Friday, April 27, 2007

A Better Temper

In June of 2005 I got new glasses. I opted to get "transition lenses" that changed from clear into sunglasses when exposed to the UV rays of sunlight.

This was a mistake! It turns out "transition lenses" only work for a year or two before they stop changing readily. Having glasses that stopped becoming fully clear was a great bother. Since my prescription is fairly mild, I stopped wearing them most of the time when indoors.

This week I finally got around to taking the glasses to the optometrist to see what could be done. For no charge he "retempered the glass", whatever that means, which supposedly fixes them for a month or two.

So far they are working again. Hooray! In June my insurance will allow me to get new glasses once again, and I'll get a new pair without "transition lenses".

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 46

When the world follows the Way, warhorses will be used as cart-horses.
When the world abandons the Way, warhorses will be raised in sacred places.
The greatest disaster is to obtain more desires.
The greatest lack is not knowing how much is enough.
The greatest sin is covetousness.
To be content with enough is to always feel rich.

We can have Yeshua!
We need seek after nothing else.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Superman is More Super than your Honor Student

A while ago I mentioned a Livejournal group that shares funny images from comic books.

For example, a foe Aquaman must really punch energetically Superman need merely tap with one finger.

Also, Wonder Woman might wield her greatest weapon but Superman merely laughs.

(Of course, it is no secret that Superman is often rude.)

Google Maps and Swimming

A friend shares with me that if you ask Google Maps how to go from New York to London, step #24 will be to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.

A Campus Horror and the People of God

Part of being a Messianic Jewish leader is receiving news that not everyone else receives.

Regarding the shooting at Virginia Tech, I've been shown web articles with the response by Campus Crusade for Christ (how's that for a non-Messianic name) and the response by New Life Christian Fellowship. Members of the first group include the student who discovered the dorm room shooting's aftermath, four of those killed, and one of the two who was allowed to leave a classroom unharmed. The second group had two members among those killed.

You may have also read about Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who died heroically that day.

According to a peace officer involved with the crime (no link, not a public report), Cho was not only fond of Ismael but was quoting verses from the Koran during his killing. Also, Cho apparently did not randomly pick his targets but rather chose classes that had high concentrations of Christians and Jews. This does not show Cho thought of himself as a Muslim in any sense, but he was certainly influenced to imitate a Muslim hero (as well as other things). Yet again someone overcome by evil takes out his wrath on the people of God.

Barna and Revolution

In this earlier post about Messianic Jewish culture I mention a triend among American Christians. I should give credit to George Barna for writing about this trend well in a book entitled Revoultion.

Back at the End of April

Hello again!

Life has finally calmed down enough that I can do blogging again.

The week before and after Pesach were very busy just because of congregational issues. Then I got busy because the math class I am teaching this term is one I have never taught before, and shifting from doing a mediocre job teaching to a best-possible job teaching required a lot of work. Now I just have a lot of yard work to do.

Moss Update

The moss in a blender trick works, quicker than advertised. :-)

Math 25 Changes

This term I am teaching Math 25 for the first time. This is a class about group-work activities involving practical math.

Ideally, the class gets through three activities each week. There are seven weeks of "core" activities required by the different academic majors that use Math 25 as a graduation requirement or prerequisite.
  • Week 1: Percent Review, Restaurant Tax and Tips, RCMP Licensing Percents
  • Week 2: Checking Accounts, Budgeting, Mortgages and Annuity Tables
  • Week 3: Simple and Compound Interest, Charge Options
  • Week 4: Retirement Planning (and Midterm #1)
  • Week 5: Health Formulas
  • Week 6: Payroll, Employee Taxes
  • Week 7: Floor Plans and Scale Drawings, Markup, Discount
Three subsequent class days are for assessment. There is a second midterm. There is a math "skills test" during Week 9 that looks a lot like a Math 20 midterm. A big portfolio focusing on an out-of-class project is due after once class day devote to letting students finish it up in class.

The other class sessions are for "instructor discretion" activities. In other words, past instructors have composed a collection of activities and each term whomever is teaching the class picks 3-5 of these, makes up their own, or lets students pick which to do. (The last day of class is usually set aside for review before the final exam.)

Due to the needs of the different majors making use of Math 25, some aspects of the class cannot be changed. Students are supposed to be learning how to apply mathematical problem-solving techniques to situations they have not seen before. So the class must focus on group-work about real-life activities. The instructor may not lead students by the hand through these activities by presenting similar problems to mimic or by answering so many student questions that step-by-step answers are provided. Neither may activities be grouped by which mathematical techniques apply to them.

(These requirements are understandably unpopular with many students. It would be much easier for them if we went through all of the "percent of percent" activities together, with lots of example problems to mimic and step-by-step guidance. But students would leave the class have gained little helpful experience in problem-solving.)

Four weeks into the class, it is clear that the following changes would be helpful. I am still tweaking the details of each for fine tuning, and soliciting student feedback on these ideas and other suggestions...
  • The "skills test" should happen at the end of Week 2 or the beginning of Week 3, in addition to happening at the end of the term, with students being graded on their highest score. An early version would encourage students who did not master the Math 20 material to visit office hours early in the term for help. Students who had mastered Math 20 material could do well the first time and have the option of skipping the test in Week 9 when they have a lot of work due in their other classes.
  • Probably once (but maybe twice) there should be a class day devoted to remedial review of Math 20 material. Students who did not need this would not attend this class and instead do an out-of-class activity. This activity, representing 1 of 20 class days, would be worth 5% of the overall grade, which would be a 5% that the students receiving the remedial help would be forfeiting. But those students are not aiming for an A+ anyway, and an entire class focused on their needs would help a lot more than 5% over the course of the term.
  • The next time I teach math 25 I will probably not do any of the established "instructor discretion" activities. Instead, I will push back the "core" activities two weeks, so these do not begin until Week 3. This would provide time at the start of the term to carefully develop the skills students have learned in Math 20 into a real "toolbox" of techniques with which to approach real-world math problems. For example, the concept of "percent of percent" occurs in multiple activities (RCMP Licensing, Compound Interest, Retirement Planning, Markup, Discount), but currently in a way that appears haphazard and confusing to many students; if that concept was solidifed before a bunch of activities were presented then the students would be better prepared to see these activities as using something from their "toolbox" instead of each being an isolated task needing its own procedure to solve it. Problem-solving approaches are themselves a valuable "toolbox tool" needed in this class, which could also be taught during the first two weeks.
Unrelated to the class itself, this term more students than before are having trouble with LCC's Moodle website. There is not much I can do if the web browser on their computer at home is set to not download certain file types. But over the summer I should definitely use a college computer with Camtasia to record an "introduction to Moodle for students" screen-capture movie with voice narration.

Long Hair Update

I wrote about a month ago about paying a little more attention to my long hair. Some quick updates...

I've purchased a wooden comb, which does work better with wet long hair than the brush I was using. It's also easier to keep clean. But I simply bought the first one I saw, and should probably get one with wider gaps between teeth.

Trader Joe's citrus conditioner is increasingly all my hair needs for cleaning, and shampooing less often has helped my hair become much less prone to tangles. It has a few cleansing agents which do the job unless I have been in an usually greasy environment. (It is free of "cones", for those who care to know.)

I've learned to braid my hair, but am not very good at it yet. Dividing my hair into thirds with "top, lower left, and lower right" as per this post works well even with a braid that starts at the nape of my neck. I've only worn it this way in public once.

Eat Like a Monkey

I often each lunch at LCC in the Math/Science faculty lounge. One of my colleagues often has a banana with his lunch, and always opens them from what I call the "bottom", meaning the flower side, not the stem side.

This is just as easy to do (if not easier once you have a little practice), and if you squish the banana at all then all you squish is the end you don't eat anyway.

Last Shabbat I was telling this story to another friend, who replied that he knew this trick already. He has a friend from the Philippines who routinely tells American tourists, "Monkeys know how to open bananas, why don't you?"

First Century Worship vs. Transformed Rabbinic Worship

What a Messianic Jewish congregation's culture looks like is very important, for two reasons.

It is important practically for individuals, because it provides the answer to the question, "Yeshua has given me victory over sin... now what?" Gentile churches tend to answer this question by providing people with programs. To the Jewish mindset, programs are impersonal and uncaring. It is better to have culture, which is relational and caring.

Culture explains what to do each day and what special things to do on holy days. Culture explains how to do things: ways to pause and focus on God throughout the day, ways to spend time with God alone or with other people, ways to study scripture, ways to pray, ways to use Torah obedience to express love for God, etc.

The only program P'nei Adonai has is our "Introduction to Messianic Judaism" class. I tried getting rid of it, but it turns out I can't. There's no way to have a Messianic Jewish lifestyle answer people's questions quickly enough without some forced help.

What a Messianic Jewish congregation's culture looks like is also important for group identity, because Yeshua came not only to transform the lives of individuals but also to establish a community that continues his work and represents his name and body. Our congregational culture provides the answer to the question, "What part are we in the body of Messiah?"

In one sense the Messianic Jewish answer to this second question is summarizable: we are the part of the body of Messiah that cares about being in relationship with the local and global Jewish community, and that helps Gentile Christians come to fullness in their responsibility (of Romans 11) to stir unbelieving Jews to a jealousy of relationship with Yeshua. But in another sense this question needs a cultural answer, not merely a purpose statement. What does our part of the body of Messiah look like?

For any Messianic Jewish congregation there are two obvious answers to both of these cultural questions.

One answer is to have the congregational culture based on the culture of those who worshipped Yeshua in the first century. After all, an imporant part of Messianic Judaism is understanding what that culture was like, when those following Yeshua were still a sect of Judaism, before the faith had been reworked as a new and distinctly anti-Jewish religion. There are two issues with this answer: much of that first-century culture is simply unknown to historians; of what we do know, how much is appropriate to transfer to our current time and place?

Another answer is to have congregational culture try to look like what the local, modern Jewish community would look like if revived and transformed by faith in Yeshua. This is also an appealing answer, becuase it makes sense that a Messianic Jewish congregation would look like what it hopes its surrounding Jewish culture might become. There are again issues: what would this new culture look like? how much of the diversity of Jewish culture should one congregation try and represent?

During the past three months, we at P'nei Adonai have realized that we were trying to grow in two different directions. Without realizing it, we were trying to be both like a first-century congregation and like a revived and transformed modern Jewish community. Since these to models disagree in many ways this caused problems.

We have also realized that our particular congregation must be the modern version of a first-century congregation. This is more appropriate for us and our calling for a number of reasons.

For the remainder of this essay I'll share four issues that are examples of how where disagreement was happening, and why in each case the first-century model is more appropriate for us.

None of these responses are meant to imply that a modern Jewish community revived and transformed by faith in Yeshua would not eventually do what needs to be done equally well. Rather, the first-century model provides much more guidance about where to start and what to look like.

(1) A Messianic Jewish congregation should provide a family-like community for people. It should also provide a variety of resources to help people who are not regular attenders grow spiritually.

Many American believers are looking to religious groups for resources instead family-like community. (Of these people, many already are part of another religous group with family-like community but that group is not able to offer them all the resources they desire. In days past they would simply have been frustrated, but in modern America people are used to networking and finding the resources they want.)

This dynamic is especially relevant to Messianic Jewish congregations, since part of that calling is to help Gentile Christians understand the Jewish roots of their faith to help them have a more meaningful relationship with Yeshua and also to help them stir unbelieving Jews to jealousy. We need to be offering resources to people who seldom (if ever) set foot inside our doors.

The first-century Jewish synagogue had this balance. It was in part a weekly house of prayer for its regular attenders. But it was just as much a provider of resources: Jewish families would pay dues and in exchange receive emergency aid including family burial costs, temporary food and lodging, and medical assistance. The synagogue also provided these families help resolving interpersonal disputes and tutoring in scripture study. Once followers of Yeshua began forming their own communities these same services were offered to outsiders for free.

The modern American synagogue (or local Jewish community) is not known for this balance. What resources does it provide to outsiders, especially non-Jews? (They do provide generous charitable aid to Israel, which is not local but is still within the greater Jewish community. Other ways they give may be present, but tend to be not well known and of small scale.)

(2) Spiritual growth is the responsibility of the individual.

Scripture is clear that every person is responsible for their own relationship with God.

Community can surely help. People in family-like community can support and encourage each other, and keep each other accountable. A community's leader can provide resouces, guidance, and protection.

But congregations that try to make spiritual growth the responsibility of the entire community or its leaders see most people stagnate. This happens in both Jewish synagogues and Christian churches. The scriptural model of the assembly is not a shepherd caring for passive sheep, but an overseer providing teaching and resolving disputes for a congregation of active people with a priestly and evangelistic identity.

The first-century followers of Yeshua initially participated in the established local synagogue on Shabbat mornings while meeting together at the close of Shabbat. Later, as they encountered increasing resistance from the Jewish authorities, they established their own congregations. Paul writes of only two congregational leadership roles, equivalent to the well-known roles of synagogue leader (teacher and judge) and "shamashim" (custodian and hospitality help). No other roles were invented and the community's primary purpose remained individuals supporting individuals growing increasingly holy and near to God.

The modern American synagogue (or local Jewish community) is not known for helping people with their continued growth in holiness and nearness to God. To the contrary, participating in the synagogue or community is in many placed equated with a healthy religious life, replacing that better goal. Group participation and public displays of virtue often replace an individual's responsibility for actual spiritual growth.

(3) A congregation should model transformed lives and the virtues of faith, selflessness, charity, kindness, and simplicity.

All of these things were what the early followers of Yeshua were known for among non-believers. Even their enemies admitted that believers exemplified these things as individuals and communities.

None of these things are what modern Rabbinic Jews and their communities are known for. The stereotypical American Jewish community is busy dealing with people-problems, humanist and agnostic, inward-focused, works-based, full of gossip, and not at all about a simple faith.

(4) The Messianic Movement should responsibly interact with other current moves of God.

Currently God is doing something among American Gentile Christians, stirring a desire for personal renewal, recommitment to God, and a life full of passion for God. (In contrast, earlier American moves of God were usually about evangelism, not recommitment among believers.) Messianic Judaism should be responsible and try to work with this while preserving its own identity and calling.

This is related to what was mentioned earlier about people being newly willing to move beyond the boundaries of their own "Church home" to find additional resources, and how a Messianic Jewish community should offer resources about the Jewish roots of Christianity.

Our recent congregational Passover seder was a nice example of this dynamic. About 50 people attended, and about half of those were people with a different "Church home" who left thanking myself and P'nei Adonai for hosting a worshipful, meaningful, and educational evening that had helped them better understand God's ways and plans.

Regarding this issue the first-century community model has much to offer. There are too many details to explore in this essay. A summary is simply that even if not all believers are called live in first-century ways, a Christian who is thinking, "I'm saved and now what?" is usually well advised to look for answers by considering how first-century believers lived.

The modern American synagogue (or local Jewish community) also has a lot to offer. There are numerous examples in America of synagogues and churches working together, often using guest sermons to give Jews a better understanding of their Christian neighbors and to give Christians a better understanding of the Jewish roots of their faith. However, Christians asking "I'm saved and now what?" don't look to Rabbinic Jewish groups for answers about how to have more intimacy with Yeshua.

Tao of Yeshua: Chapter 45

The most flawless seems cracked.
But it never wears out.
The greatest fullness seems empty.
But it never runs dry.
The most straight seems crooked.
The most skillful seems clumsy.
The most eloquent seems awkward.
Stamping overcomes cold.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Purity and stillness are normal in All-under-heaven.

The Father is present even when he appears absent.
The Spirit fills us even when we feel empty.
Yeshua is righteous, skilled at saving, and speaking truth.
In stillness we can see these things.

Three Letters from Teddy

I've read the story "Three Letters from Teddy" a couple times before. I suppose most credentialed teachers in the U.S. have done so.

Still, the new slideshow of it made my cry a little. (Since I'm at work, I had the sound off. I wonder if that matters for the emotional impact of such things.)

Friday, April 13, 2007


Happy April!

I have had a lot on my mind lately about congregational stuff, which turns into a lack of blogging until I am a bit more complete with processing these thoughts. (Some topics are conducive to use blogging to help my process thoughts, but not these).

In the meanwhile, some humor.

Yesterday I finally, for the first time in my teaching career, was spaced out about which day of the week it was and had someone stop by my office to tell me my class was waiting for me downstairs. Oops. Fortunately, my students were forgiving that I wasted some of their time.

This actually was not the most absurd instance of absentmindedness during the past few weeks. On April 2nd I had a very busy day: phone calls in the early morning, leading an "Introduction to Messianic Judaism" class in the mid-morning, preparation for and teaching of a math class at LCC in the middle of the day, getting the home ready for Pesach in the early afternoon, and leading a congregational seder for fifty people all the rest of the day. Everything went quite well, but I was kept from feeling too much like I was "on top of things" by noticing, as I got ready for bed, that all day long I had been wearing my boxer shorts backwards.

An important part of Messianic Judaism is that congregatns disciple each other to be more like Yeshua, not more like each other. May this blog post remind my congregants not to try to be like me, but to be like Yeshua! He knows what day of the week it is, and wears his underwear properly.