Monday, November 20, 2006

Power For The People

I spent the past weekend at the Parkland Institute's tenth annual fall conference, entitled Power for the People: Determining Our Energy Future. The Parkland Institute is located on the University of Alberta campus, and examines issues of public policy from a progressive perspective, particularly healthcare, energy, water, the environment, and other current events.

The theme of the conference this year was very specific, which surprised me considering it is Parkland's tenth anniversary. However, energy is a very big topic especially here in Alberta, which is experiencing an oil and gas boom. I was one of the conference's official photographers. After one of the plenary sessions I was taken aside by a conference organizer, who said someone had complained that the cameras flashing was driving them crazy. We (there were two other photographers) toned it down after that, but I have to say this was the first time I have ever been reprimanded for flashing in public. Hardy har har.

Ahem. Back to the conference. One session featured people who have lived and worked in Fort McMurray, speaking about the changes that have happened over there in terms of living and work conditions. It's a boom town for sure, with all the drug problems and violence to go with it. Too much testosterone in one place, dangerous work, and tensions running high. I told one of the organizers they could just as easily do a session on Grande Prairie, which is going through pretty much the same thing right now. Transient worksers from all over Canada rushing there, homelessness from rising housing costs and low vacancy rates, drug problems, environmental damage, the list goes on. Problem with boom towns is that they go bust eventually.

Many of Alberta's energy and environmetal problems stem from the tar sands. Speakers discusses the low quality of tar sand "oil" which is of very poor quality because of the extensive refining process. As well, Canada should get out of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) because we get very little out of it, but are expected to provide oil down south. Is there really any reason why gas prices should be so high right here in Alberta? It's because of exporting. Most Canadians, in fact voted against free trade -- however, the vot was split between NDP and Liberal, and 43% voted Conservative. Which brings up another topic: representational government. Check out Fair Vote Canada for more information.

Reducing our use of cars would help, with solutions such as better public transportation and car pooling collectives. A speaker from Norway talked about what was done in his country, particularly in terms of more stringent regulations of corporations, and a much higher taxation rate (something like 78%) for corporations as well. This got a huge round of applause from the audience.

If consumption continues as it is, I am afraid of what Alberta will be like in 20 years once the boom is over. We have a responsibility as stewards of this earth to be careful and thoughtful of how we use the resources at our disposal.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Angry Bible

Angry Bible
Originally uploaded by raise my voice.
Can one be angry and holy at the same time? Is this some sort of reflection on the judgement and wrath in the Tanach? Very cute guys, very cute . . .

The Never Ending Search For Your Bashert

I moderate the UMJC's Torah mailing list. I felt that this week's Drash (study) was very relevant, and wanted to post it here.
Chayei Sarah - The Never Ending Search For Your Bashert

by Rebbetzin Malkah Forbes
Beit HaShofar, Seattle

The funny thing about searching for your bashert (your destined
soul-mate), is that even when you find your bashert, you have only
partly completed the task. For it is in helping our children through
our sacred unions that they find their bashert, and finish the task
which we started – to realize our own true destiny. In this mirroring
dance of fates between our destiny and that of our children do we find
our completion and our hope for the future. This couldn't be more
true as we look into this week's parasha and see Avraham bury his
beloved Sarah – his bashert – and at the same time move on to helping
his son, Yitzchak, find his own destiny and carry on the promises
given to Avraham and his progeny for all time.

Sarah – A Tzadekket and Spiritual Mother

As we enter into this week's parasha, the narrative begins with
Sarah's death. Seeing the setting sun of a matriarch, we are reminded
of the love Avraham has for Sarah at her passing:

"Sarah died in Kiriath-arba which is Hebron in the
land of Canaan; and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and bewail her."
(Bereishis 23:2)

For Avraham, the task before him is to lay his beloved to rest in the
midst of his mourning. This entails bargaining with the people of
that area for a cave and plot of land for burial. This acquisition
was of paramount importance and Avraham was willing to spare no
expense for the sake of her burial. He humbled himself in his speech
to buy from strangers a plot which cost him four hundred large silver
skekels - the equivalent of one million ordinary shekels during that

So why would Avraham pay such an exorbitant price for a place to bury
Sarah? The answer to the question lies in how Avraham eulogized Sarah
– for in that eulogy the magnitude of this relationship and its impact
on Avraham and his spiritual legacy would have been completely
revealed to all. In previous parashot, we are told of Sarah's beauty
and her modesty – her modesty so great that it overshadowed her beauty
so that even Avraham did not perceive it fully. Though she was
beautiful and radiant, she was not vain. Continuing to look back, we
can see clues of her deep spiritual nature in her life and her
actions. The mere fact that Hashem sent angels to Avraham's tent was
very telling of the status of Avraham and Sarah's tents. Indeed, she
was the crown of her husband and through her own righteousness
combined with Avraham's righteousness, their tent was to be a place to
minister to angels. The food, though not eaten by the angels
literally, was fit for the angels. We read later that Sarah also
fought for Yitzchak's spiritual well-being by casting Ishmael away and
shielding Yitzchak from his wayward ways. Her spiritual discernment
regarding Ishmael's influence comes forth:

"Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had born to
Avraham, mocking. So she said to Avraham, "Drive out this slavewoman
with her son, for the son of that slavewoman shall not inherit with my
son, with Yitzchak!" (Bereishis 21:9)

G-d tells Avraham, who is troubled by this request, to heed Sarah's
voice – accrediting to her righteousness in speech and in deed because
of her fervency. It was only for the sake of the Holy One and the
spiritual welfare of her family that she would ask for something so
difficult. The midrash speaks of the three miracles of Sarah and how
later Rivka (Rebekah) would carry on these miracles. Sarah's Shabbat
candles never went out – the light from them was a means to peace in
her tent and for spiritual growth for her family. The midrash also
speaks of her challah - always yielding far more than she made and
staying fresh all week; a small piece would nourish like a meal! The
third miracle was the clouds of glory that surrounded Sarah's tent.
These clouds remained because of the holiness and purity that was part
of the relationship between Avraham and Sarah. Sarah was literally
the akeret habayit (the foundation of the home), the crown of her
husband, and the key to the survival of the Jewish people.

To Carry On The Legacy

But where do we go from here? With Sarah gone and Yitzchak not yet
married, how can the promise continue? Could there be anyone who
could compare to Sarah for his son Yitzchak? How could there be
anyone who could fill her place and carry on the spiritual legacy and
bless his son as Avraham himself was blessed? Avraham knew Yitzchak
would need a wife like Sarah in order to carry on his spiritual
inheritance - someone who would serve tirelessly, bring honor, and
have the ability to spiritually discern people and events in order to
preserve the connection to the future - she needed to be the new
akeret habayit. The task before Avraham is daunting, for Sarah would
have known if the prospective shidduch (match with matrimonial
potential) was the right one. But without her, Avraham will have to
rely on those who witnessed their unity and knew what was needed.
Avraham conscripts Eliezer to help him; he places his faith in Hashem
and charges Eliezer, the zaken of his household, to go out for him
with orders to find a mate for Yitzchak within his family. He knew
Eliezer would have to get it right – however, Avraham trusted
Eliezer's spiritual discernment and knew that Eliezer understood that
the fulfillment of Avraham's destiny lie at stake in this match.

The rabbis say each person has a number of possible matches – but only
one true optimal one. The true ezer k'negdo, the helper with whom G-d
pairs us with in order that we might become more refined in character,
helps us reach our spiritual potential. For Eliezer chesed (kindness)
– is his litmus test. To be sure, the woman that will marry his
master's son must truly follow in the footsteps of Sarah. Eliezer
realized that if Yitzchak, who represents gerurah (strength) would
come together with chesed (kindness), the offspring and their union
would represent tiferet (beauty) and secure the future. In addition,
in Yitzchak's time of mourning, he would unquestionably need someone
who would be sensitive and able to comfort him as well as be a
virtuous wife. Indeed, as we see, the test of Eliezer is passed by
Rivka as she shows true kindness when she waters his camels
tirelessly. As Eliezer secures her hand for Yitzchak from Laban, he
brings her home and as the midrash speaks, she is, without a doubt,
the bashert of Yitzchak:

"And Yitzchak brought her into his mother Sarah's tent. " (Bereishis 24:67)

"You find that as long as Sarah lived, a cloud hung over her tent;
when she died, that cloud disappeared; but when Rebekah came, it
returned. As long as Sarah lived, her doors were wide open; at her
death that liberality ceased; but when Rebekah came, that
openhandedness returned. As long as Sarah lived, there was a blessing
on her dough, and the lamp used to burn from the evening of the
Sabbath until the evening of the following Sabbath; when she died,
these ceased, but when Rebekah came, they returned. And so when he saw
her following in his mother's footsteps, separating her hallah in
cleanness and handling her dough in cleanness, straightway..."
(Midrash Rabbah - Genesis 60:16)

Managing Our Destiny Today

So while we dab our eyes and regain our composure from this romantic
moment, what do we take home from the reading of such a perfect match?
The answer is two-fold, since there are those of us who are married,
and those who have not yet married (or were previously married) and
seeking to find the true ezer k'negdo.

For those who are not married, so much is on the playing board before
us. Is it the right time to be married? Am I a whole person? Do I
have challenges I need to overcome? These are just some of the
questions that we ponder. But while these questions are valid, it is
important to realize that Yitzchak was in a state of mourning when his
bashert came to him and they were married. The idea of finding one's
bashert doesn't necessarily come at a time of convenience in life.
Beyond time considerations and life events, the bigger picture in
considering our bashert is who is helping us to find our bashert. Who
is our Eliezer looking for the signs despite our timing? Who knows
what we need and is a fitting match for us? Who will check our
selection and see deeply into our choice – correcting us if we might
be off the mark? Are we looking at the models around us that speak
life and closeness to Hashem while we are seeking to find the one who
will be our true ezer k'negdo? When we are looking on J-Date, are the
ideals and middot (character traits) apparent and recognizable enough
to us that we would be able to find that single, special soul-mate?
So much rides on finding that special soul-mate who will help us to
actualize our potential. Avraham knew this to be true and wasn't
leaving anything to chance. He realized the very completion of his
destiny was linked to a proper match for his son.

And then there are those who are married – happily, or maybe not
happily ever after. Assuming that we have found our bashert and are
bound up in true oneness, how are we living with our bashert that
models to our children the type of person they should seek? Do we
realize the spiritual potential that a couple can rise to when they
are not only well-matched but fully functional? Are we equipping our
children to know how to seek and to listen to an Eliezer type –
whether it be ourselves or another spiritual mentor? And if, G-d
forbid, we are not with the optimal soul-mate that we were destined
for, what are we doing to help our children to not repeat our mistakes
and to have better eyes with which to see?

May we have the cloud of glory rest upon our homes, bread in our tents
to feed a multitude, as well as the glow of Sarah's candles and the
light of Messiah for all who enter our tents. For as we participate
in the delicate dance of finding our "destined one" for ourselves,
building beautiful homes, and helping our children to find their
bashert, we will truly succeed in fulfilling our destiny. Only then
will there be the assurance that the traditions, spiritual inheritance
of Avraham and Sarah, and the spirit of Messiah will live on in our
children and their children's children until the Messiah returns

"Let your branches join together, as you build this life as one,
Bringing shelter to each other, beneath the wings of Shechinah..."

Debbie Friedman, "The Wedding Song"

Monday, November 13, 2006

Parashat Vayera

I was supposed to give a Torah homily this past Saturday. Unfortunately, I woke up early in the morning violently ill. So here is what I would have delivered, had I been there.

Parashat Vayera (and He appeared)

November 11, 2006/20 Cheshvan 5767

Torah: Gen. 18:1-22:24

Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37

Brit Chadashah: Luke 1:26-38, 24:36-53(F)

In Parashat Vayera, we see a series of significant events happen, all of which, when looked at holistically, point to different aspects of the Nature of G-d. As well, there is also the recurring theme of children of promise. Three major events take place in the Torah reading. First, Sarah receives the message from G-d that she will conceive and give birth to a child. With her and her husband, Abraham, being advanced in age, she thinks this is so hilarious, that when she does give birth to their son later on in the Torah portion, he is named Isaac, which means “laughter.”

Genesis 18:13 Then the L-RD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, `Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' 14 Is anything too hard for the L-RD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son." (NIV)

Then, comes the situation with Sodom and Gommorah. The city was full of people who were immoral and inhospitable – they wanted to rape their guests. So, Abraham tries to negotiate with G-d, and G-d agrees to spare the city if even only ten righteous men can be found – alas, there are none, and the city is destroyed. Lot and his family flee, but his wife turns around to look back and is changed into a pillar of salt. Lot’s daughters become concerned about not having any men around to help perpetuate the race, so they get their father drunk and both end up having children by them. The oldest daughter has a son named Moab, of which later on Ruth is a part of this line on the way to the Davidic dynasty leading to Yeshua.

Finally, there is the binding of Isaac. After Isaac is born, Hagar and Ishmael were sent away, with G-d promising that Ishmael will be made into a great nation. This is the spiritual root to the contemporary problem between Israel and Palestine. Later on, when Isaac was much older, G-d tests Abraham and asks him to sacrifice his son, of course sparing Isaac in the end. It was a test to ensure that Abraham feared G-d and would spare nothing from him, not even his only son.

Gen. 22:11 But the angel of the L-RD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"

"Here I am," he replied.

12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear G-d, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." (NIV)

How does Parasha Vayera demonstrate the range and power of different attributes of G-d? Here are several ways:

1) G-d is all-powerful, and nothing is impossible with Him.

Luke 1:37 For nothing is impossible with G-d (NIV)

The birth of Isaac is one of the earliest examples in the Bible of the miraculous birth of a child of promise. The Messianic significance of this, is the miraculous birth of Yeshua. This is especially significant because onbe of themost common Jewish objections to Yeshua is the virgin birth. Can’t happen. Not possible. Well, an 80-something woman and a 100 year old man having a child is also not something within the realm of worldly possibility.

As well, when I first delivered a Drash (a Torah teaching sermon) on Parashat Vayera a couple of years ago, someone came up to me after the service and thought it was the one of the most revolutionary things she had ever heard, relating the birth of Isaac to the birth of Yeshua. But it really isn’t. G-d establishes precedents throughout the Bible, which build upon each other. For example, most of the teachings of Yeshua are based upon the Torah – He is just expounding upon them. And likewise with Yeshua being a child of promise, there are other examples in the Bible of children of promise, Isaac being one of them. The Haftarah also discusses a child of promise, that of the Shunammite woman’s son, who later dies and is brought back to life by G-d.

2 Kings 4:33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the L-rd. 34 Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy’s body grew warm. (NIV)

2) G-d is compassionate and just. When Abraham pleaded with G-d not to destroy Sodom, if there had been even one righteous man there, He would not have.

3) G-d, although he is in control, has given us the gift of free will. We are not moved about like pawns on a chessboard. It’s a lot easier to blame G-d than to accept out own responsibility in a situation where things go wrong. When really, all that happened was instead of relying on G-d and trusting Him, we took matters into our own hands. Look what happened to a righteous man like Abraham. Ishmael was the result of his impatience and lack of faith. G-d will always lead us in the right direction – if we give up trying to be in control, and give that control to Him.

4) G-d demands our obedience, even to the point of sometimes testing our faith. G-d tested Abraham, by asking him to sacrifice Isaac. We are often tested in our faith walk, especially when things are rough. It’s easy to have faith when things are going well, but the true test of faith is when we cling to Him when things are not going so well.

5) G-d wants us to turn our backs to sin – not turn back to sin. G-d sent angels to advise Lot and his family to leave and not look back, but Lot’s wife, for whatever reason, turned back around. In Yeshua, our sins are forgiven. There is no point in looking back on them – G-d has forgotten them, and so should we.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Faith and Protests (and talking about Israel)

Last night I was at a planning meeting for ECAWAR, the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism. One of the topics we discussed was how to get more people out to our protest marches. An idea was to reach faith communities and bring them out. We already have Quakers who come out visible in small numbers, as well as occasionally Catholics, Mennonites (Project Ploughshares folks tend to be Mennonites), and members of various alternative faith groups like the Unitarians. I am surprised there are not more United Church people myself, since United does have an emphasis on social justice.

What would stop people of faith from coming to a peace march? Probably similar sorts of issues that would stop members of the community at large. Fear of a riot starting or getting arrested. The belief that peace activists are freaky people and not wanting to be freaky by association. In general, people are often scared to speak up, even when it is something they believe in.

The more conservative religious denominations would definitely be concerned about image -- after all, some of us are freaky looking, many are non-Believers, and frankly, the whole event is outside of the safe comfort zone. Yes, the peace movement is laced with bleeding heart liberals whose values may stray from Biblical values when it comes to certain moral issues. And yes, the Evangelical Christian and mainstream Jewish communities tend to be pro-Israel and not very sympathetic towards the plight of the Palestinians. Peace folks are usually pro-Palestinian and not very sympathetic towards the plight of the Israelis. And here, we have the dichotomy.

Working with the peace movement is an excellent way to share different ideas and beliefs. Most people tend to be very respectful and open to dialogue. Just like between different churches, there is a variety of beliefs and positions within the peace movement. I am there because I believe in working towards peace and understanding between diverse groups of people and not just staying within my safe community. I am learning a lot from the people there, and they are learning a lot from me (I hope). I don't have to agree with everything that is presented, and they certainly don't have to agree with me (in fact, I *know* they don't). But my life is enriched as a result.

I can live with the fact their their official position on Israel/Palestine is that occupation is wrong. How to deal with this issue varies from person to person. For the record, I am in favour of a two-state solution, with secure borders for Israel. I don't believe in occupation and causing the general Arab/Palestinian population to suffer for the acts of a few extremists. Israel's security is not helped by this, because it breeds a culture of hopelessness and desperation, and ultimately suicide bombers -- who still manage to blow up innocent Israelies despite walls and guards and checkpoints.

OK, now that we have gotten that out of the way, we *need* more people of faith to come ot our events. People of faith bring with them ideas, hope, and legitimacy. If we are to be salt and light to the world, we need to start spicing up places outside of our comfort zones. The cross-cultural, socio-economic, and political areas for dialogue are huge. We talk about Muslims, but how many of us actually know any on a first-name basis. We want to show our joy and love for G-d to others, but do we actually ever hang out with anyone who is unsaved? Yeshua is the ultimate peacemaker and we are His emissaries on earth. Would Yeshua come to a peace march?

I think so.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Tikkun Olam

"Tikkun Olam" means "repairing the world" (or, healing). It is a Jewish concept that my Pastor/Rabbi's wife brought up to me about a year ago when I discussed with her the possibility of getting a single's group going. The idea was, that we would work together on a project in the greater community (either Believing, mainsteam Jewish, or the wider community at large) as a form of outreach and networking. The project would be considered "Tikkun Olam" because we would be working together towards a cause, be it building a house with Habitat for Humanity, or serving up meals at a shelter. We did not get it going at the time because we did not have enough single folks who were interested, but we have left it on te backburner. It seems that now, people in the congregation are coming forward and expressing concern over issues such as homelessness. They want to know how they can help, where they can donate, and what else they can do. We're thinking about making a contribution to the local Food Bank as a congregation. These are all worthy and worthwhile causes.

I'd like to take it one step further. I believe that as individuals and as a congregation, we need to probe deeper and look at the reasons why these problems exist. Solving the problems in society go beyond dishing up soup and handing out warm coats. Those are band-aid solutions on top of much deeper issues. We need to get at the root of the problems and work from there. This is an activity that can be fostered through discussion groups -- yet another good activity for us single folks to fellowship together. We won't necessarily be able to solve all of society's problem, but at least raising our awareness will make us more involved and socially conscious citizens. And bring our minds towards major areas needing prayer.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

In The World, But Not Of It

As Believers, we often hear that we are to be "in the world, but not of it." However, I believe too many of us are not even in the world, to any great length. Many of us have been home schooled, then off to Christian college, hanging out with Christian friends, listening only to Christian music and reading Christian books, even working in Christian businesses in some cases, and of course, attending church every Saturday or Sunday. We establish a nice, comfortable cocoon of which we rarely venture out. Anything that takes us away from this comfort zone is to be avoided, for fear of "contamination". But Yeshua walked amongst sinners. He hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes.

One of the biggest criticisms I get for my work in the activist community, is that I have aligned myself with left-wing liberals. Oh no, the horror. First of all, there are numerous Believers amongst the activist. Most of them are Anglican, Lutheran, Quaker, and Mennonite -- in other words, at the left wing of the Protestants. Secondly, if we are to be salt and light, we need to be in the world, and show the example of what Believers are. One of my activist friends sent me an e-mail right after Passover, wishing me a happy holiday and adding that she still did not understand religious folks, but that I had "restored her faith . . . in faith." Amen.

I really think it is a misconception that because we are Believers, that we have to believe certain things apart from the Bible -- that we have to accept everything our government and media throws our way. If that means that we have to step out and step up in the world, then so be it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Why I'm Here

To be perfectly honest, this blog was my Pastor/Rabbi's wife's idea. She wanted me to find a way to share with the congregation my extra-curricular activities. She is well-aware of my left-leaning tendancies, and in fact, feels we can learn from them. For one, I have been exposed to a lot of people from different cultures and religions, and now can claim to have a wider base of friends as a result. They include devout Quakers and hijab-wearing Muslims. In fact, when the Islamic holy month of Ramadan ended a couple of weeks ago, one of my Muslim friends invited me to celebrate with her. Together we ate a festive dish, a sweet bowl of noodles, milk, honey, and nuts. We compared notes on our religious customs, and agreed that we need to focus on what we have in common. When we can understand each other without analysing through the lenses of our respective traditions, we can learn a lot. When someone is "other" it is really easy to start making generalizations and assumptions.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Question Authority

This is a sermon that I delivered back in July for the Torah portion Korach.

Question Authority

Torah: Num. 16:1-18:32
Haftarah: I Sam. 11:14-12:22
Brit Chadeshah: Rom. 13:1-7 (Lederer)
Acts 5:1-11 (Feinberg)

This is a parashat that is primarily about leadership and how people are to relate to their leaders. As a result, I have entitled my Drash, my study, “Question Authority.”

Moses and Aaron were chosen emissaries of G-d to lead His people, Israel. Korach and some of those in his circle took exception to this. They confronted Moses and Aaron and questioned their leadership. Their argument was that Israel was G-d’s Chosen people, and they were all Holy – Moses and Aaron were the same as everyone; no more Holy than anyone else. They expected an explanation, but that is not what they got.

Num. 16:28 Then Moses said, "This is how you will know that the L-RD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the L-RD has not sent me. 30 But if the L-RD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the L-RD with contempt."

16:31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions. (NIV)

Korach and his men questioned the leadership G-d placed above them, and they got gulped. Notice they never did get an explanation of why Moses and Aaron were their leaders, but simply proof that they were their leaders. The reason did not matter. G-d placed Moses and Aaron in a leadership position. That was it. That should have been explanation enough.

The Torah portion continues in chapter 17 with yet another physical sign of Aaron’s leadership, in this case. Various men in the camp put their staffs in a specified area, and Aaron’s started to bud – that was the sign that G-d said would show who the leader was. Again, there was no talk of why Aaron’s staff budded – something started actually blooming on it -- when the others didn’t – only the sign given.

Chapter 18 talks about the specific duties of Priests and Levites. 18:25-29 talks about tithing – this is the verse where we get the figure of 10% and are commanded to give this offering towards the maintenance of the temple, and in modern days to our congregation of fellowship.

The Haftarah portion tied very closely in with the Torah portion. Samuel is reminding people of how G-d appointed Moses and Aaron to lead. He reminds them of the consequences of disobedience.

I Sam.12:14 If you fear the L-RD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the L-RD your God--good! 15 But if you do not obey the L-RD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers. (NIV)

Samuel ties a person obeying G-d with obeying the king over that person. And the king, as the leader, of course also has to submit to G-d.

In the Lederer selection for the Brit Chadesha, the Apostle Paul also talks about leadership. According to Paul, the governing authorities are placed in their positions by G-d, and as a result, the people have a duty to do what is expected of them as responsible citizens. He compares rebellion against authority as a rebellion against G-d, and responsibility towards one’s civic duties.

Rom. 13:7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (NIV)

I had a problem with Romans 13. Upon reflection, I could only come to the conclusion that certain parts of Paul’s writings were geared to specific peoples under specific contexts. Moses and Aaron were appointed by G-d. They knew it; the people knew it. When we think of authority in a modern context, it can be applied to government officials. Government leaders were not appointed by G-d. They were elected by people. People who are not perfect. People who question authority are often branded as radicals, as rebels, but rebelling against authority – depending on how you define “rebellion” does not necessarily have to mean rebelling against G-d.

I seem to recall quite a few Christians being very upset over the former federal government’s stance on same-sex marriage. They felt re-defining the definition of marriage was immoral and unjust. There were letter writing campaigns and protests. For me, and involving many of my friends, we take issue with the role of Canada’s military presence in foreign countries. We feel it is immoral and unjust. There are letter writing campaigns and protests. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the issues I have just mentioned is not the point. The bottom line is this: to speak up for what one believes in a peaceful, productive manner, is not rebellion. It is as much a part of being a responsible citizen as paying taxes. No laws are being broken. No one is getting hurt. Trying to influence the direction of public policy is not rebellion. It is an expression. It is not going to crumble the order of things to question authority. If leadership has merit, it can stand the test of inquiry. Moses and Aaron sure did.

In fact, I would be willing to go so far as to say that we have an obligation to speak up if we find something going on in society that goes against our consciences as Believers. If we define “rebellion” as always toeing the party line without question, we have a serious problem when that authority is acting in a way contrary to G-d, with potentially dangerous consequences. Using Paul’s writings as the basis for what constitutes rebelling against G-d through rebelling against the authorities, the people of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising were rebels. The righteous Gentiles who hid Jews during the Holocaust, were rebels. And Praise the L-rd they were.

And now let’s look at how submitting to leadership related to the life of Yeshua. Yeshua submitted to Godly authority before worldly ones. He did many things that irked both the religious and political leaders of His day. He challenged the Rabbis when they took him to task for His actions, and when the governing authority asked him to cool it, He wouldn’t. The result? We all know how this story ends (or, begins, because He will come again).

In our congregations of fellowship, we are to respect our Pastors, our Elders, and even our friendly neighbourhood Deacon. Otherwise, the Body cannot function as a whole if the people are in rebellion against the leadership. This does not mean there will never be friction – in fact, some friction can be a positive thing. Leadership needs accountability as much as anyone else in a congregation. But it has to be dealt with in a positive and productive manner. The Matthew 18 principles of how to approach conflict resolution definitely apply. As well, because G-d’s word is Eternal, we still have an obligation to tithe, as outlined in Numbers 18:25-29, because this is how the work of the L-rd is supported.

As a side note, G-d has different roles for each of us. For some of us, that’s leadership. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are better, or more holy, but that this is a given role for a purpose or season. Not everyone is gifted or intended to be a leader. Accepting our gifts and roles is important. Korach and his cohorts did not understand this.

What it all comes down to, as it usually does, is obedience towards G-d. G-d appointed Moses and Aaron as leaders, and when that was questioned, G-d got angry and there were consequences. G-d has many things He wishes us to follow – whether we do or not is our choice, and the results of our actions come about depending upon our choosing to follow His word.

Let’s pray

Where Are The Evangelicals?

I attend interfaith dialogues and conferences, aiming to achieve human rights and peace.

Where are the Evangelicals?

We march for peace and justice, for an end to war, and to bring the troops home.

Where are the Evangelicals?

The climate is changing, putting human and animal lives at risk. Action must be taken.

Where are the Evangelicals?

The numbers of homeless multiply in the streets as the weather turns colder and shelters get full.

Where are the Evangelicals?

The dominant capitalist economic system exploits workers while corporations get richer and richer, dodging through tax loopholes and controlling the government (and vice versa).

Where are the Evangelicals?

Oh . . . wait a minute . . . they are:

Refusing to have anything to do with those bleeding heart liberals. After all, we all know Jesus was a capitalist, right? Right? And Jesus would never have had anything to do with people who don't believe what we do, who sin, and who are just not our kind of people.

Voting for the Conservative and Republican governments that help out their buddies in the business world. And even the poorer right-wingers won't change their vote, because of the candidates' stated views on abortion and gay marriage.

Joining the army because the wonderful capitalist system they support does not allow them to earn enough money to support themselves and their families. This is referred to as the "poverty draft."

Believing that since this world is temporary and our real treasure is in Heaven, we don't have a responsibility to be stewards of the earth and those who are therein. I like to refer to this attitude as "redeemed selfishness."

Oh, I am sure some are serving up grub in a soup kitchen. After all, we have to help the less fortunate and look good inthe process. It's the Christian thing to do.

Sexual Sin - I'm Just Asking For Controversy

No singles ministry would be complete without talking about sex. As Believing singles, we tend to hear two constant message about the 's' word:

1) It's a gift to married people.
2) You can't do it unless you're married.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I believe that G-d's standard includes chastity, purity, and good old clean living before marriage. However, we tend to put such a focus on sexuality and the sexual sins, that I believe some very problematic messages are being conveyed to our single people and our young folks.

1) We seem to be sending a message that the sexual sins are somehow worse than other sins. I have seen people put on congregational discipline (a Matthew 18 process) for committing sexual sin on more than on occasion. However, I have never seen anyone put on discipline for lying, cheating their employees, swearing, throwing tantrums, stealing, or a host of other sins. The response I tend to get when posing this question to others in leadership, is that sexual sins are sins against our bodies -- and our bodies are temples, as it says in I Corinthians. But isn't drunkenness a sin against one's body also? And what about gluttony? Are we going to put all the fat people in church on discipline? Of course not -- people would start crying about human rights violations, and rightfully so.

2) Because of this focus on sexuality, people who have had sexual struggles, both currently and in the past, are prone to feeling a lot of guilt and shame. Sexuality strikes to the core of who we are as people. If we're constantly being harped that something with our sexuality is broken, it means that we are broken. I should explain that "sexual sin" can mean anything from premarital sex to homosexual behaviour to pornography to masturbation, depending on the congregation's interpretation of Scripture and the expected rules of congregational behaviour.

3) Singles are being led to believe that if they live according to certain rules of sexual purity, that their lives and future marriages are going to thrive. This is misleading. While certainly, statistics show that people who have had sex/lived with their partners have a higher rate of divorce (if they even get to the altar in the first place); however, abstaining from sex is no sure-fire guarantee that a marriage is going to work out. I can think of three people offhand -- men, no less -- who were virgins when they married. All three of their marriages failed. If we tell people "if you do this, then your life is going to be perfect," and then it isn't, we're essentially giving them permission to sin later on. I also know of cases where a person is now not following Scriptural teachings on sexuality simply because they "did everything the good Christian way the first time around -- and it didn't work."

I've nothing against "smug marrieds" -- in fact, I aspire to be one, someday. But I think one of the reasons these messages are conveyed so often and so clearly is because most singles ministries are run by married people, many of whom married in their early 20's and simply cannot relate to the needs and problems of mature single adults. It is way too easy for married leadership to view singles as somehow incomplete and lacking.

So what are we to do? Like in all aspects of our lives as Believers, we need to approach sexuality with His grace. Singles should not be held up to any higher standard of sexuality than anyone else. And we all fall short of the mark, which is why we are covered with Yeshua's atoning blood. How do married people fail, sexually? Let me count the ways. Besides the obvious of extra-marital affairs, we have being insensitive to each other's needs, being abusive, and pornography -- the latter of which is a huge problem in marriages. It's just a lot less obvious when someone who is married is sinning sexually, because the natural assumption in churches is that married people are somehow more holy and spouses are often unwilling to admit there is a problem for fear of shattering that illusion.

A note to singles: in our lives, there are public and private spheres of disclosure. If someone is involved in behaviour that contravenes congregational expectations and is making it a known issue, there is no choice but to put that person on discipline. If nobody knows, well, then it's between you and G-d. I would be very leery of a church that regularly went on "witch hunts" and was actively interviewing all of the singles and dating couples about their sex lives. Accountability is important, but at the same time people's confessions about their private struggles should not be held against them -- it's a fine line for what leadership should do to protect the person's privacy, while at the same time being Biblically consistent. This is where grace comes into it. We need to cover every decision we make with prayer. And as singles, we need to stick together and support each other in the struggles we share.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Don't Wait Until You're Married

One of my biggest concerns about singles, especially those of us who have passed the glorious age of 30, is that we are sitting around waiting for something to happen. That we are not living life, but rather waiting until we get married for life to happen. Peoples, there is no guarantee we ever will get married, and whether we do or not, G-d gave us this season to live, not to wait. Are you making the most of your season of singleness? There are so many things that single people can be doing to impact the world around them, whether it be getting involved with local activism, becoming more active in your church, or volunteering with an organization. Think of all the extra time we have because we don't have the obligations of spouses or children taking up our time, our energy, and our finances. We may not always be so free -- let's make the most of it. If I had to make a checklist of everything I have been able to do over the past few years, I am sure some of it I could have done if I was married, but how much easier it has been because I am not. OK, if you insist, here is the list:

  • I was one of a small group involved in planting a congregation.
  • I became the Communications Coordinator and Administrator of said congregation -- as a volunteer (Praise G-d I am now an employee there).
  • I am actively involved in musical worship, playing three instruments (guitar, mandolin, and voice) and leading upon occasion.
  • I started sponsoring a child in Bangladesh through Compassion Canada.
  • I recorded three demos of original music, including one of Messianic music that we use in worship.
  • I run a small business doing everything from meeting with clients, to preparing print materials, to doing post office runs. Oh yes, and bookkeeping. As Jack, our Financial Administrator likes to say, "Accounting is fun!" (He is not being sarcastic. And come to think of it, he's single also . . . )
  • I document, photograph, film, and help plan peace marches and events.

There is no limit to the power of one -- when we are living in His love.

Teach-In On Afghanistan

Last week, I attended a teach-in on the topic of Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan. The speakers included two professors, a representative from the University chapter of Journalists for Human Rights, someone from the Muslim Student's Association, and a young woman who was chosen to speak because she had "been to" Afghanistan and was going to talk about her experiences. It turned out that she was actually in the military and was working in intelligence. As well, she brought a cheering section in the audience of other military who had been on the same mission as her. They took some of what was said out of context and accused the speakers of glorifying suicide bombers, comparing Canada to the Third Reich, and stated that Canada is not an occupier but rather was invited (by the Karzai government). I am actually grateful to the soldiers for coming; they presented the other side of the issue and actually hearing their reasonings for why Canada should be there reaffirmed the stupidity of it for many of us present. Honestly, they believe they are doing the right thing and all have the same arguments. It's one thing to be giving humanitarian aid or being there as peacekeepers -- which are badly needed in Darfur but instead the troops are being sent to Afghanistan -- and another to be toeing the U.S. party line and trying to forcibly instill Western values and culture. Is that wrong? You decide. Here is one of the academics who spoke. His name is Dr. Tony Simmons, and he is with Athabasca University in the Centre for Global and Social Analysis.

I Was At A Peace March

October 28 was the Pan-Canadian Day of Action calling for Canadian Troops Out of Afghanistan. Don't get me wrong -- us peaceniks do support our troops. And the way we want to show our support is by bringing them home. What is happening in Afghanistan is a civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Civil wars are never helped by foreign countries coming in and taking military action. They can only be solved by both sides sitting down and negotiating. Despite the first major snowfall of the year, about 200 peace activists showed up to march. Speakers included a representative from Project Plougshares, a Christian peace group. He said that in th Bible, Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of G-d. You are all here as peacemakers. You are all Children of G-d, and you are Blessed."

Building World Peace

At the last minute (and I mean literally, the very last minute) I was offered a media pass to cover the Building World Peace conference put on by the John Humphrey Centre, October 20-22. The aim of the conference is to explore the role of religions and human rights. I heard about this conference over the summer, but the large registration cost deterred me. I also considered volunteering, but feared my schedule would not allow for it. However, I could not pass up this opportunity.

On the first afternoon I attended an interfaith dialogue between representatives in the Jewish (Reform), Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian (Catholic), and Native traditions. Most of the speakers were clergy; a couple were not. Each spoke about the role of faith in terms of bringing about peace and social justice, and usually discussed this in the context of the person's specific faith. They also spoke about how faith has been perverted by people, and this has been the cause of certain forms of violence and terrorism. The Muslim speaker (Karen Hamdon, who is active in a variety of local organizations such as HumanServe) particularly spoke about how Islam is a religion of peace that has been misterpreted by some extremists. However, it would have been nice for a Muslim clergy person to have been up there saying the same things. Rabbi Lindsey Bat Joseph from Temple Beth Ora, a Reform congregation (one of the more liberal branches of Judaism) also spoke about terrorism and also about the need for people of faith (speaking from a Jewish viewpoint) need to be involved in issues of social justice. The Priest mostly read Bible verses about the teachings of Jesus on peace.

I was most impressed with Rabbi Bat Joseph -- she is the first Jewish person in the local community who I have heard speak so clearly about peace and social justice (and yes, I videotaped it and will have it online in a day or so). One of my biggest questions when I got involved in the local peace movement was, Where are the Jews? And I can add to that as well, Where are the Evangelicals? I am getting completely frustrated with both Judaism and Christianity because of the insulated, cliquish, nature I am seeing by adherents. At this conference, I see Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and I am sure there are some Mennonites and Quakers there too. Where are the Evangelicals?

Most of the audience, which numbered around 500 I would guess, were mostly middle class and middle aged. Some were students, many were clergy, some were teachers. They came from all over to attend this. The reaction I was noticing was that it was more than meeting everyone's expectations. It certainly has met mine thus far, in that for the most part, everyone on the panel said the right things: that extremism is wrong. That people have perverted the teachings of their religions. That goodness and peace comes from true faith. Which is all fine and well and good -- the right things are, after all, the right things. But I have heard it all before and I certainly would not spend close to $400 to hear it again.

A questions-and-answer period followed the presentations from each panel member. Again, in response, the person would say "My religion teaches such-and-such about that issue." Only a couple of brave audience members touched upon the really difficult questions of how faith has been used to justify killing. No one denied that this was indeed the case, and for that I give the panel a lot of credit.

This was the main session of the day, lasting well over two and a half hours. That evening, several keynote speakers were scheduled to appear. The main one I would have been interested in seeing was James Loney, one of the Canadians from the Christian Peacemaker Teams who was held as a hostage in Iraq. However, he wasn't on until well after 8 pm, leaving me with about four hours of blankness until then.

My second day at the Building World Peace conference started with a breakout session featuring David Goa talking on the topic "The Holy Books: Is Religion the Problem?" Goa, a well-known scholar on religion, suggested that the psychotic religious leaders and fundamentalists who use religion as an excuse for violence and human rights violations will only be stopped when everyone is educated about religion: not to be afraid and skeptical of it, as is sometimes taught, but the history and beliefs behind the major religions that are the foundation of Western society: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I believe his logic was that this would empower people to say no when they confront fanatical religious people/leaders, that the religion does not teach violence/war/human rights abuses. He also said something very interesting: that the people he has known in his life who have been the most passionate about human rights and justice have been people of true faith, not "bleeding heart liberals."

The afternoon plenary session featured Indira Samarasekera, O.C., the President of the University of Alberta. She was mostly talking about the accomplishements of the U of A and some of the students in terms of advancing human rights. Following her, via video, was Federico Mayor Zaragoza, a Spanish biochemist who chairs Foundation for the Culture of Peace, about "Ending Violence in the Name of G-d." Yes, violence in the name of the Almighty is wrong and due to misinterpretation. (I think I see a pattern emerging here).

The next plenary session started to get into specific issues facing the world and the cultures within. Ovide Mercredi spoke about Canada's abysmal history of the treatment of First Nations peoples during "Canada: Is Our Reputation for Inclusion Deserved?" David Kilgour, a Canadian politician and activist, spoke on "The Role of Goverments in Building A Peaceful Society." He discussed how Canada's role as a peacemaker has been greatly diminished in recent years -- from being one of the top supporters of UN peace missions to being number 32 in the world. He also spoke about the current crisis in Darfur and how Canadian peacekeeping troups need to be there. The battery in my camcorder died on me during his speech, and I was sad.

The final speaker was the granddaughter of Lester Pearson who is a social studies teacher involved in the development of a curriculum encouraging the use of education as a tool towards mutual understanding. The person who introduced her was also involved in developing a new Social Studies curriculum for Alberta -- which had not been changed for 25 years! Education to bring about tolerance should not be a revolutionary concept, but as someone with a Bachelor of Education I can remember being taught a lot of things about classroom management, discipline, and how to grade an essay -- but nothing about using education as a means for real social change.

I had a hard time deciding which afternoon breakout group I would attend, but eventually settled on "Religious Responsibility for Building a Peaceful Society" presented by David and Mary Lou Klassen, a couple who has spent a lot of time doing humanitarian work in Africa. They presented a slide show and talked about the role of the Mennonite church in taking part in humanitarian causes. At the end of their presentation they also attempted to take back the word "Evangelical" (it originally meant the bearer of something good).

While I don't think I really heard anything new or revolutionary, others were acting like this was some of the most profound stuff they had ever heard. I was raised with religion, I practise religion, and I respect religion, and indeed I know that religion can be a motivating factor in wanting to bring about a peaceful society. Like many conferences, this was likely another case of preaching to the converted (no pun indended) but good ideas always deserve to be heard.

Living with Compassion - Sponsoring a Child

One of the most direct, effective ways to change someone's life is to sponsor a child. There are children locally and around the world who live in poverty, who are in dire need of food, clothing, health care, and education. A year and a half ago I decided to sponsor a child through Compassion Canada. His name is Joy and he lives in Bangladesh. He is seven years old and lives in Bangladesh with his mother, father, and three older sisters. His father is currently working as a cook, and his mother is at home. Joy lives on the plains of Satarkul, where about 100, 000 people live. Bengali is the primary ethnic group and language. Houses are typically made of cement with corrugated iron roofs. The diet there mostly consists of fish, rice, and pulse, which is a kind of seed. Most of the adults in the area are unemployed. Those who do work, typically work as day laborers and earn the equivalent of $20 per month. The community is in need of academic supplies, job opportunities, and social programs. My sponsorship is helping Joy get proper nutrition, medical care, educational support, hygiene, and spiritual support. I specifically wanted a child in Bangladesh because of a song that I grew up listening to, and continues to move me to this day when I recently was re-introduced to it. It is called the "Song of Bangladesh" by Joan Baez. Although it was written about the political situation there in the early 1970's, it is still a land affected by poverty and social problems.


Every blog has a first post, and this is the one for Every Single Thing. As a Singles Coordinator and Communications Coordinator for a small ethnic congregation, I find myself acting as a bridge between the world of the church and the world at large. I look for ways to make meaningful connections with my faith to guide me. And, I look for ways to perform Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. I also get frustrated with what appears to be a lack of concern for making the world a better place in the Evangelical world, as well as with singles being marginalized in the Body. This blog will outline some of the activities I am involved with in the congregation and outside, provide resources for Believing singles, and document my journey. I hope that you will come with me.