Thursday, March 27, 2008

Shaping of the Church

Now that Easter has passed and churches work this week on "follow up" directed to all of the visitors from this year's celebrations, I thought this would work as a good time to introduce a "Shaping of the Church" topic. It has been a while since I have done this so hopefully you are ready to offer some opinions and as always, hopefully some of you will have different opinions which will lead to a fight. (Okay maybe not a fight, but some real thinking).

My question is this: How should the Church utilize days like Easter and Christmas when people come who do not usually come to church? Does making these days into large productions intended to entertain or creatively proclaim the message of the day actually take away from true celebration and worship? Should churches even change their usually style of worship for these days?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hag Samaech (Happy Holiday)

Yesterday we celebrated Easter here in Jerusalem and had a great time thinking about the message that Jesus brought to this very city so many years ago. Once again it was a joy to celebrate a meaningful holiday here while the rest of the city struggles to live up to its name "The City of Peace". You can read more about our experiences with Easter at The Jerusalem Letters .

One of the strangest things for me this year was celebrating Easter while the Jewish community celebrated Purim (Commemorating the events of the Book of Esther). Interesting traditions have formed around this holiday such as dressing in costumes, eating pastries called "Haman's Ears", and the requirement for all males to get so drunk that their judgment is severely impaired.

After our time in the park with family and friends as we celebrated Easter, one friend and I took a late night walk through the Old City of Jerusalem to "people watch". It was one of those warm summer evenings where it felt good to just be outside. As we walked through the city we noticed a large presence of Israeli Military working to maintain order and we noticed hundreds of Ultra Orthodox Jews celebrating the liberation that came in the Book of Esther. Unfortunately the drunkenness that overwhelmed the city took away from the true joy they could have in remembering the events.

We walked by a Yeshiva school where young men spend their entire days studying the Torah and we saw one future Rabbi sitting outside in a Mexican sombrero while his friend vomited in the bushes next to them. We passed hundreds of people so drunk that they slurred their speech and had trouble walking. They were so drunk that they actually thought I spoke Hebrew clearly. As we wandered through the streets, we made our way to the Western Wall which is a place of prayer and important Jewish events such as Bar Mitzvahs. The wall was packed with people which is not so unusual because the Ultra Orthodox Jews seem to spend a lot of time outside late at night. (It is not uncommon to see whole families with small children walking the streets at 1:00 AM). When we arrived at the wall we were amused at a group of young men signing a dancing together. Most of them were clearly fulfilling their requirement to be drunk.

You can see what we saw here:

This morning as I made my way to class I noticed how everyone seemed very tired and how they didn't look so good. People were sleeping on the buses and the campus was virtually empty due to the hangovers. I love the expressiveness of the Jewish culture and have no problem with loud celebrations (I think Christians should celebrate more joyfully like they did here on Palm and Easter Sundays) but I just can't figure out how excessive drinking and impaired judgment helps remember God's goodness and deliverance. All I could do is shake my head and wish everyone a Happy Holiday (even though I was referring to a different Holiday of Liberation).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy Easter

We are away for a couple days due to the "Purim" Holiday here in Israel. This is basically the holiday that remembers the events of the book of Esther. It has become a holiday that basically allows people to go a bit crazy here. There is actually a Rabiinical law that has been passed (not national law) that says that you must get so drunk that you cannot tell the righteousness of Mordecai from the wickedness of Haman. As a result, the country has a day or two of complete drunkeness, loud music/ partying, and most people dressed in costumes. As I write this quick update I see a man wearing a short skirt and high heals all in honor of the Jews lives being spared thousands of years ago.
I will tell you more about it later and hopefully even have some photos of ultra-orthodox Rabbis cross-dressing!

In the meantime, my family decided that we did not want the craziness of Purim to interfere with the joy of Easter so we left Jerusalem where the partying is at its worse and decided to spend a few days on the Red Sea.
Perhaps this year as the Jews celebrate their lives being spared, Christians should do the same because that is what Jesus made possible through his death and resurrection. So I will give a real post next week so until then celebrate the life that is possible to you through Jesus.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Blessed is He Who Comes

Yesterday I posted some thoughts about Palm Sunday on
The Jerusalem Letters
and I told how our family celebrated with thousands others on the streets of Old Jerusalem. Today I wanted to continue the theme and add a few more thoughts.

The first church I worked at (Lake City Community Church) had a Palm Sunday tradition when they gave all of the young kids palm branches, they put them in front of the church, and sang songs like "Hosana in the Highest". Out of all of the children in the church, each year we watched about 20% of them actually sing along with the music, 10% just stood there staring into space, 30% waved continuously at their parents (or random strangers), 10% danced to the music, 5% picked their noses, 5% walked off the stage, 5% would sit down and dissapear in the crowd, 5% cried, and the remaining 10% would happily beat each other with the palm branches. (I am confident that my kids would fall into this last category if given the chance). The point is not what the children were doing as much as the point being that there is something pure about kids worshipping the Messiah. They don't bother with conspiracy theories, political debates over the role of the Messiah, or source critical approaches to the prophetic texts. They simply worship.

This year I had the complete joy of not only participating in this celebration including believers in the Risen Messiah from all over the world, but I had the added joy of watching my family join in as well. At one point we were at the intersection of St Stephen Street which leads into the Old City from Mount of Olives and a Hispanic group was playing guitars and banging drums while singing "catchy" worship songs. I looked over at my 5 year old and saw him standing on a pillar, clapping, and joining in the singing. His smile was priceless and his Savior must have been pleased.

Earlier in the day we were at home and read the account of Jesus' entry into the city and we talked about it as a family. My 8 year old wanted to know how to write the Hebrew wording from Ps 118:26 (which is quoted in Matthew). I wrote it for him and he proceeded to give a fairly good attempt at writing the transliteration (how it sounds in English) underneath the words. I firmly believe that knowing Hebrew assists in appreciating the scriptures but I am not one who thinks it is somehow more "spiritual" but hearing my son say the words in their original language had a special meaning.

Our Messiah has come and He saves! As they worshipped nearly 2000 years ago, may we worship and say, "Blessed is who comes in the Name of the Lord!"
Baruch ha-ba ha shem Adonai!
Psalm 118:26
ברוך הבא השם יהוה, ברכנוכם מבית יהוה׃

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Daily Grind

In the past several years leading up to this year in Israel, I had a weekly routine of meeting at our local "It's a Grind" coffee shop with a friend (Derek) to discuss issues of life, God, theology, and ceramics. Later in the week I would have a similar conversation with college students at the same coffee shop. As the years went by, this place became like "Cheers" for me. I knew all of the employees and at least knew all of the regular patrons by face and the made up name I gave to each of them. There was homeless Tom ( who I don't think was actually homeless), Andy my friend the Barista and Math nerd. There was Randy the owner and Handsome Rob who always had a Perrier and esspresso before working. Raymond (again, not his real name) was there all of the time watching "Everyone Loves Raymond" on his laptop. Some days there was a tall, bearded Asian sitting in the corner designing web-sites, and often I would see a business man from our church who worked from home and therefore used this place as a office.

This place is one of the things I miss the most about my old home. It's not that the coffee was great, except for the Aztec Mochas! It was that, like Cheers, it was a place where I knew an unusually wide mix of people and where we were comfortable together. Today on my beloved #30 bus that takes me from my neighborhood to school, I realized that this has some of those same dynamics for me here in Israel.
I know most of the bus drivers now and actually really enjoy seeing some of them. On the bus, I see many familiar faces and even have some sort of unspoken bond with many of them that I see on the bus each day. Today I sat by Crazy Moshe because no one will ever sit by him. I'm not sure if he is actually crazy, but he is an Orthodox Jew with the suit, hat, and long- thick-grey tendrils coming out from his brown (not black) hat. His beard is dark black contrasting with his gray hair, his clothes are dirty, he talks to himself (at least I don't think he is talking to me), and he always wears gloves. In front of us was Paul (named after a friend I have in California who looks just like him). He is a student at the University and rides the bus from the same stop as me. Then there was Dreadlock (guess why he has that name) and a girl from Ethiopia who works as a Security Guard at the University. Next to me on the other side was a drunk Jewish man and in front of us were two Arab students heading across town.
By the time we neared the campus, I looked at all of the people in the bus and marveled at the diversity and thought that this is one thing from here that I will miss. Although we don't really know each other, if we saw each other anywhere other than the bus the moment of recognition would bear testimony to the silent bonds that form while sitting in Jerusalem traffic. This isn't as deep or thought provoking as my time in "Grind", but it is equally satisfying on many levels.

By the way, I am a regular at one of the campus coffee shops and will miss Romi, the Barista who knows what I want before I ask. The Latte he makes really sucks, but it is the best Israel can offer.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Problem With Dog Poop

Today it was about 75 degrees here in Jerusalem and tomorrow they expect the temperature to reach 80! After 3 fairly cold months this feels great but there is a problem with it.
As many of you know (or should know) trouble is brewing once again in the Gaza Strip. Hamas (a designated terrorist group) took over the strip last summer and since that time Israel has kept that small piece of land under siege. Everyday from behind the walls, people have been launching rockets at towns in Israel. Since last summer , around 2000 rockets and mortars have been sent into Israeli towns. This week the Israeli military raided Gaza Strip in an effort to stop the rockets. Now, the leadership here says that they will launch a full scale attack against Hamas when the weather gets nicer. (I guess problems in Israel are like dog poop. In the winter the poop freezes and you kinda forget about it for a while. Then when the weather gets warmer, that poop warms up and begins to stink).
Already this week the security is tighter and some protests have occurred throughout the West Bank and here in Jerusalem. It seems that everyone knows that there will soon be a war in Gaza but no one knows what this will do to the rest of the country. I have already been a bit more cautious on buses and I have been much quicker when visiting crowded public markets just to reduce the chance of being caught between retaliatory attacks.
My wife and I were in the World Trade Towers on September 10th, 2001 and we remember how strange it felt to wake up the next day and see what happened. But after that time, I never worried about entering a building or getting on a bus or train in America. Now we know that Springtime is here, the dog poop is thawing, and soon Hamas and Israel will collide. Our hope is that innocent people are spared.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A New Semester

We have begun a new semester here in Jerusalem and I am actually excited for it. All of my papers are in from the last semester so now is time to turn the focus. Because I am also beginning plans on returning to America and working as a teaching pastor somewhere, I wanted to keep my schedule light.
I have Hebrew 10 hours a week so I can improve on my sentence, "I like cake". Then I have one class specifically studying the life of Abraham and another examining Theophanies (appearances of God) in the Old Testament. One class is taught by a professor from Finland... yes I will try to play my "I am Finnish" card to get a better grade. The other class is taught by a Jewish man who resembles the appearance of Albert Einstein. He has a full head of messy gray hair that protrudes out from under his Kippa.

Both classes read only in Hebrew and both require extensive preparation of the text each week. Because my classes last semester had more to do with the background of the Bible and not the text, I am excited to spend the time diving into these books. I will likely combine my preparations for preaching next year with some of the texts we will be examining. So, for the next 3 months I will work to become an expert on OT texts and hopefully will have some fresh insight to share. If not, I will try to impress you by speaking Hebrew.

Check in later this week for the next "Shaping of a Church".