Community III: It’s not just me and God

Let me start by acknowledging that many believers feel threatened by any concept of structure or authority. Even talking about community and things it implies makes many fear that they are about to become unwelcome, as a dear sister told me the other day.

If you feel that way, let me remind you of the earlier installements: we are family. Family wants to stick together. If you’re a follower of Yeshua, then I am committed to you.

Along lines of community and structure and authority, where I worship, a discussion was started about forming a “house of decision” to decide corporate matters of worship and discipline when needed. We’ll talk more about that later, but many were non-plussed by the idea.

No one said it directly, but then most kind of observed it like finding a Mormon missionary on their front porch. For my part, I speculate that those in a home fellowship setting have mostly come as a result of fleeing false doctrine and lazy faith practice. There are exceptions, but that’s my experience. One finds a major false doctrine like abolishment of Torah, and then everything the church ever taught becomes suspect. Not without reason, but anything that even smells like church gets thrown away.

And since there was usually a brush with authority along the way, authority becomes suspect. I understand that, but I’m seeing a more dangerous trend: not only is a specific authority in human form, bad, all authority is! It’s held up that the New Testament way is just supposed to be an individual walk. Coming and going from “community” to “community” is normal, nothing wrong with it. Fundanmental disagreement about faith and practice is normal. There’s not supposed to be any “church government.”

I suspect one or more of the brothers/sisters who holds this view, may be reading this. I have no desire to offend you, but . . .

“Just me and God,” isn’t in the Bible

B’resheit (Genesis) 2 tells us Elohim making man and they have a conversation. Presumably many conversations. Then comes verse 18, “…it was not good for the man to be alone…”

Think about that. Adom is in a curse-free world, walking with Elohim, talking with Him without any division of sin . . . and Elohim says it’s not good for man to be alone. How can it even be that Elohim counts Adom as alone, even with Elohim there?!?! As if that’s not bad enough Elohim is the one saying, “God + man = not good.” Man needs another human.

Chavah (Eve) is then given to Adom for the express purpose of a man cleaving to a woman and becoming one. Preachers will say this is the first marriage, but they miss it’s also the first fellowship.

Later in Shemot (Exodus) 18:14-17, Moshe gets godly council from his father-in-law, and what is the council? That Moshe’s ministry is not good to do alone.

And stop and think about that. Why is Moshe teaching at all? If YHVH’s goal is to get us all to one on one relationship’s with Him (even though He said that wasn’t good)…then why didn’t He lead them out of Egypt directly, instead of through an agent? For that matter, why did He lead them out as a people? Why does Elohim even care about a ‘people’ if the goal is the individual?

Moving on, come the feasts of YHVH. They are called convocations, meaning a “calling out”. Why are they called out? So the people can assemble to meet Him. Why are they to assemble, if the point is lone ranger faith?

Fast forward through a long list of prophets who are sent with messages to the House of Isra’el, and the House of Y’hudah, past judges who lead armies to victory. Why does Elohim need an army anyway? He can deliver with one, so why send a group? And why does He care about delivering a group?

Into the Brit Chadasha, the books of the Basar (Glad Tidings/Good News). In Mattityahu 18:15-17 we are told about congregational discipline. Why is there an assembly? And why is He telling them what to do if the brother disobeys the assembly? See. None of this makes sense in a “just me and God” paradigm. It makes perfect sense in a continuation of community paradigm and implies structure and governance.

Acts 6, there’s a dispute about the treatment of widows, what do the disciples do? They call an assembly, and then they give instruction. This is after the Spirit descended so . . . why didn’t the Spirit tell them? The implication is that Elohim doesn’t want to interact always with a person directly. It serves His Will to work His Ruach through other people.

Acts 15, Paul—the great Paul who is allegedly the central orator of Church doctrine—goes to Yerushalayim because of a question of doctrine. Why couldn’t the Ruach HaKadosh just tell each of the disciples what the correct interpretation was? If it’s just a person and God, why do they need doctrine or teaching? There’s nothing in the passage that suggests anyone there is not a brother, so why didn’t the Spirit just tell them? For that matter, why doesn’t the Spirit tell Paul? Why does Paul have to go over a great distance to see apostles and elders to find the answer?

Acts 21, Paul returns to Yerushalayim and meets with Ya’akov (James) and the elders. . . by the way, why are there elders? Where did Yeshua talk about elders? No one said anything up until now, about elders . . . but wait . . . the Torah talks a lot about the importance of elders. And judges. And assemblying. Then what happens? Ya’akov and the elders tell him what to do. I’m sure they weren’t rude about it, but in the Greek it appears the same structure as when the centurian says, “I say to a man do and he does.” It’s not an option, it’s an imperative. And Paul does. He submits to their authority and structure, just as he did in Acts 15.

Again, why didn’t the Spirit just tell him? I could go on and on. Ephesians 4:11-13 this verse is saying the goal of having sent emissaries, prophets, teachers, etc., is to minister to the saints (that means influencing other people) and bring about the wholeness of the body. The gifts are given so that we can help each other to come to maturity. The gifts aren’t given for us to go off and do our own thing: as Paul clearly showed in submitting his doctrine to other godly men and obeying godly orders from those in authority. Paul even recognized the authority of the Kohen HaGadol! A man whose job was to act as a minister between people and Elohim—strange that He would respect that, since He’s the one who said there is “one mediator.” Even stranger that you realize this Kohen HaGadol is persecuting the disciples of his Master!

We are not called to be individuals. We are already individuals! He has feasts that are for assembling, but He doesn’t have even one feast for getting away from each other! Just look at Yeshua. He never ‘misheard’ the Father, but look at how his custom was to go and sit in synagogues and gather in the temple, and yet we see Him interacting and acting within the structure in place, not constantly doing His own thing and trying to upset the apple cart. In Luke was “given” the scroll to read; He didn’t take it. He did what was customarily expected, right down to the “sitting down” to speak.

The clear message of scripture from beginning to end is that “Just God and me” is not good. Elohim made people to unite with people, to minister together as people. As individuals too, like members of a body, but my arm does not please me when it tries to get away from my shoulder. If my right foot leaves my left foot to do its own thing, I am not honored by it.

So community is not some novel concept that we can take or leave. It isn’t like a question of having a ‘contemporary’ service vs. a traditional service. It is the intrinsic design of Elohim for the sons of Adom and daughters of Chavah. Just imagine you really apply, “Just me and God.” If you aren’t supposed to have a pastor or elder “between” you and Elohim . . . should a wife have a husband “between”? Is she ‘free’ to just ignore him and go do whatever she feels like? Is a son or daughter free to ignore their parent? Why not? The governance and structure of the assembly means nothing, but the household structure and governance matters? If the house of Elohim has no structure, why should your house? We should expect, that children and spouses feel ‘free’ to come and go between families and houses, do whatever they feel like. You kid feels lead to eat only poptarts, who are you to get between them and Elohim?

Forsake not the assembling. <—– That’s in the Bible, too.

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How to use Facebook and Twitter for actual conversation

And Instagram and every other program I won’t know about for another year or so.

I start by confessing that I am about the worst offender in the start a political/religious fight via social media. Barely-subconsciously, I’d say it was even a motivating reason to start facebooking in the first place. And meet girls (before I met my wife, that is). And as for that latter reason, I don’t think that’s bad unless you are trying to meet the wrong girls, and frankly most dating is in search of the wrong girl. It only took me about 35 years to realize that.

But I digress.

Lately–in kind of a cyclical way–I’ve been trying to dial back the politicizing. I had my say. It fell on deaf ears, and frankly I pray “thy kingdom come”, so it would be kind of hypocritical to worry too much about what political “solutions” are being cooked up this time around. That plus, I am reminded again of the hypocrisy of “It was bad when you’re guy did it, and is okay when my guy does it.”

But some are inevitable because they intersect with faith. Scripture deals with all kinds of human behavior and experiences, so you can’t talk about what Elohim is teaching you, without mentioning what someone is discussing. And if we have nothing good to say because of what we believe, then of what value is our faith?

So, I sat down to tweet someone something. They had said something that made me want to puke about Trump’s election. I voted Third Party by the way (like how I capped that?). But the protests against Trump after the election are just juvenile dishonesty. You want to protest his election? You had your chance, it was called the election. That’s what I did. Now, what good are you doing? Nothing, in fact you’re making it worse. Why? Because in all you’re griping there isn’t an ounce of honest self-reflection. All this talk of stolen elections, and no one on the left (correct me if I’m wrong) can say: It wasn’t stolen. It was thrown away because we put a totally untrustworthy candidate on the ballot. It wasn’t won fair and square, but it was lost fair and square.

So, I fired off a couple of those. And someone said something back, and I had this epiphany. I wasn’t really interested in what they were saying. I was just using them as a springboard to say what I wanted to say. In my own defense, I think that’s true of most tweeterists. And facebookerists. But it is a problem.

What is the point of saying anything if it’s not directed at the question presented? Blasting Trump tacitly denies that Hillary was a terrible candidate. Refusing to acknowledge that only makes Hillary opponents look completely unreachable to half the country. And the inverse is true, the mindless support of Trump makes the trumpists appear completely unrecognizable.

It occurs to me that some of this (not all, not even most) of this could be combated, if we just listened to what the other side was actually saying. Replying to the substance of it, and not just ready-fire.

I hate saying that sort of thing, because it sounds like hippy-dippieness. I listen to Glen Beck (among others including catholic radio, protestant radio (?), and a little bit of NPR). And he talks alot about listening, and I just want to shout at him: Glen, it’s not a communication problem! It’s a fundamental belief problem! It’s a spiritual problem! And I believe that’s true. The elite of Yeshua’s (Jesus) day didn’t kill Him because He failed to communicate. It was because they understand enough of what He said to be threatened by it. They killed Him for envy because He was good, and they were wicked. Just like every prophet who was killed because they condemned wickness. God is not opposed by the many because He doesn’t know how to communicate!

But at the same time . . . there is something to be said for delivery. Yeshua was obviously the best communicator. His message continues to spread to this day–but have no delusions that it isn’t spread often with the death of the messenger. Perhaps, that’s why we don’t have a lot of martyrs in America? Because we don’t communicate what He did? Yet, many of the prophets came before Him, and the Brit Chadasha (New Testament) is clear that none of them were as perfect messengers. In them, the message and messenger were not perfectly united. Like the way Moshe, the great teacher of Isra’el, failed to sanctify HaShem when he struck the rock the second time. Every messenger before Yeshua failed because their flesh got in the way.

So is our flesh getting into our tweets and wall posts? A quick scroll of my own, makes me think yes. So what if we didn’t answer our tweets right away? Of course, the thread would get old and over baked before we said anything, and maybe that means we weren’t supposed to respond. But at least, we could take the time to really try to connect with the person on the other end. Again, what’s the point of speaking if it’s not to someone else? Tweets to our audience of fellow snipers will never accomplish much.

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The key to personal finance is realizing you’re a CEO

I’m not wealthy by any stretch, so I find it odd that anyone asks me for financial advice or how I handle my finances. But I do get by comfortably on less than 25k. So, I’m gonna throw our my general theory and practice, and then there’s the comment box where you can add your thoughts and insights. What works well for you? Do you have a system or a really durable seat of the pants? Or are you kind of like a cat falling from a tree that manages to land on its feet with a squirrel-esque hairdo?

I start with the Torah and the scriptures in general, so some of what I do has no “rhyme or reason,” but I believe Elohim (God) gave us reason and encourages it through the scriptures, so I’ll utilize whatever isn’t contradictory to that.

Key principle 1: Wealth is as good as you use it, and the tendency towards wealth is normal. Some followers of Yeshua eschew wealth as a hindrance to faith.  But that’s like being averse to fitness because it might make you vain, yet most believers realize that functional fitness is simply taking care of the temple of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). Further, if you are doing right, and YHVH blesses you with money (as just one of many forms of blessing) why would you try to throw it away?

Money is just another resource to show your faithfulness to YHVH. I mean really, remember the parable of the talent? How pleased was the Master with the guy who did nothing with what he’d been given? I think the way we look at money is important, because if you look at money as essentially if it were radiation, something to get rid of, then you’re not going to do much good with it. What you dream of doing with money, will guide how you use it, and whether it’s good or evil. For myself, I dream of having money to build businesses (primarily), because I know how hard it can be to try to live Torah in a world where most employers ask you to break Torah. And that’s kind of at the heart of my thinking on the subject. The world holds money, do we think it does right with money? Why then would you be averse to taking more out of that system and putting it to use in the kingdom? It’s like saying hammers build strip clubs, so I don’t want to have too many hammers. Or, how about we take the hammers and build synagogues?

Principle 2: The poor think of money for spending. The middle thinks of money to save. The wealthy think of money to invest. When I first heard this, I thought it was good. Now I think it’s brilliant, but you really have to think about it. At first glance it looks like slam on the poor and to a lesser degree the conservative. But we all have to go through each experience, it’s just a matter of whether we graduate to the next. When you have little money then, yes, the first priority of money is to spend it on your needs. When you have enough to meet that, then the priority should become to save for the times when you won’t have enough. But eventually you should have enough that the money can do more than sit there, while waiting. It’s like storing water. First you drink the water with your hand. Then you put your canteen in the water for later. Then you put in a well with a windmill that supplies your water tank and you go and think about something else.

Principle 3: The estate is the foundation of wealth. An Estate is more than a place to live. It’s really another way to say your total networth (what you own, minus what you owe). But it doesn’t become very useful until you have a house. But too many people think of a house as a place to live; it’s not. It’s work-space/factory where you live. Most people have a house they can’t afford with a serious of upgrades for convenience.

What a house (and it’s land) should be seen as is a place to build wealth. First it shelters you (the poor’s need). Then you maintain it, and maybe make some improvements (middle’s saving). Then you say . . . hmmm. That garage can hold a zero-turn lawnmower and I can mow my neighbor’s yard (wealthy’s investing: investing means spending for the purpose of creating more wealth). You look at that lawn and say, why the heck am I paying for a useless plant? I can put chickens and sheep there. My lawn (an expense) gets replaced with a food source. The resource of grass now creates more wealth because my sheep are a new asset sustained by the spending of an old asset. And the manure from the sheep and chickens actually sustains the original asset (the grass). I can even milk my sheep or goats or collect eggs and sell the excess. Thus my house, which used to be an expense, becomes a source of revenue that mitigates and exceeds the expense. That’s what I mean by estate minded thinking and being a CEO. My estate is not wealth I possess; it is wealth that can generate more wealth.

That’s why it is the foundation. Once you home is paid for, what happens if you lose your “job”? Well, all you need to cover are taxes and necessities. If you have turned your estate into it’s wealth building function, then it should be approaching meeting those goals without much input. In fact, the home itself through something like Air B&B is really just an Inn that you live in. And your car is an uber machine.

See how this works? Stop thinking of your assets (estate, meaning everything you own) as possessions and think of them as assets. An economist will tell you that as asset is anything that can bring future income. So your car shouldn’t be a thing you possess, it’s something that you can use to make money. And your home is the chief of those because its pretty much the only asset that you can actually live in.

Principle 5: The point of estate minded thinking is to create something that is more than enough for you. Why? Because the “more” you can use to bless others, including your family. Estate-minded thinking means you are thinking of generations after you, and neighbors to your left and right. It’s not for your benefit, it’s for others.

***

From there we get into the nitty-gritty. So how do I, personally budget?

First 10%: Is my tithe. Don’t get caught up in net or gross, I do net though. But this is also a great reason to build wealth. If your income goes up, then your 10% is also bigger. That means more for the ministries that you support.

Also, just a note. I heard someone say once that tithing is meant to be based on increase, and therefore if you have debt then there is no increase until the debt is paid off. At first that sounds true, but an economist will tell you that you are still having increase regardless of debt. Suppose your estate is worth 50k. Then you buy a car on credit for 10k. What is your net worth? 50k! Because the car is worth 10k (because that’s what you paid), but it’s negated by the 10k you owe on it. But every time you make a payment you are increasing your net worth. At the end of the payment period you are 10k wealthier than when you started. You just didn’t feel it because it was masked by debt. So just because you have debt does not mean you are not increasing.

Next 10%: “Retirement” savings. Now retirement doesn’t mean I plan to stop working. It’s just in case I can’t work in a money-generating way. But further, retirement isn’t something that you burn through. This is why the concept of “investing” vs. “saving” is so important. Saving would mean I build up a “retirement” and then in that era I eat away at it. Wrong! Investing has the aim that I change money into a better ROI (return on investment) asset and then in that era I live on the return not the principle. Simple example: if you put money in a mutual fund, in retirement you don’t cash out the mutual fund, you live off the dividend and the principle keeps creating more money. So you plan to have enough mutual funds that the dividends fund your inability to work.

The point of retirement then is to have an asset (those mutual funds) that pass beyond you to your children, thus you children are better off and they can continue to build upon what you have done. They don’t start with hands cupping water, they start with the well and windmill.

In my case though, I don’t plan to invest in a retirement account. I’m doing that because I want to invest in real estate, and once in that retirement account it’s locked away until 62-65. So for now, I just “save” it in a general account, but the goal will be to move it into something with more ROI, once that appears. I would eventually do mutual funds, but only if I have 5+ years until I need it.

But if I had no real estate plans, I would probably put it in a ROTH (pay tax now, no tax later) SEP (self-employed) IRA (individual retirement account). Or at least an equity/stock mutual fund–not one that has bonds in it (because Torah teaches debt forgiveness and I don’t have a way to ‘forgive’ the bonds after 7 years. But you can see that differently since we’re talking about companies).

Next 30%: One of the things about budgeting, I’ve learned, is that everything I have will eventually have to be replaced. So if I have a chainsaw (I do), and it’s life might be 5 years, and it cost 400, then that’s $80 a year in depreciation. So I should be saving $80 a year towards replacement. Then I did that with the tractor, the washer, the dryer, the stove, the water heater, every major appliance, the barn, etc., and I come up with a number. That number turned out to be probably more than 30%, but it was close and some of those items will last longer, and some of them will be sellable for scrap. In fact, just about everything can be repurposed. I’ve got a place where I can get free-old tires that I’m planning to turn into road paving.

All of those funds together, while they’re waiting, generate interest in a good account (Kasasa gives 2% for the first 15k, and then .4% after that). So here you are saving, but generating interest, hence investing. And if most of them don’t break down soon enough, I can take the excess and apply it toward the long term goals, accelerating that portion. It also has the benefit of you being able to buy just about any one of those appliances in cash when the need comes around. Or if there’s an emergency you have a buffer of about 30% of your annual at all times. That’s pretty smart.

Next 50%: Goes to present expenses. That’s right, you should have 50% left of your income. And frankly, if I can do that at 25k, if you make more than that you should probably be able to do better.

In fairness, I don’t have a house payment or rent. Why? Because previous generations invested, that created wealth for their descendants. That’s not bad, especially if I plan to honor them by building further on it. And really, how do we honor our fathers and mothers if we don’t build on what they worked so hard to build in the first place?

That’s also called being wise. And see it works out in the practical, because I literally only have to make about $6,100 to keep a roof over our heads and food on the plate. Long term there would be repairs and such, so $6,100 wouldn’t really be enough, but it keeps me out of losing the home. Then factor in that I can produce about $1,456 from less than two dozen chickens (chickens by the way, or any animal, are also a great investment because they can reproduce. 2 dozen chickens are enough? I can increase that. Or they’re two many? You sell off your healthy chicks to someone else. And have a garden, and can produce maple syrup that worth $7 a pint. Then there’s the various tools, the B&B potential, etc. My point is that if you plan your estate into the future it has the multiplying effect that the wealthy depend on. Of course that also depends on the children being raised wise enough to not neglect the work of their fore-bearers but to build on it.

***

But that budget can be kind of tough. And obviously, 25k isn’t doing a lot to build on that legacy. So we add to that being smart with the resources we have. Again thinking estate (I’m a CEO)!

Walmart gets a lot of boxes. To a non-estateminded civilian, boxes sound a lot like trash. To an eco-minded-non-estateminded civilian they sound like recyclables. But walmart sells those boxes, crushed and mangled to someone else who wants them. Why? Because even mangled and crushed, the cardboard has value. A wise estate manager recognizes value.

You see tires that are worn out and think landfill? I see something that won’t decompose, and if stuffed with dirt of gravel will weigh about 300 lbs. Something that laid our like bricks should be an effective driveway cover. Or a retaining wall. You see cardboard boxed that can be recycled. I see something that laid down will block weeds for probably a year, that I can put organic matter on top of and put plants I want above. You see yard waste, I think compost; yummy yummy compost for my garden.

Matter cannot be created or destroyed (by man), so why don’t we plan our waste so it comes out in a usable form? Stop paying for useless packaging for one, but if you’re gonna get packaging put it to good use. If nothing else, if it’s not toxic, you can bury it on your own land to literally “landfill” like every ancient culture did to fill in low spots.

In my own world, we’re about to go to composting toilets. This has largely been brought on by the lack of water 40% of clean water that is flushed away, and when you’re on rainwater with 4 people, plus guests . ..  that’s a problem. So why not go composting? It’s simple enough. Or use your gray water to flush, when you do need to? And while you’re at it, make your gray water from the shower, go through a filter and water your garden!

See it’s not just about cutting costs, it’s about turning cost into profit. I’m not being stingy, I’m maximizing potential. Now I don’t lose sleep over it. And I don’t tell my guests not to flush. But when you practice this stuff, your mind starts turning that way on it’s own. So it stops being effort and just becomes natural. “Well of course, I’ll take the sink water that’s next to the toilet, put it in a basin and then use that to flush. That’s as natural as putting on underwear before pants!”

Some of those things won’t be worth it to you. If you make 100k or 120k are you going to bother with maintaining a composting toilet? Maybe not, and why should you. And you’re blessing someone else by having them do it. But there’s always some waste that you generate that can make money. My brother sheds old but perfectly usable technology. That’s not because he’s wasteful, it’s just a fact of his industry. He could easily turn it toward someone else as either a blessing or another way to add to his income.

It really becomes a game. Plus, it trains your mind to see resources where someone else sees waste. “Really? You’re gonna throw that out? I’ll take it just because there’s money–err—I mean iron in that metal.” If you think about it, people think a lot about the wastes of the wealthy because they’re so obvious, but how reflexively do we pay extra for a product that is mostly packaging painted with a licensed Disney princess? Who are we to tell them about waste?

So how about you? What are your tips. How do you manage your estates? What ways have you changed your ways of thinking to make your resources go further?

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Community II: Building from the Ashes

Appologies for the delay . . . Much much appologies. Insert plethora of regrets and excuses about how busy I can be. Le sigh, as my cover designer would say. Things didn’t happen the way I planned. And then things I didn’t plan, happened.

So continuing the discussion on community, hopefully, we’ve seen the first essential element of community. And that is family. Family as family, not in name only. And of course, under girding that familial bond is the fact that we share Avinu she’ba’shamayim (our Father in Heaven). As family we must be attached to each other, and how much more strongly since the bloodline that binds us bridges human to divine? The idea that it could be more easily broken than one of flesh is . . . unthinkable. Or it should be.

But what are the other elements? I don’t presume I know it all; we’re in this together. (ß that’s a community thought).

But, I also think we need to lighten up. Here we are looking for community as if it were the Ark of the Covenant, and if we could just get a hold of that staff from Indiana Jones we can figure out where it’s located. As if YHVH has hidden community from us. Do we suppose that He doesn’t want us to have it?

Probably one of the reasons community is hard to define from scripture is because the word doesn’t actually show up in scripture. So what word should we use? Let’s try congregation. In Ivri (Hebrew), congregation is edah, the feminine of ed. Which is interesting because the edah is a response to something else. What is edah? It is an assembly, but more. The pictographic meaning is “see the door.” What door? And why do you see it? Implied is that you come to the door, to meet someone. Where did Moshe stand to meet with YHVH? At the door of the tent. Where did the people wait for Moshe? At their tent doors. Where did Avraham meet with the three visitors? At the door of his tent. The tent door is the place of meeting.

So what kind of meetings do you have at tent doors? Important ones, not normal family ones. The husband and wife, or the children and parents would be in the tent, not at the door. The Kohen was inside the tent. In short, the tent door is less of an intimate setting . . . it’s not that the parties are strangers, but that the proceeding is public. And what is the purpose of public? So that we are witnesses, which is a literary definition of edah: a fixture that stands in witness to an event or story. And what are witnesses? They are a group that experienced a common story. So what is a Congregation? It is the gathering of witnesses of a common story. In fact, edah does not appear in scripture until instruction is given for the very first Pesach (Shemot 12:3).

Notice there is nothing ‘communal’ in the communistic sense of possession, but a common history. Three elements that we can glean from edah in scripture:

  • Identity: The original Edah was made up of a family (of one Father) and of those that joined themselves to that family, a gathering that became a people (because of covenant with the Father, entered corporately), that becomes a nation (of one Torah), which requires submission (to Shoftim/judges based on Torah).
  • Interdependence: This is really an expression of identity. If you identify with each other as being the same family, people, nation, that submits to common authority . . . then why would you entangle yourself with another nation’s system? Clearly we are in the world (but not of it) so it is reasonable/efficient/sensible not to avoid the world, but to prefer the Kingdom of Elohim. Notice how much of the torah has to do with dealing with other family and how little has to do with the foreigner/non-family. The shear amount of words tells us the norm was dealing with each other first and most often. And this is obvious because of the family model. My children run to me and to each other, long before they run to a stranger. Family naturally prefers family.
  • Geography: As Interdependence is an expression of identity, so geography is an expression of interdependence. How can you be interdependent from a distance? I’ve heard one person insist that community can only work with 45 minutes between members (sadly, between my melting children I couldn’t press the argument further). I know some of the hurt behind that assertion, notwithstanding, I would say to them: “Cry me a river.”

I don’t mean that to be insensitive. But sometimes we need some cold water in the face. Has any of us been burned worse than Yeshua? Who can claim betrayal more than Him? Did He say to Peter, “I need 45 minutes between you and me.” Or did He sit down with fish and ask Peter to affirm His love? Which is strange, because the normal rationale of the betrayed is “I can’t trust them, anymore.” Who had more reason for distrust than Yeshua talking to a guy who betrayed Him three times, in public, minutes after Yeshua had warned him it was coming with his best friend and spiritual leader’s life on the line?

You’ve been burned? Get over it.

And I say that with some hypocrisy. I’ve been burned too, I’m not above it. But to myself I say: Get over it! I don’t have the luxury to throw myself a life-long pity party. Get off your butt and get back in the fight. Because that’s what this is about. You think it’s an accident that you got knocked down? No, this is a spiritual attack. You don’t get to just sit down because HaSatan gave you a bloody lip. You get up and you sock him right back. You take the fight to him. You don’t give up on the congregation—the only people in the world who share your story and your Father—you make your congregation stronger! “Conflict is the price we pay for greater intimacy”—said someone who’s name I can’t remember. That’s why you invite Peter back and prepare fish for him to eat, and ask him questions that prompt him to come back to you! When your house gets broken into, you don’t respond by bricking off all the doors and window. You go find the perp and you put the fear of God into him!

Sorry, if I got a little rambunctuos. I just don’t understand this, “I got hurt, so I quit” mentality. It makes me want to drop ‘colorful metaphors’ when I hear it. And really, I can’t think of a more appropriate use for so-called ‘profanity’ then when a godly person concedes territory to the enemy. And it doesn’t even make sense.

We know that everyone of us burns and spits in Elohim’s face daily. Why are we above being burned and spit on by our brothers and sisters? Whose brother has not offended him? If we had this same standard how could any of us stay faithful to our wife or husband? We are all burned! And you know what? That is the promise of scripture. Those who will live godly, will suffer persecution. If they hate him, they will hate us. We are sheep for the slaughter. We take on the likeness of his death. Does any of this ring a bell? Why do we assume that the only pain we will receive is from the world? That would be nice, but you aren’t baptized into a cake walk. You’re baptized into death.

And YHVH takes that death, by the blood of Yeshua, and redeems it into life. We have the power to triumph. How dare we deny it, when it is bought with precious blood! We owe it to our Father, and the Firstborn Son, to make the Edah work.

So what does community look like?

Because they share an identity the members prioritize each other. This is the most natural thing in the world. Just look at what we all intuitively know about family. There’s not a culture in the world that thinks (all things being equal) that you should be disloyal to a brother. Family is special the world over. You defend it. You long for the success of each member. You desire their good. You care about what’s going on in their lives. You want to share in there lives. Just think about the biology of a child inside the mother? Nature tells us to yearn and have our minds bent toward our family.

So in an edah, congregation, we have to see ourselves like that. To understand, all we have to do is look inside one family to know how it works in a larger family.

A disclaimer: that we’ll talk about more later. Some fear to think of others as family because again, we’ve been burned. They know among family they don’t have locked doors between each other. You share and share alike. That ‘communal’ thing creeps in. But that’s not the biblical view of family. Family does not mean no boundaries between the members: it means there is love that crosses the boundaries. Example: Esav had a birthright. Ya’akov had to take it. If everything was share and share alike, then there would have been nothing for Ya’akov to take. Yosef had a coat of many colors and was favored differently than his brothers, and the seeming message of that whole story is that they needed to get on board with the fact that he was favored above them. He had a coat and then he had authority that was not shared. When a man marries a woman, no one else in the family has a right to her. Family doesn’t mean there are no distinctions and boundaries. How can Elohim talk about not stealing, if in Isra’el (one family) everyone has a right to everyone else’s stuff? So we mustn’t be afraid that being family means that we become each other’s door mats.

Because they are interdependent the members must also be intermingled. I cannot have my brother depend on me, and then put myself in a place where I cannot meet his needs. 45 minutes between does not work. Can Elohim supernaturally teleport you to the place of need? Sure, can. He can also teleport you to work, but I don’t see you giving up your car. Or your work, because he can provide for you despite your lack of employment. A father can supernaturally be spiritually present with his children to raise them, but I don’t think any of us will argue that that excuses an absentee dad.

Again, look to the family. What parent would just accept their children not getting along. Boundaries, sure. Don’t go into so and so’s room without permission. But would they accept the children simply being apart? One walks into the room, the other walks out? No. You tell them to hug till they get over it. Why do you think YHVH commanded that all Isra’el had to come up to Yerushaliym and rejoice together? You had to rub elbows, and you weren’t allowed to hold a grudge. Can anyone make the case that: “Because I love you, I don’t want to be close to you.” That’s irrational on its face. Sure, specific events may make things different for a time, but your gravity is to come back together. If one sister gets hurt falling out of a treehouse, would you accept your son saying, “Well, I don’t like her. So I’ve been avoiding her, and so I wasn’t there to help.” You’d probably snap, “We’ll you’re going to get to like her for the next three months of her recovery, because you’re gonna camp out on her floor!”

See, this stuff isn’t complicated, we’ve just made up all these ideas that aren’t about love at all. They are about protecting us and our rights. If YHVH did that, then we’d all be in hell right now. He doesn’t give up. He doesn’t decide to be 45 minutes away. He stays. He goes with you, even when you build a golden calf. We need to have that kind of stick-to-each-otherness too.

Because they’re near in geography is really just the natural expression of the above. But the family lives in one house. So many of the fathers I meet, who want to raise up a generation of people who follow in the old paths, have a hard time even with a sleepover. Afraid (and I think too afraid) of what a child may be exposed to in another house. They demand and enforce family integrity, yet . . . they are usually also the first to cut off “another family.” Which only reveals the truth that they don’t see the other family as their own.

In the family, they stay close because they’re both staying close to the father and mother. They share resources, not without boundaries. Again, there are distinctions of relationship. Your three year old son will not have the same driving privileges as your sixteen year old. But you share a bathroom (mikveh!) and a kitchen and living space. You don’t think, “Well there’s enough food for mom and dad . . . I sure hope the kids can get something for themselves.” There’s this sense that, the members may not get the same share, but neither will the parents let them go without what they need to be whole and complete.

And because they share the same space, they also share the same time. I can’t just go and do whatever, I have to think about how the family will do while I’m away. Will the chores get done? Will the children be managable for one parent?

You can see this in the larger family, the Edah, when someone says, “How is John (who is 80) going to get to the store when it snows?” Or, “Evie is raising a child alone, how is she going to work? Will I let my sister’s son be raised by the ungodly? Or will I make space in my living space to be sure that she has a son who grows up in the fear and nurture of YHVH?”

It’s not complicated. We think about all of these things from that “what are the problems” perspective. YHVH has given us a mission, and we’re busy telling each other why it won’t work. I may not have gone to seminary, but I’m pretty sure the complaining about how impossible Elohim’s ways are leads to a lot of wilderness wandering, uniform diet, and the death of everyone over 20. And I’m over 20 now, so I vote for the option that doesn’t end with me dead.

Of course, I did talk about being sheep for the slaughter. So if YHVH wants me dead, He’s earned it. That was one of the best parts of my journey with Him was when I realized it was okay to be a complete failure and live a ‘miserable’ life, so long as I have come and have brought my wife and children closer. I may not see the promised land (in this life), but I will bring them to the border.

But if we just turn our perspective around and remember at the basic that Edah is family. Then we naturally understand family wants family to succeed. Family wants family to stay in the family. Family seeks family that wanders. Family doesn’t give up while it still draws breath.

We can’t quit. It’s not what our Father would do.

 

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Script for Lord of the Rings Reboot surfaces!

I don’t have a lot of spies in Hollywood, but when you’re a world famous author (having sold books to the UK and Japan markets [I think]), you’re bound to cross paths with others in the biz [I can legitimately claim to have a picture of me and Chuck Norris, and I got a signature from Mr. T . . . but then threw  the autograph away because it was just on a piece of notebook paper, and that seemed like a silly thing to have an autograph on].

But anyway, my associate informs me about a script being shopped around, to production teams that would like to build on the success of recent hit reboots like Star Trek and Star Wars Episode VII. here’s what I saw from my associate:

“Lord of the Rings: Episode 1: the Ring Awakens”

Scene 1:

Country Music playing. Bilbo (played by Daniel Craig) working on a rap in his shire house about his first battle on the side of mount Doom. He’s there in stylish hobbit armor, a sword in one hand, a piece of cheese in the other, as he fights an orc three times his side.

Gandalf knocks on the door, begin Taylor Swift song; Gandalf played by Samuel L Jackson (for more racial appeal). “Bilbo!?!? You gonna make an old wizard stand on the doorstep, all day long? Get your butt out of your chair and open the door!”

Bilbo wanders to the door: “Hey, Old Dude! You still look old, but not a day older than you looked way back when when you were still old! I figured by now your hair might have changed back.”

Gandalf: “You haven’t aged either. You on a new diet or something?”

Bilbo: “You know me, always eating granola and low-fat cheese. Limiting myself to two or three ales a day.”

Gandalf: “Listen shorty, I know about the ring.”

Bilbo, feigning confusion: “What ring?”

Gandalf: “The one ring that’s came from Sauron and you use for playing hide and seek.”

Bilbo: “Sauron?”

Gandalf: “A long time ago–”

Frodo, Merry and Pippin and Sam come flying in through a window knocking over poorly placed cabinets. A keg of hard liquor breaks on the floor and runs into the hearth. Fire explodes out narrowly missing all of the major characters.

Merry (played by Ben Affleck): “That’s was close. But at least we’re all right.”

Bilbo: “This looks like an adventure for younger people. Here Frodo, my boy. Have a ring!” He hands the ring of power to Frodo.

Frodo (played by Chris Pratt): “What’s this?”

Bilbo: “Oh, just some bling. And don’t mind the old man with all the Sauron talk. It’ll give you indigestion.”

Fire from the keg explosion ignites a rack of other similar kegs.

Pippin (played by Anne Hathaway for more gender diversity appeal): “At least we’ll get a good view.”

Samwise (played by Kevin James): “Guys, we gotta get out of here!”

Gandalf: “Darn straight!”

The characters jump out through a window, but Samwise gets stuck. They all pull until Bag End explodes, throwing them and a section of wall onto a wooden raft floating on a river.

Frodo: “Why were you guys running anyway?”

Pippin (pulling out his LG Smartphone): “Well, we were at the bar talking with these gents in black robes. I was telling them about you and instagraming back and forth, along with Frendlo, my third cousin–have you met him? He’s my cousin twice removed on my father’s side, when–”

Gandalf: “Wait, dudes in black? Motherhobbit, why didn’t you tell me! I’ve got to talk to an old white guy about old things.”

Frodo (as Gandalf jumps off the raft and onto a white horse): “Wait, a dude older than you?”

Samwise: “Look out!” He grabs Bilbo and yanks him away from the edge and shoves off as Black Riders come galloping up.

The Black Riders shriek than start throwing swords at the hobbits.

Merry: “Ha fools! Now we have swords. Do you bleed, undead servants of Mordor! You will!!!”

Samwise: “Kind of unhobbitish a thing to say there, Merry. And how do you know they’re undead?”

Merry: “Well, I had a feeling when they didn’t eat any of the cheese rolls with mushrooms at the tavern.”

Frodo: “Yeah, you’d have to be undead to pass those up.”

Samwise: “Another volley, boys!”

Daggers come whizzing through the air. The hobbits dive for cover behind packs that were conveniently left on the raft.

Pippin: “What do we do?!?!?”

Aragorn (played by Tom Hardy) pops out of the water: “Now is not the time for fear. That comes later.”

Aragorn begins batting the daggers away. Orcs also start popping out of the water (proceeded by reeds used for snorkels). As he fights, the Hobbits get better and better until they are fighting on his skill level. But then a half-sea monster, half-warg, half-balrog: yes, three halves! appears from the surf!

Merry: “Oh, shire folk!”

Pippin: “Bring it! Is that all you brought?”

Frodo, Merry, Samwise and Aragorn: “Shut up, Pippin!”

At that moment, Arawen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) jumps onto the raft (on her horse), and puts a sword under Aragorn’s muscular throat: “What’s this? A ranger caught off his guard?”

Aragorn: “You think wit is your ally? You merely adopted it. I–”

Samwise [Sea-warg-alrog tentacle around his throat]: “Maybe, we could save catching up for later?”

Arawen [looking longingly into Aragorn’s eyes]: “Right.” She hurtles her sword, which splits the sea-warg-alrog’s head, followed by an explosion ring, filling the screen with a wake of smoke and mist.

The fog clears, Frodo is down, having caught shrapnel from the exploding monster, half-way a wraith, already. The other hobbits busy over him, lots of crying, (except for Merry who swears undying vengeance against the forces of Mordor). Arawen and Aragorn are in the other corner making out.

Samwise: “Aragorn, what do we do?”

Aragorn tosses them a Morgal-Narcan, and Frodo is right as rain.

Pippin: “That was close. So, where are we going?”

The darkness suddenly peals away into choral singing and golden sunshine. The raft bumps into a shore of white sand and frosty cedar. Elrond (played by Hugh Jackman) standing on the shore, looks down at Aragorn and Arawen: “Ahem . . . ”

Aragorn shoves Arawen off and starts straightening his clothes: “Nothing happened.”

Elrond: “I know. I forsaw it.”

Arawen: “You were future-spying on me?”

Elrond: “No . . . I was future-spying on the mortal, dying, future dead man, Aragorn.”

Aragorn: “Uh, was that a threat or a prophecy?”

Elrond: “Pick one.”

Aragorn is pondering, when Gandalf returns, brought by an eagle. “Why are you still here? The ring has to get to Mount Doom.”

Elrond: “You have a plan? Because so far your guys have done a bang-up job. And–wait, did you just say the ring? You brought the ring, here? To my house?”

Gandalf: “Why you got a flying eagle that can take it away or something?”

Eagle’s (voice by Simon Pegg) eyes widen, takes off, waving at Gandalf: “Have a good one, G-man. Send me a flutterby, anytime, you need another lift!”

Frodo: “An eagle like that?”

Everyone shouts: “Wait, we need you to take the ring into the heart of Sauron’s realm and toss it into a super-magically hot place, behind the lines of his entire army!”

Eagle looks confused and holds a talon up to it’s ear: “What? What’s that? Can’t hear you! Sorry, can’t turn around, too many calories on lift off, you know. But I’ll catch you later!”

Gandalf: “Son of a down jacket.”

Pippin: “So, what’s the ring? And where are we going?”

***

Scene 2:

Montage set to I Came In Like a Wrecking Ball, directly into the council seating area, comes Boromir (played by Adam Baldwin): “I hear we’ve got a thingy that helps us kill bad guys. Count me in to the end worthy of songs.”

Pippin: “I thought we were going to melt the ring?”

Boromir: “Who’s the retarded dwarf?”

In comes, Gimli (played by Jack Black): “The air must be rare up there, big guy. Dwarves have beards, how could you miss the lack of awesome?”

Boromir: “Then who is the retarded elf who wants to melt the ring?”

Legolas enters (played by Zachary Qunito): “Have you heard nothing, Lord Elrond has said? The ring must be destroyed.”

Boromir: “No, I just got here. Straight from the front!” Lifts up his shirt to show a jagged scar from sternum to below the belt. “See! This thing still seeps puss! I got puss keeping your lands safe! And if this ring will let me put a gondorian boot up Saurons even darker parts, then I’m going to use it!”

Aragorn: “Bro! We’re all on the same team here. Except me, I’m the king–so I’m like the captain over the team. But don’t worry, man, I don’t really want it. So we can still be cool.”

Boromir, shakes his head: “So who’s the retarded man who thinks I’m going to help him take my job?”

Frodo gets up to leave.

Gandalf: “Frodo, where are you going? You almost got wraitherized! You shouldn’t be out of bed.”

Frodo: “It’s ok. I had some of Elrond’s Re’d Bu’ll, and I feel like I have wings. And all I know is, this ring has to be destroyed of else the shire will never be safe. And I may be small, but I know if I don’t do th–”

Legolas: “Come on hobbit! We must not linger.”

Frodo: “But Boromir was just saying–”

Legolas: “He got over it.”

Frodo: “How’d you convince him to change his mind?”

Legolas: “That’s a good question for a time when we can linger. Now, move it.”

The fellowship sets out to epic music from the team behind Fast and Furious, with them running. Arawen and Aragorn exchanging smoochy good-bye’s, while running.

***

Scene 3:

Still running, the fellowship heads up a hill that gets blizzardy fast.

Gandalf: “It’s Saruma–” He’s cut off by a head-swallowing snowball.

Boromir: “We should get off this mountain before the half-lings–” Snow plasters him to the mountain wall.

Merry: “This looks bad!”

Aragorn looks up at a scream on the wind: “Nazgul!”

Boromir: “Snow Wargs!”

Legolas: “Nazgul on Snow Wargs!”

A flurry of exploding clouds of snow, mixes with screaming Nazgul, and snarling white wargs. Swords are drawn, lightning arcs off of steel and the hillside explodes. The nazgul are buried in an avalanche that the fellowship rides down a slope that becomes a snow tube that becomes a volcanic tube that ends in a slide across a polished floor.

Pippin: “Well that worked out all right.”

Gandalf: “Welcome to Moria.”

Pippin: “Sounds cheery.”

Gimli: “Yes, if by cheery you mean thousands and thousands of my kin dead, at the hand of ten thousand thousand goblins and orcs!”

Gandalf: “And Balrogs.”

Legolas twitches. “Balrogs?”

Gandalf: “Elite warrior Balrogs.”

Legolas glances around for an exit. “Elite warrior Balrogs?”

Samwise: “But they’re all gone now, right?”

Gandalf stares at him with blank eyes. “Uh, yeah. Sure. All gone.” He turns to Aragorn, “If any of them happen to have hung around  . . . or come back . . . ”

Aragorn: “We’ll fight them to the end. We’ll never break the bonds of fellowship. We’ll—“

Gandalf: “Easy there tiger. Let’s save the death and glory stuff for when the chances of glory are higher than the chances of death.”

Aragorn: “You want me to  . . . not  fight?”

Gandalf: “You got it all wrong, Arie baby. You know you’re the man . . . but this situation might require a little more subtlty.”

Pippin in the background: “What’s this shiny thing do?” Suddenly the room is filled with disco light and lasers.

Gandalf: “That’s stupid hobbit has chanced way too much light.”

Burning ropes fall from the ceiling, and balrogs rapel into the room, while orcs and goblins pour out of every crack and hole.

Gandalf: “Now. This is no time for fear.”

Legolas breaks into hysterical screams, and runs in circles.

Gandalf: “Nevermind. Run!”

The fellowship runs for the bridge of Kazadun as the hall around them explodes beneath the samurai-like swords of the Balrog as they tumble and attack like giant fiery ninjas. Explosions get louder and bigger, until it’s a firestorm consuming the hall. They get to bridge, Gandalf barely makes it, striking the bridge with his staff causing it to shatter behind him as he slides across it. But one of the Balrog jumps after them, Gandalf turns and leaps back across the gulf: “Yipee kayaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

And down he goes.

Frodo: “Well that bites.”

Legolas, screaming: “We must not linger! We must not linger!”

***

Scene 4:

The fellowship is in the woods.

Gimli: “Nothing like fresh air to take the mind off the death of your friends. Or your kin. Thousands and thousands of your kin.”

Boromir: “Well, you know if we’d used the ring . . . ”

Galadriel [played by the girl from Divergent] drops from a tree in a skimpy two-piece: “Your mind is always on the ring Boromir of Gondor. Get your mind on something else? Why are you such a weak-willed sissy of a Westernen man?”

Boromir: “Well, now I feel bad.” He looks dejected.

Galadriel: “And I didn’t even get to the part where your city burns down.”

Boromir: “Wait, what?!? You have the gift of foresight. Tell me what you–”

Frodo: “Look out!”

Black arrows fall from the trees, from black bows, fired eight at a time by giant spiders. Galadriel picks up two bows at the same time, loading each with four arrows and fires back. The arrows go through multiple different targets, at different trajectories, richochet and take out more spiders that explode as they come down in black gew that hits everyone but Galadriel.

Galadriel: “You’ve brought great evil here, ring-bearer.”

Frodo: “Now wait a second, I was just trying to do a good deed for the third age. This is my first quest, so I hardly feel I should be blamed for this.”

Galadriel rolls her eyes. “Hobbits . . .  Where’s Gandalf.”

Frodo, pauses: “Also not my fault.”

Gimli: “Fault? Gandalf did this awesome flying, fire attack of the the Valenor. Writing himself a legend that he carved with the smoldering bones of a balrog. I still get choked up thinking about it.”

Pippin: “I know! Why don’t the elves sing a song for him?”

Galadriel: “That’s a great idea!”

Legolas: “Look out!”

The spiders have lit barrels of oil and are using their webs as giant sling-shots. Lothlorien is quickly aflame. Trees full of elvish cultivated sap, explode, sending shrapnel and concussive blasts through the woods. The air is filled with charred leaves, that tumble in slow mow, set to songs by Adele.

Galadriel: “Get that stupid ring out of here and torch it in Mt Doom.”

Frodo: “But it’s so far. How will I know how to get there and who I can trust? I don’t think I can do this.”

Galadriel: “Get your soft-cheese butt, out of my forest before I stick an arrow so far up it, you can pick your teeth.”

Samwise: “Well, that’s a side of the elves you don’t hear about.”

Galadriel turns all stormy: “GET OUT!!!”

***

Scene 5:

Running from Lothlorien, they grab some boats that have shiny bottles. At first they think they’re for light, but Aragorn pulls outboard motors out of stealth elvish hiding spots and poors the Elendil light-juice into an elegant opening. Next thing, they’re cruising down the river, bouncing hard over choppy water. Aragorn at the bow, his clothes knocked about by near gale-force winds. But undeterred. Statues rise in the distance of ancient men.

Aragorn: “The Argonauth. Long have I desired to–”

Legolas: “Look out!”

From the cliffs, Uruk-Hai, with a captain played by Dwayne Johnson, jump from the rocks. And land on the front of the boats. Others splashing in the water.

Boromir: “Quick, Frodo, give me the ring for safe-keeping.”

Frodo: “No. You’d never do that in your right mind!”

Boromir: “If only I’d brought a grenade the ring would already be mine!”

Pippin: “Aragorn, help Frodo!”

But Aragorn can’t hear because he’s too busy fighting five Dwayne Johnson-copies at the same time, on a boat, speeding along at close to sixty miles an hour!

Merry: “Men aren’t brave. Hobbits are brave!” He grabs a sword and drives Boromir into the water.

Boromir, thrashes in the water and comes to his senses: “I’m sorry. What was I thinking?”

But Frodo has already abandoned ship, swimming away invisibly. Samwise follows on a water-tight food basket that he’s paddling along: “Mr. Frodo! Mr. Frodo!”

The fellowship boats crash into the shore. Some explode as they skip over the sand and impact the trees and rocks. Boromir screams primally and wades ashore. Uruk-hai attack, but he slaughters them in sprays of black blood, until the water looks like an oil-slick and the white shores look like volcanic sand. But the captain of the Uruk-Hai lifts a gatling gun-crossbow and drills Boromir. Arrows stick in him and also pass through. But he keeps fighting. Until Aragorn attacks the captain and then kicks him back, into the path of a late arriving boat (piloted by Pippin) which then spears the captain into a tree which attracts a bolt of lightning that ignites the tree, boat, and sand, scorching it into a crater.

Gimli: “The fellowship has failed . . . but awesomely.”

Legolas: “You only say that because Boromir’s dead, the ringbearer is lost, and the half-lings have been kidnapped by murderous Uruk-Hai to suffer unspeakable torture before they die, giving up the only secrets they know, like where to find shrooms. But at least, we got to meet Lady Galadriel. Let me tell you how amazing that was. I could think and talk about her all day. I think I’ll compose a song right now.”

Gimli: “Ugh. I wish I’d died too. Wait, the other hobbits were taken?”

Aragorn: “You didn’t notice?”

Gimli: “Well .  . . a dwarf is used to looking up . . . I don’t really pay attention to things shorter than me.”

Aragorn: “Well, we can’t leave them to their fate.”

Gimli: “I know I joked about wanting to die, but . . . taking on a band of Uruk-Hai outnumbering us thirty to one, wasn’t what I had in mind.”

Legolas: “He’s just worried I’ll kill more of them.”

Gimli: “In your dreams, blondie.”

Aragorn: “Would you rather track Frodo, through Emon-Muir, and into the Black Land?”

Gimli: “Well, I’m not a racist. I don’t care what color the land is.”

Aragorn: “Mordor, Gimli!”

Gimli: “Hmm. . . The Uruk-Hai were heading into Rohan, and I hear there are some interesting caves over there . . . so sure, let’s go save those half-lings, whatever their names.”

Cue epic rock music to a split scene of Frodo and Sam doing free-running along a rocky ravine, with dark things in the shadows chasing them; alternating with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli hacking their way to Rohan over the falling corpses of Wargs, Orcs, and man-eating, rolling, swarming, plants!

Roll credits.

If you were worried because this sounds like a script hollywood might accept . . . then there’s really only one way to know and that’s to actually circle it around hollywood. . . I write very cheaply if they ask.

But alas, you are the only fortunate souls to have seen me channel my inner-hollywood-disneyish-script writer. Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed. Rest assure no one has managed to shop such a script . . . that I know of.

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Yom Kippur: Is about Giving

Yom Teruah is passing by, and we rejoice, and believers in Mashiach Yeshua, look forward to Sukkot. But, isn’t there a holy day between? Certain feasts, seem to get all the glory, while others, seem to be . . . neglected. Yom Kippur, seems to be one of those.

To our natural brothers, the Jews, this would seem scandalous, since to them it is the most kadosh (holy) day of the calendar. But then, they would probably say what does it matter to what a bunch of crazy goyim do?

But many of us adopted olive branches kind of ignore Yom Kippur, because we’re not sure what to do with it. How can we talk about a Day of Atonement, when Yeshua is our atonement? Aren’t we doing despite to the Ruach of grace? Crucifying afresh the risen lord? Trampling under foot, His precious blood? What do we have to do with a day so clouded with animal blood?

But if Yom Kippur is somehow invalidated, nullified, brushed aside, then why do we take the Pesach as Kadosh? For that matter, why any feast day, when they all had sacrifices for them? For that matter, why Pesach with its overlaid tradition of the Bread and Wine? Why do we keeping drinking His blood, when it was shed ‘once’ and for all?

I think, the first thing we need to avoid is putting our understanding ahead of our obedience. A mitzvah is for us to do and to meditate on the why. Not to wrestle with a why, and try to make it into a do. If YHVH tells us to keep a certain ritual, we aren’t really qualified to decide if the ritual is right. I cannot tell you, why communion is sensible. Why can’t we simply tell each other to remember, His body and blood? Why do we have to do a ‘rehearsal’? Why do the feasts have to fall when they do in a year? Why can’t I simply do a lesson, once a year like a re-certification? Why the tie to the seasons? Why can’t Shabbat be simply once any seven days, instead of the seventh day?

Should I ‘waste’ time, trying to figure out a why to these things before I start doing? Or is it that the doing, will cultivate the why? Do we tell our children to wrestle with why’s when they are young? Do we ask them to think about whys, or do we tell them do, and then hope the why will become evident?

As parents, we know in the basic practices of life, the do precedes the understanding. I wish I could cite the verse that I’m thinking of, but Ya’akov 1:5-8, suggests the same principle. The wavering man, the one who shrinks back from the wisdom of YHVH, won’t receive it. Wisdom comes after the decision to do.

So the step is obediance, and understand comes second. And what are we commanded? Vayikra 16:29-31 “And it shall be a chokkah [a rehearsal, an enactment, a custom] for ever unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger that sojourneth among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the LORD. It is a sabbath of solemn rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; it is a chokkah for ever.” Vayikra 23:27-32 says much the same, but with even more repetition of not working and afflicting the soul.

This sounds very offensive to believers in Mashiach: again, He is out atonement. What do we have to do with this thing?

The next thing we need to trust is that Elohim is not schizophrenic. What I mean is that He doesn’t talk out of both sides of His mouth. He doesn’t tell you one thing and then tell you something completely different. He was not surprised by His own plan of redemption. The Mashiach was slain before the foundation of the world, Hit-Galut (Revelation) 13:8. Think about that.

YHVH knew before Adam, before Moshe, that the sacrifice, the gift offered to cleanse our sins is the blood of Mashiach, not of any four-footed kosher, herd animal.

So was YHVH teaching us to tread underfoot, the blood of His own son, for thousands of years? For thousands of years shedding the blood of animals, when it never accomplished anything?

Oh, we say, that it was a picture for us, of Mashiach that was yet to come. But why the picture? Was Avraham imputed righteousness on the basis of offering? Or the basis of faith? Wasn’t it he, our father, that taught us that YHVH would provide the offering? We are told that father Avraham looked up on mount Moriah, and saw the work of Mashiach. We knew since Adam and Chavah that the work of deliverance wasn’t by us, but by the Mashiach who would crush the head of the serpent. Acts 2 tells us that David in the Ruach knew of Mashiach and His death and resurrection for us.

So it begs the question: Why all the sacrificing, at all?!?! If we have already been saved on the basis of faith in Mashiach, then sacrifice is a red herring. If you don’t believe, then it’s just a ritual. And a misleading one because it’s like offering a gift to someone you have wronged. You start to think, that you’re now even, and thus misunderstand the debt at entirely.

And if you already believe, then you know it has nothing to cleanse you, so why does this animal have to die? Why is a price exacted from you, when YHVH wants to teach you that the work cannot possibly be done by you?

Consider, an even more perplexing problem. Y’ezekiel 45:17, speaks of a future temple, in a future state of Isra’el, where the tribes are together in peace. “And it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, and meat offerings, and drink offerings, in the feasts, and in the new moons, and in the sabbaths, in all solemnities of the house of Israel: he shall prepare the sin offering, and the meat offering, and the burnt offering, and the peace offerings, to make reconciliation for the house of Israel.”

The “make reconciliation” is the same word for atonement. Who is this prince? 34:24 and 37:25, identify him as David. Some suggest this is actually Yeshua.

Now, why would David or Yeshua be offering anything for atonement? Yeshua had no sin for which to atone; and David is a believer in Yeshua therefore covered under the blood; so why point to anyone, but directly to Yeshua for atonement? It doesn’t even matter if there’s blood of an animal or a stick of gum offered, the point is scripture says it’s for atonement, and we know nothing needs to be added to Yeshua’s blood.

Let me ask further. When Yeshua was born, did Miriam (Mary) make a sin offering to be cleansed from giving birth? Yes. So you’re telling me, that the woman who brought the Mashiach into the world–having never even had sex, mind you–in obedience to YHVH’s will, is offering a sin offering? That doesn’t sound right either, does it?

Was Yom Kippur being observed in the time of Yeshua? If so, then every year, the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) was going into the temple and shedding blood and confessing sin on behalf of this sinless Mashiach. Was that doing despite to who Yeshua was? How dare the Cohen say “we” have sinned, with Mashiach there? Shouldn’t Miriam or Yosef, or one of Yeshua’s talmidim have gone to the Cohen and said, “You need to say, we–except for Yeshua!”

What was Yochanon the Immerser (John the Baptist) doing at the Yarden river? Luke 3:3 “…preaching the immersion of repentance for the releasing of sins…” This is very interesting, not only is there a freedom from sin, without temple sacrifice or profession of Mashiach, but along comes Yeshua to be baptized for sins that He hasn’t committed. What does, Yochanon say, Matt 3:13-14 “Then cometh Yeshua . . . unto Yochanon, to be immersed of him. But Yochanon forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

Yochanon recognizes this dilemma. Much as Peter later says, “You shall never wash my feet!” But what does Yeshua say?

Mat 3:15 “And Yeshua answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.”

The man who has no sin to remit is receiving the act of remission from a sinner: why? To fulfill all righteousness. In fact, the word “becometh” means to tower up. To be suitable. Like when someone says to a woman, “That’s very becoming on you.” In other words, it makes beautiful to fulfill all righteousness.

So let me propose, an alternate perspective of offerings, and sacrifices. My Mashiach paid what He could, for a debt that wasn’t His. Now the word offering isn’t about giving up, but giving. Minchah: it’s a gift. So He gave Himself for us. Since our debt was larger than anything we had to give, then by definition He overpaid. He gave more than was owed.

Now, what do we have? If we are made like Him, then wouldn’t we want to give as well? Not of owing, because His was not of owing. Not in exchange, but simply to give because He has given. Now are we ourselves, enough? He gave the most valuable thing He had. Further, the Kingdom comes with Him so we got Him and His Kingdom. So even those things that we have, they are His too, and yet He keeps on giving them to us. So then, even if we give our souls, our minds, and our bodies. Is that enough? Do we say, “We’ve given you enough.” His gift was infinite! It was all that He had. Why would we want to give less?

When you think of it that way. The fact that we might offer, gift, an animal to Him (which I’m not suggesting, I’m merely saying if we were in a position to do it, rightly). Then would that be strange? Or would it be strange that we would not give every animal, every dollar, every scrap of land, every moment of time?

It is not that the life of an animal is somehow too sacred to give to the Son of Elohim; it is that how could we give less than everything? Our lives and the life of every subject to us. It’s not that what we have is too sacred, it’s that He does not ask for it. Right now anyway.

So then, when you look back to what Yeshua did at the Yarden. You see, He gave a righteous act, a ritual, that He did not owe. Just as He stood, no doubt, at Yom Kippurim and confessed sins that were not His. And at Pesach consented to the ritual slaughter of a Pesach lamb on His behalf, though Death had no claim on Him. He suffered it because it was right, and He looked to do all that was right, not just the right that was due from Him. He didn’t say, “I’ve done enough.” He said, “How may I do more?”

So then let’s look at Kippur. Covering. Atonement. We fear, that perhaps we are ‘despiting’ Him because we might confess a sin on this kadosh day. That we afflict ourselves, might devalue His gift. But let me ask you. Do you confess your sins on any other day?

1 Yochanon 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Ya’akov (James) 5:16 “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another . . .”

Luke 11:4 “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us . . . ”

If we are encouraged to confess our sins, both to the Father and to man, and in fact are taught by Mashiach to pray for forgiveness, in general . . . then why would it be wrong to do it especially on Yom Kippur? If it does not despite on one day, why on a mo’ed? Do we not sin?

Is our thinking backwards? It isn’t strange that we, who are redeemed, would confess and forsake and ask for forgiveness; it would be strange that we wouldn’t. Because we of all people know forgiveness is there! He took on Him sins that were not His own. Why would we not even admit those that are our own?

And what is confession? Y’hoshua 7:19 tells us the story of Achan and the forbidden thing taken from Yericho. And Y’hoshua says, “Give glory to Elohim, and confess!” Likewise Phillipians 2:11 tells us that confessing Yeshua is lord, gives glory to Elohim. Confessing truth always glorifies Elohim. That means, when you sin and you know it was sin, and if you refuse to acknowledge exactly what it is, then you are withholding glory from YHVH.

The point I’m trying to make in this is that confession, atonement, all these things are gifts. Offering anything is not about our debt, it is about our abundance. We are not devaluing the work of Mashiach by trying to give something back to Elohim, anymore than we are devaluing His provision when we tithe. When He gives to you, your natural, supernatural response is to give in response. The fact that what you are giving is totally inadequate to the debt is irrelevant, because what you are really giving is obedience, not merely an object or word of offering–you are bearing fruit and that was the reason that the seed was sown.

Atonement isn’t about undoing a gift. It is the natural response of someone who has been given a gift. When my wife kisses me, I don’t kiss her back because I owe it to her, but because I am so filled with love that I have to give back. If I’m full of love and goodness, there can be no other response. Did the woman weeping at Yeshua’s feet, do despite to His mercies on her? No! The fact that she wept and kissed and wiped his feet with her hair, an offering hardly less than a sheep, was because she deeply understood what had been given to her. Giving is the response to a gift.

What did you think? That Mashiach gave you something to keep to yourself? Or that you should give to everyone except the one who gave to you? Don’t we understand that the whole point was to make us like Him, who is the greatest giver of all?

So what of this Yom Kippur? Is it wrong to confess my own sins? Certainly not, we are told to in the Torah and in the writings of the Shellachim (Emissaries). Is it wrong to offer a gift? Certainly not. Even if it were to be the life of animal? Again, not suggesting this here and now, but you eat animal yourself don’t you? And you pour out the blood as is commanded, don’t you? So why would Elohim, be the one person to whom you would refuse meat? Or don’t we remember that the sin offering was eaten (Vayikra 6:26)? Elohim deserves more steak than anyone else.

Is it wrong for us to afflict ourselves as an act of atonement then? As if keeping your sin inside, wasn’t affliction. Suppose, it had nothing to do with atonement. If you had the flu you might abstain from eating, so why would it be wrong to do the same, but in connection with prayer and confession? Do you see my point, how this thinking doesn’t even make sense? Why is it okay to afflict yourself for a physical ailment (which, as you’ll recall, He died for those too), but not for a spiritual one?

Consider the One, we follow. He didn’t have to die. He didn’t owe us anything. He did it because that was what His Father wanted. It pleased YHVH to afflict Him. For Him to be bruised. To make the Captain of Deliverance perfect through suffering. Why would the servant be above the suffering of His Master? We are told that if He suffered, so will we. Why is it a surprise, that we would willingly suffer instead of only unwillingly?

And that’s a huge part of Yom Kippur, because when you study it, you find that it was for the Tabernacle, because of the sins of the people. Not primarily for individuals. Again Yeshua who had no sin, participated. When Moshe went up the mount to “make atonement” after the golden calf, it wasn’t for himself, because he hadn’t done the crime. It was for others! Of course, you would confess your own sin, but Yom Kippur goes beyond that, to the sins of others and to the sins of your people, and many of them may not have repented. So if Mashiach afflicted Himself for you, then why would you not afflict yourself for them? Mishlei (Proverbs) 14:34 can literally be translated: “Righteousness exalteth a nation, And the goodliness of peoples is a sin-offering.” When we do right, we are making intercession on behalf of those around us. 1 Sh’mu’el (Samuel) 15:22 says, “…to obey is better than sacrifice…” So if He calls us to afflict our souls, and we obey. That is better than sacrifice. We don’t need to understand how our suffering, or offering of any kind, fits into the economy of Elohim, all we need to know is that He commands it.

We are made into His Image. We are to be like Him. It is not strange that we would follow His example. Taking the sins of others on ourselves. It is strange that we would not. Even stranger is to believe in YHVH’s infinite mercies, but fear that if we, in love, corporately confess and forsake sin, willingly afflicting our own souls . . . that somehow would offend Him.

So this Yom Kippur. Get right with YHVH. It’s what you should have done any day, and every day. Confess your sins to Him. And while you’re at it, seek out your brothers and even strangers that you have wronged, and tell them. Ask for their forgiveness. That’s you doing right. That’s you making an offering. Spiritually, we are called to be Cohenim of Heaven aren’t we? And if they forgive you, then you have helped them to make an offering as well. And if they don’t, then may your affliction count for them. May it be a gift to the one who has given you so much, and perhaps He will give them more time to change.

We should not be afraid, to give back to Elohim.

 

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Review: Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz

You’ll think I’m joking if I don’t give some context. A couple of years ago, I was reading the blog of Mike Duran, Decompose. A frequent discussion was reoccurring. In Christian publishing it is difficult to get manuscript attention for anything ‘edgy.’ Or so it is said. Edgy doesn’t mean bad or obscene here, but some of us believe that even the Glad Tidings (gospel) can be (and should be) told with the grit of sin. And I would go to the Bible to make that case. The Bible–those collected stories, breathed through the Ruach HaKodesh–contains murder, graphic violence, sexual content, innuendo or suggestive language, nudity, and profanity. Sometimes different writers in different contexts, glossed over details; other times, they zoomed in. Take the book of Judges where a sword is plunged into a man, until the hilt disappears. That’s kind of graphic, right? For that matter the death of Yeshua, has flogging, striking, spitting, blasphemy, blood and guts.

But Christian publishing seem to hold to higher standards than the Bible, making it difficult for even conscientious writers to deal with anything other than the Amish. Needless to say for writers like myself (and Kerry Nietz) who visit the realms of sci-fi or fantasy or ‘speculative’ scenarios, it’s even harder. But they will eat up anything Amish.

So on this blog, someone jokingly proposed that an edgy story could get in by framing itself like, Amish Vampires in Space. It was a joke, but as I can attest, a single turn of phrase can spark a story. So Kerry Nietz saw an opportunity, and thus AVS was born.

Synopsis: Context aside, now onto the review. Despite the joking origin, the story is not told as parody, satire, or joke. It’s not over the top. Kerry shoots it straight. So what is this serious story where Amish, vampires, and space collide?

The opening is with a ‘stereotypical’ Amish, Jebediah who lives on a planet colonized by using the Amish–who are perfect for the job because they don’t use technology and the planets being colonized have no technology to depend on. Jeb’s just about everything you would expect from an Amish. I have frequent contact with the Amish and Mennonites (to an Englisher, they’re hard to tell apart, but there are differences), so I have some sense of authenticity on the subject. In fact through the course of my reading, I found out things I didn’t know and then asked my Amish contacts about them.

. . . I did leave out the fact my prompt was a book titled Amish Vampires in Space. I also omitted that for the character of Jebediah, I immediately pictured the particular Amish gentleman that I was asking the question.

So Jebediah has one thing that’s a bit different. A family heirloom of technology. He doesn’t know what it does, but was told when a future, unforeseen, catastrophic problem arises (like say, their local sun getting ready to eat their planet), he’s supposed to use it. He manages that, with considerable guilt because he’s a legit Amish. The machine turns out to be a beacon that summons a ship to pick them up and transplant them on another planet.

Unfortunately . . . the ship also has another package that turns out to be undead. The story then revolves around a growing vampire presence, and the tension between faith, religion, and need.

Thoughts: I won’t lie, I looked forward to this book. I wanted this book to be good because the premise, was my kind of premise. I love stories, where the author takes something normal and turns it askew. I mean, my first published novel is about killer trees. So when, I say that the book exceeded my expectations, then some of that could be my own placebo. But I found stuff wrong too, so I think that justifies what I found right.

What really shines in this story is actually the character conflicts; the vampire dynamic is just icing on the cake. Like any good story. You have some lesser conflicts; a developing romance between the captain (Seal) and the communications officer (Singer), complicated by Singer’s being a Christian, in a future setting where relationships are regulated by their government-company (not sure if they were separate or one and the same) and Christianity is seen as some, “Oh is that still around?” anomaly. To Seal this makes Singer akin to the Amish who of course look very weird to him.

Except she’s more attractive than they are. And I know this because the narrator tells me it. Several times. The story is written from the omniscient POV or at least semi-omniscient. Which is less popular, but it can be done, and it works. But the narrator should have some vocabulary. A voice all his own. And when the narrator is the one telling us how attractive each female character is, literally using the word attractive outside of dialogue, then he feels like a dude scoping out chicks, and also lazy. I would have preferred discerning from the details who was more or less attractive.

Back to the conflicts. Another is the loading supervisor who see the Amish as free-loaders, willing to let others go to hell for using technology or fighting wars, while they reap the benefits. Kind of made me think of Seven Samurai with the one samurai who used to be a country peasant.

But the conflict that really shines is Jebediah vs. the world and his own community. SPOILER!!! Using the beacon puts him in a state of sin before the community, which he is absolved of, but then ends up shunned because he stands against the leadership, who want to stay on the planet even though the sun appears to be dying—trusting God’s will. The community ends up going, but he remains shunned. Yet, of course, he thought he was saving the lives of everyone. So he didn’t want to not be Amish, didn’t want to use technology, but now he’s forced away from everyone else and surrounded by technology. But he wants to come back. Things only get worse, when Amish start getting vampirized, thus ‘proving’ that they should have stayed on the planet.

I read this in the present, where I am wrestling through the concept of community [yes, the series will continue, but it was suggested I talk to a particular brother/sister, and it’s proving hard to do]. And found it quite stirring in the subject. I firmly believe in the need to be willing to submit to leadership (so long as they are committed to faith in Yeshua and loving Him according to Torah), but I found myself immediately identifying with Jebediah, who was being shunned for not submitting to leadership. How does one navigate the waters, where they believe in submission (as Jebediah also did), but find their leadership is about to scuttle the ship? I’m still not sure, but I’m working on it, and I benefited by reading this story because it made me face the realness, of what some of my brothers and sisters are telling me: that ‘community’ may exact a steep price.

The setting is also quite creative, and real. I’m no expert in ‘hard’ sci-fi, probably because I’m not really a science major. I use science as many authors do, as a substitute for magic, to explain the abridgment of physical laws. Explaining, why I feel the need to not use ‘magic’ is a blog unto itself, but suffice to say the real problem is the substance, rather than the appearance—so even science can model the same sinfulness—but I strive in my narration to identify the real power as Elohim, not some spell or charm turned science. Why not just say ‘magic’ then, and let your narrator’s voice distinguish it as not the abhorrent thing? To that I ask, can you write a story about child molestation, but make the molestation ‘good’? “Yes, I know it says ‘child molestation’, but my narrator’s voice shows that its not the bad molestation, it’s the good . . . molestation.” See it doesn’t really work. In my opinion, when a believing author makes magic out to be ‘neutral’ they’re just revealing that they don’t understand it to be truly wrong. Which is understandable since the part of scripture that most clearly deals with the evil of magic, is the part that most Christians say is “done away with.”

But I was going to say that the setting feels real. There’s a log of ‘magic’ science in it, but there seems to be a logic behind it. Like at one point explaining that a screen and physically pressing controls was still the way of doing things rather than hand motions in the air, that lead to people smacking each other. Faster than light travel isn’t depicted as flying through a rainbow or a blinding meteor shower, but a monotonous gray fog. Not everything is glowy and shiny, but a lot of stuff is painted business like shades of blue and brown. It felt authentic, and this is a writer’s review so it was worth noting.

Unfortunately, the characterization was a little uneven. The characters were easily distinguishable from each other. No blending, not really stereotypes. Greels (the loading supervisor) was especially enjoyable, because I expected that he was going to go one way and become that sleezy, cowardly, weak-willed, type of antagonist—and he hits several of those notes—but instead turns out to have some redeeming qualities, even heroism when the chips are down.

But another main character, Seal, is a little bit flat. Probably a ‘good’ thing in that he makes Singer (who’s also a little flat) appear a little less flat. They’re not terrible, but they sometimes feel like their hitting their marks and don’t have a life of their own. For example, the ship is falling into the hands of vampires, the full extent of the threat is not known, but there’s enough going on that this storm front should have the captain’s full attention. But while dealing with that, he mentally segues into whether or not he might love Singer, and what to do about her religious weirdness. Are you kidding me?!?! You’re thinking about your relationship at a time like this? Or later, near the end, when the vampires have overrun the ship, and the Amish are refusing to fight because they believe in non-resistance even at the cost of their own lives, he ends up asking a group of unbelievers and obstinate religious believers to pray, but he himself has not had any ‘conversion’ experience.

Clarification on that last thought: I’m not saying there should have been some born-again scene. I’m perfectly fine with a fireworks-free ‘slide’ into faith. I don’t think you need to say a special prayer, but I would have liked to see some internal thought process, even if it was only a, “Well, maybe this prayer thing is worth a try.”

And there was a perfect opportunity [SPOILER!!!]. The Amish leaders have been increasingly condemning of Jebediah since it was his “saving” of the community that has turned most of them into ungodly vampires. And even he himself wonders if maybe he has lost his salvation. But Seal as captain has reason to believe the problem started with the other package that he picked up. And now part of the solution involves a pregnant woman who is only there because of Jebediah. Seal could see in that that his whole crew would be lost if not for this confluence of coincidence that lead a technology eschewing community onto his ship, where his people could be saved, along with the entire planet that the vampires are now targeting. That would have been a big prompt to why Seal should break out into a prayer marathon.

The Amish I actually found to be the strongest characters in the story. Who were dealt with both as being rigid, entrenched in their ordunung (order or sect), but also sincere. They’re not depicted as ignorant primitives, simply people who believe in somethings that aren’t entirely reason-able. And really, every sincere believer has to reach that place where they admit—no, I can’t prove my faith. I have some good reasons to believe what I do, but in the end, it is a choice, because I believe my faith offers the best answers to life.

Pace wise, the story is a page turner. You can stop early on, but the tension builds as things develop. Another thing I really liked was the way the vampires are dealt with. There is one scene where the first new vampire is ‘educating’ himself on his new powers and needs, that’s psychologically gruesome. Not really gory, but the whole scene didn’t seem necessary other than to show that he’s bad and gross. I don’t understand the appeal of going inside the villain’s development, unless its to show something relatable—as in the danger of what seduces someone to evil. Like seeing how David stumbled. But here, I didn’t feel like it moved the plot—other than providing exposition.

But what I did like were some of the creative vampire complications; such as vampire goats. And later mutations as the ‘infections’ take their course. It added tension because you thought you figured it all out, only to find that the good guys’ plans had become out of date.

Conclusion: I give it 4 out of 5 as a whole. There are some characterization weaknesses. But there are also some strengths. Coupled with a building pace, creativity in development, and authentic feel in setting, plus a few hints along the way, and by the end I was hoping for a sequel. And in lieu of a sequel, I just started reading the story again (being on vacation, I had that option).

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Outdated Reviews: First Men in the Moon

Facing a shelf of inherited classics that are falling apart, I decided to read them before deciding their face. These are their reviews . . .

“The First Men in the Moon” By H.G. Wells

I’m a Wells fan. I still contend that the best fiction opening I’ve ever read is War of the Worlds. That may be because his are about the first I ever read. But I stand by my evaluation. It’s simply beautiful word craft . . . “No one would have imagined at the close of the twentieth century that across the gulf of space. Intelligences greater than man’s, vast, cool, and unsympathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes. . . ” Or something like that. I have to quote it from memory because my ‘friend’ Rebecca ‘borrowed’ it, to read and has yet to return it. =)

But this is not a review of War of the Worlds. First Men in the Moon must stand on its own. Wells reminds me again, why I like his style. I even tried (unconsciously) to emulate it, in my first stories, but now I’d say I’m more influenced by Stephen King. I don’t want to say that Wells’ style is unsuitable for modern audiences—if I did it would be a criticism of modern audiences lack of depth and attention span—but it can be harder to digest. It’s very . . . self-possessed. Very filtered. In contrast to the school which I frequent: ‘Don’t tell me the character ‘saw’ something, just show me what he saw, and I’ll know from the perspective that it is he, who saw it.’ We don’t want to see the narrator. We don’t want to be told a story, we want to be in the story!

I like both ways, Wells (as many were at that time) is a story teller. He’ll often break the ‘fourth wall’ and address the reader. “Imagine [he says to the reader] if you can, an immense hall . . . ” It’s boring and overly wordy according to modernly conditioned readers. But so are many classics, like Dracula, The Count of Monte Cristo, or Lord of the Rings. Broaden your tastes or skip this one.

So through that style, Wells tells an interesting and introspective story, about a failed business man who finds himself working with an absentminded scientist, to invent a substance, Cavorite, which blocks gravity (treated as a type of radiation) like how opaque glass can stop light and insulation can block heat. Hee hee. The science may be outdated, but what’s really funny is the series of terrible decisions made by the main characters. It’s almost as bad as Jurassic Park: The Lost World. They pack for a trip to the moon, but half the party (who has no scientific expertise) didn’t even think to bring anything to read for the flight. When they get to the moon, they are surprised to find life there. Plants growing on the surface, so they determine there must be air. How do they figure out if it’s enough to breathe? First they find out it’s oxygen by sticking a naked hand outside with a burning paper. Then they open a valve and depressurize their traveling sphere . . . not an airlock but the single-cabin-chamber. Finding they can bare it similarly to a high-altitude climb, they go aside dressed in regular clothes plus a blanket for the each of them.

They decide to go exploring immediately. You could forgive them for losing their space craft because of the rapidly growing foliage, but really, what kind of idiots would let themselves get out of sight of their oxygen/food/shelter supply? (It’s even more unforgivable when it happens the second time) Later, getting hungry and thirsty, they decide to try some local herbage . . . the characters don’t give us a good measure of time, so we might forgive them for eating out of desperation of starvation, but why did they go exploring on an empty stomach? Later, they meet humanoid beings on the moon, and the POV character, Bedford, becomes the embodiment of a self-centered, xenophobic stereotype and things quickly escalate to where—within minutes or hours of first meeting these intelligent beings, Bedford has already killed a dozen or two of them.

Now. I’ll grant Mr. Wells that many people are stupid, self-centered, and xenophobic/racist, whatever. But the utopian in Wells comes out (he was a socialist who believed in a benevolent dictatorship/aristocracy). Dislcaimer: I know now everything said or done in a story is not a depiction of what a writer thinks, but some things are. And I’d agree that in an imperfect world such an aristocracy is the only chance of an effective and good government. The libertarian view of let everyone, pretty much do what they want, and it will work out well holds little persuasion for me. But his solution, or what he hints at as a solution, is equally bad. Perhaps worse.

So, in another terribly decision, Cavor, the ‘brains’ of the enterprise, has been re-captured and is relaying his experience to Earth. He’s managed to convince the moon people that he is not an unthinking savage, despite his partner’s callous disregard of the lives of their fellow citizens. He then goes on to tell their supreme leader that he is the only one with the secret of making the cavorite . . . and that he comes from a homogenous species of beings that think the best thing in life is war. Yeah. That’s smart. No wonder this guy could choose such a reprobate for a partner to the moon. This lack of commonsense not only makes him a terrible candidate for earth’s ambassador, but like The Lost World degrades the author’s point.

Cavor’s stupidity draws attention to the obvious fact that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Does every human being actually relish war? I think even in the ‘uncivilized’ past, you’d find that farmers and country folk did not relish war. For the majority of history, you’d find that the people who liked war were people with no better employment. Gainfully employed people building things have little interest in leaving the product of their labor to go smash the product of someone else’s at the risk of their own lives.

Then what of the stupidity of the glorified, Grand Lunar (supreme leader of the moon)? He sits in judgment of the entire species based on one representative, who he admits to having trouble understanding?

But deeper this seems to reflect that Wells doesn’t understand the nature of the problem or solution of human society. For example, he identifies that the industrial/corporate world aims at turning people into machines. The better solution exemplified by moon people? Identify what you think each individual is best for (from birth!), then force them into that mold, including psychological conditioning so that they’ll want it whether they did naturally or not, and surgically altering/crippling them so that they are not fit for anything else. (And how exactly did they pick the Grand Lunar for his position . . . from birth?) And Wells through Cavor (or so I interpret it), thinks this is the better way!

Or another example? Someone is unemployed? Between tasks? Just drug them into sleep. Why would you want them awake if they weren’t working? What could a person possibly have to contribute to the world, if they aren’t doing something that you forced them into doing? Apparently the utopian mind sees no inherent value in a person just being a unique person. In fact, you could argue that the utopian sees the uniqueness as the problem. Which truly reveals the selfishness of its nature. Do we suppose anyone would want such a utopia if they were the ones crippled and predisposed to a life of work that they had no natural desire for? Of course not; they wish only that someone else had that lot and that they could profit from it.

But, there is some vivid description that makes the story bearable. Wells always paints a luscious landscape for me, however shallow the world’s imaging. In many places the story is carried solely by this trait (since the characters have not succeeded in recommending themselves). For example, he introduces the horror of a tentacled monster that the moon people fear, with such succinct description that we don’t much miss the fact that the monster never appears. I don’t have the text in front of me, but it was the impression I walked away with. I think from a literary standpoint that much of this is due to the brevity. The monster is mentioned with reverential fear, so we are just left with it’s unspeakable terror . . . we never get to see the monster’s zipper, so to speak.

In the end, while I much enjoy the style of Wells’ writing, I decided not to retain his work First Men in the Moon because of the odious utopian delusions, which could have been forgivable if only the characters weren’t shallow stupid creatures that compromised the credibility of all their backhanded criticisms of the society from which they came.

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Community: The Real and the Red Herrings

If Americans understood they were really many people’s, the current discord of the “nation” would not be surprising. But then what can the people of Elohim add to that? Are we closer to living together in unity? Sadly, we have more burned by community than actually looking for it. I was talking with such a pair of crispy sisters who had become discouraged. Conscious that in their hearts they had given up on community as a goal. Not just that it wouldn’t happen, but that the attempt or the prospect should be avoided.

The conversation started with, how do you make community work? So I asked if they had read my blog about mikvah: “How do you do Community: The Hoped For Gathering”. They hadn’t . . . after which I ended up having to explain in a mixed company why I thought the mikvah as practiced by the orthodox–nude with another person–was not only not a fringe idea (albeit neglected in the Messianic community) but might actually be part of the solution.

Ay-yai-yai! Oy vey!

But I digress. The essential part of the blog that I wanted to drag out was something that had kind of gotten buried in the writing of the original article, so I’ll state it better here. Yah-fearing men and women often fall in love with the idea of a community, but fail to fall in love with the actual people of the community. When someone doesn’t live up to one family’s or a clique of families’ private interpretation of kedushah (holiness or sanctification), they get ex-communicated/ex-fellowshipped. Would this happen so quickly or easily if it was their own son or daughter?

We have to love each other. We have to want to be with each other. Before community can work, we have to think of each other as actual family—not just theoretical, ethereal, spiritual family, but real family. Do you think it is an accident that the model of society or community in scripture is in fact, one family? That even those who are adopted in, cease to be separate, but become in all ways family? Where are the descendants of the ‘mixed-multitude’? Where are Ruth’s children called ‘adopted’ or ¼ Moabite? That salvation is about joining a family?

We have to adopt each other, before we can community. In these so-called communities, when it’s time for a family to leave, the conversation is framed: “I don’t want that influencing my family…”? We seem to think talk of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ applies only to the point of conflict. Because real brothers and sisters never disagree . . .  We seem to confuse family and informal association.

That is why I think mikvah is important. Not just for the fun of skinny dipping. Ahahaha! Chill out ya’ll! I think it’s important because family sees family naked. Butts get wiped! Kiddos get bathed, and a time or many the kiddos probably see parents hopping in and out of the shower. I mean, come’on, YHVH’s design introduces people to the world by having them suck from a woman’s breasts. If that offends you, don’t blame me. In my version of creation, I just give babies nutrient rich pacifiers (that don’t resemble nipples) that grew on trees. Wait, that’s still too close. I know, babies will have solar panels for hair and just soak up the sun’s rays without any human contact.

I digress again, but hopefully you laughed. The point is family sees family as they really are, yet remains attached through all but the most egregious wrongdoing. [Yes, there is a line in the sand given to us in Acts 15: idolatry, fornication—which is a catchall for sexual sin, not a fancy way of saying premarital sex—and blood. Blood by the way is probably not, blood in meat, but violence. All big ticket items, not so-and-so said something mean and was insensitive or interpreted Revelation different than you.] That sense of familial loyalty and familiarity was what I was trying to draw out—the quickness to cling, not to sever. And the concept seemed to resonate with this family, and in fact several others who heard it. Maybe community wasn’t done for, because they could see too, the other families in the detonated-communities never seemed to really stick to each other. But I still sensed the word community was being regarded like a live-wire. What is community? I asked. What does the word make you think?

The example I was given was a guy who bought 800 acres, allowing others to live there, but the others would never own the property and have to abide by (as far as I can tell) an unaccounted for standard of kedushah, and the requirement to work . . . but what you created with the work would belong to the community (under the one guy’s leadership).

I said, Well, I like community, but what you described scares me. Thinking of community in scripture—taking the type of Isra’el—I can see that working together is necessary. So is submission to elders. Shared chukot (customs) or halacha (the way we walk) of a community is also necessary. But something seems to be missing . . . freedom and ownership.

A lot of flowery, Jeffersonian words could be used to build a theoretical case, but I’m lazy and would rather say, let’s look at scripture and then try to figure out how to do it, and why it might be that it works. Details aside, when YHVH brought the people into the land, he gave each family a piece of land. What does that tell you? They had just come out of Egypt/Mitsrayim where pretty much everything was owned by the Pharoah. If YHVH wanted resources to be directly under a central governing head, then why undo what the Isra’eli would already have been used to? For the matter, why did YHVH not give them a strong central ruler from the git-go?

The Torah makes distinction between YHVH’s preferred idea of a judge who essentially referees to make sure everyone is playing by Torah, and the tendency of fallen man to reject YHVH and set up an earthly king who will rule over the people. So this 800 acre idea, sounds good as a temporary arrangement of a land owner and tenants, but YHVH intended us each to have a place that was our own.

Some people will challenge the idea of ownership. Some will even argue that there is no word for ownership in Ebri (Hebrew). They have a point. Even the land of Isra’el, divided up between the families, is not considered to be absolutely owned. YHVH says, “ . . . the land is mine, for you are strangers and sojourners with me.” In that sense, correct, no one owns anything in an absolute sense. But the idea is also false. What does “own” mean? In English it has within it, the root, owe. As in what is owned is that which is owed. And lacking the divine deed does not mean we lack the owing. In fact, the passage in Vayikra 25, where YHVH says the land is His, is where He tells people they owe to return land to the inheritor at the Yovel year. I own something, because it is owed to me. My wife owns me, because by out covenant, I owe myself to her. If the idea of ownership was false, then you cannot have adultery because nothing is owed. You cannot have theft because nothing is owed to you. You cannot even honor your father and mother without acknowledging that it is owed. We can just make everyone happy and call it jurisdiction, but whatever.

But all this talk or yours and mine, doesn’t that sound so unchristian? I think a lot of people, Messianic people/Hebraic roots people/Completed Jewish people, take their idea of community out of the book of Acts; at least at first glance, but what they imagine is more like communism (great, it even sounds like community!). Don’t get me wrong. I won’t criticize what was done in Acts, and I won’t disregard it. Sharing and working together and abiding house to house, sounds all well and good. But . . .

Did Yeshua teach that? He told the talmidim, who were selected as Shelachim (sent ones/ emissaries), to go, trusting for provision; true. Or sometimes to share an extra coat with someone who had none. Etc. He even told a rich man to go and sell everything he had and join the ministry. But, did he tell Yosef of Aramithea (a rich man) to sell everything? Did salvation through t’shuva come to Zacheus after he sold everything, or after he restored what he had wrongly taken? Consider the case of Acts 2:

People went house to house, worshipping, yes? But someone still owned the houses legally, didn’t they?

“All things” were held in common, but when Ananias and Saphira had their property, it was theirs, was it not? Yes. When they sold it, didn’t Kefa/Peter say, the proceeds belonged to them? Yes. Even to hold back? Yes. The only problem was the deception.

What we see in this example seems to be a specific instance of this “things in common”. A start-up capital investment for lack of a better term. When Shaul/Paul goes to collect funds to send to the brothers in famine, he doesn’t take things does he? No. He tells them to decide “every man according as he has purposed . . .” to send, and he receives it. If things continued always in common, then you do not ask permission before reaching into the fridge.

And understand that we don’t see this all-things-in-common lifestyle practiced either before Acts (as a group), nor do we see it after. Lydia remains a business woman; she does not sell her house or her business and she is not asked to sell her house or business. Paul does not give away his tents; he sells them. What’s the key to understanding this abnormal situation in Acts? Chapter 2, verse 2, “…they were all with one accord . . . ” Verse 44-46, “…all that believed were together, and had all things in common . . . parted them to all men, as every man had need . . . they continued with one accord . . . ” Commonsense (there’s something that should be held in common =) tells us these words are limited. Did they move about as a group of 3000? Of course not, there would be sub-groups. You think a mikvah is hard to imagine with one attendant; imagine 3000! Clearly ‘together’ is another way of saying in agreement (like accord), rather than physically in constant personal space with each other. They parted to all men, clearly that doesn’t mean all men, but also women. And not just men and women, but clearly not unbelievers. The context tells us that these were people on the same bandwagon. As every man had need, that tells us it wasn’t a smorgasbord of pilfering each other’s houses; there was someone identifying needs, and distributing accordingly. And this is all wrapped up in the phrase: with one accord.

People will try to say, this is the ideal. We need to get to this. But there is a more obvious interpretation here. They all agreed this was the thing to do. If someone in the party was saying, “This is a bad idea. This guy over here is a freeloading hipster, who just showed up when the stuff was being handed out!” That would mean there was not accord. In fact, you might notice that was why Ananias and his wife ended up dead, because they pretended to agree when they did not.

What am I trying to say? That this way of life worked at that time because everyone agreed it was what was to be done. If people stopped agreeing would it still have worked? Would it be somehow wrong if they stopped agreeing? Or would it simply mean that when the agreement ended that it was time to move on to something different?

If you are in a community, in a moment in time, that together agrees to practice this, that’s great. More power to you! But that doesn’t mean that we should try to pretend or force such an agreement. If we have different ideas about how to proceed, and everyone has the same spirit of Elohim, the Ruach HaKodesh, that simply means that He is changing us from a large battalion of Heavenly fighting power, into an agile platoon size strike force.

If YHVH had meant for this to be the always-only way that the talmidim of Yeshua were to conduct themselves, then it is strange that none of the Epistles of the Brit Chadasha ever suggest it. Nor is it hinted at in the Torah. You’d think, since this idea is so foreign to the thinking of those times (and every time), that there would be whole epistles on this, but instead . . . you have one chapter, in one book, that itself never mentions it again, and we’re supposed to conclude this is the community ideal?

I think not.

To be continued . . .   

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Thoughts based loosely on a long time ago in a galaxy far far away

#1. J.J. Abrams . . .  Put down the Red Bull. Seriously, you cannot entertain a plot that requires patience or development! That is why the planet Vulcan is ten minutes away from Earth, and a girl who grew up as a scavenger is, without any training at all in the first movie, mind tricking like a pro, resisting mind-melds from the sith villain And then slapping him around like he’s never picked up a saber before!

 

#2.   I’ve got an alternative title for the movie: Pirates of the Carribean: A long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away. Am I the only one who was expecting Johnny Depp to show up at any minute? I remember there were funny parts in the original Star Wars trilogy; the droids were hilarious as I got older. But almost no one played any of the jokes straight. When old Han (by that I mean young Han) tried to bargain with Jabba the Hutt, it was funny but it was like real life humor. From the moment Han shows up in the new one he’s making a joke of himself, playing stupid when old Han would play suave. “There’s gotta be one of those thermal things. There’s always one of those thermal things”?!?!? Harrison Ford must have suggested killing his character off after he’d read the rest of the script.

 

#3. So . . .  Droid lands on a desert planet . . .  Carrying important information . . .  Get’s found by someone in grimy-white . . .  Who’s a pilot . . .  Turns out to be strong with the force . . .  Get’s Anakin Skywalker’s old light saber (somehow found from the bottom of the clouds of Cloud City) . . .  And then they have to stop a giant planet killer . . .  With moves involving blowing up a shield generator . . .  And flying down a trench . . .   Which Star Wars movie are we watching? Once you understand you’re watching a reboot of Episode 4, it makes sense that Han dies because he’s an old dude. All we needed was for his voice to come through and say, “Run, Rey. Run!”

 

#3.5 . . . And, yeah. Blow up a planet from a long long way away? And somehow the resistance knows who’s being targeted . . .  And I must have missed how they knew the resistance base location. But anyway, yeah blow up like three or four planets at once? It may sound pretty cool in theory, Disney, but in this case it felt like watching an episode of Dragon Ball Z after Freiza is dead, and you’re like . . . well how do we top that? Oh let’s just do the same thing with a bigger celestial body count. Did anyone put any thought into this movie’s originality at all? Besides having a black and a female lead character? Anyone?

 

#3.75. And did everyone forget that the empire was blown up? I knew something was wrong as soon as I read that Leia was desperate! Why is there still a resistance?!?!? How is it a resistance when there’s a senate again? How can there be a republic and a resistance working for it? Does the republic not have an army? The republic would have to be the resistance!!! WHAT IS GOING ON HERE!?!?!?!

 

#4. I now officially long for the prequels. Seriously, I miss George Lucas.

 

#5. So now all the people who told me this movie was so great . . . I’m guessing you saw a midnight showing. And stopped at a bar first. And it had been a long long time since you watched the originals. In fairness, Lucas did make it awfully hard to watch the originals, didn’t he?

 

#6. The badguy = biggest let down wuss, ever. No wonder he lost it in Luke’s academy. He’s probably a millennial, who wanted Luke to grade on a curve where 60% was an A-. Alisa points out that it was good he got his clocked clean because we’ve already had a Vader (and this guy is no Vader. This guy doesn’t deserve to do Vader’s laundry), so this guy should be something new. New. Like Anakin Skywalker in the prequels. But with angst. What we really need now is a love triangle with him competing for Rey’s affection against Finn. For a real surprise, how about they all turn to the dark side?

 

#7. Thank you, Disney, for meeting my expectations. Ever since I saw that D that looks like a G on the toe of some guy dressed as a monk coming out of a French fashion show, I knew I could count on you. I had my doubts when I saw the trailers. Those directors made it look like a movie that I wanted to see. One that recaptured the magic lost in the nineties. But you didn’t let me down. I knew anyone who could make Cars 2 and Finding Dory before a sequel to The Incredibles could take a special place in my memory and make it smell like the garbage disposal from episode 4.

 

#8. I need to go watch some Star Wars movies, now. The ones with Luke and Han and Leia in them. I just reminisced the scene with Luke on Tattoine (not the look-a-like Jakko or whatever they called it), looking at the twin suns with epic music in a long shot that made you think and feel. A shot that would be unbearably long for J.J. Abrams. Seriously, he’d get bored. In his version Luke has to fight something and blow something up before he could check on the droids. And he’d probably use force lighting in the process. Then Obi-Wan and him could play a drinking game instead of wasting time on those boring saber drills.

 

#9. Seriously that was almost as bad as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

 

#9.5. Ok . . . it was probably much better that KCS. There were some good parts. Basically before any of the original trilogy characters showed up. I actually did like Finn and Rey and Po, I just wish they’d been in a different movie that didn’t involve the defilement of Han and Leia, a wuss-version of Vader, and a rerun plot based on large quantities of white sugar.  

 

#10. How about Christopher Nolan directs the next one? And can someone please make sure that Johnny Depp is not already cast for a lead role?

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