Tag Archive | messianic

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.

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.

It’s Complicated…

torah1

I met with a lady yesterday, Alison, a newly ordained Deacon in the Church of England. One of the things that were on my list of things to do was to find myself a ‘Spiritual Director’ or mentor.  We had an amazing couple of things in common, one of which was home education – she had home educated her children (what are the chances?!).

She was very encouraging, and talked about how long and hard she had needed to fight in order to get to ordination.

“Don’t let them discourage you”, she said.

When she asked me about my vocation, and why the Church of England, I was able to say immediately how and why I felt I had been called, and why I am in the CofE. She said that I articulated that very well, which rather tickled me, as I did rather make it up on the spot.

But when she asked me why the Priesthood, as opposed to any other kind of Christian ministry, I was a little bit stumped. I tend to believe quite strongly in the Priesthood of all believers, which we discussed, and we agreed that this is a good argument in favour of women leaders / ministers / Priests.

But I realised that I do need to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Priest.

And I also realised that I am fudging things a bit. I am still Messianic, I am still evangelical. In fact, in many ways, I am still conservative, and as much as I embrace the traditionally liberal qualities of love, tolerance and social justice, I don’t think that will change. I don’t think those ‘liberal’ qualities are at all inconsistent with a conservative view of scripture.

But can I be consistent as a conservative, Messianic Jewish, evangelical, (Salvationist?!) not-really-feminist, woman Priest in the Church of England?

I don’t know. I hear the call, but I don’t know where it’s leading me. No decisions need to be made at this point; I am on a journey, so I will just keep taking small steps forward, and trust that I am following the right path.

I didn’t discuss all of these things with Alison. I think that, although I am keen to meet with her again, I really need to find somebody else to be a real ‘mentor’, even if she is willing to fulfill the official role of ‘Spiritual Director’. But I really need somebody who is familiar with, or has grappled with the same issues as I have to deal with.

So if you know any other conservative, Messianic Jewish, evangelical, not-really-feminist, women Priests in the Church of England, do please send them my way! (The Salvationist element is optional) 🙂

 

 

 

 

Vocation

I have always, for as long as I can remember, had a sense of ‘calling’. I thought for years that I was destined to be a missionary, and I was convinced I would be a minister’s wife but I ended up divorced and re-married to a non-Christian so that was the end of that.

But that sense of ‘calling’, that little voice calling me into ministry has become more insistent as I have got older. While I was in the Messianic fellowship, I heard the call more loudly than ever, but there was simply no clear path to pursue.

In most of the denominations I have had dealings with, women preachers have been an absolute no-no, but more recently of course again, I have been involved with Pentecostal churches, The Salvation Army and the Church of England, all of whom welcome female candidates.

I’m sure I have mentioned before that I considered Salvation Army officership as far back as my teens, but then when I got married, my then Officer’s Kid husband was dead against it; he had been totally put off churches, Christianity in general and The Salvation Army in particular due to his experience as an ‘OK’.

More recently, although I have felt the call, The Salvation Army has presented just too many obstacles – you have to be willing to move to London for training, and then be willing to be sent anywhere in the UK (or even, potentially the World as I speak other languages and have connections in various places).

I’m not free to do either of those things. And I’m also so far away from a Corps that the whole thing has just been impractical from the get-go. As much as I love the Army, I can’t see a way round the obstacles.

For the last 6 months, I have been attending my local Anglican, and over the last few weeks I have been exploring the possibility of Ordination.

Yesterday, I met with the Vocations Officer for an initial interview, and went through my journey of faith with him.

I’ve actually been having a little bit of a love affair with the Anglican church – despite all its faults and foibles, I have been surprised by how much I love the liturgy, the set prayers, the music, and even, despite myself, the gravitas of the Eucharist.

We talked about all the options for ministry and service within the Church of England, and were I to get that far, training for Ordination would be much more local and not full time, all of which makes it more manageable for my limitations.

The vocations officer told me that my age was no barrier, but he did make it clear that the chances of actually becoming a paid Priest (as opposed to a self-supporting one) are extremely slim, and could take a lot more years to achieve.

I didn’t realise until he told me this that it would be an issue for me, but I realise now that it is. There’s just no way I could afford to do it as a hobby, and I find that my ‘tentmaking’ skills are limited, at least in terms of being able to bring in the money.

Of course nobody goes into the ministry for financial reasons, but we do have to eat, and I have a lot of mouths to feed.

One thing that was encouraging though was that the vocations officer did confirm to me that he recognised that I do have a calling.

So it’s now in my hands, whether I want to pursue it or not.

So I’m back to square one, I hear the call, but I can’t determine from which direction it’s calling me.

The Celtic Year

I thought I would share some of my reading, even if I don’t always manage to finish with them. In which case, I do have quite a large backlog of books I have started this year.

The Celtic Year by Shirley Toulson is a fantastic month-by-month list of Celtic saints with recommended ‘pilgrimages’ to make in every month.

It is put together in a peculiar arrangement of pagan seasons: Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas. I think that, if I hadn’t already done a lot of research on all things Celtic, and had my hardline ‘Messianic’ head on, I might have been put off by this arrangement.

But an unexpected delight in this book has been the attention that the author has drawn to the fact that the very early Celtic church very much resembled the earliest, ancient Jewish Christian church, before it became influenced by more powerful forces.

Toulson also points out how the early pagan Celtic year resembled the Jewish year in many respects – a calendar based on the moon rather than the sun, counting the day from sunset to sunset rather than midnight to midnight, and the year from the autumn harvest instead of midwinter for example.

Additionally, the timing of the Celtic pagan festivals at the cross-quarter days, rather than the solstices and equinoxes of Anglo-Saxon and Roman paganism, are not far removed at all from the Jewish festivals. So when primitive Jewish Christianity came to Britain, as there is ample evidence it did, it would not have been an enormously difficult task to convert these pagan festivals to the new God of Christianity.

Heart of Torah

Messianic for me has been a long, hard and lonely journey. When we lived in the city we had a small (20 people) fortnightly fellowship that wasn’t Torah observant and had no understanding of the concept. Here in the country there is not even a Jewish community for miles. I just can’t do it anymore. I am now worshipping in a tiny little village church of England. (As well as The Salvation Army when I can get there) I don’t agree with everything by far, but I need real-life fellowship.

At this point in my walk as well, I feel as though I have had enough pursuing Truth – I have been doing it relentlessly for 20 years, it has been the essence of my Christianity – and now I want to start pursuing the One who is Truth (if that makes sense).

My experience with conservative Christianity and maybe Messianic even more so, has been that its emphasis has become intellectual and belief-oriented rather than heart and hand-oriented. That’s probably a caricature but I feel as though I have got as far as I can go with the pursuit of Truth.

You *can* only go so far with Truth. The idea that we can have the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is an illusion. The Truth is bigger than our minds’ ability to perceive it, and we can only ever see it from a limited, human perspective.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not hardcore Messianic anymore.

I’ve been exploring Celtic Christianity lately, and in some respects it gels beautifully with Messianic beliefs – there’s even some evidence that St Patrick and the early Celtic saints kept the Jewish sabbath and Passover before they came into contact with the Roman church.

But the Celtic believers were much more grounded and earth-bound than their more intellectual Roman (and even Jewish) cousins. Celtic Christianity was egalitarian, at one with nature, un-oppressive and much more concerned with being and doing than thinking and believing.

So often, Messianic believers discover the beauty of the Hebraic Roots of the faith, but then get stuck in the Feasts thinking that they are the heart of Torah. They’re not. The heart of Torah is love, grace, mercy, justice, lovingkindness. I’m ready for a bit more of that now.