Thursday, June 21, 2012

Following the Way of Y’shua

“Why do you call Jesus ‘Y’shua'?”

“What does it mean for you personally to adopt Jewish practices/theology?”
“You know, you really shouldn’t eat kosher.  God freed us from the law, so you’re practicing false religion.”
Yeah, I’ve been fielding these questions and comments for a while.  That last one has been my personal “favorite” since the challenge was issued a good four years ago.  Still, it reveals a lot of confusion and tension within the Body of Christ.  And that in turn begs the question, why does the Hebrew Roots movement illicit so much controversy?
Well, now that I’ve thrown that question out there, I’m not going to answer it.  I’ll let you, dear readers, chew on it for a while.  In the meantime, I’ll attempt to answer the first two questions as concisely as possible.  J
The first answer is simple.  I call Jesus Y’shua because … well, that’s His name!  Jesus is the Anglicized rendering of Jesu (yay-soo), the Greek version of the Aramaic name Y’shua; which is in turn a contraction of the Hebrew Y’hoshua (Joshua).  Y’shua is what His family, friends, and disciples murmured at His birth, called out along the dusty trail, shouted at His triumphant entry, and tearfully whispered at the foot of His cross.  In contrast, the name “Jesus” carries with it all the weight of 2000 years of bad publicity and corrupted institutions.  It reminds me of the line from the film A Knight’s Tale: “The pope may be French, but Jesus is English!”  And in a way, isn’t that the attitude of the western church?  We have lost our humility in the sense of remembering that we are the grafted branch, not the Vine itself.  I call Him Y’shua because I understand how it feels to have your name butchered by the English language.  My mother and husband are the only people who use my true name.  I am okay with that, but it was a major driving force behind the shift in my heart.  I imagine He enjoys hearing His name uttered in its original form as much as I do … particularly by His Bride.
The second answer is a bit more complex.  … although, I confess it’s not too different from my answer to question #1.
In Christian culture, we often refer to the Bible as “God’s Love Letter.”  And while it is a very profound metaphor, I have found it to be a very convicting and weighty one.  Imagine pouring out your story to your Beloved: your personal history and family culture; your thoughts and dreams; your outpouring of love for your Beloved and your dreams for your life together … and your Beloved, after reading through the letter, decided to only pay attention to those parts that she decided were relevant to her?  Would you be surprised?  Hurt …?
Torah is essentially God’s way of introducing Himself to humanity.  “Hello world, this is Me.”  And to draw a tangible contrast, He called the children of Israel to be His ambassadors.  “Be Holy because I am Holy.” (Leviticus 11:44)  He designated a lifestyle that would enable the world see boundless fascets of His character.  He showed, in no uncertain terms that: 1) He is a jealous God, demanding “all or nothing” as our love and devotion is concerned; 2) that He cares deeply about our physical, emotional, and spiritual health; and 3) He is not a respector of persons (all people are equal and all sins, also equal).  And that’s just brushing the surface.  As He implied to us at the banishing from Eden (Genesis 3:21 compared to 3:7), Torah confirms in detail that without the shedding of blood, there can be no redemption of sin.
Did you ever walk in your parent’s footprints as a child?  I remember every first snowfall (few as they were).  I never wanted to mar the beauty of the fresh blanket of snow.  My parents often went out to collect firewood from our shed, and I would carefully walk behind them, trying to keep my feet in the depressions they’d already made.  Yes, part of it was to preserve the beauty … but one particular winter, it was also because the drifts were so high I was terrified I would sink in and get stuck!  I didn’t want to stumble.
When Y’shua walked the earth, he stepped in the way of Torah.  Contrary to popular belief, not once did he break Torah or suggest that anyone else do.  Instead, by His very life He fulfilled all of the promises of Torah (Matthew 5:17).
… but there’s more to it than that.  Growing up as a home schooled child, a daily Bible study was the very foundation of my education.  And no Scripture embedded itself more firmly into my child’s heart than the book of Ruth.  Ruth has often been declared a “type” or foreshadowing of the Gospel.  Simply put, a Gentile bride (Ruth) is introduced to the ways of her Kinsman Redeemer (Boaz) by her spiritual mother, a daughter of Zion (Naomi).  In turn, upon her redemption, Ruth introduces Naomi to the person of Boaz; and Boaz moreover redeems Naomi and her inheritance in addition to Ruth.  Now, if Ruth is a type of the Gentile Bride (the church); Naomi represents the Daughter of Zion (Israel); and Boaz in turn is a type of the Kinsman Redeemer (Y’shua) … the story is not yet complete.  The Bride has been redeemed, but what of the Daughter of Zion and her inheritance (typified by a field, so I’m thinking land – either the Promised Land or the planet in general)?  The metaphor is clear that Ruth adopted the ways of both her mother-in-law and her redeemer.  It is also clear that she was personally invested in the Naomi’s restoration and reconciliation to Boaz’s household.
The story is not yet complete, and the full realization that the part that I (as part of the Gentile Bride) have to play has only begun … that epiphany rooted deeply in my heart at a very impressionable age.  I must learn the ways of my Hebrew Messiah.  And I must do my part to introduce the Daughter of Zion to Him.  As an anthropologist, I also understand that the only way to introduce a people group to an unfamiliar idea is to first invest in their culture.
I am the Bride:  I have covenanted to place myself under my Bridgroom’s headship, a part of his household.
I am the Grafted Branch: my very lifeforce flows from an ancient Root.
I follow His ways because … I love Him!  His God is my God … His people, my people.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Good Grief! (A very personal book review)

June 11th.  Kylie’s Day …

When my dear sister-in-law Erica McNeal asked me to write a review of her recently published print edition of her book, Good Grief! In my blog, I confess to hesitating.  My reflections on her original e-book release a year ago were somewhat less than either of us had hoped.  So right off the bat, here’s my confession: I am a brutal critic, especially as writing is concerned.  If you ever ask me to review your work, I will proceed fully intending to shred it.  Not because I get my jollies out of tearing down the labor of others (far from it!).  Blame it on my years as a collegiate English tutor.  “I want to help you get an A from a finicky and narcissistic professor.”  Hey!  It’s the truth!  That being said …

The print edition is, in a word, illuminating.  In Good Grief! How to Create an Oasis when Life is a Desert, Erica systematically lays out for her readers her personal story of loss and survival; reflects on how the actions and words of others either encouraged or hampered her healing process; and exhorts her readers in appropriate ways to encourage and support grieving loved ones.
Right off the bat, Erica addresses what I considered to be the greatest weakness in her e-book.  While her e-book 1st edition of Good Grief! was written for those who followed her fledgling blog Finding God’s Fingerprints (and thus were already intimately acquainted with her raw story),this print edition is written for the masses.  It unceremoniously answers the question, “Who are you to illicit this advice?”  Well, she tells you.  By the time Erica McNeal was thirty-two years old, she was already a three-time cancer survivor, and had experienced the loss of five children.  No matter how hardened in life you are, you have to admit: that’s a lot to endure before even reaching the peak of adulthood.  She walks us through the outline of her adult life: her initial diagnosis of a very rare cancer at 22; the heart-wrenching neonatal loss of their secondborn daughter Kylie Joy; and the failed adoption of JT, the boy who would have been their eldest son.  Throw in two more cancer battles and two miscarriages, and it kind of leaves the reader’s head spinning.  As an “insider,” I often find myself marveling that Erica is neither clinically depressed nor a complete hermit.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
You would think that those close to Erica (and Todd, her husband and my husband’s brother) would have done everything in their power to bear her up in these times of difficulty.  Sadly, it is not human nature to have a Servant’s Heart.  Even so, reading through the words people thoughtlessly threw at her … needless to say, I was, in a word, disgusted.  My first thoughts were a bit shameful: Girl, what hole did you dig these characters out of?  Even my father (who is browsing her book as I write) looked up abruptly with his infamous “someone’s smoking dope” look and grunted, “’At least you’ve got the good kind of cancer’? What the heck is that supposed to mean?”  Yes, that is one of the more charming comments Erica has had to endure from a “helpful” individual.  Apparently common sense is not as “common” as we are taught to believe.  Have you ever heard of the show, “What Not to Wear”?  Yeah, since her e-book release, I’ve nicknamed Erica’s works “What not to say.”  Or sometimes simply, ”NO DUH!”
Fortunately, she doesn’t simply leave her readers with bitter memories of words that hurt and what not to say/do (though they do make great mental notes).  She also lays out examples of constructive ways the reader can help a loved one endure through and recover from a night season.
Now, this is the one area where my personal reflections don’t 100% align with Erica’s.  Mind you, I have only endured one particularly painful miscarriage, but I can tell you bluntly that my expression of grief can be best captured in a picture of Oscar the Grouch’s™ trash can, suspending the sign that declares in bold scraggly script, “GO AWAY!”  Don’t talk to me, don’t even look at me.  Don’t call me, I’ll call you.  Don’t check on me; I’ll come find you when I’m ready for human contact.
But … I am an introvert.  A vocal one, yes.  But even in the happiest of circumstances, I find human interaction to be incredibly draining.  In a time of grief or stress, the thought of even being near people is nothing short of agonizing.  Like sandpaper on a burn.  So when Erica stresses the importance of checking in on people in the weeks following a loss or on the anniversary of one (a time I need to keep intensely private), my first response was to recoil.  No, you can not – you WILL not – touch me when I’m hurting!  Or I will be forced to bite you!  And I confess to projecting this on everyone around me.  Yes, my instinct is to treat everyone who is hurting like a wounded animal.  Give them space.  Let them come to you when they’re ready.
Then again … I then have to remind myself that introverts only comprise an estimated 25% of the population.  What about the other 75/100 people … people-oriented people (I think Barbra Streisand sang about them once?).  People who draw energy from contact from others … People who are most effectively healed by the expressions of love and compassion from others … oh yes …my dear, dear sister: Erica, you have given me a window into the hearts of those who I do not understand.  You have shown me how even my best efforts to uphold the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39) could completely backfire on me.  And I’m chewing on it.
Today is Kylie’s Day.  Today, had she lived, my sweet little niece would have turned five years old.  Instead, she is dancing in the arms of Adonai.  And to honor her memory, Erica is officially launching her new blog domain.  And I strongly recommend you visit, for she has some fantastic prizes lined up for those who purchase a copy of Good Grief! this week (June 11th-16th), including gift cards to Outback and Amazon.  She'll also be including a free digital copy with purchase this week (so you won't have to wait for the paper version to ship to dig in).  And small group leaders: she has something special lined up for you too!!
And do I think you should read her book?  Absolutely!  It offers overarching and tangible guidelines for tending to the needs of loved ones enduring the painful tribulations of cancer and childloss.  And to my fellow introverts: at least half of her advice will make perfect sense.  As for the rest of it … remember that it is likely you have many “people-people” in your life.  Consider her words an invaluable roadmap to a foreign land.
So please visit her at  Tweet?  #goodgriefbook or her twitter name @toddanderica .  Or if you prefer, "Like" her on Facebook!

Thanks for reading!  May Shalom and Agape be with you …