Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rosh Hashana: A Year of Renewal

Rosh Hashanah begins tonight (remember, Biblically, days begin in the evening because Genesis tells us "and there was evening and there was morning..."). 

We see references to it in Leviticus, Numbers, and Nehemiah:
  • Leviticus 23:24   24 Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts.
  • Numbers 29:1 On the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. It is a day for you to blow the trumpets
  • Nehemiah 7:73 - 8:3  73 So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants,and all Israel settled in their towns. When the seventh month came-- the people of Israel being settled in their towns--  8:1 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel.  2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month.  3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
So why is the Jewish New Year when it is obviously the seventh month?  This is because there are 2 traditions as to when the world was created, one is Tishrei (the seventh month) and one is Nisan (the first month).  So, it's the head of the year in the sense of when the world was created therefore years, that count age of the world, are counted from then, but months, such as when holidays are, are counted from Nisan because Hashem told Moshe "this month is for you as the first month for the months of the year" [you can thank my friend Yaakov for all that info].

There are many meanings and symbols for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time in the Jewish calendar for being introspective about the past and upcoming year.  There's a theme of judgment (based on the word mishpat in Ps 81:4) of all people (both Jews and Gentiles) connected with their successes and failures of the upcoming year.  Traditionally, apples and honey are eaten as a symbol of wishing for a sweet upcoming year, and challah is shaped into a crown to signify that God is King. The greeting on Rosh Hashanah is l'shanah tovah which means have a good year. The readings on the first day of Rosh Hashanah are Genesis 21:1-34 and 1 Samuel 1:1-2:10  (because the Gemara says these events occurred on Rosh Hashana). The day is also called Yom Zikaron (Day of Remembering) because it is the time when God "remembers", or rather, chooses to pay attention to His promises. 

As Christians in the U.S., we typically utilize the secular New Year's holiday to make resolutions; it's not something that we think of doing in the fall, the time of year when the leaves change color and die, when the weather starts to cool, birds migrate south, and the landscape starts to become brown and barren (many of us even pay little attention to when our Christian year begins with Advent, unless we attend a very liturgically-oriented church). Fall is not really a time we associate with new life--even as new experiences begin (i.e. new school year).  But new life happens every day, even when we aren't expecting it (as happened recently when my nephew was born 8 weeks early!). 

It can be beneficial to us to remember and improve upon our past year, or simply be introspective about one or more areas of life. We are often too busy and caught up with all of our day-to-day activities to really do this well. I've recently taken a "Christian Life Profile Assessment" and while there is a lot about it I didn't care for, it has prompted me to think about some of the various categories it covers, and so I will be starting a new blog series soon based on that Assessment.

Do you practice being introspective on a regular basis?  When do you do it and what do you do?

Other posts in this "Year of Renewal" Series can be read beginning here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Facebook Conversations & Digging into the Bible

Facebook is notorious as a place where conversations devolve into anger and accusations.  I typically use my personal timeline as a place to interact in a more fun than serious way and rarely do I have long conversations there. 

Until recently.  I'd posted an article about an atheist's take on the portrayal of atheists in the movie "God's Not Dead" and it set off quite the conversation.  Through it all though, people remained civil to each other.  It made me think that miracles do happen.

And then a friend send me a private message asking me what I thought about some verses in Matthew, and later that night I was able to spend some time looking at them and reading them in the context of the gospel as a whole.  As I explored the topic of the Kingdom of God throughout the gospel, I found my faith being reignited--and I didn't even know that it needed to be. With the text in front of me and my thoughts about it and what I've read on the subject forming in my head, I felt myself coming alive.  

It really makes such a huge difference to look at verses in context.  I know I am guilty of being lazy and not doing that at times, especially if it's a verse that I really like for some reason, but when I do actually put in the effort to learn the context, it ends up meaning so much more to me than just taking a verse here and a verse there and thinking I know what they mean because I've heard it in a sermon or have seen it on a calendar.

As I wrote up my notes and thoughts, I even learned something new.  I had always known the verses when Jesus talks about only going after the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and I had known the verses at the end of Matthew about making disciples of all nations, but I had never really looked at the progression of getting from one to the other, and as I noticed that, I could visualize how Jesus' movement started so small and narrowly focused, yet then opened up to include all people everywhere.  

And that's good news.

Because we often think of the Bible as a guidebook, we have a tendency to look at it as abstract pieces of information on how to live.  And while I do think it teaches us how to live, I don't think it's in the way of a checklist; it's more holistic than that.  It's easy to check off memory verses without understanding them or hold up a reference at a sporting event. But I constantly find myself wanting to go deeper than that.  For many people, the way I read and study the Bible would probably be considered too boring or difficult, because it doesn't provide automatic answers or advice.  But for me, when I do this, I find that the Bible opens up the world of faith to me in ways I don't experience any other way. It forces me to look at big pictures and challenge any suppositions I unknowingly have.  It causes me to think, to question, to wrestle.  Most of all, though that, it causes me to focus on God more than if I pluck out a verse.  

I think the Bible is beautiful, and am thankful for the conversations it fosters and the way those conversations make me look harder and dig deeper.  

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Monday, September 01, 2014

Reading My Bible: A Year of Renewal

For two months, I've been reading more Scripture on a regular basis than I have in a long time.  As part of my Year of Renewal project, I've been reading the parashah, haftarah, and Revised Common Lectionary readings for each week.  

Reading so much scripture has been great; it's made me wonder and it's made me question.  It's made me think of connections--and disconnections--between what I am reading and in other books I am reading (Galatians, What St. Paul Really Said).  I see themes that tie together and themes that contradict each other.

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted:

This was referring to the fact that I haven't signed up for one class at church. Not Sunday morning, Sunday evening, or Wednesday evening. There are some great options that are being offered. They just aren't for me at this time.  I miss reading and studying my Bible and I'm planning to take more time to actually do that. 

I have spent far too long going to various groups or activities because I feel obligated to do so: to meet people, to have a social outlet, to spend time with other adults. But I often still find that something is lacking.  It's like I'm attending a salad luncheon when all I want is a steak dinner.

Then I read this article by Ben Irwin on Q Ideas in which he states

"We buy a lot of Bibles. We just don’t read them. And if we do, it’s usually a verse here or a chapter there. We don’t read; we cherry-pick. And cherry-picking is a guaranteed path to a miserable reading experience."

That's exactly what we do. We read a verse here and there, or have a topic and find all the verses that we think go along with that topic, and we ignore whole chapters and books and context.  We want to skip right to application.  I'm so tired of doing that.  I'm tired of reading, say Galatians 1:3-5   

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

and skipping over it, or just thinking, oh, ok, Jesus died for our sins. What's next?  

Why, when we read the Bible, do we tend to not ask questions? Such as:
  • What did Paul mean when he says "present evil age"?  
  • What was considered evil in that period in history?
  • How does Jesus giving himself for sins set people free? What did it mean then? Is it connected to Luke 4:18?
  • How did Paul define sin?
Those are six questions about one small part of these verses that we usually skip over, if we even read them at all, because usually we'd rather just get on to an inspirational verse that we can memorize to pull out when we're feeling down (or a verse for when we want to prooftext something).  

I think part of the problem is that we see the Bible as our self-help guide and we're looking for 3 steps to stop worrying or 5 ways to grow faith or 7 ways to parent Biblically. But the Bible is so much more than that, and treating it as a self-help book can detract from what we can experience if we actually were to read it for the benefit of reading it and what we can learn and how we can grow through that process, and not just for a quick few steps about how to do something.  

How do you read the Bible?