10 December 2016

Overlap: Christmas/ Hanukkah WHAT is the big deal?

It's not every year these two holidays which have nothing to do with each other occur on the same date. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (or Chanukkah, or Channukah or however you want to spell it) starts on the lunar calendar date of 25 Kislev. The Christmas celebration is celebrated on the solar calendar on 25 December. And this year, 2016, those two dates collide and help us to have some great fun with the joys of the season.

Of course this Jewish holiday was not a major festival, that is, not until the late 19th century, when Christmas (which also was not a major holiday of the year) grew in epic capitalistic proportions. As the holiday became the reason for shopping, the shop owners drove it more and more into what it is today, which is barely recognizable as the birthday of the leader of the religion. And Hanukkah which celebrates a military victory is merely an excuse for many for a "Jewish Christmas."

These two Canadian actors and Yiddish specialists perform a great service to the world in their humor. Here is their latest episode featuring many holiday songs for both holidays, with funny spin, of course. They had another funny episode last year about Jews in Chinese restaurants on Christmas if you like this sort of thing.

To many the mixing of secular fun with religious dignity is inappropriate. After all the birth of Jesus is significant and worth stopping shopping and listening to the angels sing, "Christ is born in Bethlehem." Some say the Maccabean victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 BCE (which Hanukkah memorializes) should not be mixed with chocolates, donuts, and potato pancakes, along with spinning tops (dreidels) and other frivolity. But we don't think like those opponents. We think festivity makes the religion work better. And that's why we like this video from the US on Hanukkah/ Christmas/ Christmukah from the Kosher Joe/JFJ people.

This year the dates line up, even if the holidays don't match.
This year your dates may line up, for a week off from work, and neither of these events have anything to do with your life.
Fair enough.

But if Yeshua (Jesus) is, as the boys sang in the first video, was a Jew (Yoshke was a Yid), then maybe he does have something to say to us in this (or any) season. If Yeshua was Messiah (that's what Christ actually means) and actually was born in Bethlehem (like the Jewish prophet Micah said would happen); if angels declared him to be the "King of Israel" as many songs agree; if as Mendelssohn wrote "Hark, the herald angels sing", "Glory to the newborn King" then we must answer this question-- "Who is Jesus?" Without the clues of singing along with the holiday favorites, we might be clueless.

Lynn Wein McCoy answered that question by listening to the carols. At a Harry Chapin concert no less! Here is what Lynn wrote about Christmas . And maybe you will have a similar conclusion.

What is the big deal about Christmas anyway? We think it's about the birth of the Jewish messiah foretold by Jewish prophets in the Jewish Scriptures. That would make anyone stop and 'listen to what I say. A child, sleeping in the night, he will bring us goodness and light.'

07 December 2016

When you do this or that

Last night I went to a shiur. That's a Bible lesson taught by a rabbi, and he was speaking about the parsha (the weekly portion of Torah read in the synagogue in this case, in the upcoming Saturday). He referenced Jewish law (halacha) and specifically rules applying to men and not to women. The rule, if I understood him correctly, is that laws related to time (building a sukkah, praying at certain times of day, etc) are specifically for men to obey, and not required of women. It was not the rabbi's main point, but it caught my ear.

This morning I pondered Yeshua's words recorded in the beginning of the Brit Hadasha. He was speaking about religion and religious activities when he said, "when you fast... when you pray... when you give charity..." And he was speaking to a crowd at the time. (This is recorded in Matthew chapter 6). He didn't say, "This is for the gents. Ladies, I'll get to you later." He didn't say, "This is for those of you who work in the religious centres like the Temple." He said it to everyone. His words were meant for everyone. For those times, and for these times. He meant those words for me and for you.

The context of those phrases is Yeshua's teachings about observable religious activity. He started that section with "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." Religious activity, here called 'practicing your righteousness', is acceptable of course, if done in the right spirit, with right intent. Here Yeshua is cautioning people that the one about whom one should be concerned is the Lord above, and not to worry about who sees and who else doesn't see what we are doing. Some religion will be observed by others; that's the nature of the beast. But if our goal is to be noticed by them, well, Yeshua says you have your reward in full. That is, their noticing your works is all you will ever 'get' from your deeds. God won't necessarily notice; He won't guarantee that angels will notice. Only those in front of whom you are showing off will notice. And they are not worth the effort.

Yeshua assumes you will fast. He assumes there will be a time when you will pray and when you will give charity/ alms. Those are right to do and right to perform. As long as you perform these things to be making God smile. If you want to be noticed by people... well... that's a waste.

I had a Jewish man stop by the bookshop the other day with deep concern for me to lay tefillin. That is, he wanted me to strap the leather phylacteries on my arm and around my head. We discussed many things, and this was top of his list. I balked at doing so, and his young offsider said, "it will only take 60 seconds. On. Off. Just like that." And I thought, this is exactly NOT what Yeshua wants and what he warned about. Knocking religious duties off a list, one 60-second at a time... not good. I thought of those Catholics who told me about saying four 'hail Mary's" and saying three "our father's" to satisfy a demanding priest. Their priest offered them a quickie 'salvation' of sorts, performing religious duties to make up for sinful activity.

The Jewish concept of kavanah is what Yeshua intended. Deep heartfelt compliance with regulations, real attitude checking to ensure that our performance is genuine, to love the Lord, to obey Him, sure, and to do so in the right spirit.

Isaiah the prophet regularly spoke to the failings of the Jewish people in his prophecy. His book begins with such almost hostile remarks. "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts?
Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them.
So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you, yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. (Isaiah 1.11-15)

God, who ordained these appointed times and mechanics, says He will despise them. Why? Because they are performed by duty-compliant people, and not by those with a real heart for God.

When you do this or that... do it unto the Lord. He will be glad for time with you. And you will be doubly glad.

30 November 2016

Empty and filling: life lessons abundant

In the United States, President-elect Donald Trump is filling up his cabinet, his inner sanctum of strategic advisers, whom he will deploy to accomplish his wide-ranging agendas. Some serious Washington insiders are listed and there are more to come. Back in October, cartoonist Ben Garrison set in the American mind this cartoon of 'draining the swamp.'

The promises of P-E Trump include the removing of things unpopular in Washington, DC, and especially what might be titled 'swamp' but many are wondering if the choices of insiders like Steven Mnuchin. (Steven Mnuchin, a hedge fund manager and former Goldman Sachs executive, is President-elect Donald Trump's choice for Treasury secretary) What about Tom Price (HHS), and Elaine Chao (Transportation)? More about each as they come along here on Vox . They seem to be insiders from the swamp.

Here in Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (pictured) is set to reshuffle his front bench, as close to the US Cabinet as he can get. Here's a write up The New Daily reporting. We could see Attorney-General George Brandis removed, and we could see a return to the front bench of former PM Tony Abbott.

I read a Bible verse last month that spoke to me deeply. It was a saying of Yeshua, whom some call Jesus. The setting was the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles) and the great Water Pouring ceremony took place on the heights of Jerusalem. There are many meanings to that situation of course, but the words themselves are powerful. Yeshua said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7.37-38) The scene involved water being poured out at the Temple (destroyed in 70, 40 years later) by the High Priest. Here is the encyclopedia entry on water pouring.

Each end of Sukkot featured this water pouring. It was also the day of the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. This is significant this year, as the bush fires all over Israel, were started by arsonists-enemies of the Jewish people. If the rain were flowing, the fires would be minimized. But of interest to me is that at the beginning of the rainy season, the priests would pour out the remaining reservoir. It was a statement of faith; it represented the belief of the Jewish people that God would provide (a major theme of Tabernacles). Emptying the reservoir gives opportunity for the Lord of life to fill it with new waters.

As December returns tomorrow here in Sydney, and many friends and colleagues join me to share Messiah's message of love on the streets, we are hopeful to find empty folks, that is, those who admit they are empty, and thirsty for life, for love, for God in their life. If people admit to needs, then God can supply. Here's the video from Israel
Admit you are empty.
Ask God to fill you.

26 November 2016

Howard Hughes, Rules Don't Apply: A review

I'm not an expert on Howard Hughes. I didn't see the 2006 movie about Clifford Irving, the fake Hughes biographer, starring Richard Gere in Irving's role in "The Hoax." Leonardo de Caprio's performance as Hughes in "The Aviator" (2004) featured his earlier life in Hollywood and in the airline industry from the 1920s and 1930s. Warren Beatty's 'biography' of Hughes picks up and ends in 1964, so there is no overlap with Aviator. Beatty's super-involvement included producing, directing, writing the screenplay, and acting as the lead character. Let me highlight a few moments of the film.

Four main characters feature: Beatty as Hughes, Lily Collins as Marla Mabrey, Matthew Broderick as Levar Mathis, and Alden Ehrenreich as Frank. (For those who follow this blog about many Jewish concerns, the last three of these listed have Jewish ancestry). Other characters are played by the likes of Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen in more than cameo roles.

The ambling story concerns Hughes in conflict with the world: New York bankers (led by Oliver Platt), his own staff, and just about everyone. He makes Marla wait for her one-off appointment with him after her screen test. He makes us wait ... and wait. It seems interminable. Hughes doesn't appear as luminous as most would make of themselves if they were billionaires (or was he 'only' a millionaire?) In fact, he stays in the shadows most of the movie. The choice of lighting reminded me of "Citizen Kane" and even the mystery of Rosebud seemed to flashback on me in "Rules."

Beatty uses the ingenue Mabrey as a foil, and in the movie this Baptist woman is the daughter of Bening (Beatty's real wife). Too weird. Collins as Marla makes perfect sense. The real-life daughter of singer Phil Collins, has been in a few things, but this is her first major role. Her IMDB listing is here . And she's playing a starlet-wannabe coming to Los Angeles/ Hollywood for the chance of a lifetime. She comes from Front Royal, Virginia, still a rural town near Washington, DC. Her Baptist preacher has inspired her to know about virtues including sexual behavior and about abortion and such. Some surprises ensue as you might expect.

I will not spoil the ending, but will tell you that this is not an Irish tale. It's pure Hollywood. At least in its endings.

There was a momentous scene which seemed to turn the movie, but Beatty didn't stay black-to-white as I expected. In that scene he 'came out' and turned on a lamp near his darkened self. If I remember right, the background music of Mahler's 5th even changed its feeling. He caught a serious glimpse of his DNA-in-the-future, and that seemed to give him spark and lift. But Beatty didn't keep it going to my disappointment. By the way, for Donald Mitchell, perhaps the most important Mahler scholar writing today, the Fifth Symphony “initiates a new concept of an interior drama.” The idea of a programmatic symphony has not vanished, “it has gone underground, rather, or inside.” I wonder if that influenced the choice of the 5th throughout.

Perhaps Beatty saw in Hughes a great American enigma. A life of massive financial success and yet a life of wishing to be in relationship with his departed father. A desire to keep his father's legacy, or at least his name, in perpetuity. And utter dissatisfaction with those who disagreed with him, on any level, even about ice cream availability.

He lived as a recluse, see these facts about the real Hughes in this article from History.com I'm sure some of the real story influenced Beatty. And then there is the Hollywood add-on as per usual.

Hughes was a megalomaniac, but I'm not a psychologist, so probably shouldn't evaluate him as such with such little information. Still, Beatty made us think this in the very slow opening (at leat 45 minutes of the 2 hours) and Hughes' obsession with his own reputation and possible identification as crazy.

Someone asked me "Did you like the movie?" And honestly I never quite know if I liked some movies until I sit down to write the review of it. This one is certainly in that category. What I liked was clear...the parts by Sheen, Bergen, Platt, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin... they all were subjugated to the great one. Beatty made it clear, in their deference, and their compliance, their opposition and their diminution, that Hughes was the greater. I liked the ingenue and her life choices she was continually forced to make. I liked the Radaresque Broderick in his subjugation to Hughes, until that one moment of confrontation. I liked the forward-thinking Frank, the chauffeur. I suppose there was enough in the movie to give it another look, down the road, on an airplane at 35,000 feet in a few months.

ABC News in the US gave it a moderate score, and finished with "When "Rules Don’t Apply" is good, it’s a delight. When it’s not, you just wish you were somewhere else." Oy, did I agree with that one!

And maybe then I will think of what I have to do to live in subjugation to my Greater One, the Almighty. No matter how I see myself in this movie, as I identify with one or more characters (at a time), I know that in the end, no matter how much I gain or lose, there is a Greater One. A God who gives of Himself that we might have life. I had a good relationship at times with my dad, but when I met the Eternal Father, the Lord God Almighty, I found my own darkness-to-light moment and the music changed from Mahler's 5th to Mahler's Resurrection!

No enigma now. Life comes and life lives on, because of the One who said of Himself (and which is a sign on one of the churches in the early part of the movie), "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." (Yeshua, the messiah quoted by his friend and biographer John) Thanks be to God.

23 November 2016

Why do they 'celebrate' Thanksgiving?

I'm visiting in the US until Saturday, so I'm experiencing all the rituals of Thanksgiving, including but not limited to overeating, a glut of football games, times with family, overeating, raking leaves, watching the Christmas decorations light up, overeating (Did I mention that already? I was too busy napping from the tryptophan overload.) So maybe those of my readers in Australia and elsewhere might want a quick lesson in the holiday.

Click once on each photo to see full-size version
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists from the UK and local Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies which would later be called the United States of America. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted more than two months, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.

In 1623 they celebrated their 2nd such gathering, and a tradition was born. New York was the first state to make it a holiday and many others joined suit. The American south had no such intention, but later joined in. For all the date-by-date story of how Thanksgiving became a federal holiday, even related to shopping, see this website of history and for learning.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the day when retail sales put companies into the 'black' column, that is, out of the 'red' (debt) perhaps for the first time all year. Credit card sales explode and retailers are happy campers. After all it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And like many a Jewish salesman sings, "What a friend we have in Jesus" during this time of year.

On the day of the eating of the turkey, a parade takes place in New York City. The parade is 75 years old or so, and has been sponsored by Macy's, the great department store at 34th and 6th Avenue, in Herald Square. With marching bands, floats, and huge balloons it's a spectacular to be sure.

For others (and even those Yanks still reading this moment without the stuffing), a day to say thanks is a great idea. And not only to BE THANKFUL, which in itself is an excellent idea. Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, also from my home town of Kansas City, said, "The nice thing about feeling grateful is that it drives away negative emotions like annoyance, resentment, or anger. I really find this to be true. I just spent some time reflecting on the vastness of what I have to be grateful for, and as a result, the usual, petty annoyances of my day have vanished."

And she's spot on. Gratefulness is Fantastic. And let me tell you one more thing, even better than being thankful.

Have an object of your thankfulness. In other words, being thankful needs to be a thank you card SENT TO SOMEONE! It can be a boss, a friend, a doctor, a neighbour, almost anyone who has done you a service or given you a product which gave you some pleasure. But WAIT< there's someone even more than this!

At the end of the day, a thanksgiving to the Almighty is appropriate. After all, the good book says, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." (James 1.17) So everything we have which is defined as 'good' is from heaven, and the Owner of the Block above would like to hear those awesome words, "Thanks so much." Directed thanks makes Thanksgiving that much better.

Here in my hometown, on Thanksgiving night, they turn on the lights in the Country Club Plaza. It's always a crowd pleaser. When you give thanks to the living God, for all He has done for you, and for your country, for your family, for your situation-- a real enlightenment takes place, in you. And sometimes many will see that. Why not try that this Thursday? It could become a habit!

17 November 2016

Be seated. Another view on sitting in heaven. (Part 2)

In my first writing last year on this idea of Messiah here   being seated I majored on his victory. That is, that Messiah is seated like a priest who has concluded his work.  In this writing I want to ponder the idea of enthronement as judgment. That is, that when a ruler is seated, he is able to make decisions and rule from a position of authority.

In 2 Kings 19.15 we read, "And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, who art enthroned above the cherubim, Thou art the God, Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. Thou hast made heaven and earth." (19.15)  God is proclaimed here as both Creator and the Enthroned One. Then Hezekiah continues, "the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, afor they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. And now, O LORD our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou alone, O LORD, art God.”

His being seated is not from exhaustion, but rather from exaltation. It's the permission to sit AS KING that is to be seen here. A prince, an adviser, an associate, even a right-hand man, all of them are considered 'up there' with rulers, but until the one in charge extends the 'please, be seated' comment, then the 2nd, or 3rd, or... has to remain attending and upright. When THE authority extends permission to sit, then that authority is shared.

Note what the Psalmist says in Psalm 2. "Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed,
He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them.
I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!" (verses 1-2, 4, 7, 12)

And again the text in Psalm 110 about Melchizedek and the famous opening of at least two sounds-like deities,
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at Your right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.
He will judge among the nations, he will fill them with corpses, he will shatter the chief men over a broad country."

When God sets up His throne and invites the "Lord" to where no one can dismantle it, it is for the sake of seated-to-rule. Those enemies over whom the king will rule will be like an ottoman, a footstool. That final seating is for the sake of judgment. And who will be there?

Paul writes of this, as does the writer to the Hebrews.
1Cor. 15.25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
1Cor. 15.27 For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.
Eph. 1.22 And He put all things in subjection under His (Yeshua's) feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,
Heb. 2.8 YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.

In other words, the sitting down by Yeshua, forecast in Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, is about subjection. Think of royalty and thrones. A king is established and everyone bows to him upon entry, and is not permitted to arise from that lowly bowing posture until allowed by the king. Sit...until...

I love the notion of Yeshua being seated. He is the authority, the head as Paul says, of the Body of his followers. And that session (seatedness) is not about exhaustion, but rather about victory and conquest. He will rule. He will make all things right. He alone is the hope of the world. Oh to Him we must plead for sanity in countries and in companies. To Him, all things will be put in subjection. I long for that day. I speak of that day. Come, Lord Yeshua, come!

15 November 2016

After the election...and a football game

Donald Trump will be the president of the US beginning on 20 January next year. Full disclosure: I was not a Trump fan ever, whether as a politician or even as a person. Still, he will be my president come 20 January. These are realities. I will not speak against him as our president. I will continue to pray for him as the Apostle Paul taught in his letter to young Timothy. "Pray for all in authority," was the instruction and I will comply.

A week ago the Seattle Seahawks played a grueling anyone-can-win football match against the Buffalo Bills. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, a lot of sledging (Yanks, that is Aussie-speak for trash talk), and much involvement by the 12th man, the Seattle fans in the stadium. The announcers on the television took issue with a defenseman, the cornerback Richard Sherman, and the Bills' coach Rex Ryan even called the decision by the referees 'ridiculous' when Sherman ran into the kicker for the Bills near the end of the first half.

After the game ended, the ESPN sportscaster, Lisa Salters, interviewed Richard both about 'that play' and about the demeanor of both teams after the game ended. The brutal manner on the field ended, and the opponents generally were high-fiving and embracing each other. He basically answered her that football is a leave it all out on the field activity, and then people matter more. NY Upstate reported here , "At the end of the interview, Salters asked Sherman how the two teams could get together after such a hard fought game. Sherman cited that during the game it's a dog fight, but at the end the teams should get together. The cornerback made a point to mention a few Bills players did not stick around postgame.

"Some of their players went in the locker room. They were talking a lot of mess, but they didn't want to see it at the end. Those are the opposite of competitors. Competitors come out and they shake it up after a game like that."

Consider this quote from Hillary Clinton's concession speech after the US elections last week. "Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for and I'm sorry that we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country.
But I feel pride and gratitude for this wonderful campaign that we built together, this vast, diverse, creative, unruly, energized campaign. You represent the best of America and being your candidate has been one of the greatest honors of my life."

Was this the man about whom she said so many dastardly things?

What about Donald's remarks about Hillary after she rang him to congratulate him on his electoral college victory. "I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign. I mean, she — she fought very hard. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country."

What? Is that the same person who fought so hard to dominate whom he called her 'crooked' and a 'liar' and dozens of other epithets?

Maybe this commentary about both football and elections says the same thing. Sherman says "Competitors come out and they shake it up after a game like that." And that's certainly the spirit the US needs in these days after the election. We need one another. We need to stop name-calling, stop the bullying, stop the hostility-- let's work together to make the world a better place. A dream? Nope-- the way forward is filled with hope and opportunities, and dangers. May we be gracious to each other, now and in 3 and a half years.