always be a void. I know when I longed to have something that was extremely hard to get and was so valuable in many others' eyes, that when I finally got it, the pleasure lasted just a short moment. I could feel the life I expected to revive me dissipate as it lost all its sheen in the light on God's altar. It's been various things such as a well prepared plate of food, a piece of unique clothing, or a mystical foreign film I "needed" to watch. I felt that vacuum again when I swept that inadequate idol off of my altar and went searching for a replacement.


The call of that emptiness to be filled by the things of the world, which is our evil inclination (yetzer hara), never stops. We fill our minds with music, listening for hours and then having our own minds play it from the echoes it leaves in our minds for days. We fill it with distracting people who move on a large glass panel and talk through small boxes in our houses so we think someone is there. Or we fill it with work activities that occupy us with menial tasks to make the day pass until we see the clock release us from the prison of our unachievable goals.

We were at one time complete with God in the garden. When there was no shame, there was no disconnection between our world and God's world. But now we use the earth to bless the Lord God by building an altar or a house of worship. Our own personal altar is still separated from God and wants to find that reconnection to him. And out of the sacrifices we make by helping others, the connection can be made stronger again.

Let us remember our sacrifices we make out of love where the blessing is to each of us. Let us continue to search for opportunities to give into others' lives as God gives in to ours. In that release of our attachment on the time we use, we find freedom. In the freedom we gain, we are able to worship God more fully. And in that worship amidst this fearful world, we are able to find peace.

Lord God of our fathers who made sacrifices that brought life to our generation, let us give thanks to you that returns that gift of life. We thank you for being patient and merciful while we try so many lifeless idols in our age of social media technology. Forgive us the blindness we have when we don't see how an imitation of your richly expressive universe can't be contained in a handheld computer because we are enamored with our creative efforts. And may you always help us find the peaceful, simple life, that is worth sharing in a real relationship bound by your love.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Social media promotes fear by not basing an identity in God

Did we miss anything on cable last night? No, I didn't see your last Facebook post about your dog. I'll get to it soon. What's Twitter say about the music awards show on TV now? Did I reserve the right restaurant tomorrow? Let me check the reviews. I want to try that new gluten free hummus, they say it's better for you but I need to check my reddit feed to see what they say about their political views.

The New Fear

Social media addiction has acquired a new name of The Fear of Missing Out and I thank Lori Steiner for her article in Breslev Israel article pointing that out to me via Torah Lectures who quoted it. I've been heavily invested time-wise in social media over the last five years after writing a large curriculum for mostly business purposes. But I've seen it more as an experiment and really wouldn't mind if Facebook went the way of AOL or MySpace and kept going.

To the youth of today, it's not an experiment but a mainstay of cool communication. They need to stand out, to be noticed, stay on the move, and know the latest happenings that puts them at a higher social status above the crowd. My background in music tells me staying on the move chasing after the next best thing isn't the best way to raise a family. Appropriately enough, it's more of a temptation.
"Papa was a rolling stone, my son.
Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
And when he died, all he left us was alone.

Fighting loss of identity

The point of Ms. Steiner 's article is to identify the recent social app driven surge of fear in youth about not being a part of the right crowd (social not moral) and its confirmed influence towards unhappiness. She counters positively with Judaism's teaching in that happy people strive to be humble, content, service-oriented and not focused so much on themselves. 

Ms. Steiner points out three solutions for combating social dissatisfaction for these repeat offenders: 
  1. sharing thoughts of faith in God
  2. encouraging one another through inspiring or educational words, and 
  3. helping others
I plan to follow up on the three different solutions in later blogs. But as a whole for now, I pondered that they must share a common bond. Because they are either about our relationship with God or our relationship with each other, they must have to do with a component of how we enter in to and maintain a relationship.

They all seem to center around identity. When you are young, you try on various personas to see how they fit you and make your life choices for an adult. If I don't know who I am, I'll try to be anyone as long as it has some value to the world. You want to be successful and prosperous. How much more that you, one of their parents, should show your faith in God so that he blesses you with that success. The strongest life value and identity that you can have presented to your child is the one that you teach by the way that you live.
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,
turning a person from the snares of death. (Prov 13:14)

Be that identity for someone

I know who I am, if I know who I am in God's eyes, and then I can share that knowledge of faith with others. Knowing our Lord God's love for me and what relationship I stand in with him, compels me to share that love and knowledge of him. And when I see another human being as an image of God, I cannot help but offer to pay back some of the riches that our infinitely merciful Lord has allowed me to receive.
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:4-5)
It's the identity of youth that is at risk. They are losing their glory from God and using people pleasing skills to gain another disingenuous like. They have left the values of their fathers who've disappointed them and tried to find new values that shine and gleam on their cell phone screens. They look to a life controlled by a lonely programmer's decisions fueled by aimless electrons and yet ignore the love that surrounds the creator's mysteries waiting for someone to follow after his ways.

Lord God, let us find our path to you through the insincere noise of the world that you did not create us to live in. Help us to know the glory that you gave us, to shine for your glory so that you may be the one who gains honor. Let us measure our random posts and tweets against your grains of sand on all the beaches that stand in testament to your amazing craftsmanship and leave us speechless for the vastness of the oceans that holds treasures beyond any retailer on the internet. And strengthen us in that identity that keeps us from losing the protective cover under your wings as we confront the fear of the future for us and for our children.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The light of the commandments in your tevah - a protected place for God

Are we but dark vessels seeking to follow the light of God so that we may have meaning and value in this life? Or do we have a way to capture that light in us? Should we be seekers of truth which no one has agreed on, or should we seek to become the vessels of truth and let it shine forth from us?

Is our search for God like meeting a stranger because we know little about his nature? We know little about a person on the street when we first meet, getting clues from dress, manner, diction, and values. There's little to confirm a relationship in those moments.

But if we connect to this stranger, by the grace of God, through what life he has put in us, then it is God who brings us closer together. So that relationship of us through God binds us together and blesses each other.

A dark soul

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a tormented Romantic Unitarian academic, wrote about our lonely plight.
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
So we go to and from Longfellow's isolated place if we silence the voice of the one who has created us. It is darkness when we don't talk of HaShem in this world. It's a place that has no destination or even a port to dock in. But when there is a ray of enlightenment that allows us to see the direction to the ways of righteousness, we must never fail to follow. By taking that path, we create a meaningful and joyous life.

The commandments from God are those rays of light that allow us to know more of his kingdom. His mitzvot, which joins us to him and each other, are what brings him in to our lives instead of just a chance meeting which may introduce us, but fails to bring us closer to him. So many mystics have had encounters but have little motivation to follow believing that their knowledge is enough. It is our following and seeking His ways and in rejecting the world through repentance that cleanses us. And as we are cleansed, God comes closer to us.

The seal of protection

We need to seal in those words of unity so we never forget them. We must always remember how God has blessed us. We protect the commandments and the memories of our blessings by keeping the world from entering in and polluting them. The assimilation of any unholy way will dilute the richness of His words where they dwell and this taint on the purity of HaShem who is without fault, will cause him to withdraw. We need to seal in those words with a thick coating of pitch, a barrier of willpower strengthened by an understanding of God's instruction found in the Torah, to keep all the worldly water outside our ship from seeping in.

Even though we float on the unpredictable surface of the world, we are potentially protected by the words that God has spoken to us through the prophets. Through our trust of the truth of these words, God provides a place of refuge where as the worldly waters roil and rage, we can find the peace of an eternal promise that will keep us safe within our pitch-coated vessel. The torrential sin of the world will try to leak in through any little crack and seep in to our inner calm displacing the truth that God has shown us. But we are not removed from this world, just separated from it. We are often warned to maintain that layer of pitch to protect the Law in our lives while we are yet not fully in His kingdom.
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Josh 1:8)
The waters we navigate through is as uncharted as the events in our lives. Chaos exists in both elements. We certainly try to erase all the risk associated with sailing but winds and currents are never going to announce their intentions the same way that God hides his activities. So as the waves crash in on our vessels, we have to fasten our eyes on the ways of our Lord God and seal out the temptation that pushes in on our willpower.

The tevah and the special place

There are many uses of a Hebrew word that indicate a vessel that seals out the outside world. In general, the word ark is used to translate the Hebrew word tevah (תבה). The word occurs in the Torah to describe the little vessel that carried Moses down the river covered in tar and pitch (Exodus 2:3).

The other instance of tevah occurs in the more famous ark of Noah, God instructed Noah to seal out the world with a generous coating of pitch on both the inside and outside (Gen 6:14). I like that picture. It's necessary to put up defenses against the world by both an internal fight to keep thoughts at bay capable of defiling the organized man. It's also necessary to create external processes and redefine traditions to keep you on track. You then teach others the habits of these good works to help bring families and friends closer to our Lord God.

It is the commandments of the Lord that bring us through the vast chaos of life, floating in a sea of iniquity, we still survive by God's mercy. The commandments deserve a special place in a special container internally in us. To symbolize this externally, we put them in a container that can be called an tevah. This is the Ark of the Covenant. This is the Holy Ark where Torah Scrolls are kept in the front of the synagogue. This is the holiest place where we seal out the world and let God reign. This is in us also. And it is in the one who takes his place on the bimah where the Torah is read. Even in Sephardic synagogues, the reader's stand is called a tevah and the origin of that tradition is mixed but surrounded with ship metaphors.

The final imprint

We await the time when those commandments will be sealed permanently in our minds and hearts as the world presses inward. Pitch is very viscous but still liquid which causes our vessel to leak eventually. In that day of the coming kingdom, God will transform Jews from people stepping up to the bimah to guide others to people continually getting true direction leading to a full life and success. It is the unbreakable promise of the Lord of Israel that the law will be affixed to each Jew in a covenant of God.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. (Jer 31:33-34)
Lord God of the holy places, where the Law reigns in perfect light, shine in to our inner vessel, to bring the commandments of life to our hearts and minds. And let us learn how to seal them in and to do all that is written in these laws so that we can follow your ways that have kept the universe in perfect order. Bless you Lord God of the pitch and the tar for keeping us from straying too far, having unrighteous ways, and staying in your eternal safety.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Secrets - Is God Hiding Something?

You wanna know a secret? Sure you do.

It hasn't been told to hardly anyone and it's never going to told again, but just this time, I'll let you know, as long as you promise not to tell everyone else. This secret has been locked up forever in the dark halls of the world's history archives, but was recently told to me by a Ukrainian arms merchant's son who studied Sanskrit as a blind child and had a vision of the future of America, who will be elected and the terrible events that would happen afterwards.

Knowing secrets is not knowing God

Gnostics and other holders of secret knowledge don't tell stories like myths so we understand ourselves. They don't have moral tales to edify anyone. And it's like they aren't telling you the whole story when they tell you what they know. It's like a sales pitch. The first secret is free. But you know there's a secret behind the secret. The one they make you pay money for.

Or instead of the money you might lose, you have to waste immense amounts of time to understand it because it takes effort to unravel the secrets of the universe by yourself. And then when you get to the next level, you feel like a fool because there's five more levels to learn to attain even higher knowledge. You can boast that you spent years in learning these esoteric teachings. But are you any better in your relationship with God at that point?
Causing the omens of boasters to fail, Making fools out of diviners, Causing wise men to draw back And turning their knowledge into foolishness, (Is 44:25)
The stories that gnostics spin are made up of conclusions from random pieces of information that seem valuable to them and as they weave their web of coincidence and universe propelled eventualities, the result is never how we can achieve peace by trying to follow God's ways. Usually the result is a Rube Goldbergian explanation of the reason that a non-personal god has a relationship with us and we have to just understand it.

The value in a secret is that it protects you

The knowledge that gnostics have seems valuable and attractive, only because it's secret and not because it has any intrinsic value. Nobody would spend that much time writing down dumb thoughts so people would pay attention to it without a way to sell it. It's the first major marketing scam there was. They're just selling themselves. When you hear Rudolph Steiner wax romantically over simplistic wisdom like
If I meet a man and blame him for his shortcomings, I rob myself of power to attain higher knowledge; but if I try to enter lovingly into his merits, I gather such power.
you wonder if anyone has ever told him not to spit into the wind before. Hey, Rudy, make sure you don't tug on Superman's cape either. And don't mess around with God.

God's power and knowledge isn't wrapped up in a secret because it's a way for us to want to discover it. God doesn't need a marketing plan. The knowledge that God has is valuable in itself and pleases God to make it unknown to the foolish and unrighteous. If we can't find it, it's because we are looking in the wrong place.
"I am the LORD, and there is none else. "I have not spoken in secret, In some dark land; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, Seek Me in a waste place; I, the LORD, speak righteousness, Declaring things that are upright. (Isaiah 45:18-19)

God = 7 + 15 + 4 = 26 letters of the alphabet = all possible words!

Does it really matter how many characters are in a word to God who doesn't speak in any language but in all languages? People have imagined that numbers add up and, with some Babylonian or Greek originated sleight of math, turn into another number that has a meaning. I don't see God counting anything. He asked Abraham to count the stars knowing that he wouldn't be able to, as a sign of how many descendants he would have.
He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Gen 15:5-6)
So neither the numbers nor the alphabet communicates God's intent well. And trying to detect what the future holds by arranging the characters in different sequences puts the spotlight on the wrong source of wisdom. Listing all the earthquakes, weather related phenomena, or astronomical oddities in order to interpret when the next catastrophe is going to happen is like trying to solve a murder by reading the tea leaves instead of analyzing them for cyanide.
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  (Deut 18:10-11)

Don't sin and drive

God doesn't have secrets. That implies that there's a reason to have a lesser relationship on His part to not want to share all that He has with us. But His desire is to restore a relationship with us and wants us to feel the same way. But the problem is really with us in that we have unrighteousness, and have come up short with how HaShem would want us to be to know those things.

Does a child think that knowing how to drive a car is a secret? It's for our protection that our Creator has limited our ability to understand these things. We make enough of a mess with what we do know. Why would you let your child drive a car just because they asked? It's not a secret. It's for their protection.

All those gnostic people want to assume there are secrets so that they can be the proud revealers of those secrets to other men. Gnostics eliminate their source of truth from the equation and make a mess of the explanation. They boast about their riches of knowledge as the King of Tyre did and felt the ire of God.
“ ‘In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god. Are you wiser than Daniel ? Is no secret hidden from you? (Ezek 28:2-3)
Lord God of the universe, how petty we can be when we focus on the meaningless parts of life when there is a way to see you through your creation and your history. Praise You for revealing the mysteries of life through your people in so many ways and help turn our eyes to you so that you may unveil even more truth to us as we humbly seek you. Though we be limited in ability, we cast our trust on you and in your faithfulness to always take care of us and bring us into a better relationship with you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dirty stories without God - the closer altar isn't always better

Let's create a story. Let's leave out God. I'm walking down the street. Bad people do stuff I don't like. I use my psychic powers to bring a lightning bolt from the sky to destroy them. Or was it the turn-to-stone spell that I used? No matter, that's too easy.

I don't have a super power but maybe I control a powerful and magical computer that I tell I'm in need of help. Like my cell phone. Then people arrive, defeat the bad guys and I win. Now, when you tell that tall tale to others, they will like it because their essential need to believe that they are in control of their world has been validated. But God has been invalidated.

Misguided myths

Science fiction and its mythic precursors tend to seek out a familiar belief such as the ability of man to overcome adversity without God and validate it. These are the hero stories of Luke Skywalker and Peter Parker that then continue on through sequels to fight for justice. The moral or political aspects of this light fiction can then anchor a good plot so we find enjoyment and cultural affirmation from it.

Replacing a collective knowledge of God through the history of the scriptures with an independent set of pop cultural references eases us through the day. We don't live the lives of Moses or Joshua, don't have the visions of Obadiah and wouldn't know what to do with them if we did. We find comfortable lies talking about always closely shaved Luke Skywalker's conquests in the name of The Force, but can't fathom that there will be future destruction and slaughter in Edom on a similar magnitude.

In times past, we would have been spinning the story about the coincidentally youthful and whisker-less Perseus and his almost impossible task set before him by crotchety old King Polydectes to slay the terrible snake-headed female monster, Medusa. And then we would gloat about how he won using his super powered shoes and helmet and brought back the super powered decapitated head to turn the king into stone. The happy ending is always better than judgement and exile.

The dirty story

It just doesn't seem right to take control of a story when you think it should turn out different because you believe that God wouldn't do such a thing. It's better to use the standard story line of how the hero did so many good deeds that he was able to overcome anything. He merits his good ends through his good means. This consequentialism is void of any relationship to each other and to our Lord God. It's a lie of rebelliousness to God and to anybody else. It's not the ends that matters, it's the dirt you don't pick up along the way.
“The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me. (2 Samuel 22:21)
Let's try some other lies in the picture. Let's say that the things our hero was overcoming just had to be conquered so that the world became a better place. Or maybe this was so important to our lives, we couldn't let it fail. We've believed that kind of lie before in the US. Talk to Bear Stearns, AIG, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, General Motors, Bank of America, Citigroup, Chrysler, or other bailout recipients of government charity. There's lots of excuses to try. Excuses are dirt.

Let's just take our sacrifice to the closer altar down the road and then we won't have to go to Jerusalem to worship the true almighty Lord God. The results are the same, right? Close is good enough. I don't have to get stressed out by preparing so much. Maybe it's not that important to use my best china for those out of state visitors. They won't know if I serve them the cheap cuts of meat.
So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi. (1 Kings 12:25-33)

Experiences are with God

I'm just not happy having my own experience without God. Leaving out the light that shines in the darkness leaves me in total darkness. I want to see when a child understands that giving their favorite part of their lunch to their friend has so much more power than accumulating toys in a corner. I find life in seeing gratitude for small things that take an awareness of God's presence. And when the bright sun shines in through my window to touch the basic wooden desk I work on, I want to remember that there's an amazing complex star millions of miles away ruled by the same creator that I seek to rule my heart.

Now when we start going off to other places to get experiences, that perturbation from God's course will be a false witness to what we trust in reality. Because God is a God of reality, anything that provides a fake experience is heading down that path and will produce its own idols eventually. Anything that imitates life in a way that is not God's true experience to the artist but is their desire to fulfill their own needs, will cause us to deviate from a path leading to Him.

It can start simply. It could be just a flaw that takes us away from God's protection and just requires Him to treat us as if we were a little superstitious. So what if we believe we have to walk backwards through our front door to leave the house? But what if our action directs us to look away from His direction? It could be a ruinous act of sin that takes our eyes off of God's power pushing us out of the protection that we need.

Lord God, let us find our way under your wings to stay in your shadow of protection. Your righteousness is like no other and your mercy is astounding. We have made little sacrifices in unworthy places when you have been pleased to give us the bounty of an overflowing earth and blessings of life each day. Your rich experience is enough, HaShem, and may you be praised in every creative thought that comes from us.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Knowing God through history and ancestors - turn away at your peril

How do we know God? I mean, how do we have an experience that means something to us about the creator of the universe, the creator of these raw materials that we've fashioned into things we like to take credit for, the creator that directed my brain to grow into the organ that is able to produce thoughts to fashion those raw materials into any usable thing I can think of? And then that same mind is able to ask a question like how do we know God?

I'm absolutely sure that my intricate mind, imagined and brought into existence by our eternal God's hand and created through His perfect ways should have the ability to know God. The mark of the artist through the recognizable strokes of His paintbrush are there for anyone to see. But for those who have seen thousands of sunset portraits and never wondered about His magnificent stage on which we perform, but only look to admire the imperfect work of their will, the mind is yet another mystery explained by an excuse of random atoms forming themselves into inexplicable patterns.

God is experienced in history

The experience of God starts with a telling of experiences of God from the past. It's the history of the way God has come into lives just like mine and changed them, begun them, or ended them. The collected recordings of those events are the most valuable writings in history since they provide value to our lives in order to give us meaning. We hope to see those historic interactions provide a little meaning in our lives.

Writings about or retelling the experience of God are, in my mind, an interpretation of the original and just as valid for the time and place they occur in. Artistic interpretations can take forms in visual as well as performing arts and the vocabulary of each much be a common language to everyone. This piece is just one of a series of short essays where I try to focus on my experience of God's spirit and interpret it for those who find it.
God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. (Psalm 53:2)
We find pieces of us in Moses' waiting in Midian for his calling while raising a family, King David's rebellious family problems, or Jonah stealing off on a cheap Costa Del Sol cruise to get away from it all. Each time we read a story reduced down to a verse, it has the capacity to be expanded into our lives and takes on the garments of the reader revealing details about how a past life is in relationship with God as is our lives.

But we must not sterilize the passage. It has to be captured in our minds the way it was captured in the author's mind. It has to be surrounded with all of God's rich elements of life, of emotions, of social conscience, of guilt and desiring to know God. Treating it as an observation to be compared instead of life to be understood is reducing the experience to a commodity and loses valuable meaning.

Other writings

All other writings are
  • vanity, 
  • observations, or 
  • seeking after God hoping to know Him. 
Focusing on ourselves and ignoring God is the easy road to vanity which doesn't mesh well with God's plans. Observations are what we call scientific or technical documents since we labor to eliminate God and look at the natural world as a closed system. God is always at work so that becomes a futile endeavor for a goal of understanding everything. And various schools have tried to know God using only our mind throughout history such as Gnosticism, Kabbalah, or Platonism and its various offshoots.

When we purposely ignore God, the way we talk ends up focusing on ourselves, expressing words of vanity and self-appreciation. And the pleasure of that deceit is addictive. Our words deceive us and create addictive fantasy worlds of people existing in ideal states. As artists create canvas worlds that distort the world into their idealized pieces, we can easily create digital film and interactive games with the same effect. The top-grossing 2016 film from a video game, Warcraft, creates a magical world of demons, human sacrifice, and of course, endless battles. No God exists in that world.

Even if we try to remove our ego from the way we write, the willingness to eliminate God in our observations becomes a barrier to knowing how things work and behave. Things are controlled only by God's will and without that belief, we will spin tales of universe creation theories and the beginning of consciousness confusing all of us with a logical positivistic understanding of reality. There is no problem of sin, only the problem of not knowing. There is no repentance necessary, only the need to think more.

And the fallacy of creating an arrangement of words that capture God by expressing thoughts from our own understanding is like trying to count sand granules on a beach.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
   they would outnumber the grains of sand—
   when I awake, I am still with you.  (Psalm 139:17-18)

God is experienced in our life

The Tanakh certainly provides the trusted source of how God wants to interact in our lives, to come down and create an experience that involves people, create a relationship among them, and provide the certainty that we have trusted for thousands of years and even more into the future. We trust that experience because it has been the same and will be the same because God is always the same.

And that experience is defined in our lives. As the creator of all history now in living in our lives, creating an experience of life through joy and suffering with us, we can only stand in awe that this one unimaginably caring God fills us with life every day as much as He allows creation to continue in all the colorful glory it contains. We have the brushstrokes of the artist of the sunrises, painting our daily lives with hope. It's our choice of experience to filter out that wonder through sin and judgment. But if we follow his ways, He will guide us and bless us.
But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul." (Joshua 22:5)
How magnificent you are Lord God of the universe, architect of all that is built and maker of all the materials that is in the earth! The designs of the heavens are your achievements and humble the man that draws lines to mark the constellations and takes pictures to capture what we barely can see. We can not be anything but amazed that you continue to seek us in a relationship that we can only respond to with gratitude. Thank you, HaShem, for the continued grace you show in revealing yourself through history in our lives every day.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The puzzle of God's name finds no solution in the letters

Of all the concepts in the Jewish scriptures, I am always drawn to the ones that pose a puzzle. The best kind of puzzles are the ones that look simple but have a unlimited depth of wisdom or application in them. They can create the illusion of an easy solution but frustrate the unaware novice. I've learned that simple is not easy.

I began as a novice in puzzles being sucked in to the elegance of the proposition. But then the frustration of not finding the easy solution to match an "easy" problem has stuck with me since then. I feel it serves some justice to solve any kind of difficult problem when it arrives in my lap to be able to say that it didn't get the better of me again.

There's the problem in Genesis of where Cain and Seth got their wives. I think that's not the point of the story. The author certainly didn't care. You really can't apply that to your life easily. What about that part where Cain is driven from the land to wander the earth and is afraid? He was afraid of who would kill him. So what other person not in this early tribe was going to kill him? That's not really the point either. I wouldn't be talking to anyone at work about that part. The part about sin and judgment is more important though and does deserve a conversation when it's appropriate.

That four letter word

Another problem that seemed worth some investigation was when Moses asked God for His name.
They didn't have much in the way of physics terminology back then so the answer of "I'm called the sum total of gravitational potential energy plus internal energy of masses plus electromagnetic radiation" wouldn't have meant much. How do you tell a curious and respectful guy what your basic way to be addressed is if you don't have words for that, especially when you might be mixed up with some pop Egyptian gods?
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

I don't think Moses would have cared for the scientific description even if he knew his physics. I don't think that was the point. There's something that Moses wanted to know that wasn't about a definition. In physics, the point of that formula that describes the way things are has to do with conservation of energy where nothing is lost and nothing is gained because we live in a closed system according to the guys who count the beans that control the universe. Not a bad concept for an eternal God. Still not the point.

The tetragrammaton that serves to describe the name of HaShem in the story is a puzzle. People like to go mystical on it with finding gender and creative energy in the letters themselves. People go crazy over not saying the name out of holiness, never using anything but that name out of law abiding third commandment following adherents, to using other pronunciations which is a good compromise hoping that by following both they won't sin. I don't think that's the point.

Avoidance of an answer

Does a person trying to be humble about his nature come off as mysterious because he withholds information? Sometimes, but maybe out of misinterpretation. If the president of a business that isn't recognized by some of the warehouse workers, like on Undercover Boss, gets asked what he does, would it be seen as mysterious for him to describe it as "I get work done occasionally" ? There's a humorous side to the vagueness there. Was God being coy also then by being vague?

God's description of His name was purposely avoiding any relationship to the gods of the day by not giving a name. You have to find a way to set yourself apart and yet still be approachable. That's a tough problem. But then God explains. He sets out a name vaguely associated with the conservation of energy by saying that He's always been the same amount of God and will never lose His status there. In fact, it's all that there is. Always has been, always will be. It's physics in a nutshell.
God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Exodus 3:15)

The relationship is the point

Then he tells Moses that this divine force has intent. The intent is to make a relationship with His people. He also backs it up with credentials from the meaningful tapestry of their tribal memories. He's hitting all cylinders here. God has a relationship with this new guy, Moses, and it's the same relationship that has protected and prospered His people throughout generations. This is His name. The name of their successes past, the name of a call to action now, and the name of their deliverance to a promised land in the future. This is the point.

The point is not to analyze the four letters and their relationship to each other, the relationship to unknown sounds, or the relationship to the entire Kabbalistic cosmological body of knowledge. It's not about the what you see, but about what you don't see. It's what you remember and know in your heart.

Why would you think that after your spouse goes to the store and gets some GE light bulbs which light up the house that you can then go write big GE letters with a Sharpie on anything and it will light up? Is there anything special to the letters? You know it's not about the letters because it wasn't about a name. It was about what God represented to the Hebrews and also what God didn't want to be associated with. They had that problem with the golden calf very soon after which showed that the concept wasn't too clear about how different God was from the Egyptian thinking of gods.

So it's also about honor, humbleness, and not emptying God's titles of any of His true nature. It's about not profaning another divine description which doesn't do God justice. It's a tricky problem with an elegant solution that isn't about hiding anything inside the numerical equivalents of the letters but about hiding the true meaning of God's name throughout history in your heart. Keep it secure. Keep it holy. And keep the covenant.

May you Lord God always be holy in our hearts when we seek to call your name, the name that has always existed and will always exists. Burden our hearts to call your name, to help us walk straight through a mass of complex problems and in Your powerful ways, find a simple solution by relying on you to take us there. Shame and correct us if we fail to remember that you are the God that kept His hand on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And bring us joy as we follow you in solving life's most difficult problems.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dreaming to eliminate God when we are bound in a covenant to Him

Have a nice day, God bless. [Now God waits on who or what you want Him to bless]

What's on TV? Whatever. Let's see how Jimmy or Stephen is doing tonight. And Corden is my buddy, we'll watch him. [Now God is waiting to grow relationships between you and people connected by your shared experiences]

Check the weather and see if it's going to rain. Turn on the sprinkler system if it isn't. Is there a soda in the fridge? I could use a cool drink. Do you think they'll catch those guys that robbed the bank tonight? Let's watch the news and see what they think. [God waits to see if anyone will ask for His intervention]

Should I call my mom or wait until she calls? I'm tired so I don't want to think about it. [God waits to have you ask for His help to guide you.]

We dream to eliminate God

God's influence in our lives is taking a hit. We control more of getting our desires and slowly reduce His impact in our lives because we have less need. We're really dreaming. Everything can be automated somehow, where in times past, to get some results of any kind, people had to sacrifice a perfectly good livestock animal. But in building this edifice of satisfaction, we block the voice of the Creator and can easily be crushed by the reality of His strong arm leaving us in embarrassment.

I was looking at the sky yesterday. It was different than the day before when it was clear. It was menacing dark layers of rain carrying streamers, blue and gray, moving contrary to each other. Could we control that? Is there one app I could download that would make any difference at all? When I'm feeling depressed, is there anything besides distraction to numb the awareness to make me feel better?

This dream world that results by shutting out the light of our creator is a world of our making. Not God's. We control our house temperature, flow of water, lights, answers to questions via the internet, entertainment, and our sleeping environment. We can work hundreds of feet up in an office building, not contact anything God created including the food we eat for lunch, and communicate with anyone in the world real-time. We fly sheltered from storms, sail in boats that rarely sink, and take chariots of steel that require no stable or hay. And we make nations fear us by the nuclear weaponry we stockpile. But it's only a dream that we have control over it.
For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God. (Eccl 5:7)
I hate augmented reality. That's just a digital dream. If you want to augment something for me, don't make me carry around a piece of metal that talks to me. I want a relationship with someone who has a relationship with the living God. God has taught me that I get the most out of life when I have a real relationship with Him. Augment my life with care, understanding, appreciation, support. Tell me a story that expands my reality.

Our non-godly perception

When we live in our world, God has little chance at making us see physical things except in terms of our filters. Removing a filter, like a pair of gloves, means letting your hands get dirty. We look at another's life through their eyes and see the grungy family of angry kids or the dark depression of an unhappy spouse. There's life going on there in emotions and needs. So much life is occurring all around us at every second, but filters are so easily applied. Shutting the door, turning to work, ignoring a phone call, or finding a distraction making it too late to respond all are filters which drain the vibrant life from our everyday travels.

The peer pressure to ignore God is increasing. As more people depend on science to fulfill their needs and dreams, there's more at stake to defend the right to do as we please. We have businesses to keep afloat to support people and keep us financially secure. We have accustomed ourselves to a less active lifestyle. This dichotomy of life tears us between the easy road of commercialism and the dusty trail of an ethical and moral justice.

As God's mercy lets us travel down that road, we intimidate others into believing that we are doing the right thing and it's those religious people that have the old-fashioned ideas about God's power to change that is the less powerful option. Well, of course, it used to be that way, but now we have figured out why we are right and God was just a minor character in a play that has no relevance to our modern lives today. We're so much more civilized now.

We lie to ourselves because others do also. Just do a search for "the only ? you'll ever need" and fill in the question mark with anything you want. You'll find investments, beauty products, cleaning products, diet books, kitchen equipment and more. It's easy to let advertising teach us how to talk to ourselves. Then we start lying to God.

Is it not God that has the full control of life outside of our personal little realm? We just don't encounter His realm often enough to know it. We could pray more often or maybe just start to pray. Occasionally a person will step into a puddle of spirituality and it becomes a mystical image framed with a godless world view put into a picture album for posterity. But our spiritual lives should be more than that. We should be able to sense the divine in the clouds and lightning and wonder how it all works as one awesome unified system that we are invited to be a part of.
For I know that the LORD is great
And that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the LORD pleases, He does,
In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;
Who makes lightnings for the rain,
Who brings forth the wind from His treasuries. (Psalm 135: 5-7)

Our need to relate to God

Seeing life represented in a film lets us escape the responsibility of a reply. That's why it's called an escape. But God expects us to reply because we are in a covenant relationship with Him, He tells us to act like we mean it by treating each other the same way. A cartoon character will never come back to apologize that they made you think the wrong way. Are you still wearing your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Mighty Mouse t-shirt? Enough already. What is the meaning of a friend who God has put in your path, if it's not in someone to turn to and talk with?

We have a need to be in covenant with God. His conversation and actions always plead "Return to me." It was after many weeks of living in paved and groomed apartments and working around too much unfriendly technology that my hands craved the gritty soil that I grew up around as a farmer. When I saw a cornfield one evening walking out of my structured environment, the need to connect was so strong that I went over, stood in the head-high rows, and knelt down to just rub a handful of dirt between my hands. There was life there. It revived me.

Hear our prayers, Lord God, king of the dirt, the corn, the clouds and the rain. How awesome is your power that both brings hurricanes and tornadoes, but still is merciful enough to wait for us to come back to your call in a conversation that has been going on for millennia. Direct our hearts to please you and provide for each other in what we need right now whether a simple conversation or a small meal. Forgive us for hiding from you or putting our hope in technology and our own ways. You will find a way to convince us, I know it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Call - listen - act, the prophetic cycle of Elijah reveals mercy and a covenant relationship

Prophets get a call when things are bad and are going to get worse. That was the situation in Elijah's time when the message came through to make things worse and start a three and a half year drought. The trouble was that King Ahab didn't know things were bad.

The king married a bossy idolatrous wife and learned how to rule from a rebellious apostate dad. He had 450 stubborn misguided priests that were responsible for irrigation of the food crops by placating the mean ol' Baal idol. Another 400 were probably interested in a bountiful crop harvest by adoring his business associate idol Asherah. But, it was bad because Ahab broke the Sinai covenant between the one true living God and the people who followed Baal in his footsteps.

Elijah and God had an understanding. God asked him to do stuff and he did it. Maybe that's why he was the last prophet standing in the Northern Kingdom. He heard, he did. No hesitation. I like that. No back talk, no whining. I imagine a motorcycle-riding leather bomber jacket wearing long-hair that could intimidate you with his stare from fifty feet. Elijah was tough.
Now it happened after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth.” So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria. (1 Kings 18:1-2)

Why do prayers not get answered?

I'm sure Obadiah, the king's assistant and devout follower of God, was feeling the results of the drought. If he was praying for rain which I'm sure crossed his mind, why wasn't God answering his prayers? What made God wait so long that the normal water sources had run dry and the royal family was in danger of losing their livestock? Wouldn't God bless the house of Ahab for the sake of this man's prayer? Wouldn't God want this for someone that special?

Maybe there was a reason. The reason might be to teach us a lesson about patience. My position isn't high enough in the kingdom of God to gain that kind of approval because I'm impatient. Elijah is much more patient than me so I should learn to be more like him. If I had a mantle to wear like him, I could be more patient. If God would just speak to me, I would be more satisfied. Maybe if he took my annoying neighbors away or got me a new house in Florida, I could be more patient. I think all the important prophets are moving to Florida nowadays. I'll just move there now.

Maybe it's a different reason. God is certainly compassionate. If after dealing with the bad, maybe this time is a time of healing. But nothing changed for three and half years. Maybe Elijah needed time to heal and hide out while King Ahab was being dealt with. So the point then is a drought that affects the whole country just for one man to heal because he started a fight with the king? That's certainly looking at it from a prophet's perspective who isn't bringing a message of repentance. But Elijah was a true prophet who asked for repentance. God was fed up with idol worshiping royals and a nation that drifted into apostasy who needed some good swift kicks to get them to pay attention.

Maybe it's a another reason. The reason might be that I'm not as holy as Elijah so God must not be listening to me. If you are holy, you have a whole bunch of faith because I've heard that if you just get enough faith, you can do anything. Oh wait, I'm not supposed to that, it's God that's supposed to do anything. Wait, I should have faith that I can do anything because God uses me. But what if I'm doing that with the wrong motive? But I should have faith that I have the right motive. But how do I get that? Oh, yeah, God has control of that also I think. Is there something I can take for this spiritual blockage?

It's not about you

Unfortunately, the blockage I've put in the way is me. All these reasons are about me. I've taken away God's compassion, mercy, or power and made it my responsibility. Didn't Elijah get the call, listen and then act? He didn't plan, do, check, and act like business teaches us. My responsibility is not to get in the way of God when He wants to act. If the action is not to do something for some reason, then the worst thing I can do is use my will to act against God. You start doing things on your own, ignoring God's quiet voice and it's downhill from there. You go from bad to worse.
It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him. So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria. Ahab also made the Asherah. Thus Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him. (1 Kings 17:31-33)

It's about Him

Reasons that put the spotlight on one person or another are too narrowly focused. Reasons that work are centered around HaShem and get his nation and those in charge of it returning to worship Him through repentance and obedience. He wants a relationship restored. And it's His patience that is tested and his holiness that is impugned. When the one who created our hearing calls, we should listen and act in faith like Elijah.
At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. “Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again. (1 Kings 18:36-37)
It's about the covenant relationship with God's people. He shows tremendous mercy to wait patiently before he answers hoping to let his people make a better decision and allows them to take action to confirm their eventual judgment. Even King Ahab, after being humiliated by God by answering Elijah's call for a fiery sacrifice and the slaughter of his priests, came around by repenting some and gained some favor in God's eyes.

O Lord God of the universe who keeps us and waits patiently for our slightest move in the right direction so that you have something to work with to encourage us and develop our best behavior, teach us how to listen to your call. Teach us how to be like a willow in the wind that bends towards your will though the wind be harsh, when others see it as a disturbance of their shallow and selfish world. And let us know how to then act in wisdom to be like You in mercy and kindness.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Choose God's virtuous reality by turning away from the harlot

A man’s eyes are fatally attracted to temporary and immediate pleasures if his heart is not fixed on obeying God. The immeasurable and infinite ability to reach out and give from the hands of the creator of the universe is never found in any premise of selfish sound thinking when the desires of people's hearts are leading the innocents astray. Wisdom cannot direct the steps of a fool that ignores HaShem’s spirit.

The fool and his money

Where there’s a market, there’s a seller. The business of evil is to market despair and hopelessness and then prepare a feast that will satisfy enough for one day until you hunger for more. It’s never able to fully satisfy. You try to fill up with as much as possible knowing that it isn't enough but the greed of the moment creates dissatisfaction as soon as reality sets in. The over stimulation of virtual reality has promised to bring that wealth of pleasure to us through a small screen surrounded reality gone dark. Expect it to be popular.
And I saw among the naive,
         And discerned among the youths
         A young man lacking sense,
Passing through the street near her corner;
         And he takes the way to her house,
In the twilight, in the evening,
         In the middle of the night and in the darkness. [Proverbs 7:7-9]

The temptress without a last name

A harlot is a woman that imitates a wife. She is more glamorous, sexier, and has no association to your world so there’s no personal responsibility to her. Part of her attraction is the isolation of her world from yours. You only use first names. You should find out more about her family. But she is always beckoning to come to her, sitting in full view of your life, waiting for you to think of her as a solution to your problems. She lies about how satisfied she is when you go to her, how you are one of the best men in the land, and looks only to take your money.

In the harlot’s heart, whether web site or woman, the call of rebellion is forever being broadcast from that tower of desirability. You forget God’s simple blessings and seek to please her so she comes to you. The call is made in all corners of the world, from the business board room to advertising campaigns, from the life of the conquering athlete to the life of demi-gods of entertainment screens.

And those same sirens are now members in our congregation leading people to worship in any format with any words, rebelling against the commandments, and putting the entertainment value of holiness above that of the rewards of a righteous man. No, I will not have a discussion of the latest religious film with you in place of prayer. Yes, I will discuss what God has done for you as a praise for his goodness.
And behold, a woman comes to meet him,
         Dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart.
She is boisterous and rebellious,
         Her feet do not remain at home;
She is now in the streets, now in the squares,
         And lurks by every corner.
So she seizes him and kisses him
         And with a brazen face she says to him:
“I was due to offer peace offerings;
         Today I have paid my vows. [Proverbs 7:10-14]

The temporary fix

The harlot of religion replaces mere faith with a more desirous outcome for the one praying in their seats. It’s sexier to have entertainment and sudden flashes of supernatural events only when you are in her presence. She tantalizes you with fashionable clothes, silken phrases and a house made of jeweled lights and expensive paneling. Yes, she’ll listen to your prayer and promise you that your satisfaction is near, but wants to make sure that your money is here today.

She deceives you with promises to love and requires you to show your faith so you return to her when your problems need solving. “You really are a good person. God loves you.” she says and thinks nothing of you as you drive off from the parking lot knowing that it’s but a trick to  put a hook in your gill with a long line only to grow taut next week. When will you help me fix my family?

Advertising the lie

How sad it is for the fate of the modest wife whose worth and beauty is not appreciated because the sparkle of the cheap and easy becomes the only thing we recognize as valuable. She puts on expensive pearls only to be outdone by bright ethnic colored jewelry in attention demanding shapes. She wears a modest handmade lace and linen white dress only to be outdone by the ruffled yards of lavish red satin wrapped around and cut away to reel in a customer making a quick glance.
“Therefore I have come out to meet you,
         To seek your presence earnestly, and I have found you.
“I have spread my couch with coverings,
         With colored linens of Egypt.
“I have sprinkled my bed
         With myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
“Come, let us drink our fill of love until morning;
         Let us delight ourselves with caresses. [Proverbs 7:15-18]

Less is more

The more you stay in the presence of the harlot, the less you can appreciate the simple and deep qualities of the gifts of God. The more you look at other women to find a more pleasurable image to admire, the less you are able to enjoy one with a spirit from God who is a real gift from God. The brighter light you stand in, the more blinded you are to color and shading. Aren't the small blessings of life under God's wing each day with their enormous variety better than one giant miracle of rising to heaven and returning to a gray world?

The more you want colorful fireworks lasting but several seconds, the less you try to comprehend the amazing almost hidden miracle of a barely tinted star that is one of 70 billion trillion burning hydrogen into helium over billions of years. The more you see films and read books of unworthy people satisfied by coincidental fulfillment of their base desires, the more you want to believe it’s your right and privilege to be rewarded with riches and fame. Who’s writing those scripts and books? People who have believed the lies and serve to keep them alive by often changing the costume of the harlot. They seek the payment of the harlot and will come to no good end like the one who is their customer.
With her many persuasions she entices him;
         With her flattering lips she seduces him.
Suddenly he follows her
         As an ox goes to the slaughter,
         Or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool,
Until an arrow pierces through his liver;
         As a bird hastens to the snare,
         So he does not know that it will cost him his life. [Proverbs 7:21-23]
Blessed is He who has taken my life from the mire of the world and brought it out from the marketplace of the harlot. May God be pleased by how we seek to find the mysteries of His world and prepare a clean place in our heart that He might be welcome. The penniless victims of the harlot’s accounts have fallen silent and I will lift a voice to the heavens to bring justice to them. May we lead as many as we can away from the chambers of death while we can speak a word of life to each other to follow God’s commandments.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Remembering the God of Abraham's deeds and finding meaning in entropy

I understand why a person wouldn’t believe in God. When I’m sitting by myself, with no distractive force of media removing me from my own thoughts, I get worried that I’m alone. The world is moving along at the same speed as it has since it was put in motion at a second I have no memory of. The world in all probability will continue to move around that same lazy ellipse without fail until I leave this place. My parents and my friends didn’t tell stories about where we go so I have no real belief about an afterlife.

Entropy sucks

Throughout my schooling, I did get some feedback from the science teachers. They weren’t too encouraging since all they told me about was entropy. That’s a great way for a kid to grow up. Tell them as they get older, things will have less energy and will all go haywire. The values they then start forming are all about getting what you can as soon as you can because, well, you know, it’s all deteriorating.

Maybe that’s why I enjoyed deconstructing things. I’d take apart clocks, toys, plants, even poke a little at a dead animal to see what it was made of. Explosions were a more dramatic way to take things apart. A destructive bent seemed to be the emotional state that resounded with my lack of a cultural story to build things. I felt like I was at least helping to further the way of the universe which was one existential crumbling reality.

The shell of the inability to reach out and be something or find a meaning in pleasure was limiting my life. I blamed life for not giving me life. I couldn’t blame God because I really didn’t believe in something that wasn’t a participant in my life or had been a participant in lives that I grew up around. Other people didn't promise much. Those that did were telling acceptable fibs for a career.

You don't have a real god

I heard what the religious folks would say about how to act and what to do, but why should I believe that they had anything of value and meaning? They don’t really testify to a God who has any power so it must just be a traditionally repeated set of phrases and not a real God. Real gods enter in to our lives and create awe and wonder. Real gods command respect. Real gods are not measurable.
When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the LORD our God commanded you?’ Deut 6:20
How do you reply to that question “Do you believe in God?” It’s a tricky one when you’re asked in polite company. You can say you do and what you do, meaning that you traditionally have been told stories about God and how to act. You remember the stories from seeing the movies. You probably think that those other almost fictional ancient people had a real belief.  You can distance yourself from them enough to be able to say that you believe what they did and not get into a deep discussion.

Remember what God did

You notice what the first thing you think about when you try to figure out what you believe? It’s what experiences you had that make you remember. A great movie effect will stay in your mind for a while until the next impressive digital effect makes it look like a stuffed gorilla on a scale model of the Empire State Building. Then every effect after that takes away from any meaningful experience that you are having because they become less memorable when compared side by side.
then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. ‘Moreover, the LORD showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household;  Deut 6:21-22
But what if the effect is not just an effect but an action with meaning? When a simple action of giving up your seat on a bus for a person that should have it when you could ignore the moment, or when you look a person in the eye and shake their hand with a firm grip, it stays in their head. The importance is the context of the situation with a determination to create a stronger relationship. I remember a generous warmth from an understanding manager allowing a passionate high school kid, who should have been home instead, to see their second theater’s foreign film without paying. I don’t remember the films.
He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ “So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today. Deut 6:23-24
So it is with a simple gesture, it is with a sweep of a historic meaning. A relationship is strengthened and therefore remembered. But the story needs to be told and the participants recognized and celebrated. From one person to the next when a personal kindness is offered, and from one generation to the next when a nation is affected, the meaning is carried on. The memories are created, the symbols are significant. We respect them.

God always has meaningful results

I can understand why a person wouldn’t believe in God, but I cannot understand why a person who knows what God did through a nation's history and then can see in their life a guiding hand to be able to read these words, would not believe that our Lord God has power beyond what science can put in a formula. A film is but a powerless idea that has found a way to trick your mind for the 90 minutes it has your attention. It leaves a hollow memory that movie fans try to extend through appropriate fashion branding and toy icons.

The interactions with God's hand you want on your life are memories of encounters so real that you don’t say “it was like I was in a movie.”  You've seen too many movies and not enough reality if that happens. When His compassionate hand has directed your steps as you obey Him and you see the positive results, you know that it can’t be a special effect. He is completely reliable and just in his rule as a real God. His result is always meaningful.
“It will be therefore to our merit before the Lord our God to observe faithfully this whole Instruction, as He has commanded us.” Deut 6:25
So, let us leave our youthful shallow understanding of this world driven by godless facts and superficial meanings. Teach us, Lord God, to serve you so that you deliver our vindication in blessings. Help us to learn to bless others with stories of your strength and goodness from times past and from the present. And may the path of our feet always follow the light you shine.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Orlando, Omars, and what God hides in Jewish festivals about the End of Days

I tweeted a comment about the mass shooting in Orlando on my Twitter account on Tuesday after I had thought about some coincidences that were bound up in a little mysticism, a little YomTov, and a little ray of sunshine for hope that there would be some real light that would come from it. It was as if the few odd names and events were brought together in a divine calendar, something not new to the people predicting the end of days.

There's a hesitancy for me to to extrapolate beyond the bounds of what people are willing to logically believe and attract a following by a personal agenda based on the belief that Noah's Ark was really powered by an Alpha Centauri planet being's higher technology bequeathed to the Nephilim. When allowing that blended pop cultural spiritualism to enter my soul, my heart usually feels like I'm participating in an old sci-fi movie instead of praising God for the perfection of creation that I live in each day. My creator doesn't do fantasy.

End of Days

The only info on the alien-powered Internet with similar but better thoughts on Tuesday was Dov Bar-Leib's End of Days blog, in a detailed explanation of the counting of the Omer from Moses on to today. Unlike other half-baked self-anointed prophets, I found the explanation genuinely worth exploring but requiring my inexperienced mind to study more Torah. He proposes three aliyah time periods of 49 years each leading up to an end event. The first emigration of Jews to Israel begins in his account in 1918 (Balfour Declaration) peaking in 1967 with the downfall of U.S. leadership's moral standards.

Then in 1967, in the second 49 year period, there's the adoption of that immorality through the majority of the U.S. culture while the emigration this time in Israel was into Jerusalem after the Six-Day War. This second period ended on Shavuot this year. And to mark this transition in the U.S. on the 50th day of the Counting of the Omer, a twisted soul took 50 lives at an Orlando gay night club.

Is it just a coincidence that the shooter at the Orlando scene was a man named Omar? And one of the Orlando police first responders was Omar Delgado. Really, another Omar. OK, so it's not Omer. To me, this is just bait that can get me going in the wrong direction leaving the big picture in the dust. Or maybe it's just eye candy for the real fruit of digging out the meaning that Dov has done in his post. He comes up with a few more very Jewish connections which I don't squabble about. I'm an idiot about that stuff.

Entering The Golden Gate

This final 49 year period of Dov's is one where we will have an aliyah of a spiritual nature, where HaShem will place His name on our hearts, or at least the hearts of observant Jews. I will keep my eyes turned towards Jerusalem to see this change of heart, to see the zealousness for God, and to see signs of the coming of the Messiah.

So like Phinehas turned away the wrath of God from Israel by being jealous with God's jealousy (Num 25:11-12), a new peace will develop when Jews in Israel will unite to see the rightful place of God's name upon their hearts. And in the U.S., our fate is left to how we repent and seek after God to forgive us how we've strayed from the commandments that were historically the very reason for Shavuot.

May we seek your face, Lord God, to believe that we can find shelter from the consequences of our sin, and in asking for your forgiveness, find that we can forgive our neighbors for theirs. And in this, we seek your kingdom of the final days.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Living within God's laws and becoming trapeze artists

The Jewish lyricist Ray Evans romanticized a godless fate in 1956 with Que Sera, Sera, a song that explores life’s big questions while finding individual attempts of action useless. At the opposite end of the control spectrum is an individual making all the decisions while establishing dominion over the earth and ruling as one of God’s chosen. Some conservative Christians believing they are the chosen, want to adopt a politically targeted theology movement that answers government’s big questions while finding God useless.

The power dynamic in these is about our all or nothing activity without the involvement of the God of the universe who created all from nothing. That would mean that when you push into life, there's nothing or no one that responds back. In my world, there's always a response with God's spirit. I see it in every relationship I have. Sometimes it's a correction, sometimes it gives me great joy. It could be a ray of sunshine that hits the back of my neck or it could just be a warm response to a often repeated "Good morning" to a stranger.

The rope

Our involvement in life is like holding on to one end of a rope where the other side is tied to the unalterable laws of God’s universe. Do we pull until we wear out or drop the rope entirely? This struggle with reality will persist as long as we want to be involved in the present and with God. We have the life responsibility of at least taking up the slack and holding on. Anything less is fatalism. Any more creates battles. The tension keeps us sharp, hones our muscles, and readies us for anything that might try to change our status quo.

Pulling on this rope that is tied to the foundations of the world is not in vain, because it pulls us into a relationship with life itself. When we understand the bounds and rules of that rope, it allows us to create a dance that we can flow with and move to. The thread of the spider’s web is tied to its world’s boundaries creating a life, a lair, and a purpose. Tension suspends the almost invisible net across a sea of flying prey and when it snares an unlucky aviator, sends a signal to the hungry spider. The dance begins as the spider moves along the threads to his next meal.

The give and take of repeated attempts to pull the ropes taut and strain to go past the rope’s limits is an exercise in learning about what keeps a balance in life. With practice, the relationship becomes an effortless artistic creation of its own where like a trapeze artist, the sleek fluid movements are a joy to watch and for the performer to perform. But the skills were learned through flying too high or too low until the performer found the right altitude that connected with the fly bar at the right time.

The team of you and the rope

Somewhere in this living tug of war of making decisions is a middle ground. It might be thought of a compromise if the contest of life had a winner. But this is more of a team effort. This agreement to work together is not based on the rules that one follows but on how those rules are applied. There is no winner or loser. To the flying trapeze artists, the rules are not rules that they obey. It’s impossible to disobey the law of gravity. The performers have built into their muscles the knowledge of their motions’ limits where by moving against the constraints, they allow the perfection of the turns, catches and dismounts to exist. They have become team players with gravity.

How can the laws of the God of the universe who governs life be broken? They are laws just like gravity. You can’t disobey the laws because they can’t be broken but you can try to disobey them. If you try to disobey gravity, you will find yourself bouncing around the safety net below. You can’t negate a law. That would be making your own law. Our Lord God does not allow for another god to rule. Be a team player with the law and fly through the air with the greatest of ease. But try something funny and you’re now cursing the suddenly encountered ground (like it had anything to do with your poor judgment).

Moses was commanded to teach the laws of life to the Hebrews and they came in the form of what always to do, what to do during certain seasons, and things that needed more explicit details. The more you understood, the better you trained your mind and body to survive and prosper. It was a team performance that brought life to your body and allowed God to shine into your soul and through it.

“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. “O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. (Deu 6:1-3)

 Punishment or inevitable result

What is it about ourselves that when we bump our head or hurt our foot that we would rather blame the low ceiling or rock in the road? The universe isn't changing. We are moving and navigate the course that takes us into a collision path with the world. The limits that we encounter are not our fault and there is no agenda to hurt us. I’m certain that having a map of all the obstacles in our path still wouldn’t keep us from reading the map and walking straight into a wall. We have to use our common sense.

The type of common sense that we use in our spiritual lives comes from the heart. Yes, we have laws transmitted orally verbatim over centuries, but survival also depends on using our heart to navigate the places when the map becomes harder to read. It's when the light gets low, the words get dim, and the ability to walk a straight line is difficult. But holding your head up, and focusing on a light in the distance, allows us to plot that exact course without a detour.
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deu 6:4-9)
Our wrath rises after falling down or making a bad mistake because we tried to move beyond the limits of a law. We call our actions justified even though flawed, and therefore call the actions of an eternal unchangeable God one of judgement. You know that kind of driver. They angrily talk of the accident without taking responsibility for driving it. “The other car came out of nowhere and plowed into me.” It has no bearing that the driver was texting at the time. It was the judgment of God that they should suffer.

Maybe it’s because we want think we control our environment. We want to have no limitations. We want to control anything except ourselves. That’s what we tend to call freedom. It’s more like we want to be a god that makes up laws when you want. The more we try to create an ideal world in our image, the more the constraints of reality set in. When we finally admit that it was our opinion that didn’t match the reality of the world that we start to be humble. And then we start to realize that punishment is God's inability to do anything but follow his own laws about wanting to bless us.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For by me your days will be multiplied,
And years of life will be added to you. (Pro 9:10-11)
May you, Lord God of all creation, be the ruler of the world and of our lives so that we learn to prosper by following your rules. May we be humble enough to think you have anything but love for us to learn about those laws so that we don’t fall and cause ourselves pain. Help us understand and give us wisdom so that we may praise your sovereignty and Kingdom here and now and forever more.

Follow me on Blogarama