Tag Archives: messianic

Etz Chayim – reaching for the Tree of Life

It has been almost a full year since I last posted on this blog. Much has happened. After almost 7 years of ‘wilderness wandering’, we finally have our own home again and are settled, albeit out in the rural wilds of north Cornwall, far away from any kind of Messianic fellowship or congregation. I am so thankful, so surprised with joy to receive such good fortune when we thought all was lost. But still I am terribly isolated and lonely and effectively alone in terms of religious fellowship.

I may have mentioned that I had been in search of some fellowship – any kind, really, but it was a very mixed bag of good and bad experiences.

I really liked the Anglican for its freedom of conscience, although there seemed to be no understanding or interest in the Jewish side of the faith and I had the particular bad fortune of being under a priest who had a real bee in his bonnet about evangelicals. The fact that I was verging on being an ‘ex-evangelical’ seemed not to temper his ire. As far as he seemed to be concerned, I was an idiot for ever countenancing such ideas. If anything, his attitude pushed me back into the fundamentalism I was trying to leave. (Freedom of conscience didn’t extend to evangelicals, as far as he was concerned.)

We also tried an independent Pentecostal group who said they were pro-Israel, but they turned out to be extremely negative, narrow-minded and fundamentalist in every way, and the Pentecostal displays of worship put some of my children off church entirely. After everything we have been through, I can hardly blame them.

In the end, I started going to a Salvation Army while my mother was living with us (only for 6 months as it turned out) and I have continued there although it’s far from ideal. Again, there seems to be no understanding or interest in the Jewish roots of Christianity, and the occasional anti-semitic sermon is never a surprise. It takes a lot of energy to keep looking, so for now I am staying put. I can’t say that I am entirely happy, but they do at least put Christianity in action and reach out to the poorest of the poor.

I had wondered recently in what way I can still claim to be ‘Messianic’ – without fellowship or a believing husband to encourage me, the feasts and fasts and even a proper observation of Shabbat has fallen by the wayside. I wonder if I can ever get it back again.

I have made a very good friend online with a woman who had a very different experience of the Messianic movement, having first converted to Orthodox Judaism and come into Messianic Judaism from there rather than as I did, through evangelicalism. We disagree on many things, but her lack of Christian fundamentalism has been an eye-opener for me.

I also have a very good real-life friend who is not a believer, but who was raised in Orthodox Judaism. We have a surprising amount of experiences in common, and her friendship has been a real balm to my soul.

I have started thinking though in terms of abandoning the trappings of religious tradition entirely and instead reaching out for and trying to find the ‘Etz Chayim’, that is the Jesus/ Yeshua who embodies the Tree of Life, and ‘Ha Derek’, the Way itself, Himself.

Coming out of fundamentalism is a very emotional and difficult thing, and in a way I am having to start again and weigh everything up to see what is good and what is bad. That’s probably not a bad thing in itself.

I am trying to get to know the ‘real’ Yeshua from a different perspective now.

I am still at home, muddling through being a wife and homemaker/ housewife, still home educating my youngest.

So what is the future of this blog?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t want to lose my Messianic identity, and I would love to be able to start again from scratch and incorporate more of the Jewish feasts and traditions into my life.

What I don’t want to do, however, is to fall back into the trap of legalism or fundamentalism. It wasn’t life-giving, it was a bottomless pit of darkness that I slipped into gradually without even realising I was doing it, and it nearly ate me up whole before I realised. What I need now is to find the good path, and the Tree of Life.

Wounds to Dress

This blog was originally going to be talking about handicrafts and gardening and cooking and learning to ‘homestead’ through the lens of Janeway and Chakotay finding themselves marooned on New Earth in the Delta Quadrant. I thought it was a good metaphor for my isolated life in rural Cornwall. I still hope to include those aspects – part of me longs for that ‘Good Life’.

But there are other issues which have come to the fore recently – related to my self-named status as a “progressive fundamentalist” which are forcing me to look long and hard at who I am and how I got here.

I have been speaking recently with another Star Trek RP account – Christian Janeway – and I have been amazed at how much we have in common. Conversations on Twitter, and with my children over the last week, have prompted me to recognise just how damaged and damaging I became as a member of a fundamentalist church in my youth and again as a young mother, and so I thought that, in the first instance, I would write a brief summary of what that has entailed. I wasn’t expecting to bare my soul or look deeply into difficult and painful corners, but I think it needs to be done; and as I have said elsewhere many times, my two favourite forms of therapy are Star Trek and writing. Even if nobody reads this and it helps nobody else, I hope it will help me to move on.

Beginnings

When I was very young (this was in the mid 70s through the mid 80s), my parents were happily attending a lively Pentecostal church in a small town north-west of London which happened to have a US ex-pat community. Somehow my parents came in to contact with American fundamentalist Baptist missionaries to England who dazzled them with personality, charisma and authoratative confidence and persuaded them to leave the Pentecostal church – which they convinced them was at best fake and at worst, probably of the devil – and start a new fundamentalist Baptist church with them. Before long there were a number of families and additional children associated with the new church.

I was mostly too young (approximately ages 6-13) to fully comprehend the depth of what was going on, what was being preached, and how my parents were more and more controlled in every area of their lives – to  my conscious mind, all was good, these were the best days of my life – because we saw so much of them, because they often stayed at our house, we were practically living in community with them. Our whole week was in some way or another controlled by the church. It wasn’t just Sunday morning and evening, it was Sunday lunchtime, midweek dinners, Bible study evenings, prayer meetings, members’ meetings, social calls. It was completely engulfing.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that my parents’ mental health was suffering in different ways (my mother later had a mental breakdown, my father expressed it as physical ill health).

We eventually escaped the church in two stages – firstly, the American Missionaries went home on furlough for a year, fully expecting my father (who had been partially trained, for about three years for the pastorate with their organisation) to keep the church going in their absence. What actually happened instead was that my father rebelled and pretty much immediately after the Missionaries left, allowed the families to go to another church during that time.

I don’t know what ire this behaviour invoked when the absent Pastor found out – I’m sure my father would have been on strict instructions to contact somebody else here in the UK from the organisation for assistance rather than allowing the church to close; my father kept everything close to his chest so I don’t know his thought process or decision process. I probably don’t know the half of it. I do know that my father never really ever recovered from the damage they did to him.

When the missionaries returned, they were obviously furious about what had happened and again although I don’t know the details, I can only infer that they made my parents’ lives a little bit hellish and so stage two was to move away from the area altogether. The missionaries were never able to re-establish the church in that area, and were eventually re-located by their organisation.

Initial Results

Right before we moved, I had a serious bicycle accident which was probably a hit and run (my memory of it is very hazy but my bike was definitely run over), in which I sustained a head injury which has affected my health ever since. This led to my mother becoming mentally ill. Around the same time I became mentally ill myself with Anorexia. I always thought that it was linked to my head injury, which it might be, but I am beginning to suspect that it might be an after-effect of the church. I will explore that at a later date.

My parents, prior to my mother’s breakdown, embarked on a search for the perfect church. Still affected by the fundamentalist teaching they had, and despite all the damage it had done to them, the new church had to measure up in some way to the church they had left, so after rejecting several perfectly nice churches, we ended up in another strict Baptist church with its own issues. (No doubt the most serious being that the Sunday School Superintendant was ‘having an affair’ with a 13 year old child. Note it was the 80s, so that was how it was phrased at the time).

When my mum got ill, the church were pretty incredibly useless and unhelpful, not being able to deal with mental illness, so that turned out to be a blessing in disguise and we were able to leave there.

Teenage

I spent some time at a very good church during my teenage years which was gently charismatic. A nice balance, not over-the-top crazy Pentecostal. (It was a Salvation Army by the way – they’re variable, and have their own issues, but I have to say that this was my happiest time and probably the healthiest church I ever attended.) The fact that it was charismatic would have bothered my parents considerably a few years earlier but by that stage they were beginning to realise that some of the fundamentalist teachings had been wrong and harmful, so they let it go. My mother even attended there for a while.

Marriage

To cut a very long story short, I hastily married the first boy I slept with and promptly regretted it, and hastily got into another relationship (with Chakotay). I was pretty consumed by guilt and shame which I had learned under the teachings I had learned early on, and so when I started home educating my children (for totally non-religious reasons!) I soon *put myself* under the teachings of extremely conservative fundamentalist teaching again. Everything was so familiar that I lapped it all up – quiverfull teaching, headcovering, submission for godly wives, corporal punishment for children (which I totally disagree with and regret btw) etc. I literally could not find a physical church conservative enough for me!

Messianic

Probably as a result of that irrational drive to find the most conservative form of Christianity, I started looking at the Messianic movement. I actually spent ten years in Messianic Judaism (one year of which actually involved rejecting the whole thing and seriously trying to convert to mainstream Judaism – another story, for another time), and I hope that I have taken and absorbed the best and most positive aspects. The actual physical fellowship I was involved with were absolutely lovely and kind and generous and unfundamentalist! But there is in Messianic Judaism – principally online, for me, as I’m in the UK – a very fundamentalist thread which is every bit as damaging as mainstream fundamentalism (if that’s a thing).

Unfortunately, I was under those two strains of teaching for long enough (20 years in total plus the original 6 or so) for me to perpetuate some of the abuse that was visited on me onto my children. It was totally unconscious and unintended, and I am utterly mortified at the damage I have done. Icheb, my eldest, seems to have borne the brunt of it all, while the others seem largely unaffected, thankfully.

I don’t quite remember how it happened, but something snapped at some point and I realised that I was part of something really very nasty and unhealthy that was replicating some of the exact same abuses that I had been part of as a child (being told that you must separate from every other sort of Christian, that the rest of the Church is wicked and evil and not of God etc for example).

Exile

Chakotay, who is not a religious man at all (alas, my Chakotay doesn’t even go in for spirituality) tolerated all of the above, mostly blissly ignorant of what was going on in my head, but he could see that I was getting physically and mentally ill and that was affecting the children. So he unilaterally decided to move us – hundreds of miles away from where we were, to a place so rural and isolated that there was no internet. I’m still a little bit angry with him for doing that (and I have mentioned my inability to speak up for myself earlier today). But in actual fact, it was a good call. The last six years have been long and hard and lonely and painful, but removing me from that whole social circle has enabled me to re-evaluate everything and begin to heal.

In many ways, he is my hero, and I am so grateful that he is such a gentle, kind, slow-to-wrath kind of man. He is certainly not without fault, but he has been so much more gracious and godly than so many Christians I have known.

Anyway. That is enough for now. These are some of the issues I want to work through here on this blog. I hope you will stick around and I hope it will help some people to heal too.

LLAP

Kathryn

Shiva: Death, mourning and hope in Jewish Tradition

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, דיין האמת
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, dayan ha-emet.
“Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, the Just Judge.”
After 4 years of trying, hoping and praying since my last loss, and 13 years in total, and finally after giving up completely, I was unexpectedly blessed with pregnancy again.

Sadly this pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 10 weeks, my 6th loss in total.

There are no funerals for miscarriages, no burials. No family get-together, no ‘sitting Shiva’ together. It is a special kind of grief, more lonely and perhaps harder to navigate than any other type of grief, because in our culture pregnancy loss is still taboo, something we still can’t quite face or discuss openly, and thus the sufferer is largely without comfort or understanding.

The traditional period of mourning in Jewish Tradition is 7 days (thus ‘Shiva’, related to the word 7). But the reality is that grief doesn’t follow a neat progression and cannot possibly be restrained within a 7 day period.

The loss of a child isn’t ‘just’ the loss of a baby right at that moment, but the loss of all the hopes and dreams – the loss of that child’s whole life – years and decades and life events that we thought was ahead of them. And even if a mother is graced with another child, this kind of loss changes you, and you always carry that little bit of sadness with you. You never ‘get over’ loss of a child.

I thought I had completely given up and resigned myself to not having any more babies, to ending my family on a loss. Now though of course, I find old wounds re-opened and longings renewed.

But for now, I mourn. 

Mourner’s kaddish
Jewish perspective on miscarriage and stillbirth
Mourning a Jewish miscarriage 
Jewish Prayer after miscarriage or stillbirth

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

 

No More Grumbling!

rejoice

As I have told you, times are challenging at the moment for us, and I have been feeling very discouraged.

But this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, features the topic of grumbling quite prominently, and so I am encouraged to put a guard over my mouth and my virtual pen, to only ‘speak life’; in other words, not to grumble and moan but to look for the good in everything, to give thanks in everything and to be grateful for the goodness and mercy that is all around me.

So today I thought I would share some of the things for which I am most grateful.

– My husband, my children, my family
– We have a roof over our head, we are not out on the street, destitute.
– Running, hot water and a shower!
– Plenty of food, and a grocery delivery service!
– My husband has a job where he is happy, and he gets up faithfully early every morning and goes to work, and comes home, and never complains!
– Sunshine and rain in due season
– The books that I have not in storage.

I’m sure there is much more if I would spend some time thinking about it.

Are you making gratefulness and thankfulness a habit, even when it is hard? Even on my darkest days, I can usually find at least 5 things to be thankful for, even if it is just my bed at the end of the day, running water, food to eat, a bit of sunshine and a good conversation.

What are you grateful for today?

Wilderness Experience

I have a confession to make. I try not to let this blog get too personal – I prefer to keep it ‘on topic’, just talking mainly about cooking and housework and crafts.

But here is the thing. I am really, really struggling.

I know that we are blessed in many ways. After our landlord evicted us, we were re-housed against all the odds, in the town where we wanted to be. That was pretty miraculous, but it is far from ideal.

The house that we were put in has turned out to be totally unsuitable – there is no garden for the children (they were pretty heartbroken when we had to sell their trampoline), and since it is designed over three floors (meaning that I have to be more active than I can cope with), I have got much sicker since we moved here. In fact, I seem to be in relapse. I’m arguably sicker now than I was when I first got ill. It’s too small, so most of our books and possessions and furniture is still in storage, and our finances are a nightmare. My kids are ill, there just seems no end of massive, insurmountable problems.

I feel as though I am in the ‘pit’.

The result of this is that I am finding the upkeep of the housework impossible, and I’m not well enough to do the cooking. Added to the physical issues, or perhaps as a result of them, I think I can safely say that I have descended into a deep depression.

And I am feeling a failure.

We have had a run of more than five really rough years now, and I feel as though I have been brought into a long-term, painful wilderness experience, or a ‘Job’ experience, and I don’t really understand why.

So many scripture passages talk about blessing following the keeping of Torah, and for those who bless Israel. So I just keep wondering, what have I done wrong, and why am I missing the blessing? And when is it going to end?

I pray, I read the Word, I try to remain faithful. But it feels as though my prayers fall on deaf ears, and I have never felt more distant from Abba.

I never expected the ‘narrow way’ to be quite this rocky.

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.

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.

Am I Jewish?

I was asked recently if I am Jewish. (When I told somebody I was Messianic, she said “Wow, I didn’t realise you were Jewish”) It was a rhetorical statement rather than a question so I didn’t need to respond to it directly. But the answer is yes… but no… but it’s complicated.

I came very, very close to converting to Reform Judaism (I looked at Orthodox Judaism too) some years ago but, in the end, I decided that it wasn’t the right path for me simply because Jesus was too central to my life and thinking to give up. But in the process of studying and being in Judaism I discovered that being Jewish is much more than religion – it is a people and culture (and country!) that I love, and so I consider myself Jew-ish.

The name I took (Shoshana) is now an integral part of my identity. As the convert Ruth said, your people will be my people, your God will be my God. So in the simplest Ruth-ite sense, I consider myself one with the Jewish people even if I am not recognised as such.

But more than that I realised that, through Messiah, I am grafted in to the Olive Tree of Israel, as are all believers, whether or not they recognise either themselves or natural Israel as in any way connected.

I have taken a lot of Judaism (sabbath, the festivals, food and music etc) back into my Christianity, because I love it and I believe it is good and true. A lot of people don’t like it but I’m not about to conform to please people. And for a long time, I agonised over having one foot in both camps, but now I’m comfortable in that position.

I consider myself to be standing in the gap, a repairer of the breach. The nation of Israel and the Jewish people need the support and friendship of Christians, now more than ever. Those of us who are in the mainstream church can and should be a voice for Israel and the Jewish people for as long as they are able to be. The church, meanwhile, needs to rediscover the roots of its own faith in Biblical Judaism and it needs to be restored to the truth of Torah.

As I explained to a new believer recently, the antinomianism of the modern church is a very new phenomenon. The Roman Catholic church believed in law, but it believed that having the ‘keys of the kingdom’ meant that it could discard God’s Law and replace it with its own. The protestant church rejected that claim, but traditionally divided God’s Law into moral, ceremonial and civil / judicial, and kept only that which it considered to fall under the category of moral law. Messianic believers on the other hand see no basis for such a division.

Increasingly though, and very sadly, even so-called evangelical churches are becoming antinomian, crucially misunderstanding the nature of the Law, the nature of sin and the nature of sanctification. I was told recently by an evangelical group that ‘Christ put an end to the Law’, adding that the Law was only for Jews. That really is a twisting of the truth that Messiah fulfilled the Law, setting us free. It is not Law that we need to be freed from, however, but sin (Why would gentiles need to be freed from Jewish Law?!). But thanks to the so easily misunderstood writings of Paul, taken out of context, these misapprehensions persist.