Sep 2, 2013

"I Love Jewish"

In honor of Labor Day I mowed half the lawn.  The front half, for the neighbors’ benefit (and mine too, I guess, as it sort of saves face, which has needed saving for about 2 weeks now).  Then off to more pressing and eternally important matters – attending a panel discussion with visiting theologian Avner Boskey about the roots of anti-Semitism and its fruit in the church.  I wasn’t sure if the questions were to be posed by the audience, and out of all the many that have flitted through my head over the years, only one kept coming to mind.  I didn’t get to ask it.  However, it was answered.

Let me backtrack.

One Sunday morning a visitor came to the church I grew up in.  In between songs and sermon we often invited testimonies, and this tall, beautiful woman stood.  She was dark, vibrant, and around her neck wore a cross and a star of David on the same chain.  She fingered these as she spoke. 

With a lovely accent, in fair but imperfect English, she haltingly told us she was from Iran, and had been saved very recently.  In her own language her words would have flowed like music.  Through the mask of the limited English vocabulary she had, I could still hear that flow of heart, tender and deep. 

She told how she had been raised to hate the Jewish people, and how she always had.  Her testimony was this, as she stood there in our Gentile congregation—that she knew her conversion was unalterable and profound, for the Lord Jesus, Himself a Jewish man, had done inside her heart a work that was impossible.  Tears and triumph and thankfulness in her voice, she clutched her star and cross, and exclaimed over and over:

“Now I love Jewish!  I love Jewish!  I love…I love Jewish!”

My heart was leaping like a dancing lamb; my eyes were weeping; my youth was struggling to keep both private.  Her proclamation was full of power—unexpected waves like electricity.  I felt true shock that I was given the privilege of hearing this on earth—me, a simple girl in a podunk inner-city church—to hear this former Muslim, shouting out her love for the Jews.  And yes, this was a proof of how real salvation and redemption and restoration, and JESUS, are: “I love Jewish!”

The English word, “Jew”, was just not in her vocabulary yet.  Still, her endearing phrase has stuck in my heart for many years. 

Recently I’ve been wondering about when to use the words “Jew” and “Jewish”.  One is a noun.  It implies a comprehensive definition.  The other is an adjective—one descriptor out of many possible. 

As I’ve made more Jewish friends, it’s become apparent that under the petticoat of culture and even orthodoxy lurks an anti-Semitism of which we are almost completely unaware.  It comes out in our speech and thought patterns, and it is this “outer-ring” anti-Semitism the panel was discussing (as opposed to the more familiar inner-rings, which would include things like Nazism or an overt dislike for the Jews). 

I didn’t ask my question about “Jew” versus “Jewish”, because it wasn’t really about words (word usage changes so over time, staying PC isn’t our goal) but was about collective definitions being applied to individuals, and whether that creates a barrier to the individual Jewish heart.  And the panel discussion went there pretty quickly, confirming what my heart had been saying.  Relating to a person through stereotypes, whether negative or positive, does not convey the heart of Jesus. 

I remember times I was labeled according to the college I went to, or the country I was from, and considered to embody the stereotypes of those places (usually good ones, mind you).  What I’ve found is that even a “good” stereotype marginalized me. 

For instance, in a discussion I cared very much about and which would steer the direction of a many-year endeavor, I once had a manager dismissively answer my opinion with: “Yes, but you’re from Wheaton,” effectively eliminating my point of view from the table.  He meant that my ideas would be too high-literature, too educated, to be useful in an attempt to reach the regular reading population.  His words worked – I realized later I could have left the conference table at that point, and the team’s decision would have been unaffected. 

Stereotypes are just that—assumptions that define each individual according to a group label.  While the Jewish people are certainly defined by God in particular and very beautiful ways, and corporately have been given gifts and giftings, to view individual Jews only according to that corporate identity is potentially a great injustice to the individual—it is to marginalize him or her.  We don’t realize how often we do this, and when we do (as Christians) we say with shortsighted relief, “well, at least my stereotypes are all positive ones.”

As we talk about how to avoid accidental anti-Semitism in our words and assumptions, the question doesn’t really come down to which words are correct/positive and which aren’t.  It comes down to which words are spoken with love and knowledge of individuals, and which aren’t.  As my father taught me: Love is always person-to-person.  One country might say it “loves” another country, and one Christian might say she “loves” Israel, but in the end, love is shown to be real when it can and does manifest on a personal plane. 

Is the individual seen?  Is the individual loved? 

I know the whole church should love me, and theoretically does.  But my heart is melted by those who take time to know more about me than that I go to the same Sunday service as them.  Do you love me because I’m a Christian, or do you love me because I’m Amy?  Every human heart cries out for the latter. 

Do we love them because they are Israel, or do we love them because they are Eitan and Fran and Avner and Sivan and Daniel and Hannah and Joshua and…  It’s not that I don’t know there are very special, very important promises made by God to all the Jews (promises that benefit me, too), it’s that I know those promises have been made specifically to Eitan and Fran and Sivan (et al.)!  And to their families.  And to their ancestors.  And to their children’s children… 

…and from one love of one person, I can love a whole nation. 
…and because I know Eitan has been promised the physical homeland of Israel, I can understand the implications of that promise in the lives of all his countrymen, too. 
…and when he embraces me like a father, and talks kindly, I suddenly know that I too will be welcomed there, that he will gladly include me in what he has been given.  That this personal love doesn’t just go one way, it goes two.  And oh, that is the best sort of love!

It all reminds me of what John the beloved said in 1st John 3:16-18:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

P.S.  In college I had a friend from middle-America who had never met a black person.  It’s possible.  Lest you despair that you know no Jews, let me give you a hint: you do!  His name is Jesus.  Love that Man like this, then love His sisters and brothers and parents, then love His grandparents and His nieces and nephews…then love His whole people.  It’s as easy as it sounds.  Course, it’d be great to find a few of them and invite them over to dinner, too.  Remember, real love is person-to-person.

Aug 28, 2013

How To Distract God

My hands were raised, eyes closed, attention focused on the Throne.  Against my leg came a soft bump.  Three-feet tall, a warm little body gently pressed itself there and stayed.  My nephew.  He’d come down the row of chairs to greet me, to receive my affection.  There was nothing incongruous about dropping my hands, slipping to the chair, and cuddling him into me while the congregation’s song continued over our heads.  This was easy; this was right; this was worship.  And I wasn’t in the least offended over being called to switch my attention from God on the Throne to a little one I loved.

His trust had been well-placed.  He knew he would be received…it didn’t matter whether his aunt was visiting with his mother, talking to God, saving the world, or reading a book.  She would welcome him.

Do I realize, I wondered this morning, that the Father feels the same about me?  He is saving the world, and working hard on coordinating billions of daily details and circumstances, while strategically placing whispers into human hearts that will germinate and bear life-long salvations.  When I come up to Him, just wanting to be looked at and touched, His receptive happiness over the experience of being trusted and loved by me is open, quick, and genuine.  (Since He’s God, being distracted by me doesn’t keep Him from doing all those other omnipotence-wielding things—which is a comfort to the rest of you, I’m sure.) 

How does He feel when I do not receive all this love and openness from Him?

I had a houseguest once who was extremely thankful.  But she didn't take anything I offered, except the bed to sleep in.  My home is an open invitation.  It has pleasant living and sitting rooms, with rocking chairs and couches.  During the morning the sun shines across the flowers in the back garden, where there is a patio umbrella, bistro table, cushioned chair…everything to make a sweet restorative place for contemplation and rest.  The refrigerator is stocked with healthy food, organic milk, and the best ice cream in the freezer.  Cool breeze comes through a window just behind the baby grand piano.  While the birds are chirping their species songs behind your back, and the window light is perfect on the music, worship and love can be done.  There are stimulating magazines and cool rooms; bathtubs and showers and hot coffee in the pot.  Icy sun-tea and fresh lemons to squeeze into it.  Mint for water growing by the door; lettuce and cilantro and ripening tomatoes in the vegetable plots.  Chocolate and water in the guest room, and an antique dresser to unpack into. 

But she only slept in the bed then scurried out the front door, thanking me.  Her towel was perfectly re-draped in the bathroom, as if she had never used it, as if she was supposed to be invisible.

How I wanted her to enjoy all this—not for my sake, for hers.  I was sharing something God gave me, and I wanted her to feel the hospitable acceptance that belongs to her just because she belongs to Jesus.  It is a way of honoring Him, this honoring of brethren.

My heart ached.  I wished she had taken my things, and left with a face shiny from the rest, the breeze, the avocados and coconuts and olive oils; left with protein rushing to her cells to sustain them and a scripture-song frolicking inside a watered heart, like a happy child in a cool clear pond.

My bumbling, human heart sometimes does tell me a little about God’s honest, purposeful heart.  Today it is telling me that the word He gave me a few months ago, when I asked Him what He wanted me to do, was very real:  “Receive.”  He wants us to receive.  And what we’re receiving is His love.

“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.”  (Jeremiah 31)

One thing I’ve noticed about receiving—it’s a constant, because not only does it take willingness, it takes time.  In the late spring I planted all the pots with seedling flowers and nutritious soil.  They’ve been watered daily, deadheaded, and generally nurtured.  But only now, two months later, have the plants burst out into three or four times their original size, with prolific blooms and cascading greenery.  Though everything was there for them from the beginning, their receptivity needed to be exercised over time before it resulted in the bower their little bodies have now become.

Practicing receptivity is more than important.  A lot of people will never notice what is at their fingertips.  The reasons are varied—feelings of worthlessness, disbelief that something so good could be true, focus on self with no real knowledge of how they’re designed to thrive.  And some get distracted earlier in life than I have been, by the actualization of having received a particular thing.  Intense love—between man and wife, children and mother—has come to them, and its resulting circumstances and the maintenance it requires has sometimes dulled them to the actual IT. 

This realization encourages me, giving context for my own little life dramas.  What looks like delay and dryness to myself and others—my long wait to receive certain of God’s gifts—in brief moments of clarity shows itself to my soul for what it really is, a chance for undistracted receiving.  I’ve had time to soak Him in and become a full, blooming plant.  But I don’t hold my circumstances up as particularly better or more conducive than anyone else’s.  Acts 17 says He chose the times and boundaries (life circumstances and locations) that would give us the best chance at seeking Him, feeling for Him, and finding Him.  I believe this is played out on an individual basis, and the same strange (often unwanted) gift that singleness has been to me, early marriage might be to another.

In the end, as we learn that there is such a great love, and that we are supposed to receive it freely, we move into the second half of that revelation that banishes loneliness.  We discover the second commandment.  Our job in the world, as alive beings and beloved of the King, is not just to wait for and revel in the final love, and have a little something here on earth to tide us over until then—but to create love…swim in it, rejoice in it, call it forth; to expand love...its experience, its expression, its extent in those around us; to receive love…revel in it, celebrate it, watch for it.  Be love. 

I easily see the struggle side of things, the giving up, the sacrifice, the beautiful laying down of self even when the enemies take that love and despise it.  I see how all this clarifies and purifies the soul until it is like crystal, transparent and pure and brilliant all the way through.  This is because, for some reason, my soul understands sorrow and God has shown me the truth that is found in the Man of Sorrows.  But that is only a fraction of the story—just as the cross was only one day, and the struggle is only seven millennia, but the unending peace will be years reaching beyond the eternal trillions humans can conceive of measuring.  What a small, short birth-pang our world and our hearts are enduring.  And then comes only love.  Right now, in the middle of it, three things are most important:  faith, hope, and love.  The greatest?  Love. 

Receive it today - you just might distract God...and something tells me He loves that kind of distraction!

p.s.  Lest you think my house is a palace—it’s not.  It’s a simple, small, quiet place, whose beauty and rest are only perceived by a heart that is looking for and receptive to those things.  Designers and spa-goers alike would rightly overlook it.  Far-off freeway noise actually wafts through the windows along with the breeze!

Aug 26, 2013

Make Her Willing

He laughed at me, incredulous and kind. "Use your imagination."

"But where do you tell them to go if you don't have a bed for them?"

The answer came again, with a defensive edge this time: "You're gonna have to use your imagination.  Where would YOU go?  Maybe sleep in your car."

Thank him.  Hang up.  Cry.  I should help her, right?  But how?  I've been through all the options, and I just can't figure out how.

Pray, whispers the Father.  Ok.  I start and a thought pops.  I call the place she said she was getting kicked out of.  They shouldn't, but they do…they talk to me.  Perhaps I sound kind and sweet; too kind and sweet, they think, to be scammed. 

Ah, I’m not actually surprised…  I hang up, the angst of confusion gone.  I did need to know the truth, but it’s a more unhappy truth than her lie was, and my avenues to help her have not only shrunk, they’ve entirely disappeared.  Because now it’s apparent, she didn’t want help.

The angst over what to do tonight is gone, but the ache is even deeper.  A human soul, with layer upon layer of delusion and deception, lie and manipulation, wounds and accusations…only real conversion of that soul can peel back the layers deeply enough to find the image of God, to awaken the core girl who was created to know Him and respond to Him.  I can’t force a heart to be willing for God to start His peeling and digging and healing and redeeming.  Oh – sometimes I wish I could!  I tried, standing there talking to her.  I tried.  Only the Holy Spirit can do something so deep and impossible.

What makes my heart sink is this knowledge that many people, perhaps this girl, won't ever be willing. Revelation 9 came across my dinner table tonight:  "third of mankind was killed...The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons...Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts."

I have to lay her down to Him and give up the idea of being the one to make sure she becomes new, and when I do I realize that’s what He intended.  Pray, He whispers, so that when we turn to Him, we find out His thoughts rather than our own ideas.  I have to know what He wants me to do – this is obedience, right?  Obedience isn’t doing what we think He’d like.  It’s doing what He says.  And tonight He said, be at peace.  So I shall.  What I was supposed to do, I did: a cup of water in Jesus' name.  The rest is up to Him.

Jesus, make her willing to come to You.  Make her willing…

Mar 30, 2013

A Big Hoax on our Little Human Race

Have you ever encountered someone to whom your existence truly didn’t matter?  They don’t hate you – no, nothing so passionate.  Nor do they love.  They are simply indifferent.  I’ve met a few, and it unsettles me in a way hatred doesn’t.  I watch them walk away and everything inside me wants to cry, “I’m real!  I matter!  I should matter to you!”  

A cold snowstorm hit recently and my back door warped slightly.  The neighbor I asked wouldn’t help me push it closed enough to lock it—he told me later he was calculating how much he would normally be paid for doing “work”, and knew that my request for the help of his strength came with no money attached.  I spent the night in an unbolted house.  (Not a great idea in my neighborhood.)  The man doesn’t hate me – he just didn’t care.

I’m told that some men are just like that.  If you don’t annoy them, and don’t inspire love or lust in them, it’s said they don’t have the attention span or emotional capacity to engage in the meaningful exchanges of personhood, one valuing another.  They’re not trying to be mean – it’s just the way they are.  A fact of gender. 

This isn’t true. 

God is not indifferent, which means he didn’t create Adam (or Eve) with the trait either.  Where it exists, it’s a product of sin-nature, not gender.  A big hoax has been played on our little human race.  In fact, one of the worst and most effectively pervasive accusations against the character of God is that He’s indifferent.  Forget angry God or judgmental God – uninvolved God is Satan’s optimum lie.  It works better than the others.  With a deep, even if unarticulated, knowledge of sin, the average man feels God would be a little justified if He was angry or judging.  But, having had the breath of the Creator breathed into our lungs at the very beginning, each of us knows that in one way or another, we are of value – and that an indifferent God is a travesty against all that is natural and supernatural. 

God himself hates our own indifference.  He wishes, in Revelation, that we were either hot or cold … but this wishy-washy lukewarmth that doesn’t really care one way or the other – this indifference – is disgusting to him.  He calls that sort of a person shamefully naked, a blind man.  (Rev. 3) 

I know a “blind” man or two.  After interactions with them I feel general confusion and sadness - it takes a while for me to realize my soul is reeling from one of the most powerful darts of all – the lie that I don’t matter. 

A few years ago I had a dream.  The setting: the Great Tribulation.  The characters:  me and a bunch of bad guys.  As these men loaded pallets in a warehouse for shipping (the cargo was WMD or something as terrible) I calmly repeated to the foreman, “What you are doing is wrong.  What you are doing is wrong.”  I was ignored.  Finally, annoyed that a droning voice had been bothering him for too long, he turned and sent me to the ground with one solid, emotionless blow across the face.  I lay still, unable to rise as they continued loading.  He hadn’t hit me in anger, or out of frustration at the content of my message.  In fact, I was about as important as a fly.  He simply wanted the noise to stop.  A great realization came to me on that concrete floor.  I’d always thought persecution would be overt, direct, and angry.  But indifference… what an entirely different world this was.  Even hatred directed at a human acknowledges their humanness, their substance and existence as a soul.  At the end of the dream an old friend entered and passed me by, ignoring my injured state.  But her 12-year-old daughter walked in and saw, and stooped.  Oh, I was a human again.  She saw me! 

We’re well-rehearsed in our expectation of persecution and tribulation during the End Times.  Yet, we will still be surprised.  For it may not be hatred that rounds us up and tosses us overboard.  It may be indifference.  And that is a very different blow to our psyches.  Hatred I might meet with bravery, or anger with peace.  But before indifference my soul forgets it is a soul and my existence forgets I exist.  My heart forgets it is loved and my thoughts forget they are important.  I wonder if I am known or am worth knowing.  If today, when the sting of one man’s indifference to me can only be eased from inside the affirming arms of my Creator, what will the planet’s indifference do?  For indifference is injustice at its deepest – more so than hatred is – an injustice that disaffirms the essential value of existence.

We who think we’re so ready to remain loving under persecution may have a whole different arena of sanctification to go through when indifference hits us instead of hatred.  Our wills are strong enough to stand up to hatred on their own.  But without real intimacy between us and the Lover of our souls, we cannot come warm and unfrozen through the long tundra of indifference. 

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
― Elie Wiesel

I suppose Satan’s great victory would be to convince us, not to slip to hate, but to linger in that cold world of indifference, and become indifferent ourselves to all who would be indifferent to us. 

God’s answer has always been clear.  He is not indifferent, and neither are we designed to be.  And the only thing that will keep us alive and joyful is not a hardened indifference to persecution or enemies, but a vulnerability-producing love for those enemies.  Yes, it will make us more "hurtable", but in the end, it will save our souls.

When we are not indifferent - when our hearts ache every time we offer love and have it boomeranged back at us - then we may become a bruised but living answer to a world that has actually believed God Himself indifferent to their own souls.  He isn't, and neither are we!