Friday, October 23, 2009

Yom Kippur 5770

My family visited Temple Beth Israel for Yom Kippur.

For the start of the High Holy Days, to help enter an appropriate mood of introspection and repentance, we drove farther to visit a Messianic congregation. To end the High Holy Days, to conclude with communal yearnings and pleas, it seemed most appropriate to be with the Jews of our neighborhood.

What follows is lengthy, but I expect my family and friends might enjoy glimpsing inside my head.

I have only visited Reconstructionist services a few times. During the Erev service I tried to immerse myself but too often found myself analyzing what makes that Jewish philosophy unique.

What I found most noticeable (and interrupting to my own habits of worship) was how Reconstructionism is uncomfortable with such surrender. More traditional Jews, including Messianic Jews, are very willing to have God do things to them. But that evening even the Avinu Maklenu was modified so the phrase oseh eemanoo l'ma-an shemcha was translated "help us for the sake of your name" instead of "do to us for the sake of your name".

Both Yom Kippur services emphasized the theme of can we be doing more? This is a worthy topic for the day but seemed out of place as the primary theme. The teshuvah seemed incomplete despite very genuine confession because the goal of perfection was replaced with a desire to do more good deeds. The liturgy still identified vices and the need to turn from them, but no longer directed participants to face any specific new direction. The community expressed its sincerity in waiting for and pleading with God to abolish evil, but then asked, "What will we do?", which is almost a non sequitur.

Yom Kippur needs a balance between teshuvah and relationship: we have disobeyed our Father yet he will help us become better children, we have ignored our King yet he is a faithful provider and ruler, we have failed our communal calling yet God still makes us a people and his people. To me, it seemed Reconstructionism only distantly and vaguely held up any light or goal to aim for, and thus inescapably overemphasized relationship. The community was not walking together along a path to perfection. It had confidence in doing good deeds but not growing visibly in holiness.

I did benefit from hearing and thinking so much about doing good deeds. I myself often display the other imbalance, focusing in prayer and deed too much on surrender to God and not enough on kindness and warmth. Those two Yom Kippur services were healthy for me.

After the Erev service and a night's sleep I was ready to focus better. The Morning service was much more worshipful.

I asked God many questions, and heard some answers. Three issues are worth sharing.

First, I asked for guidance. Since Sar Shalom closed, the local Messianic Jewish movement has been adrift and nearly inactive. Indeed, to speak strictly there remain "Jewish followers of Yeshua" but there is no more local "Messianic Judaism" since there is no IAMCS or UMJC congregation through which people can participate in the specific movement of God shepherded by those two organizations.

Would God tell me what would happen during the new year and my role in it? I had realized a few days earlier that my work with P'nei Adonai began in mid-2003, making my lack of ministry activity during 2009 in one sense a Sabbatical year. I would not have been surprised if God asked me, on Yom Kippur, to soon start something.

But God didn't. He said my Sabbatical time will end later. However, my personal laxness needed to end immediately. I will need personal momentum well-established before I can be an example for others.

Second, I asked for courage. I dealt with tremendous spiritual warfare during the years I led P'nei Adonai. As one small example, during those years it was normal for me to have a nightmare any time I slept. I was not sure why I would dream about people I cared about suffering, but trusted God was toughening me up for some purpose. It was sometimes strange to see family in the morning, or congregants on Shabbat, healthy and happy in contrast to what happened in my nightmares. Yet we all do suffer, and one day we will stand more alive than ever.

In any case, I was certainly aware that one reason I did not miss doing ministry work was the near absense of spiritual warfare in my life since Sar Shalom closed. A big advantage of doing little for the Kingdom of God is that God's enemies don't bother to oppose you! Returning to the trenches would require courage.

God told me I would have the courage I would need. That reply was not very comforting, but a sufficient answer. And any answer was encouraging.

Third, I asked for more relationship with God. He told me two stories. I have not retold them as well as I wanted, but those links lead to the best I can do at this time.

Most of the work to develop the RPG's setting I did myself: I tried to be prayerful but heard very little from God. Then, during Elul, there was a breakthrough. It began with more of my own thinking, but soon God contributed advice about how to honor him in an fantasy adventure setting. (I would have loved to blog about it during those weeks, but it happened to fast and intensely.) I had saved religion for last as I deveoped the setting; religion quickly became the most well-developed aspect and everything else needed revision to reflect a new and better foundation.

For God to tell me two stories (and he tells them better, both had much more detail and made me cry) using the fantasy setting we developed together was deeply touching.

Currently that setting has two purposes: it allows my wife and I to play a RPG together, and it helps me tell stories to Smiley. Perhaps I'll hear and share more stories set in that setting. It could become something for a broader audience. After all, God had me write stories in 2001 and 2002. I certainly would not mind if my new "ministry work" was more about being a storyteller and less about running a congregation.

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