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


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.
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.