Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Merry

Today is December 25, which is celebrated as Christmas, even by some people in the Messianic movement. As someone from a Jewish home, I sometimes feel left out on this day, when all my friends are either busy or out of town. So, I stocked up on a few movies, some beverages of choice, and am going to spent time reading, listening to music, and even getting into the Bible later on.

My biggest hope and prayer is that people remember the real meaning of today. Whether or not it has pagan origins, whether or not the date is wrong -- today is about faith, and about peace. It's about gifts, but not the materialistic kinds. It's about a gift so precious it cost someone His life, so that we may have life eternal.

Happy Yom Yeshua!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Shabbat, Yesterday. Joy and Pain.

Yesterday was a very full day. It started off with me over-sleeping -- totally accidentally, of course. I've been so wiped with my daily activities that I now find it more difficult to arise at 7:30 on a Saturday morning than I did years ago. So I rushed around to get everything together, and when I got to the church, realized I forgot my guitar tuner. Tuning to the piano was not difficult, except for the fact that piano tends to always be slightly out of tune. I was also the only instrumentalist, as our usual worship leader was out of town, another was home resting, and the person who was schedule to lead is out indefinitely with a wrist injury (please pray for him -- he is in a lot of pain and this affects his livelihood).

This was the first service in a long time that I was actually able to sit through from start to finish, since I did not have any other events or commitments to which I had to attend. Afterwards, a group of us went out for lunch -- something else I have not been able to do in ages since I tend to take off early.

After lunch, I went to a nearby church which had an extensive display of Nativity scenes from around the world, and made in different mediums (one of my favourites was the one made out of a Mechano set. I recently got a new cell phone and my wall paper is a wood carving from Israel, a piece of modern art representing Joeseph and Mary holding baby Yeshua.

I left the church around 4, and walked down Candy Cane Lane, not fully dark or lit up yet. Actually, the longer I walked the darker it got. I was the only one on the street, and it was a necessary solitary experience. I needed the alone time. This time of year is proving to be harder for me than I expected. Not just because most of my friends are either away or busy. Not just because I feel left out, having to stay home while everyone else is out having fun on december 25. But mostly because I think back to the friend I lost back in March, and how this time of year was so important to him, and how he would be enjoying things, and how he can't and won't again. I rarely cry in public, but right before worship yesterday morning, I literally had tears rolling down my face.

When we are single, our friends sometimes become like our family. I lost a family member this past year. It hurts.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Extreme Activism

Yesterday was the "Funeral for the Earth," a protest organized for the International Day of Action on Climate Change. Edmonton took part with 35 other cities across the country, and Canada with other countries around the world as world leaders gathered in Bali on this very topic during the UN Climate Change Negotiations.

It is December in Edmonton, and today was one of the coldest days of the past few weeks. The irony that we were protesting climate change (in particular, global warming) when it was -30 celcius this morning was not lost on us, as we shivered, jumped up and down, and wore multiple layers to stay warm.

"This is extreme activism," I said to one of the Raging Grannies, before things got rolling.

I wore two pairs of socks. I could not find the thermal sports socks I have stashed away here somewhere, but two layers of normal socks did the trick. Below, I wore thermals, in addition to my cords and normal underwear. On top, was a long-sleeved blouse under a sweater, a long coat, a my famous pink Anarchy symbol knitted hat that I always wear to protests in the colder weather.

We marched from Canada Place to the Legislature, which is not a short route. But the bright sun kept things as warm as they could be, and we were moving at a fast pace. No cops to be seen - that was a surprise. I was running in and out of the crowd as I always do at these events, taking pictures and film. My biggest challenge was caused by the two layers of knitted gloves on my hands. Operating a camera is hard enough with one pair of gloves, let alone two.

There was an impressive turnout despite the cold temperatures, with about 150 people. I didn't freeze. I was especially concerned because the Legislature steps tend to be chilly to start with, but considering what goes on in there and the kind of givernment we have, that should come as no surprise. However, as far as I could tell, no one suffered from frostbite or hypothermia. The Raging Grannies and Notre Dame des Bananes sung, speakers led a service as the Earth was laid to rest, and the batteries in my camcorder just barely held out -- cold makes batteries drain faster. I'll get the pics and vids up in the next day or so.

Monday, November 19, 2007

From Crisis to Hope

This past weekend I was the official photographer for the annual Fall conference of The Parkland Institute, a progressive thinktank located on the University of Alberta campus. The theme of this year's conference was "From Crisis to Hope: Building Sustainable Communities."

By "sustainable communities," what was meant was the kind of society we as people will be living in, in a post-carbon world once the oil sands are depleted, once other non-renewable resources are dwindling, once the stress of our lifestyles take their full toll on the world around us.

In general, the tone of the conference was very positive and included a lot of interactive discussions. One of the speakers, Mark Anielski (author of the book The Economy of Happiness), spoke about what causes true happiness -- or, joy as he later specified, which is a more enduring state than happiness, which can be fleeting. The conclusion made was that there was more satisfaction to be found in spiritual things than material. "Spiritual" included being close to family and friends, enjoying nature, having an adequate amount of leisure time, and, yes, it was indeed mentioned: one's relationship with G-d (although no specific religion was discussed). People need to have enough money to be able to sufficiently care for their needs, but people with huge bags of dough are not necessarily happier.

To me, this is a very important topic, but hardly revolutionary. After all, people who already have a close relationship with the Almighty, or G-d, or the Creator, or whatver we feel comfortable calling Him, know this stuff well. Anielski was preaching to the converted (literally) in my case. How many people will now go home and start to explore their own spirituality as a result? I can only hope and pray that many will.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Parashat Noach : People Get Ready

Parashat Noach (Noah)
October 13, 2007/1 Cheshvan 5768

Torah: Gen. 6:9-11:32
Haftarah: Is. 66:1-24 (Rosh Chodesh, otherwise Is. 54:1-55:5)
Brit Chadesha: Mt. 24:36-46

Growing up in a Jewish home, the portion of Noach contains a central Bible story with which I was raised. It creates very vivid visual images, and tells a clear message about obeying G-d, even when the reason seems unclear or if what He is asking you to do seems unusual or unrealistic.

G-d gives Noah very clear instructions – he tells Noah what is about to happen, and gives him specific instructions for the ark – the exact size and dimensions – and what to do concerning bringing the animals on board, as well as how to take care of his own food and family. Then came the flood. Everything and everyone perished except Noah, his family, and the animals on the Ark. Because of Noah’s faithfulness, G-d makes a covenant with Noah, which is described in Gen. 9:1-4:

Gen 9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.Gen 9:2 The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.Gen 9:3 Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.Gen 9:4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.
G-d promises Noah that the world will never again be destroyed by a flood.

Two side notes: This is where the rabbinic prohibition about consuming blood comes from. Even in the cases of kosher animals, for meat to be rabbinically kosher it has to go through a specific slaughter and preparatory process in order to remove as much blood as possible. As well, there is a theory that prior to the time of Noah people were vegetarians because of the way Gen. 9:3 is phrased.

Noah had three sons – Shem, Ham, and Japeth – and from them descended the nations described in chapter ten. But there was a problem when Ham, the father of Canaan, caught his father naked and drunk. Instead of being discreet about it, he went and told his brothers, bringing shame upon Noah. As a result, Noah cursed Canaan to be the slave of Shem, but blessed Shem and Japeth.

Chapter 11 talks about the Tower of Babel, whereby the L-rd confused and scattered the people there by giving them different languages. The portion ends with the genealogy from Shem to Abram.

The Haftarah is a special reading this week because of Rosh Chodesh. The prophet Isaiah discusses judgement for the disobedient, and the L-rd himself states his reaction to such.

Isa 66:15 See, the L-RD is coming with fire,and his chariots are like a whirlwind;he will bring down his anger with fury,and his rebuke with flames of fire.Isa 66:16 For with fire and with his swordthe L-RD will execute judgment upon all men,and many will be those slain by the L-RD.

The New Testament portion presents Yeshua’s words about the coming of the L-rd, stating how just like the people in Noah’s day did not know what was in store, we don’t know what could be looming.

Mat 24:38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;Mat 24:39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

So, we have to be ready. We have to live our lives as through the L-rd is always watching – because He is – and He is ready to return. Sometimes I do or say things I would not want my earthly father hearing or knowing about, or especially catching me in the act of. How much worse it would be to be caught by my Heavenly Father. So let’s be ready.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Update and Recap

I honestly did not realize how long it has been since I last posted. Yeah, I know -- I bet a lot of people begin their blog updates with that line. Anyways, there have been a few major actions that have come my way in the last couple of months.

On August 18, I took part in a march and rally organized by Albertans Demand Affordable Housing, calling for rent control and for more affordable housing to be built. This event was a bit of a departure for me, since I came out from behind the camera, and actually performed a song I wrote for the occasion. Even though the weather was nasty and I was on the tail end of a cold, it went pretty well. All week long I was praying and asking people to pray that my voice would hold out, depite my being sick, and it did! G-d truly hears and answers prayer.

Since the High Holy Days came out early this year, I had to miss out on a few events, such as a funeral to bury Alberta's labour code, and a release party for a collection of Haiku poetry for which I was a contributor. However, I did some filming of a die-in concerning the genocide in Darfur (a die-in is when you lay on the ground really still), and photography of artwork installations for the Edmonton Small Press Association's North of Nowhere Expo. I also filmed a presentation as part of NoN about Dignity Village, which is sort of like a tent city for the homeless, but with the city's support.

Speaking of Tent City, myself and a few other members of ADAH went down there on the day it was closed (September 15), to talk to residents who were packing up. I filmed those conversations, as well as one with a government rep. It was very obvious that many of these people had nowhere else to go. This was a very humbling experience that brings me to my knees thanking G-d for what I have. Anyone who is looking for people to pray for, should just spend some time in the inner city.

Meetings with the various organizations with which I am involved have swung back into high gear, and upcoming events are being planned. So, hopefully my next update will come much sooner than this one!

G-d bless and be well. And, Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dealing with Discipline

During some down time in July I decided to give some extra attention to an online ministry I started around six years ago. It's a discussion list that has grown to several hundred members. With large numbers come rejoicing, but also administrative duties with which I admit I had gone lax. My lack of involvement because even more apparent when tensions arose during controverial discussions that contravened several of the forum rules.

I had a choice to either use my authority, or to shut the thing down completely. After careful prayer and consideration, I opted to keep it going. The first thing I needed was acocuntability as a leader, so I recruited a co-moderator, someone mature in the faith and whom I trust. We had several lengthy discussions both online and on the phone about how to handle the growing disagreements and in-fighting. We came to several conclusions:

1) The existing rules had to be enforced with greater authority.

2) New rules had to be created to handle new situations.

3) A process had to be established by which to deal with rule violations.

With regards to #3, we developed our own way of invoking a Matthew 18 process - otherwise known as discipline:

1) A first warning would be issued to the person privately, via e-mail.

2) A second warning would be given in the group itself.

3) If a need for a third warning emerged, the person would be expelled from the listserv, with public explanation.

We felt this would give people fair warning, as well as clear explanations of why discipline was being invoked. We announced the new rules and disciplinary procedures in a series of e-mails sent to the group.

And then it began.

People began arguing about the validity of the new rules (pretty much the ones who were breaking them in the first place). They said our Matthew 18 process really wasn't correct. They said we were wrong. They said we had no right to be doing this.

They are no longer part of the group.

Some people in the group were not happy about the stricter procedures, but were grateful the situation was dealt with and tensions loosened. Some outright don't agree with the rules, but know why they are there and respect them. Most of the rules deal with avoiding controversial topics that quickly spin out of control into personal attacks and arguments.

I learned a really eye-opening lesson about discipline. Just like in a real-life congregation, if someone needs to be disciplined, usually by the time the person is asked to leave the issue is no longer about what raised the need for the disciplinary procedures in the first place. It becomes about a person's pride, a person's unwillingness to follow the rules, and refusal to accept the other person's leadership and authority.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Adventures in Leadership

The last couple of weeks have been pretty wild -- most of the leadership were away at a denominational conference or on holidays, while most of the other leaders who remained and in charge of leading services were sick. One of the ill people in question was the worship leader, leaving yours truly to lead musical worship through lists of pre-chosen songs that were in and out of my vocal range (mostly out). Fortunately, I've learned a few vocal tricks over the years, and if I can't sing in key, I go low. And I had another vocalist with a higher range than mine to fill in the blanks, so to speak (and I filled in hers as well). I had to do more liturgical chanting than normal -- I don't normally chant the Torah blessings, just the regular Shabbat liturgy.

Our crew has led services on our own numerous times and are usually prepared for whatever comes our way. However, we did not expect someone who used to attend our congregation to pass away unexpectedly. Although G-d led her somewhere else, she remained friends with many in the congregation, and this was a blow. We found out simply because I saw her obituary in the newspaper. I had the sobering task of letting as many people know about her passing as possible, and fortunately several people were able to attend her memorial. Which led me to do something I never have done before: chant Kaddish. I was able to recite it in Hebrew, without the tune, after several practise sessions.

My journey in leadership is reflective of my walk with G-d in life in general. Just when I am about to say that I have done every task or role, something new is thrown my way. And sometimes I simply cannot anticipate what is around the corner. I just feel very excited lately, because life in a relationship with G-d is always an adventure.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

So Many Actions, Such Little Time

The past few weeks have been extremely hectic. In what was left of my spare time, I attended numerous actions with my cameras, including:

- An affordable housing rally geared towards the disabled.

- Another affordable housing rally organized by one of the local street newspapers and a grassroots groups that started up to deal with this issue.

- A National Day of Action dealing with the treatment by the government of the Aboriginal population, and in this specific instance, the Lubicon Cree in Alberta.

- A teach-in on Afghanistan, similar to the one that ECAWAR organized in October of last year.

- A peace rally focusing on respecting our racial and cultural differences.

- The Pride Parade - yes, you read that correctly. I marched in a Gay Pride Parade, with The Raging Grannies as their official photographer. There were Grannies from all over the Western United States and Canada for a convention that weekend, and they hired a horse and buggy to take them through the parade route.

I have always said to look at my activist involvement as extreme cross-cultural ministry. That it is.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Purity (Parashat Chukat)

This was a sermon I delivered on Shabbat, concerning the week's Torah reading. It got me thinking about purity.
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Parashat Chukat (ordinance of)
June 23, 2007 - 7 Tammuz 5767

Torah: Numbers 19:1-22:1
Haftarah: Judges 11:1-33
Brit Chadesha: John 3:10-21
(The readings above are based upon Jeff Feinberg’s reading list, located at www.flamefoundation.org)

Parashat Chukat discusses ritual purification, as well as some of the final stages along the journey of Israel through the desert. In Chapter 19, the sacrifice of the Red Heifer is described, which had a special purification function, as the ashes were used in the purification of someone who had come into contact with a dead body. The cow itself had to be pure: in perfect health, no hairs of any other colour, and never used in a work situation. The portion then goes on to describe two major battles that Israel fights, and wins. At the same time, the people being led through the desert are growing increasingly frustrated with their circumstances, and again, start to doubt the Divine plan for their journey.

Numbers 20:4 Why did you bring the L-RD's community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!"

20:6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the L-RD appeared to them. 7 The L-RD said to Moses, 8 "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink."

Once again, the L-rd provides for His people, even in the face of their doubt. G-d gave them water – not pomegranates or figs, the nice stuff the people began their complaint with. He gave them water. Water is life and survival.

In the Prophetic portion, the central figure is Jephthah the Gileadite, who fights the Ammonites after trying to resolve their issues peacefully – he sent a message to them, which was ignored. In the end, Jephthah is triumphant, and gives the glory to G-d – as well as a physical sacrifice of a burnt offering.

Judges 11:31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the L-RD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."

11:32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the L-RD gave them into his hands.

In the New Testament portion, Yeshua is conversing with the Pharisee Nicodemus, explaining how to be born again, and that He is the Son of G-d.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of G-d unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

In each component of this week’s portion, there is some kind of a process that is described that is part of a journey, either physical or spiritual. The very beginning of the portion deals with purity. As Believers living in the present day, achieving purity is a process that can involve any number of things, from giving up habits that are blocking us spiritually, to the very basic ritual of Baptism. It’s no coincidence that water is a recurring theme in this portion – in literature, water can symbolize life and purity, and in faith, water is cleansing, both literally and figuratively.

Purity is an ongoing process on our journey as Believers. We need the water of this world and we need the water of Life given to us in the Torah, which is fulfilled by our Messiah.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Facebook Funk

Like many others, I am addicted to Facebook. It is incredibly cool to be able to look up old friends and see how they are doing. It also brings some strange feelings, seeing some of them in pictures holding their children, or posing with their spouses. Some people I thought for sure would have families are still single, and vice versa. I guess Facebook really makes me feel my age. Sort of like when I was at Earth Day and one of the performers, someone I went to University with, had a group of teenage and almost teenage kids run up to him -- and one of them called him Daddy. Wow. Had I married at a standard age, I am indeed old enough to have teenagers (or, almost teenagers). Then I try to remind myself of all the things I am doing that would not have been possible, had I been tied down with a family. Still, I sometimes feel choked when thinking that perhaps there is more to life than music, art, writing, serving in leadership, and activism.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Laying It Down

Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know that a few months back I purchased a Hebrew wedding ring off of eBay. I wanted to actually own a wedding ring and know what it is like to wear one. Because I realized it was not a "real" wedding ring, I bought it in silver and not gold.

Anyways, the ring has a very wide shank, and as a result even though I ordered the ring size I normally wear, it was too small. I took it to one jeweller who did not size it up enough - the weather was still cold outside and it just barely fit, even though if I wore it for any length of time I needed to screw the thing off with all my strength. I took it last week to another jeweller who I hoped could finish the job. I was assured they could, and left the ring there. Then, the other day I got a call from the store and was told that because the ring was rhodium plated, they could not do any sizing or else the details would come off. So, I am stuck with a ring that does not fit any of my fingers, except for my left thumb, upon which I actually wore the ring yesterday.

I am at the point where I have to lay the ring down, and with it, my dreams of ever getting married. While I am usually not too quick to read signs into things, I found this whole experience to be indicative of the fact that I may very well never get married, and I have to mentally prepare myself for that possibility. I am simply not meant to wear a wedding ring at this time. Trying to force the issue by buying myself one, will not change my situation at all.

I also have a copy of the book my spiritual leader uses in his pre-marital counselling sessions with couples - I bought it a few years ago when it looked like I may have been heading in that direction. Now it is just gathering dust and I am thinking of selling it or giving it away, or maybe even burning it in a "I am giving this up" sort of ceremony.

I'm learning to lay it down and just accept my life for what it is.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Global Day of Prayer

Yesterday was the Global Day of Prayer, in which Edmonton joined with other countries throughout the world to pray for common goals. It was also intended to bridge gaps between denominations and build unity in the Body. Representatives from many different churches were there, including Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical, Charistmatic, Salvation Army, and other mainstream Protestant groups. Numerous requests were prayed for, including those affected by poverty and homelessness. As my companion pointed out, one major element was missing from the prayers: to root out the causes of homelessness and poverty (in many cases, being our corporate and materialistic society).

Peace was also prayed for. A chaplain from the armed forces led those prayers. While certainly it is appropriate for someone serving in the military to pray for the protection and safety of his fleet, I wonder if this was a right-wing ploy to get people to be rah rah government, and to support the current mission in Afghanistan (don't even get me started). Only having a military person pray for peace is somewhat of an unbalanced perspective. What about the Quakers and Mennonites, or members of the faith-based peace groups like Christian Peacemakers or Project Ploughshares? You know, the ones who come to the peace marches -- marching against military occupations in other countries. Global Day of Prayer, while valuable, is not really as all-inclusive as it claims to be.

On the other hand, people who are involved with peace churches and related organizations need to have more of a presence at these events, if only to have a dissident voice. After all, prayer is an important part of faith life. Just like the more conservative churches do, we also have to be careful not to always be preaching to the converted.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Memorable Service

We had another baby dedication in the congregation this morning. At the request of the family I videotaped the ceremony and took some family photos afterwards. I consider it a privilege when families let me be a part of their celebrations this way.

As well, an older, single, man in our congregation who is invaluable to us in leadership brought with him his elderly, frail mother. His camera was not working, so I photographed them together. What a memory that will make. I don't ever recall him bringing his mother to services before.

My sermon (see the post below) was well received. I preached on the same Torah portion about three years ago, but re-read the portion and brought it up to date with a more mature understanding. As part of the Torah service, I held the Torah over my head during one of the prayers, and around for the congregation to touch. I'm wearing a t-shirt with an illustration of a chimpanzee on it. I think when I held the Torah over my head, my face was covered and it looked like the chimp was holding it up. It was one of those, "I wish someone could take a picture of me now" moments. Instead of playing an instrument during worship, I flipped the overheads -- I haven't done that in ages.

Anyone who has attended our congregation for any length of time knows that the rabbi has an extreme sensitivity to scented products. Any time he gets "dosed," his mind starts to work in a funny way. Well, funnier than usual! Today, as he was introducing me before my sermon, he actually forgot my name. This is the person who has introduced me at the end of every service for the past four years when I come up to do the announcements (and who always manages to tease me somehow in order to get me to blush)! Well, today the joke was on him. And, best of all, we have it on tape for posterity.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Elevate

I have the privilege of delivering the Torah sermon at my congregation this Shabbat. My drash is also being used this week on the UMJC's Torah list. Here is my message.
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Parasha Nasso (Elevate)
May 26, 2007/9 Sivan 5767

Torah: Numbers 4:21-7:89
Haftarah: Judges 13:2-25
Brit Chadasha: John 12:20-36

This is a portion about offerings to the L-rd, both physical offerings of ourselves in terms of serving G-d and of living a life which is in obedience to Him – indeed, these are two central aspects of being a Believer.

The Torah portion begins in Numbers 4:21, with a census taken by Moses and Aaron of several clans, and describing each clans’ duties. Chapter 5 deals with purity, restitution for wronging each other, and a test by which to see if a wife has been unfaithful. Chapter 6 describes the Nazarite vow – a Nazir was one (either a man or a woman) who chose to give up worldly pleasures, and dedicate himself or herself to following G-d and the study of Torah.

NU 6:1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the LORD as a Nazirite, 3 he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. 4 As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

NU 6:5 " `During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the LORD is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long. 6 Throughout the period of his separation to the LORD he must not go near a dead body. (NIV)

There are more rules described concerning contact with the dead elaborated upon, and what the Nazirite must do when his period of separation is over. Chapter 6 concludes with the Aaronic Benediction, something familiar to many of us as it concludes our weekly service.

Chapter 7, the final chapter in the portion, is a detailed list of the tribal leaders of Israel and the gifts that they brought to dedicate the Tabernacle, known as the Mishkan.

In the Haftarah, the wife of Manoah is barren, and an angel tells her that she will give birth to a son who will become a Nazarite, which is the connection to the Torah portion:

JDG 13:5 . . . you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazarite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines." (NIV)

She tells her husband, who is somewhat sceptical. The angel appears and tells him the same thing. The woman ends up giving birth to Samson:

JDG 13:24 The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him (NIV)

The Brit Chadasha reading has Yeshua speaking to His disciples about serving the Father through Him. His death is foreshadowed:

JN 12:35 Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. (NIV)

The Nazirites made a choice. They willingly gave up the world just to serve the L-rd. Although most of us are not called to as extreme requirements as the Nazirites, we have a choice as well: to be set apart to G-d. Yeshua gave us the choice to walk with Him, instead of with the world. It seems like a simple choice, but has serious consequences. We change, inwardly and outwardly. When we make a commitment to put the L-rd first in our lives, our homes, our decisions, and our relationships, for many people, this is just too extreme. I am sure many of us have stories about people abandoning us over our choice to follow G-d. This is a sacrifice, often painful, but part of the price of being a Believer.

This is because many people do not understand the need for a relationship with G-d. They don’t want rules and restrictions. But they also do not understand that offering themselves to G-d brings Freedom. As it is written in John 12:35, “the man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.” Yeshua is the light. I choose to be free.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

May Day and Living Wages

On Tuesday evening I attended a march and rally for International Worker's Day. A lot of people from unions, political parties, labour organizations, and workers themsevles were there. Some of the issues concern fair pay, health benefits, and a safe workplace. These are the reasons why unions were started in the first place.

Just because we are Believers doesn't mean we have to let others take advantage of our nature. We are as entitled to a decent living wage, benefits, and reasonable hours, as anyone else. Unfortunately, a place where workers are often taken advantage of is within Christian businesses and organizations. The message is that one's work is also a ministry, and therefore it has to be sacrificial.

As Believers, our entire lives should be ministries. We also have to make a living. We don't need a guilt trip that because we're working for the L-rd, that we should not be comfortable financially.

I worked for five years for a prominent ministry. During that time I accepted pay that was much lower than what I would expect for the same kind of work elsewhere, and on top of that I found the atmosphere to be of much higher pressure due to extremely tight deadlines and micromanagement. The experience helped me realize that our time is worth something and that we can be more effective in our ministries when our basic needs are being met.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Fair-Weather Believers?

Yesterday I was at the Walk for Darfur rally in Churchill Square. I didn't stay long as it started pouring and I am getting over a cold, so spending two hours in the rain was probably not a good idea. I stayed long enough to get some photo and video footage. Seeing these students embracing and dancing after spending eight days walking from Calgary to Edmonton was an inspiration. Others who joined them on the final 15 km were complaining of pain and blisters, so I can't imagine the physical endurance these young folks had. I did not see as many of my colleagues in the peace community as I expected, but there were a few. I imagine the weather kept many away. I am trying really hard not to be a "fair-weather activist." In the same vein, I have always tried to make it to services and related events even when the weather is not great. How many of us are really "fair-weather Believers"?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sick? Ick!

Yesterday I was AWOL for no reason other than I was sick. Ah-CHOO!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Earth Day

Yesterday was Earth Day. I got the brilliant idea to walk all the way down to Hawrelak Park, so I am quite sore today. It took me 50 minutes to get from home to the festival spot. I didn't ride my bike because the weather looked iffy, and the bike path was all muddy anyways. I checked out the displays, hung with friends, and took in some musical performances. One of the displays was for the Environmenal Studies program at King's University College, a Christian college that I believe is Reformed. My friend thought this was strange because in his mind, if it is Christian than it is right-wing, and if it is right-wing, then it is supporting the Conservative government and would be in agreement with the Bush administration down south, and if that is the case, then whatever they are doing is counter-revolutionary. After talking to a Christian friend of mine who also showed up, apparently the Reform movement is very big into stewardship and would take something like Earth Day seriously. I believe all people of faith should uphold values of stewardship, and if political parties generally affiliated with fundamentalist beliefs do not uphold those values, they are in violation of an important moral issue for Believers. A celebration of the Earth does not mean we worship the Earth, because all here is temporal, but rather it involves making a commitment to be good stewards of what He has created.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Musical Afternoon

I had an early afternoon audition for an inner city music festival coming up in June called Heart of the City. I performed two of my original songs that I know so well, I can play with my eyes closed. And, in fact, I did play with my eyes closed -- so that I would not be distracted by looking at the facial expressions of the judges. They especially liked my lyrics, but I have no idea if I actually made it in or not. I shall update.

Then, it was off to CKUA for a three-hour shift answering phones for the station's Spring fundraising campaign. I walked in with my guitar and a friend I worked the shift with tried to convince me to take it out and play, but we were there during a blues show and I don't really know any blues licks. If it was a folk/acoustic show maybe I would have.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Single Woman Revolution

We've had a baby boom in our congregation recently -- and they have all been baby girls. I suspect similar patterns are emerging elsewhere. There is already a disprportionate number of single women to men currently, and I suspect this ratio is going to get more disparate as time goes by. The Believing world especially had better brace itself for an onslaught of single women. Women are already taking on a more vocal presence in congregational leadership, and on faith matters in general. Some are concerning about the "feminization" of the Body, but in reality, the church is a slice of life. More women in the world means more women in the church. More single women in the world and . . . well, you get the idea. We are the future.

Post-Passover

The day after Passover ended, I headed to one of my favourite restaurants to properly break the holiday with a microbrewed yeasty drink (yeast and anything leavened is forbidden during Passover).

While I imbibed, I also sat there ready a devotional book for singles (Single Servings by Lee Warren -- you should check out his blog of the same name, as well as his personal one).

I wondered to myself if there was any conflict between the fact that I was:
1) In a bar;
2) Drinking an alcoholic beverage; and,
3) Reading a book that reflects my faith.

This was my conclusion I came to before my green onion cake got cold (I was making up for lost time and starch). If we are to be salt and light, we have to take our faith with us, no matter where we go. If someone in that same restaurant were to label me a hypocrite for being there and drinking what I was drinking, the person had to mentally digest the fact that I am a person of faith in the first place. Perhaps someone who is not used to being around people of faith, or who has negative associations with faith in general (much like many of the people I meet in the activist community). No matter what the person was thinking, at least the person was thinking -- about faith.

And, if someone who was also a Believer caught me there and thought, "Tsk, tsk -- what a blemish of a sight -- drinking alcohol!" -- I would reply, "Then what are you doing here in this den of iniquity?"

I, for one, am not ashamed to drink my beer and study the Word at the same time.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Troops Out

I missed Shabbat services on March 17 because I was attending a demonstration marking the fourth anniversary of the United States invading Iraq. Since we live in Canada, we also incorporated this country's military involvement in Afghanistan. Since it was also St. Patrick's Day, I enjoyed a Guinness that evening with supper.

The march and rally was filled with energy and enthusiasm. It was one of the best ones I have partaken in yet. It was also a personal triumph of sorts.

I have a terrible fear of heights. However, I was required to take a picture from an aerial perspective. All of the marchers at the beginning of the event formed a peace symbol, and I had to take the picture from the top of a nearby parkade, looking right down over the concrete barrier. It was not easy. I was quite nervous and even put a prayer request out on the congregational e-mail list. But in the end I was able to do it. Without gettting sick to my stomach, as one of my colleagues suggested I would. In fact, when I got to the bottom of the parkade again after the marching began, I loudly proclaimed, "I am only slightly nauseous!"

Of course, now when I look at the photo and really think about how high up I was, I still get a bit queasy. But it was worth it -- it has been the photographic highlight of my life thus far.

G-d can take us to the highest heights, and He won't let us get seasick in the process.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

R.I.P. J.P.D.

Below is a post I have also placed in other blogs of mine. I wanted to post it here as well because this is the story of a single man who used his time to try to make this world a better place. He also lived his faith to the fullest; while I am not Catholic, I respected his beliefs and learned a lot about that particular tradition.

---------

I have lost a good friend, and the world has lost a good man.

Long pre-dating my days in the local activist community was my involvement online in areas such as anti-racism and homophobia. I became involved in two online communities: Matthew's Place, which is a mailing list discussing homophobia and other related issues by a group of people united over the horror of the death of Matthew Shepard, a college student in the U.S. who was beaten to death simply because he was gay. The other one is Stop Hate 2000, which also deals with homophobia, as well as racism, religious hatred, anti-Semitism, and a variety of other topics, all relating to hate crimes.

It was through these online venues that I met John Patrick Day. John, or JP as I always called him, lived in the same city as me (as did another volunteer with the same groups), so we would often get together for lunch or coffee. I'll never forget when JP and I finally decided to meet in person, and I walked in to the coffee shop to meet this charming Irishman with red hair, his trademark hats, and an unusual sense of fashion.

JP was like an eccentric uncle to me, full of wit and charm, and often a supportive shoulder when I was having problems in my family or personal life. When my mother was in an extended hospital stay, we spent an afternoon together to get me out of there for a while, and I will never forget the embrace we shared when we parted, as I was in pretty rough shape emotionally. That was John -- never judgemental, and always there when you needed him even when he was having problems of his own.

Sometimes JP, myself, and our mutual friend Gary would get together. We would discuss politics, religion, and other such things. Actually, Gary and John would get into it politically and my eyes would glaze over, but it was sometimes fun to watch. Gary is NDP and John was a diehard Liberal. I was only just starting to find my voice politically, and was more interested in the religious side of things. John was a devout Catholic, Gary an Evangelical Christian, and I'm Jewish, so we had pretty much the entire Western religious spectrum covered.

On Saturday, Gary contacted me to let me know that JP had passed away the previous Tuesday. JP died in his sleep, of as-yet undetermined causes. The news came to me as a shock, and it took a couple of days for the grief to take hold. The past few days have been extremely hard.

You see, I hadn't kept in touch with JP (or Gary for that matter) as much as I should have, as my career expanded and my involvement in the local activist community blossomed. This is something I will forever regret. I found an e-mail from JP in my Inbox from a couple months back, just as I was coming down with something awful that kept me home for about two weeks, and then got buried by an avalanche of e-mail. Compounding my grief is the fact that I let things slide and won't get a second chance to make up for it. Without the possibility of ever seeing him again, I already realize how much I miss him.

JP's funeral was this morning, and it was a beautiful celebration. I don't think I had a dry eye from the moment of the opening procession, to the final procession when "Danny Boy" was being played (what song could be more appropriate for an Irishman?). Afterwards we attended a reception at his sister's house and shared memories -- I had my little wallet-sized photo album and showed some photos of JP and I, including one where his cat Stella was trying to crawl onto my chest as JP tried to peel her off.

What else can I tell you about JP? He fought vigilantly for social justice in his own quiet way. He never got the spotlight or any glory, or any money for much of his work, but he lived according to his beliefs and was an example to others. He was a devout Catholic who walked his faith. He was strongly political and dedicated many hours to the Liberal party -- Anne McLellan even sent a message to be read at his funeral. But most of all he was a kind, compassionate, and just plain super nice person. I overheard someone say that John had a habit of picking up stray animals and stray people.

He indeed loved people and animals -- he had a dog, Jack, who had health problems but who he cared for until Jack died. He also had a cat named Stella (or, "her Ladyship," as he sometimes referred to her) who survives him. Some years ago JP had me take some pictures of Stella because she was starting to get up there in years. I find it quite ironic that Stella is still here, and JP isn't.

This blessing was on the memorial card handed out this morning:

Irish Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be ever at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall softly on your fields
And until we meet again, may G-d hold
You in the hollow of His hand.

And a poem:

Music, When Soft Voices Die
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

MUSIC, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
And heap'd for the beloved's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

We've also set up a memorial page for JP at the Stop Hate website.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Helpmates or Companions?

The Scriptural position on marriage is that a wife is supposed to be a helpmate to her husband. She is supposed to support him in his ministry and life. This has gotten me thinking that it would be against these teachings for me to get married.

I've often joked that I need a wife. Running a business, being active in ministry, and taking part in social causes takes up a lot of time and energy. Add on top of that bookkeeping, paying bills, household chores, and the various other things that come up in the course of having a life. A helpmate would be wonderful Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be part of the plan. A woman is supposed to be a helpmate to her husband, not the other way around.

However, if you ask people in the world and in the church why they get married, the answers usually have something to do with companionship, love, and sometimes even sex. And indeed, all of these aspects are important in a marriage. So why can't being a helpmate work two ways? Am I supposed to believe that I should not get married because I have a business and ministry of my own? Do I have nothing left to give another person because I am so absorbed in my own activities?

Companionship is as valid a reason for marriage as being or needing a helpmate. After all, it is not good for man to be alone. As for me, I think someone who has a proven record of helping others in various situations is a good candidate for being a helpmate.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Full of Pooh

The baby shower had a Winnie the Pooh theme, and the house was full of young children and babies. Some of the young kids were even serving up the food, which was very cute. I saw a lot of good friends, and being the only one with a working camera, took lots of pictures. I really think G-d is using my visual abilities because it seems like wherever I go, I am the token picture-taker. I tried to play with a very shy and hyper dog who took a sniff of my hand and ran quickly in the opposite direction. I felt so rejected.

As the token single person, I sometimes wonder about the investments I make in supporting other people's showers and special occasions. Will I ever get it back? Well, it is true that we should not give with the intention of getting back in return. We are to be joyful givers. However, I have heard of single women who throw showers for themselves -- seriously, they register at a store and have a big party.

I've also heard of women who marry themselves -- they have a ceremony and everything. I don't think I would go that far, but I did buy a silver version of the wedding band that I always wanted -- it has Hebrew lettering that translates to, "I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine." There is only one problem. I had to purchase it by mail-order and so did not get a chance to try it on first, and it's too tight. Maybe a message is trying to be communicated to me here . . .

My father told me about some kind of rent-a-husband service, where a woman uses a guy for a day to walk down the aisle, get pictures, and get her friends to give her presents. I think that is a little extreme. But I like the idea of a shower for oneself, especially for a milestone birthday.

A Different Kind of Shower

So yesterday right before services, one of the proud new paps in the congregation was lifting his daughter over his head so I could take pictures. I jokingly told him he should do that right after she has eaten.

"Oh, I've gotten it right in my mouth," was his reply, as my stomach buckled. "It's warm and salty."

I fell to the ground in mock horror and told the pastor's wife I was going to be sick. "There's no time for that right now," she said, laughing.

"OK, I'll do it later," I replied.

My squeamishness with bodily fluids, especially ones that come from babies, is legend amongst my bretheren. I've been told that if I have kids, suddenly I will transform into a puke and spit lover, but as I head into my mid-thirties and having children of my own becomes less of a possibility, I am not going to hold my breath. I'll save that for when I am around other people's soiled babies, LOL!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Forecast Calls for Showers

On Sunday, I am going to the third baby shower in as many months. It's for the daughter of a good friend of mine, and it's also her third child. Yes, sometimes things come in threes.

Lately I have been feeling more excited and enthuasiastic about being surrounded by children, and being considered an "Auntie." This is the closest I have ever felt to any sort of maternal instinct. You can have a lot of impact on a child's life without being a parent. And you can have a legacy without having children.

Strangely though, recently I have developed a huge longing for a cat. This frightens me somewhat. I guess I don't want to fall into the stereotype of the single, childless cat woman.

However, there are probably worse things to be.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Missions Fest 2007

We just completed our fourth Missions Fest. As always, it was our biggest outreach event of the year. We had some very interesting conversations with enthusiastic people who approached our information table and wanted to know more about the ministry.

I ran into a whole lot of people I haven't seen in ages. There was Naomi, a friend from high school who was at the Canadian Bible Society table. Rene, one of the first friends I made after becoming involved with the Messianic movement, is now with Chosen People Ministries, married, and the father of a young daughter. Brenda, from the women's Bible study I used to attend, was there with her family. My ex-fiance's brother, caught up with me and filled me in on developments in his family. Carlo, a volunteer at a newspaper where I used to work, came over to say hello. A representative from the Mustard Seed, an inner city pastoral ministry, knew me from my work with an inner city community newspaper.

We had many people more recent to the congregation help out at the table, which was just great. Enthusiasm abounded. I caught the tail end of a seminar aimed at single people, which was led by a senior woman who had never married. Someone asked her how she knew it was G-d's will for her to remain single. Her answer was simple. It just never happened. And she was satisfied with that. She expected to be married, but it never happened. Circumstances, and peace with that situation, seem to be key.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I Am A Hypocrite

I had an interesting conversation with a non-religious friend of mine the other day. She felt that I am a hypocrite because I do not always follow the teachings of my faith to the letter. Sometimes when I mess up I fess up, and other times I keep it quiet and repent on my own, and sometimes I make personal choices based upon my understanding and interpretations of Scripture and our customs, some of which may differ from what others of the same faith may do under similar circumstances.

It's a really common misconception people have of religion, that if you are not following every rule that somehow you're a hypocrite. Thatis basically what she said -- if I have a religion, I should follow the religion. But that is not what true faith is about. Ours is a faith of grace and love. We're all imperfect people and we are going to make mistakes. As well, it is absolutely impossible to keep all the commandments, all of the time. That is why we have Yom Kippur, to atone for our sin, and why we are covered by the blood and grace of Yeshua, to forgive us of that sin.

Sin is a private matter, like faith can be. When we sin, we don't have to make a proclamation at the front of the Sanctuary. Some of us have accountability partners, and what we tell them stays between the two of us (or, it should anyways. And if it becomes church gossip you might want to consider finding another accountability partner). And even when our choices are not necessarily sinful, just personal, I don't think we're necessarily under an obligation to tell our pastor, elders, and church body everything going on in our lives. You would not tell all of your friends everything going on -- why would you tell your congregation?

If that makes me a hypocrite, then so be it. It's not the worst thing I have ever been called.