Tag Archives: Christianity

Choices, Changes

Over the last few years, I have moved from a Paleo type of diet to Vegan and back again several times. This blog had ‘From Paleo to Vegan in one easy midlife crisis’ as its subtitle at one stage.

The truth is, though, that it hasn’t been ‘one easy midlife crisis’ at all of course, it’s been more like a car with a faulty starter motor, so I lurch from one obsession to the next, and never quite seem to get anywhere.

Every year, it seems, I try to go vegan again.

Even going back to being properly vegetarian seems to be a challenge this time. But I will keep trying.

It’s not that I don’t care. It’s not that I don’t know either. I know.

I’ve had to block several over-zealous vegans who insist on sending me graphic pictures of animals being brutalised.

I know.
I really don’t want to see it.
I really don’t want to eat it.

So why do I keep falling off the vegan ‘wagon’? Why is it so difficult to stay vegan?

I have personally justified it with regard to my own specific health issues, most particularly PCOS which comes along with insulin insensitivity which means that, contrary to the oft-repeated mantra of ill-informed vegans that “carbs are not the problem”, they really can be a serious, even potentially life-threatening problem for people who can’t tolerate them.

Not all carbs are equal, and not all fats are equal, but that discussion is for another post. Suffice to say, though, that even allowing for the insulin insensitivity issue, it’s no real barrier to veganism. Low, or at least lower carb veganism is possible, it’s just more of a challenge.

On an unrelated note, I’m finding it a little bit difficult to stay ‘Christian’, or at least keep up the ‘respectable’ middle class mainstream image version of Christianity that is sometimes confused with authentic Christianity.

I’ve actually been exploring paganism – firstly for general cultural literacy (I had so many misconceptions) and secondly because it is something that has fascinated me for years. I will post again with more details about that exploration and what I’ve found, what I’ve been able to love and embrace, and what I’ve had to reject and draw the line at.

To me (and what was communicated to me by my Dad – what he saw in the Bible and in Christianity), the core of the faith is clearly love, peace, joy, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and more love.

Matthew 12v7

But sadly it doesn’t seem to be what is commonly offered by the church. Certainly individual believers embody those principles and exude a genuine spirituality. But the church as a whole seems characterised by the very opposite: intolerance, unkindness, judgmentalism.

Why should this be?

In fact, these things are not unrelated at all.

Veganism is supposed to be about compassion, kindness, love for all creatures. And most of the vegans I have met in person do indeed embody the compassion they espouse. But veganism as a whole has without doubt been brought into disrepute by some of its most vocal members.

I completely understand the anger that vegans feel about people blithely and ignorantly allowing animals to be brutalised and killed just so we can have a certain taste and texture on our plate.

We have no excuse.

But those tastes and textures continue to persuade us to ignore what we know, to carry on along the path of least resistance.

But the anger and self-righteousness and judgmentalism of some vegans continues to drive people away.

The anger and self-righteousness and judgmentalism of some Christians continues to drive people away.

(Do you see what I did there?)

I think I know what the essential problem with Christianity is. It is the over-riding emphasis (at least in Western Christianity) on ‘right belief’ over and above ‘right living’ and ‘right feeling’. It is entirely possible to be a Christian in good standing with the church who claims all the ‘right beliefs’ and have absolutely no change of heart, absolutely no true spiritual experience whatsoever. But as long as the beliefs are in line with the doctrines your denomination emphasises, there is no reason to question the heart or the spirit. It is entirely possible to carry hatred in your heart while claiming to follow the God who is Love.

I think the same thing can be true of veganism.

As long as you maintain a vegan diet, and you are able to feel self-satisfied in that, there is no reason to question yourself, search inwardly, become more compassionate.

But I think I’ve said before that there is no ‘upper limit’ for compassion, kindness, love. All of us can always move forward, become kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, more loving.

In the Bible, a ‘righteous’ man is defined not as the one who never falls, never makes a mistake but rather the man who ‘falls seven times and gets up again’. Proverbs 24:16

This year is probably the first time in maybe 15 years when I haven’t really managed to celebrate Passover/ Easter, count the Omer/ Eastertide or keep Pentecost/ Shavuot (the fact that they are all out of sync this year hasn’t helped). There’s a little voice in my head that wants to condemn me, make me feel guilty and miserable. But I’m not listening to it.

I’m not as observant as I’d like to be right now, but it is what it is – this is the season I’m in, and there’s not much I can do about it. The traditional Passover concludes “Next Year in Jerusalem”. This too shall pass, and perhaps next year I will be where I want to be with my religious observance.

I’m not going to kick myself either about repeatedly failing to be faithful to veganism. Honestly, I may never reach 100% total veganism for ever. But that’s ok. I’m moving towards it, I’ll keep trying.

And actually, as much as I can understand the wish that the whole world go 100% vegan today, every little helps. Small steps save lives.

If I fall down again, I’ll just get up again.

Don’t be discouraged.

Do whatever you can and know that it’s good, and don’t let anybody condemn you because you’re ‘not good enough’, ‘not vegan enough’, ‘not Christian enough’, or whatever.

It’s a cliche, but learning to love and accept and forgive yourself is the first and crucial step towards spiritual growth. And it’s probably the hardest.

But it’s never a wasted effort.

Don’t give up. 🙂

From my heart to yours. xx

 

Primates 2016

primates

Archbishop Justin Welby invited all the Primates of all the international branches of the Anglican communion to attend the congress in Canterbury this month to discuss the deep divisions within the communion being caused by the differences in opinion (and practice) on the nature of marriage.

The decision of the council was leaked yesterday and was characterised, on social media at least, to be a decision to expel the Episcopal Church of American, ECUSA, from the Anglican Communion.

This does not in fact appear to be the case as far as I can work out. According to the official statement, it is rather a decision to put the ECUSA on a kind of probation period of three years, during which time they may not officially represent Anglicanism at ecumenical events, while the issue is properly investigated. They still remain part of the Communion, but in ‘disgrace’ (like a naughty child being sent to the corner). There is, understandably, outrage about the decision.

I am very surprised by this decision, although from what I can gather it has more to do with the fact that ECUSA has flouted and disobeyed Anglican canon law for several years (and am I right in thinking that there was also a scandal to do with church assets when there was a split within the American church?) than that it has to do with a difference of opinion and belief.

As a person with a rather conservative and evangelical background and a Messianic within the Anglican communion, I would tend to hold with an orthodox position on marriage personally. (I have written about this previously here and here, and would not force my opinion on anyone else.)

However, one of the things that attracts people to Anglicanism is the freedom of conscience – although we have conservative creeds and liturgies, nobody is forced to think or believe anything they’re not comfortable with, and so there is room for a large spectrum of belief within Anglicanism – we are, after all, a ‘broad church’ – the third way of ‘Scripture, Tradition and Reason’ covering the breach between ‘low church’ and ‘high church’ Anglo-Catholicism as well as between liberals and conservatives. Within those two extremes, that middle way of Anglicanism would seem to be the one place where LGBT+ folk can feel safe and accepted and welcomed.

I would be very interested to hear from Jewish/Messianic believers who are also LGBT+ since a great deal of what I have seen of Messianic Judaism has tended to be uber-conservative and ‘Torah-observant’ to the point of very strict exclusivity (i.e., repent, or out you go). I can hardly imagine what it must be to be LGBT+ in that sort of setting, and it would be a horrible choice between accepting their ruling and being celibate, keeping quiet about your sexual orientation, or finding another LGBT+ accepting church that lacks that Jewish flavour. If your experience of MJ as LGBT+ has been different, I would be interested too.

(As an afterthought, I have to say that the Messianic fellowship I attended IRL, it was much more laid-back and the topic never came up – I very much doubt that the leader would have made it an issue, and he was himself an Anglican, so I’m talking really more here about my experience of the MJ community online.)

I am deeply saddened that this decision, which seems somewhat out of step with the nature of Anglicanism overall, has caused so much hurt and pain to an already wounded, marginalised group of society.

I do not believe that the decision is characterised by hate and bigotry, as many people are suggesting. However, that must be the way it is perceived by members of the ECUSA, the LGBT+ community and those Anglicans who hold more liberal views elsewhere. It seems ill-advised, but I expect that the ‘probation’ was considered to be more wise than outright expulsion. But from the reaction so far, it seems likely to force the rift that they were seeking to avoid. I hope I’m wrong in that.

Can the position of Orthodoxy be defended while still maintaining the freedom of conscience and belief that characterises Anglicanism? And cannot Orthodoxy be communicated in a spirit of love and forgiveness? (Actually, if you read the document, I think this is what they were trying to do, but they appear to have failed miserably.)

Or is an ultimate rift between liberals and conservatives inevitable now? How very, very sad if that is the case.

Emissary part 3

opaka

I wanted to come back to explore Sisko’s meeting with Kai Opaka because Bajoran spirituality is such a significant theme of the whole DS9 series, and likewise figures highly in my life.

“Have you ever explored your pagh, Commander?” – Kai Opaka

I was raised with a certain set of beliefs and ways of thinking, so certain and sure that our way of seeing the world was the only true one. Honestly I don’t know what I believe now, not with any absolute certainty anyway – whether any of it is true, or even that objective truth can be known.

I prefer the term ‘spirituality’ to religion – being on a journey of discovery rather than arriving at the point of full knowledge and certainty. Having moved from a fairly fundamentalist Christian background, into Reform Judaism and back to Anglican Christianity through Messianic Judaism, I now view the whole concept of religion in a love-hate relationship, aware of the problems in organised religion, but also conscious of how good and useful and helpful spirituality can be, especially viewed as metaphor to help us understand and explore real life.

“A Bajoran draws courage from his spiritual life. Our life-force, our pagh, is replenished by the Prophets.” – Kai Opaka

Sisko’s relationship to religion is far more simple in a way – he is not and never has been a ‘believer’, and does not feel the need for any kind of ‘spirituality’ to grow as a person or any of that nonsense!

But somehow, for me, living with an agnostic/ atheist/ sceptic has been my biggest catalyst for change. He has forced me to question my assumptions, modify my speech and behaviour (have I mentioned being a red-headed Celt? A raging ball of untamed fury?), in short, to become a better person. It is as though the Prophets have used him as their tool for shaping me.

“Ironic. One who does not wish to be among us is to be the Emissary.” – Kai Opaka

Sisko and Opaka argue back and forth about uniting Bajor, Sisko insisting that Opaka must do her part to unite the people, Sisko only seeing the one dimension, the practical side of avoiding civil war. Opaka on the other hand, sees things differently, looking at the root causes of hostility, and seeing spirituality as the answer.

“You are correct that Bajor is in grave jeopardy, but it is the threat to our spiritual life that far outweighs any other.” – Kai Opaka

But then she says something cryptic and insightful:

“I cannot give you what you deny yourself. Look for solutions from within, Commander.”  – Kai Opaka

This is repeated during Sisko’s Wormhole experience, by one of the Prophets in the form of Opaka, but it is never explained what is meant by it, unless it is to do with Sisko’s grieving process – he can’t really move onto anything else until he has resolved it.

“I can’t unite my people till I know the Prophets have been warned.” – Kai Opaka

This reminds me of the film Avatar, where Jake tries to communicate to Eywa the nature of the threat Pandora is facing and begs her to help them, to take sides against the invaders. Neytiri tells him that she doesn’t take sides, only protects the balance of life. It is the difference between a view of the Prophets being a ‘blind watchmaker’, who merely keeps the cogs in motion, oblivious to the creatures and their joys and pains, and the view of the Prophets as concerned, caring and inherently involved in our affairs.

And then Opaka makes another cryptic pronouncement that resonates through the whole series.

“You will find the Temple. Not for Bajor, not for the Federation, but for your own pagh. It is, quite simply, Commander, the journey you have always been destined to take.” – Kai Opaka

I can’t speak for my Sisko. I would love to be able to share my journey with him. The idea that we are on separate journeys heading in different directions (and don’t get me wrong, I am NOT talking about heaven and hell here! Rather, I am talking about being able to understand each other. A marriage is primarily a meeting of minds and hearts. We can be as different as anything but still be ‘soul-mates’. Is that possible when a couple have a completely different worldview?

The Tears of the Prophet

Orb_experience_Sisko

“Nine Orbs, like this one, have appeared in the skies over the past ten thousand years. The Cardassians took the others. You must find the Celestial Temple before they do…Tradition says the orbs were sent by the Prophets to teach us. What we have learned has shaped our theology. The Cardassians will do anything to decipher their powers. If they discover the Celestial Temple, they could destroy it.” – Kai Opaka

Memory Beta, the non-canon database which includes references from Star Trek novels, lists the orbs:

Orb of Contemplation
Orb of Destiny
Orb of Memory
Orb of Prophecy and Change
Orb of Souls
Orb of Time
Orb of Truth
Orb of Unity
Orb of Wisdom

And then the tenth orb: Orb of the Emissary

STO also mentions a new Orb known as the Orb of Possibilities.

And then there’s another, alternate list:

Orb of Contemplation
Orb of the Emissary
Orb of Peace
Orb of Prophecy
Orb of Realms
Orb of Thought
Orb of Mystery
Orb of Time
Orb of Wisdom

I love the idea of Orbs from the Celestial Temple, and I love the idea of the Wormhole (or the Ocean in my case) as the Celestial Temple, or for me a spiritual entity. There are few people, atheists included, who could fail to be moved by the awesomeness of the Ocean. It is inherently ‘spiritual’ as something larger and more powerful and outside of ourselves.

But the idea of something concrete and tactile – not necessarily as evidence of the Prophets but rather as a way of connecting us in some real way to the Prophets – is so appealing. It is why, I suppose, that religions use physical objects, such as crosses, prayer shawls, rosary beads, and historical relics, why Chakotay uses his Medicine Bundle to enter into the zone. We’re not good at faith only as a metaphysical exercise, we need something to touch, feel and see.

“The Orbs represent a tangible, tactile, physical proof that there is something beyond Bajor with a power greater than ours, a power to shape reality, to destroy, and to create.” – Vedek Solis Tendren, DS9 novel, Cathedral

I might come back to these at some later point as there’s lots of potential for exploration. And needless to say, spirituality will undoubtedly be a recurring theme for me as this blog evolves.

LLAP.

Sunday Morning Rant

Oh my lordy. Some people are so far up their own self-righteous bottoms, it’s unreal. Attributing exceptionally good fortune to their own hard work. Gets my goat!

Not to mention, having money thrown at them (or rather happily taking what they can get) when they’re not the least bit in need, and having no shame or sympathy when they see people who *are* in genuine need but who, for whatever reason, are denied the same benefit!

They have no conscience because their view is skewed.

Sometimes it’s the negative people you need to eliminate from your life, sometimes it’s the over-positive about themselves people, who have no empathy, compassion or concern for others.

The fact that *so* *many* *times* it is Christians who fall into this category, is deeply distressing to me.

Confusing too, because in my book the hallmark of true Christians is exactly that – empathy, compassion and concern for others. In short, ‘love’.

For the second time in my life this morning, in amongst a lot of other bunkum, I have been inappropriately called a ‘victim’ when asking for practical help and understanding (not money).

Well, excuse me, you arrogant cow. I’m no victim. But I do expect a modicum of decency from those I consider friends, especially if they call themselves Christians, and I’m afraid (after giving you quite a lot of chances actually, because I have quite a high threshold for stupid people / arrogant people / people behaving badly – because I recognise that we are all a work in progress) you have finally failed the test spectacularly.

I try not to hold grudges, and I try to forgive in every case.

But I do not have to continue to allow people to treat me badly.

So I’m re-drawing my boundary line, and you are out, matey. Go and be self-important around somebody else.

Hopefully you will learn some lessons in friendship without having to attend the school of hard knocks that some of us have been through and triumphantly survived (thank-you very much).

Empathy

I’ve been upset this week to be confronted on more than one occasion by angry, aggressive, judgemental vegans.

My reasons for being vegan have been questioned and rubbished, my delay in becoming vegan has been judged. That first one made me laugh to be honest (after I was cross). How can you be vegan for the “wrong reasons”?

Would a pig/cow/chicken/deer really care about the reasons why you do or don’t eat it? (if you shoot a deer, say, is he really gonna care why/ what colour your pants are?)

These angry, aggressive, judgemental vegans obviously have issues. As I said to a contact on twitter, he who fights with another fights himself. It’s corny, but true.

But what they don’t seem to realise is that it is precisely the aggressive, judgemental attitudes that put people off veganism. It’s exactly the same with Christianity.

Frankly, I’m sick of it. Self-righteousness is a massive turn-off. Six weeks in? I’m not sure I want to be associated with the name vegan if this is what it’s about.

Whether they realise it or not, they’re ambassadors for the cause. If you don’t show empathy for other humans, you can hardly expect people to buy into the empathy for animals you say you’re promoting.

It has made me realise that, just because we share one thing, veganism, or Christianity, or whatever, it doesn’t mean that we will get on. Everyone has issues, and being vegan or Christian (or Buddhist or whatever) doesn’t mean you’ve resolved them. It doesn’t even mean that you’re self-aware enough to recognise you have them.

As I read recently, there’s no upper roof to veganism. Read empathy for that instead. You haven’t “arrived’ when you become vegan / Christian or whatever. If you’re not open to re-examining yourself, if you’re not aware that there’s room to grow, you’ll be stuck in an ugly rut. It’s not attractive, people.

21st Century Christian

According to Cross Rhythms, the UK Christian music site in its history of magazines involved in raising the profile of Christian music, 21st Century Christian Magazine was “stunningly unfunny”, “conservative and cozy”, and its unwieldy name was “conceived by committee”. Critics apparently called the magazine “The Christian Yuppie”.

But it’s not how I remember it at all. 21cc ran from October 1987 to 1990, and for me it was radical and left-leaning, part and parcel of a radical and left-leaning Christianity, something you could unashamedly read in your squat and leave for your non-Christian mates to read.

Cross Rhythms goes on to say that “21st Century Christian eschewed the controversy and satire settling instead for a safer, cosier Christian overview, in the process cutting back still further its music coverage. Sales continued to slide downwards and by the time of its closure, in 1990, had reached only a little over 14,000 sales.”

I was surprised when I looked for it again a few years ago to find that it had had such a short run, and been so opposite to what I remembered, because for me it had felt important and influential, and I obviously took from it the opposite message that everyone else was seeing.

Most of the Christians I knew in the late 80s were slightly hippyish, vegetarian, rainbow jumper wearing, Greenbelt festival-going rebels and radicals, bringing the government down with love and flowers and marching for Jesus. It was a while before I discovered that most of the church was made up of comfortable, conservative-voting status quo-lovers (and not the metal kind).

The one good thing about being faced with an all Conservative government determined to abuse the poor and vulnerable at every opportunity, not to mention attempting to repeal the hunting ban and the Human Rights Act, is that I feel catapulted back to my youth and I’m encouraged to look again at Christianity as rebellion against the Babylon system. (Don’t be fooled, it was always the Babylon system, even when Labour was in charge, the Conservatives just make it much easier to see.)

Government is not our saviour, it’s not our friend, and it’s not a friend to animals, the environment or the world.

I bought a vegan cookbook last week called “Soy Not Oi: Over 100 Recipes Designed to Destroy the Government”. (Available through http://www.akpress.org )

Now is the perfect time to go vegetarian or vegan, question your assumptions, review your comfortable position and ask what you can do to make the world a better place in spite of government.

Are you with me?

Thoughts on Steve Chalke and Yoder: until women are free, nobody is free.

I have heard the name Yoder a few times but did not realise that his works were considered so important. How dreadful and sad that a man who wrote about pacifism should perpetrate violence, and on such a scale.

But perhaps even sadder still is the church’s continued dismissal of his sexual abuse as irrelevant and minimal.

At least the Mennonite church has now begun to deal with it publically and apologise, now ensuring that his works, where re-printed, will contain an acknowledgement of his crimes.

Another irony about Steve Chalke’s reference to Yoder in his book on “Being Human” is that Yoder appears to have displayed all the signs of having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (as many, if not all sexual abusers do), lacking that essential characteristic that makes us human: empathy.

Thoughts on Steve Chalke and Yoder: until women are free, nobody is free..

Pesach Cleaning

I learn something new every Pesach – about myself, about housework, about the nature of sin and cleanliness, and this year has been no different.

I am sure I have mentioned before that I felt that one of the lessons of Passover is that, no matter how hard we try, we can’t get rid of all the dirt (sin, for which yeast, leaven, chametz is a metaphor) on our own, because it is never finished, the dirt just keeps on coming.

This year, we are in the middle of moving house, so clearing and cleaning two houses. The new house is exactly that – a brand new build where nobody has lived before. I thought that this side of things would be easy, but I have been amazed at how quickly the dust and dirt has mounted up. We may not have much in the way of actual chametz here, but we certainly have dust and dirt!

At the old house, the revelations have been even more startling. Moving things that never usually get moved, like the cooker, has made me realise how the dirt collects in places we’re not looking, not paying attention to, and how once a year ‘spring cleaning’ may not be enough – much more thorough, regular cleaning is going to have to be a feature of life at our new place.

And the spiritual application, of course, is that we need to be making regular self-evaluations, regular repentance, and regular washing (by the Water of the Word).

I am reminded of the classic story of the rabbi who told his students, “Make Teshuvah (repent) one day before you die.” His students would respond with the question, “But how do you know when it is one day before you will die?” The answer of course is that you don’t know, so you must make Teshuvah every day!

The Kingdom Divided

I have been quite shocked and disappointed this week to (re-)discover two things:

Firstly that anti-semitism is alive and kicking in the churches, particularly down here in Cornwall.

Secondly, that there are many groups and individuals who believe that gentile believers are not part of Israel proper, only on the fringe as part of the ‘commonwealth’, and that Torah is only for Jews (and beyond that, that we need the “oral Torah” to properly understand and obey Torah).

To my understanding of the scriptures, such a view and practice of exclusion is falsely resurrecting the partition wall that Yeshua tore down. It is a little bit like saying that gentiles aren’t really part of the Kingdom, which is after all what “Israel” is meant to be – the Kingdom where God reigns.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free”

We are meant to be equal and “one”, united in Messiah. As I have said many times, we seem to be yet very far from that ideal. There is still racism, sexism and class and cultural differences which separate us. But certainly we should not be perpetuating such division.

I am supremely grateful that this was not my experience in the Messianic fellowship I attended, which was run by a very lovely, humble Jewish man, who seemed to be quite ‘colour-blind’ when it came to Jew and gentile, whereas I had been turned away from certain other groups that I won’t shame by naming here for not being Jewish! How heartbreaking and divisive!

My conversion, which was what you might call a ‘Ruth-ite’ conversion, a simple declaration as the Biblical Ruth made that “Your people will be my people, and your God my God” is not generally recognised by Jewish or Messianic groups. I find myself in the position of being ‘not quite Jewish enough’ for some Messianic groups, and ‘too Jewish’ for some church groups!

Since there is no official Messianic conversion process in the UK, there is a temptation – even perhaps a push by groups who exclude gentile believers in this way – to convert via Reform or Orthodox means. (In a conversation just this week I was told that if a gentile wants to keep Torah, they must convert to Judaism!)

Since such conversion involves either hiding or denying your affiliation to Yeshua Jesus, that is totally unacceptable in my view, but it is an inevitable result when gentile believers feel particularly called to Israel and the Jewish people and to Torah, and both these things are denied to them as gentiles.

The crux really of this matter rests on what the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 meant when it ruled on gentile believers coming into the Kingdom:

It was being suggested by “a certain sect of the Pharisees who believed” that gentiles could not become part of the Kingdom unless they were first circumcised and kept the whole law, but Paul and Barnabus show that God had shown his inclusion of gentiles by imparting the Holy Spirit, and by many signs and miracles among them.

“And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; *And put no difference between us and them*, purifying their hearts by faith.”
Verses 8 and 9, my emphasis.

In verse 20, the ruling is that Gentile believers must only do the following:
“that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” verse 20

This is really a minimum standard, but even this has been generally ignored by the church because it seems to contradict their understanding that anything at all is permissable to eat. (That’s another discussion for another day!)

But then in verse 21, James goes on to say, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”

Again, this verse is generally either ignored or misunderstood. What does James mean? Well, the early believers were meeting in the synagogue, reading the weekly Torah portions.

In other words, they were learning Torah gradually. There is an implicit suggestion there that the gentile believers will gradually conform their lives to Torah, and so it is not necessary to lay the whole law on them at the outset, and certainly not as a condition for salvation.

But wait, you say! Paul says the following in verse 10:

“Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”

What does he mean by that? Of course, it has been taken to mean that the “yoke” refers to Torah itself. But is that really the case? Is God’s own law a burden and a bondage from which we must flee and escape?

In Leviticus 26:13, God says:

“I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and *I have broken the bands of your yoke*, and made you go upright.”
(My emphasis)

This is in the context of the giving of the Torah. No, the “yoke” is not Torah itself – God did not rescue the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt only to lay another bondage on them – but rather, the “yoke” is all the additional rules and regulations, what is commonly referred to as the “Oral Torah” put in place as a “hedge around Torah”. The clue is in the word “Pharisee”.

What does Jesus say about those additional Pharisaical rules?

Matthew 15:3 “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” He goes on to give examples of how they are doing that, and then in verse 7: “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”

So Jesus regards the Torah as the commandment of God, holy and good, whereas the ‘Oral Torah’ is no such thing. Indeed, it can be quite the opposite when it contradicts Torah.

The scriptures, especially the psalms are replete with the idea that the law of God is good. Even Paul acknowledges in many places that the law is good, for example in Romans 7:7 he says:

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid!”

In conclusion, although I realise this is a massive subject and we could argue back and forth on the subject of the law and to what extent Christians should observe it, there is no suggestion whatsoever that Torah is for Jews only and not for gentiles.

In as far as gentiles are grafted into the Olive Tree through faith in Messiah, we are meant to be “one new man”, part of the same body. That is not to say that you cannot retain your identity as Jewish or gentile as a believer, but the wall between us has been broken down. Don’t build it up again.

Questioning the Vision

I had some disappointing news this week. I can’t name names as I’m not sure whether or not it’s fully official yet – nothing has been posted on the website, but members have been emailed – an online dispersed monastic community with which I have been associated, has closed its virtual doors.

The leader of the community had decided, after prayer and soul-searching, that her vision to create an online community was not truly of God.

The call that my friend believes she had heard from God was a call to adopt the monastic habit, but in an effort to heed that call she had misinterpreted it to include becoming ordained, and the setting up of an online community.

Neither of those things, she said, were truly part of her original call, she realised now.

Since the creation of an online community was not God’s idea but her own aberration, she felt that she must put an end to the whole enterprise.

There are several questions and realisations that this closure raises for me:

I realise that it is a serious business to set something up and make promises (or even the suggestion of a commitment that people interpret as promises) that you can’t keep – if you do, you run the risk of hurting and disappointing people who rely on you.

I realise that, if people do come to rely on you or your organisation, and that organisation ultimately fails, leaving those people completely in the lurch is irresponsible. One could argue that to allow people to fall into the arms of God may be part of their onward spiritual journey, but that seems rather unkind and unnecessary. I wonder if the least you can do is to provide direction pointers, waymarks, for people to move on to.

I realise that having one person in charge rather than a group who all catch the vision, runs the risk of the whole enterprise standing or falling on the basis of how weak or strong or reliable that one person’s shoulders are.

How do we know whether or not a dream or a vision is from God, or whether we – like Abraham and Sarah – are trying to make things happen by human power and will instead of allowing God to make things come to fruition in His time?

It may be that my friend is further along the journey of faith than I am, and she knows things that I have yet to discover.

But these are the things that make me think that sometimes it is just the right thing to do to plough ahead, take leaps of faith and see what happens.

Acts 5:38b,39a: “if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it” – The Pharisee Gamaliel to the Sanhedrin.

Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain that build it”

I’ve tagged this post with ‘adoption’ because adoption is one of my visions. Interestingly, in this verse the word ‘house’ can be understood to mean ‘family’.

I don’t know how far we can know whether God is telling us to do or not do something. I don’t hear an audible ‘voice’ and I’m dubious when I hear about those who claim they do.

All we can do, I think, is to get to know the difference between good and bad, conform our visions and ideas to the good, and just try. If God is in it, He will surely bless us, and if He’s not, it will come to nothing.

Abraham and Sarah’s problem surely wasn’t that they tried the vision, but that their idea conformed to cultural patterns rather than God’s good plan. They didn’t know right from wrong.

I wish my friend well in whatever she puts her hand to from now on, but I’m sad that what seemed like a very good vision has ended.