Monday, July 31, 2006

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 1

The Way that is the Eternal Way is not fixed, but a living and active way.
The Name that is the Eternal Name is not inflexible, but a living and potent name.
As the origin of heaven and earth it is nameless; as the mother of all things it has a name.
So, as ever hidden we should look at its inner essence; as always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.
These two, having a common origin, are named with different terms.
What they have in common is called the Mystery, the Mystery of Mysteries, the Gate of all Wonders.

Yeshua is active and alive. Adonai is too.
Yeshua as Creator was hidden as the Word.
Yeshua as Re-creator was revealed as the Son.
Yeshua was part of, but later earned, the name Adonai.
Ponder how Adonai is sometimes hidden and sometimes revealed;
how Adonai and Yeshua are aspects of Truth,
and their relationship reveals other aspects of Truth.

Tao of Yeshua: Introduction

One thing I really like about summer is how I can simplify my life a bit.

The end of Spring Term is always busy and stressful, partly because of final exam grading but mostly because of trying to process a year of teaching to decide how to improve for next year. I almost completely plan my Fall Term classes during finals week and the week after.

Then it's really summer, and I have ministry work to do but no math teaching for a few months. So I do more yard work, spend more time talking with congregants and friends, and try to finish some projects that have been on the back burner.

One very back-burner project was a translation of the Tao Te Ching. To make use of Don Richardson's phrase for things like the Gospel in other cultures, this text is clearly the "redemptive analogy" for its culture. Every since becoming a believer I've wanted to find or write a translation that brought out its connections to scriptural truth.

I cannot find one, so it's my new activity for winding down before bedtime. Studying the text fits well within a period of simplifying my life. I'll try to post a chapter a day on the blog. But no promises... this project is fun and prompts me to consider worthwhile thoughts, but has no real priority in my life.

Since I know no Chinese, I'm making use of several English translations. The most helpful is one by J. J. L. Duyvendak because of its extensive commentary on translation issues.

For many reasons there cannot be a "correct" or "best" translation of this text. But that does not mean my translation will always be reasonable. Please know that I have reasons for the choices I make, but also please e-mail me if you have helpful criticism. (For an example, in Chapter 6 the word I translate as "meek" is more commonly translated "female". The word literally refers to a mare. Rather than thinking Lao Tzu used "mare" to mean "female", I am agreeing with translators who note that the Book of Changes associates this word with its second hexagram, which means meekness.)

After each chapter's translation I'll include my own notes, italicized and right-justified.

In my notes I will follow Jewish custom by using the word Adonai to refer to the Tertragrammaton, yud-hey-vav-hey. This name refers to all aspects of the divine: Father, Son and God's Spirit. (In contrast, to Jewish ears, the word "God" is a translation of Elohim, which refers to the Father.)


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Three Stings


I am trying to remove a bunch of ivy from the front yard. Before lunch I trimmed it back a lot, so that when I later pulled it up by the roots the resulting mass would be of more manageable size. I recently went back outside and started pulling, only to find a family of yellow jackets were living under where I started working. The first sting I assumed was a fluke -- a yellow jacket had gotten inside my pants leg, and I did not see any others. But a few minutes later I was stung twice more and heard and saw several flying around. I went inside, took a cold shower and antihistimine, and decided to share the news here for no apparent reason.

Now I smell nicer and can go outside again. I have a plastic yellow jacket trap which I'll put where I was working, and will start pulling from the other end of the ivy patch.

UPDATE: Whew. This is slow going! The ivy is ancient enough that every few feet it has a very deep root cluster. I'll need to invest in a digging bar to get rid of the stuff.

Fancy French Restaurant Food

Since my wife and I were camping during our anniversary vacation, we ate dinners at the campsite. Thus our fancy meal to celebrate the actual day of our anniversary was a lunch.

My wife is both vegetarian and gluten-intolerant, which makes finding a restaurant she can eat at extremely difficult. (Remember that pasta and soy sauce contain wheat.) But while walking around Portland we came across the Everett Street Bistro, which worked great.

We ordered a crudité (set of salads made with shredded raw vegetables) since we are always looking for ideas of quick things to make at home with the vegatables we receive in our CSA packages from Winter Green Farm. We were served carrots with golden raisins, cabbage with blue cheese, green beans with red peppers and cashews, and cucumber with avocado and radish. All of these had some light dressing as well, and were very tasty. (I'm not a fan of blue cheese, but was pleasantly surprised by how the cabbage and dressing made that salad work very well.)

We also shared the soup of the day, a cantelope gazpacho. This ended up mostly mine, since it complimented my main dish much better.

For our main dishes, my wife ordered the cheese and fruit plate, and I had an artichoke and goat cheese quiche.

Desert was crème brulée, which my wife ate most of since I was very full by that point.

A fancy lunch was a nice part of celebrating ten years of marriage, especially considering how seldom we eat out. The fact we ate all that food was also evidence that walking constantly for several days through zoo, museums, and gardens is decent exercise!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tenth Anniversary

I won't be blogging again until Friday (at least). My wife and I are leaving for a few days of vacation to celebrate our tenth anniversary.

We'll be camping near Portland at Milo McIver and Champoeg state parks.

In Portland we'll visit Powell's Bookstore, the Science Museum, the Art Museum, the Zoo, and the Rose Garden. (Can you tell Portland has a city-wide attractions pass on sale?)

I'll have my cell phone with me, but it will not be on all the time.

Happy Rosh Chodesh!

Camping in a yurt is nice. Having a table and bed inside an enclosed area means you can alternate between reading in bed and snacking at a table without having to expose yourself to mosquitoes.

We wound up not seeing the IMAX movie, but additionally seeing the Japanese and Chinese gardens. At the latter's gift shop, my wife got me a kit with a book about basic Chinese brush painting and the basic supplies. I have not had time to try this yet, but am looking forward to it very much.

Big Spills, Little Spills

This morning I spilled milk, which was a small bother.

One reason I like my jobs is that I cannot mess anything up too badly. The news this morning reminded me that life has some really big spills. I simply can't destroy that much. When I flounder while teaching math, I've wasted a few minutes for 30 people and that part of the lesson or activity gets fixed and done better next class. When I mess up while leading a Shabbat service, people might be shaken from a worshipful attitude, but only temporarily.

So I feel quite fortunate to have jobs that grant me a lot of opportunity to help people, with comparatively little opportunity to cause problems. Yay!

Humorous Autobiography

In a couple weeks I'll be speaking about Messianic Judaism at the local Kiwanis club. I visited with them last week, and we enjoyed each other's company enough that when they asked me to send a "bio" I composed a special, humorious version for them. Enjoy!

(Note: For this post, I've replaced my wife's first name with her initial, because she wants web searches of her name to only return results related to her professional work.)
David Van Slyke was born in Orange County, California, back in one of the decades when people could be both Jewish and Republican.

His parents decided that despite their religious differences, all the children would be raised Jewish. His mother was active in the local Reform Jewish community, at different times in her life leading the local Sisterhood, activities at the local Jewish retirement community, or activities at the local Jewish Community Center. His father was from a non-practicing Christian denomination that considered the "two or three gathered in my name" of Matthew 18:20 to be an upper limit, past which religion did more harm than good. Nevertheless, his father was so supportive of the family's Jewish identity that at one point he was asked to head the local synagogue's Ritual Committee.

David is the oldest of three children. His sister married a nice Jewish boy and they have two adorable children. His brother currently works for the California Tax Bureau, gently convincing large companies that items their lawyers described as loopholes actually are not. (His brother is well-established and still single, in case you know any nice Jewish young women.)

David's religious journey progressed through his Bar Mitzvah, when he learned to chant Torah and gave an important speech neither he nor anyone else remembers anything about. In college he took several classes in comparative religions, while in different years dating a Mormon and a Jehovah's Witness.

In graduate school he met C., who would later become his wife. While dating her, through a complex set of experiences, books, and prayers of her friends and family, David discovered that the basics of Christian theology are true. This upset his mother's side of the family greatly, but they were polite about it. (They refused to talk about it, and bought him a set of Tovia Singer's tapes.) By this time his father had become a Secular Humanist, and was happy to have something new to talk philosophically about.

David and C. moved to Rochester, New York, for the sake of her doctoral work in genetics. There they joined their first Messianic Jewish congregation. David served the congregation in many ways: creating the children's curriculum, overseeing home groups, helping run a food pantry, and eventually as Intern Messianic Rabbi (a title quite similar to Assistant Pastor, but more confusing).

As with most Messianic Jews, David became more Orthodox in his practice of Judaism as he spent time in the Messianic Jewish movement.

When David and C. moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 2003, David met with the local Messianic Jewish leaders and they agreed that David was called by God to fill one of Eugene's needs: a Messianic Jewish congregation whose Jewish culture more-or-less resembled Reform and Conservative Judaism. (At the time there were two Messianic Jewish congregations with an Orthodox flavor, but these have both ceased to exist.)

Congregation P'nei Adonai is now two-and-a-half years old. The congregation is growing in size and in effectiveness of discipleship. The use of liturgy with Hebrew, teachings with long discussions, and music with dancing continue to help new visitors learn that it is possible to be very worshipful and confused at the same time.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Apology for a Week Without Blogging

I got back from my two weeks of travels more than a week ago, but have been lazy about blogging or catching up on e-mail.

It's my typical mass-communication-avoidance variety of procrastination. Ministry work involves so many conversations with people (especially afer two weeks of being out of town) that the last thing an introvert like me wants to do when I am finally home and resting is to do more communicating.

Besides, Israel is at war. I like to know what to pray about, and people keep asking me for information about the conflict. So reading news for an hour or two seems much nicer than doing e-mail or blogging, and I have excuses for its priority as well!

Oh, well. Sorry again for being out of touch. Below are posts about my conference experiences and last Shabbat's baby naming.

Conference Experiences

During the first week of July I attended the annual international Messianic Jewish conference that is hosted in Pensylvannia by the MJAA.

(I brought back CD recording of many good teachings, to share with the congregation. For this blog I'll focus on some things I experienced, only sharing academic information as absolutely necessary. All the following links are to scripture references.)

For me, the first significant talk of the conference happened on Monday morning. Judah Hungerman started out his talk by asking a volunteer from the audience to give him CPR. The volunteer said that would not work because Judah was still breathing. What followed was a talk about how we cannot be revived unless we have died, and anytime God is real to us but we do not seem to have his life in us, we need revival and thus must newly die and be revived.

Specifically, being saved from the power of sin does not automatically mean we are in the Kingdom of God. Scripture nowhere says this! We have the invitation but it is possible to ignore or abuse the invitation. To really enter the Kingdom of God we must be revived, pure of heart, and holy. This takes work.

This was a new perspective to me, and I had to do a bit of scripture study before I could agree with it. But once I accepted that perhaps I (and most believers I know) have never really experienced the Kingdom of God, many things made more sense. I also became completely intolerant of my iniquity, which promptly led to a new and constant background sense of my iniquity and God's majesty.

A class that afternoon further emphasized that there is a difference between victory (salvation) and transformation (redemption) , whether for individuals or communities or the world.

The next morning Mark Greenberg gave a talk in which he shared what he had learned from praying for three hours each morning for the past month. Some examples include:
  • It now feels wrong to him to start praying without first humbly admitting he is a helpless sinner saved by grace who can only pray (in the ways he now can) because of what Yeshua did. He does not dwell on this throughout his prayer time, but it is the polite way to begin.
  • He has seen so much prayer answered that it is now easy for him to stably believe without doubting.
  • During the day he enjoys opportunity to be generous and sacrifical of his ease to help others. The more he behaves selflessly throughout the day the easier it is to be selfless and pure of heart while praying. Even Yeshua had his prayers heard because of his purity and fear of God (not simply because he was the Messiah)
  • He spends a lot of time praying in tongues. He has learned to see this as a type of humble prayer in which he is willing to be one person agreeing with God while admitting he does not know what to pray.
  • He also had become completely intolerant of his iniquity, and prays for God to reveal his blind spots and help with in repentance.

I spent a lot of Tuesday praying along these lines.

That evening Jonathan Bernis spoke about boldness. Why are more miracles seen when people are sharing the good news? His answer was that boldness brings God's Spirit and power. His challenge was that boldness must include selflessness and risks. If we have been experiencing few opportunities for selflessness and risks it is probably because we have not been listening to God and acting in obedience. Boldness must also include Yeshua's name.

During Wednesday my desparation for God grew. I asked people to pray for me. How I pray in tongues changed, but nothing else happened.

On Thursday I spent a long time praying.

I had realized that I would never have as much humility as I needed unless I more clearly saw Yeshua. Nothing else would humble me enough! So I prayed to see Yeshua. I asked nicely. I pleaded. I prayed in tongues. I complained to Yeshua that he was not being faithful to his promises of being of how he would be with me if I was unable to see him enough to be humbled. I went back to asking nicely. I got desperate again and decided to fast until my prayer was answered.

After a few hours, two things happened. First, I became strikingly aware of Yeshua's majesty, holiness, power, and spelndor. I did not see anything visible, but the emotional effect was almost equivalent. Second, Yeshua told me he would meet me even more when I prayed for people later during the conference; that is the best he can offer since I was not yet ready to meet him in the Most Holy place.

For all the rest of Thursday, and most of Friday, I went about somewhat stunned. There is a saying "He's too full of heaven to be any earthly good." That fit me for a day and a half, as I was absent-minded and flighty as Thursday's overpowering time of prayer slowly faded away.

I noticed I had acquired an inexplicable appreciation of God in the sublime. I found myself often looking at flowers or people's faces, enjoying a dimension of beauty that had previously been invisible.

Friday night Yeshua did meet me as promised. After the conference's evening program the congregational leaders pray for people, and the first three people I prayed for I was able to help more than usual because I was told by Yeshua specific things about their situations to pray about. When I was praying I also felt God's presence in an additional way, sort of moving up from my abdomen.

But it was early Friday evening when I learned the most. Clearly seeing Yeshua clearly was not the best goal. That experience changes people by helping them die to self and receive spiritual revival. But it also makes people a bit useless in daily life. A better balance is to hear what God says, see God in the sublime in life, and feel God's presence as we pray. (There did not seem to be anything equivalent for taste or smell unless I was eating, but I stopped fasting Friday morning because there was as much sublime beauty in eating a plate full of strawberries as in the visible sublime I had been seeing.)

Friday night, after I had prayed for people, I noticed a group of eight kids, ages 8 to 12, still praying in the auditorium. They prayed for three hours, until midnight. And their style of prayer was not what the adults did. The kids had also "run out" of especially annointed prayers for each other but this did not deter them from further praying. They shared hopes and cares and encouragements for each other. They had only known each other for a week, and spoke of what they admired or appreciated about each other. They prayed and prayed, no longer because they expected it to make a difference, but just because being together with so much of God's presence tangible and manifest was better than anything else they could think of doing. I felt like coining a new phrase: "recreational prayer". The constant background desire for recreational prayer has since then only left me briefly.

Now it's almost Shabbat. The last three days have been filled with quite a bit of congregational work and even more chores and errands. I should finish my sermon for tomorrow, which at this point is sufficient but quite skimpy. But first I need to pray more. I have not had a solid hour of prayer since Tuesday afternoon.

Baby Naming: Rebecca Ann

Last Friday, the congregation had a baby naming. Here is what I presented about the name Rebecca Ann. It does not really fit anywhere on the congregational website, so I'll share it here in my blog.

Baby Naming for Rebecca Ann

1. About Jewish Names

According to Jewish tradition, and fitting with scriptural accounts, God chooses a baby's name before it is born and then inspires the parents to pick that name for the baby. The name shows the parents' hopes for their child as well as something God puts into the personality of this new person.

Judaism is opposed to all kinds of divination. We do not consider a new baby's name in order to try to predict the baby's future. Instead, we are tonight participating in an act of self-fulfilling prophecy.

In choosing the name "Rebecca Ann", Jeremy and Clara are sharing some of their hopes for this child, and their idea for what God has put into her personality. They, as her parents, will guide how she grows up. Tonight we as a community are considering what Jeremy and Clara are wishing for their new baby, and what they believe God has told them. We then agree to help them so that Rebecca Ann matures into a person with these virtues.

2. The Choice of Languages

Rebecca is a common English version of the Hebrew name Rivkah.

Ann is an English (and less common) variant of Anna, a Greek version of the Hebrew name Chanah.

By using the name "Rebecca Ann" instead of "Rebecca Chanah", Jeremy and Clara are both choosing to keep the entire name friendly to English-speaking ears and also emphasizing placing a name from the Tenach before a name from the Apostolic Writings.

3. The Word Meanings

Rebecca is from the Hebrew name Rivkah, one of the matriarchs.

The three letter root word is resh-vet-kof, which is not used as a verb in scripture but is known to mean "tie fast" or "confine". The noun marvayk does appear, meaning "stall", as in a place where an animal is confined or tied up. That same word is twice used as an adjective to describe an animal that is fat because it lives in a stall and does not exercise.

The matriarch Rivkah completely overcomes any negative connotations of her name. She is beautiful and active, not fat and lethargic. The significant things she does all focus on freedom, never tying up or holding back someone: she leaves her family (by her choice) for Avraham's more righteous family, meets and comforts Yitzchak, has two children, avoids trouble with Avimelech, and places Ya'akov above Esav (as God desires).

Oddly, Rivkah is the only one among the patriarchs and matriarchs for whom we do not read of her death. We know from Genesis 49:31 that she was buried with her husband in the cave of Machpelah, but even Rivkah's life does not have a final "tying up".

Ann is a short form of Anna, which is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Chanah. Samuel's mother had this name, as did the prophetess who met the infant Yeshua in the Temple.

The three letter root word is chet-nun-nun, which is a very common verb that means "to show favor" or "to be gracious". The noun form is also very common: chayn , meaning "favor" or "grace". A related word is cheenam, meaning "for free" or "without cause". Someone is gracious when he or she acts generously with no strings attached and because of his or her own generosity, not because of anything about the recipient.

Thus the name Chanah can mean either "favored" or "gracious". The two Biblical women with this name were both favored by God and gracious towards others.

Chanah and Anna were also similar because both prayed at the Temple and these prayers helped establish a special child who would lead and bless their people.

4. Conclusion

So we have first a name from the Tenach, and then a name from the Apostolic Writings.

We think about experiencing freedom rather than confinement, and then about being favored and gracious.

We remember three women who prayed, and whose prayers helped all of Israel. None did anything incredibly exciting or heroic. None faced great dangers, although all three women overcame family issues by making God's prophecies and promises real in their lives. Yet all three were a source of comfort to those around them who gave gracious care to God's chosen child in their generation.

Thus "Rebecca Ann" is a name about favored intercession in prayer, and about gracious comforting in deed. It is a name about freedom and bringing freedom, about being blessed and bringing blessing. It is a name about seeing prophecy fulfilled and covenants connected.

As the family and community of Rebecca Ann, we should help her grow into her name. We must model intercession, prayer, and gracious acts. We should share how to spread freedom and bring blessing. We should be familiar with prophecy and its fulfillments, and model hope for more prophetic happenings.

Let us pray...

Presta Valve Trickiness

Well, I am back in town with a little bit of free time. I do need to finish a sermon this afternoon, but have some blogging to do first.

Despite it being 100 degrees out, I did some bicycle riding today to get three errands done. The trip was short, and not a problem. Except for getting started: my bicycle tires needed air but would not inflate.

It turns out that a Presta Valve has a little nut at the tip, which must be loosened before inflating the tire. No one had told me this! When my bike pump was not working, I was not sure what to do besides ride my bike to a nearby bicycle shop to ask them what was wrong. The spokes still appear to be true even though I rode twenty blocks with somewhat flat tires, so no harm done.

And cherries are only $3 per pound at Safeway, so in anticipation of an Erev Shabbat potluck tonight I bought a whole bunch.