Sunday, March 10, 2019

43534 :: Post-Apocalyptic Musings

It has been 122 days since an apocalyptic-sized firestorm swept through our county, killing 85 people (mostly elderly) and untold other pets and wildlife, destroying nearly 19,000 structures (and effectively, several communities) and displacing over 50,000 souls. 

Labeled "the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history," the Camp Fire which started November 8, 2018 and roared for 18 days, continues to have a huge impact on our community today, in ways we did not anticipate. 

We knew to buy up air purifiers and N95 face masks. Hundreds volunteered countless hours at Red Cross, humane, and other shelters to serve those who had lost everything. Many donated bedrooms and travel trailers for use by strangers who had been displaced. There was no lack of compassion or outpouring of selfless giving on the part of our community during this time of dire need.

Vacant rentals within a 50+ mile radius filled up within a week - a few landlords generously even waived deposits or pet restrictions. People were on the phone to realtors, buying houses sight-unseen even as they drove down the hill through walls of flames. Thousands got in their cars and just kept on driving, relocating to other cities and states... or sometimes, countries. Thousands of others camped out in tents, trailers and cars in any open space they could find for weeks, until rains threatened flooding and more shelters were opened.

Church shelters filled up within days, until the outbreak of norovirus and the influx of opportunistic transients infiltrated, causing the most vulnerable - the children and elderly - to feel further traumatized.

It was ironic, if not almost comical, to answer the inevitable, innocent question asked by anyone not familiar with our community: "Were you affected by the Camp Fire?" Even those of us who did not lose a home could not fail to have been affected. At the very least, we each have multiple friends and/or family whose lives were upended as they literally fled for their lives, leaving melting cars in the traffic jam as they ran through blazing walls of fire on both sides.

On a lesser note, one cannot fail to see the impact with crowded grocery stores, restaurants, streets, medical facilities. We have an entire town just 20 minutes up the hill from us who lost hospitals, clinics, restaurants, hotels, convenience stores, gas stations... how can that not fail to impact the rest of us, even if we lost nothing more than the ability to breath clean air for a few weeks?

But to me, the most devastating effect that has impacted us all, is the ability to afford to continue to live in this community that we have called home for decades. As we were nearing retirement, we had already been looking out for affordable housing in the senior mobile home parks that abound. Now, it would seem, opportunistic sellers have disregarded any thought to anything besides feathering their own nests at the expense of not only those who have lost everything, but the rest of us who can no longer afford to remain where we have lived, in our case, for 14 years.

Our District Attorney warned businesses that it is illegal (not to mention immoral) to raise the price on rent or food or cars or gas or building materials more than 10% in the face of a disaster. But selling a house is a different matter. As pointed out recently on social media, a 49-year old, single-wide mobile home in a senior park that had been listed at $18,000 pre-Camp Fire was raised to $55,000 (with no apparent improvements to warrant the price increase) and sold within a week. Likewise, slapping a coat of paint on a 48-year old double-wide in the same senior park is apparently justification for listing at $154,000 what was listed in 2018 for $20,000.

Sadly, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more long-term renters have now been served notice that landlords are selling houses (one must assume to the highest bidder), taking advantage of this window of opportunity where people desperate for a place to live coupled with insurance payouts are forking out double - and sometimes triple - the amount of what a place is worth, further displacing yet more families in their wake.

I'm not sure where it will all end, but I'm not so naïve as to think it will end any time soon. Nor will it end on a happy note. The bubble will burst, there will be a lot of people who have shelled out FAR-above reasonable market value for houses, businesses will not be able to move to (or even continue to operate in) our area because there is no available housing for employees, and the bubble is going to burst with a big splat.

I hope I am wrong - but I don't think I am. And I doubt we will be here to see it anyway, since no one can live on Social security and a meager savings where housing prices have tripled.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Berĕshith 5 :: Echoes of the Sound of Silence

Several things strike me as I consider the Torah portion for this week:

One is the recent atrocity in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Standing out in my mind in particular, a woman named Joyce Fienberg who was just one of the 11 murder victims whose voice has been silenced. According to news accounts, Joyce "spent time volunteering at Family House, a nonprofit that provides a place to stay for people traveling to the Pittsburgh area for medical care. Fienberg’s role was to help guests get comfortable in an unfamiliar city, March said. She was known around the nonprofit for her sense of humor."

Sadly for me, I did not know Joyce, having never been to Pittsburg. And in all honestly, this post is not specifically about the murders or Mrs. Fienberg, per se. Rather, I want to talk about the silent voices whose lives affected our own.

In reading this week's devotional and commentary about the death of the matriarch Sarah, it was pointed out: "...never underestimate the value of a matriarch... Matriarchs are the glue that hold a household of faith together." I simply want to chime in with my 2¢ on that subject.  (This is not to devalue or diminish the important role that fathers have in our lives.) By their presence or by their absence, be they supportive or abusive, fathers and mothers both have life-long influences on those of us who are still topside.

My second thought is in regards to the statement that [mothers] are the glue that hold a household of faith together. I would venture to elaborate on that and say that mothers are the glue that holds the whole family together. PERIOD. In my case, my father-in-law was the first to leave us, but when my mother-in-law left, that had a measurably different effect on the family. No longer was there anyone to nag us into having family get togethers, no longer were we drawn together to celebrate special days. It could get occasionally annoying, because without being a Jewish mother, she totally had the guilt trip stereotype down. And now, we miss it, and have become painfully aware of how fragmented our family is becoming without someone being intentional to draw us back together.

When my own mother passed, another void was created in our extended family. Since her memorial service, no event has had the power to draw everyone together from our far-flung daily lives. We still see each other as we are able and have the time and money to travel, but no more coordinating of the gatherings to celebrate her birthday, which had become an "almost-annual" tradition.

Despite the fact that their voices have been silenced, the roar of their influence in our lives, the echoes of their love and admonishments have shaped who I am today, for better or for worse. 

And so it was with Sarah and the lasting effect she had in the lives of Abraham and Isaac. So it was with the effect she continues to have in our own modern day lives as well, as we consider our place in the story of faith. Her silent laughter of incredulity aside, what faith and trust she must have had to trek off with her husband into the unknown... to agree to participate in the deception with her husband of a pharaoh and a king... 

Or, as Bill Bullock states in this weeks "Rabbi's Son" devotional: "As Abraham is recognized as the father of all who believe, Sarah is rightly considered the mother of all who follow after God."

For those of us who have been blessed to be mothers, it is a faith challenge to consider the Sarahs, the Joyce Fienbergs, the mothers and mothers-in-law who, by their lives, their wisdom, their kindnesses, their simply being present, have had a lasting influence and so shaped the lives of the generations that followed. 

So, whose voice do you have echoing in your head? Their voices are not really silent if there is someone still listening.

Hayei Sarah: Genesis 23:1 - 25:18 
Haftorah: I Kings 1:1-31
B'rit Chadesha: John 4:1-42

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Berĕshith 4 :: This is the Great Adventure

I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to have The Almighty speak to you as He did to Abram. Without so much as a "Fear not!" to soften the shock: what did Abram think when YHVH called him to leave his home?

I have grown up thinking that he must have simply just packed up his camels and hiked off into the desert with his entourage. It may very well have happened that way, but the stories don't give us much to go on when we start to wonder what must have been going through his mind. Regardless of what he may have thought, it's pretty clear that Abram did not hesitate to sh'ma the voice calling him out of his father's household and off to (pardon the expression) "God knows where."

Any adventure always starts with a departure... and with us leaving something behind. We each have a different story, because we are all called to leave something behind when we heed our individual call to follow YHVH. Whatever that thing is will make our story a unique one. Can you identify with any of these things that we have been called to leave behind when we sh'ma the voice of YHVH calling?
  • Self-destructive behavior 
  • Critical spirit
  • Attitude of entitlement or victimization
  • Sense of self-importance
  • Toxic relationship(s)
  • Getting too comfortable with our comfort zone
  • Pride in our own accomplishments 
I, for one, have had to re-start my adventure of listening for His voice and following where He leads more than once. Much like Abram's father Terah, I have discovered just how easy it is to lose my focus and get pulled off track and waste precious years in my own "Haran." Thankfully, YHVH is a God of second (and third... and fourth...) chances. Otherwise,  I certainly wouldn't be where I am today. 

Haftarah: II Kings 4:1 - 37
B’rit Chadasha:  Galatians 4:1 - 5:6;  Hebrews 11:17 - 19

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Berĕshith 3 :: The Father of All Who Listen

This week, we are re-reading that familiar story of the calling of Abram to leave Haran and to trust YHVH to lead him... and Abram listened. Not only did he listen, he obeyed. Ah... there's that calling to sh'ma.

It would also seem that apparently Abram's father Terah had at one point also been called to leave. He appears to have gotten distracted, somewhere along the way from leaving Ur and landing in Haran. Scripture does not elaborate, so there is no need for me to be presumptuous and come up with an excuse. Suffice it to say, Terah did not sh'ma.

(Teraḥ took his son Aḇram and his grandson Lot, son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Aḇram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur-kasdim to go to the land of Kena‛an. And they came to Ḥaran and dwelt there. And the days of Teraḥ came to be two hundred and five years, and Teraḥ died in Ḥaran. - Genesis 11:31-32)

I'm not here today to go through the whole re-telling of the story. If you grew up going to Sunday school, you probably know the story by heart.  Besides, I have to assume that anyone reading my randomizing is also able to read the story for themselves.

Telling the story is not the point. I want to talk about what we all can sh'ma here. And I think this is it:
•    YHVH calls each one of us to trust Him enough to leave our comfort zones.
•    YHVH wants us to keep our eyes on Him, and not get distracted by the events and enticements that would divert our attention from following Him.
•    YHVH wants to use us to bring blessing to those He puts us in contact with.

If we listen closely, I think we can find a lot of similarities in our walk, and opportunities to bring the presence of God into our surroundings.

Lech Lecha:  Genesis 12:1-20
B’rit Chadasha:   Romans 3:19 - 5:11Galatians 3:6-29Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Berĕshith 2 :: If It's Any Comfort

When Noah was named by his father Lamech, it was prophesied: This one will comfort us...
If you are thinking at all about what happened when Noah was on earth, you might be wondering how the death of the entire planet by drowning (with the exception of the 8 humans and their floating menagerie on the ark) was exactly a "comfort."

So here, I am again, getting ready to sh'ma, and see if I can figure out what it is that YHVH wants me to hear and obey this week.

First of all is the way YHVH saw Noah: righteous and faultless. That's a pretty tall order. And humanly, we have to wonder how it is that someone who would plant a vineyard and get plastered on the wine qualifies as faultless. Perhaps it is because YHVH is able to see past our momentary weaknesses to our obedience to what He has called us to. It's also helpful if we could understand that the Hebrew verb root of our word righteous is the word tzadak, which basically means "usable". Something that meets the designer's expectation for the project at hand. That's a lot different from the way I have always defined that word! In other words, our focus is usually on what we do to be considered righteous, when instead the focus is really more about our willingness for Him to use us and transform us to do the job He wants done! 

As William Bullock points out this week in his devotional on Noah, 
Biblically, we can say a tzaddik is ‘righteous’. But that does not mean we think he is totally sinless. It just means he is not so badly warped, corrupted, damaged, or out of spec that he is unusable in for the Kingdom of Heaven’s projects in His generation...  ‘righteousness’ comes solely from trusting and sh’ma-ing  the instructions of [YHVH.]
Righteousness, for Noah and for us, was found in and trusting in [YHVH's] goodness and grace, and thereby surrendering to the Creator’s will, sh’ma-ing His voice, and doing what He said – and nothing else.

The second thing I want to take away from this week's Torah portion is the understanding of the way YHVH saw the earth during Noah's time. As often as we complain these days about the hatred, the anger, the violence and the wickedness in the world, I think it must pale in comparison to how bad it must have been for the Creator to say, "Enough and No More!" when He looked on the corruption and total depravity of the earth. As it was described in this week's devotional:
The world was not just ‘messed up’ - it was in the throes of a death spiral... [YHVH's] intervention was an act of grace – a painful but necessary surgery that was the world’s – and mankind’s – only hope of survival...  but for the Flood, [life] would not have been a life worth living.

That's a powerful picture - and for all the people who cry about how mean YHVH was to have allowed everyone to die such a horrible death, to put it in His perspective helps us see it as "an act of tough love wrought by a merciful Creator who is...fully devoted to that [mankind's] survival and fulfillment."

My prayer after reading the Parshah this week is to be the kind of worshiper that God would find "usable" and consumed with listening to His voice.

Torah Noach: Genesis 6:9 - 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5
B’rit Chadasha: Matthew 24:1-44   I Peter 3:8-22  II Peter 1:3 - 2:22; 3:17-18

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Berĕshith 1 :: Can You Hear Me?

The reading of the Torah cycle has recommenced. I find that I am getting something new every year as I read through it again. That is probably the reason why the writer of Acts reminded the new "Gentile" believers that they would learn how to live their lives set-apart to YHVH as they sat in on the teaching in the synagogues every week... 
For from ancient generations Mosheh has, in every city, those proclaiming him – being read in the congregations every Sabbath. (Acts 15:21)

As I read each week, I am reminded every time of how important it is to listen, to hear and obey. The most often spoken prayer has to be the Sh'ma, which is prayed several times daily by all devout Jews and many Messianic believers as well. We think we know what the word sh'ma means... but do we? If we did, I think there would a lot more people living set-apart lives in this world.
William Bullock, Jr. ("The Rabbis' Son") gives a very interesting word picture:
To sh’ma means much more than either to listen or to hear. It means to totally restructure one’s life based solely upon what one has heard, forsaking all other ways besides that way explicitly spoken by he who has spoken...An example of what it means to sh’ma is found in the way a mother of a newborn baby responds when her baby cries in the night. No matter how tired the mother is, or how inconvenient it may be, or who may tell her just to 'let the baby cry, it will be alright,' she is driven to respond, and does respond. Her reaction to the baby’s cry is a sh’ma response. She knows her baby’s voice. When she hears it, she drops everything and responds because of the depth of the relationship – the bond – she has with the baby. We are to sh’ma [YHVH's] voice the way the mother responds to her baby’s cry – drop everything, listen to no other counsel, and respond appropriately, in a manner consistent with the relationship.
As I read this week, my challenge to myself is to sh'ma... to 'listen' as I am reading... for His voice, and to respond appropriately.

This week's reading, starting with Creation, is a vivid reminder of the power of WORDS. With nothing more than Words, YHVH did then what He continues to do in our own lives - He uses words to transform emptiness into something more useful in His plan of redemption. He does it all in order, He has a design... So He has done with me and everyone who chooses to sh'ma His voice.

As Rabbi Bullock points out in his teaching this week, there is a Divine Principle in the process of Creation called havdalah – separation. YHVH separated the light from the dark, the sea from the dry land, the heavens from the earth... there is a pattern here worth noting. We, too, are created to be separate. He has called us to be set-apart from the common, from the profane. If we are going to sh'ma, we need to learn what that looks like... and we need to respond appropriately because of the depth of our relationship with Him.

Torah B’reshit: Genesis 1:1 - 2:3
Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10
B’rit Chadasha: John 1:1-18 and Romans 5:12-21 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Pruning Season

Have you ever gone through a season of pruning? When we experience difficulty or hard times, we may default to thinking "God is punishing me." Often, grief, disappointment, and disillusionment can accompany us into this season. But think of the results that come from pruning your roses, your peach trees - any gardener knows the benefits that come from pruning. I read a devotional that reminded us that anything that comes from the hand of God is a gift, and we should remind ourselves that "we are not what we do... we are someone He loves." 

That is a good reminder, but I would like to take it a step further: What we do does not define who we are, but what we do in faithful obedience to Him displays our trust and love for Him... "so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven." - Matthew 5:16

So many people get caught up in the doing of the good works that soon it becomes doing for doing's sake... we lose sight of the fact that we are to be a blessing so that His name is lifted up. Does that mean that "bad things" won't happen to us when we are being obedient? I can't find that promise in scripture or evidenced in church history, but I can find that obedience brings blessing. (Too often, though, we want to dictate to God what blessing has to look like - which I see as basically a lack of faith in His perfect timing and perfect will.)

"Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God: Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country." Deuteronomy 28:1-3

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who say "we're under grace and it's all covered by the blood of Jesus" as an excuse to do whatever seems right in their own eyes. "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the hearts." Proverbs 21:2

What I believe is this:  God is with us in the green pastures. God is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. God is with us. Period. Everything this side of the sod tempts us and pulls us away from that Truth. 

(Which reminds me of that song: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.)

Thank you, Christine Miller, for sharing your talents!