Doug Talks Torah

Reflecting on all the ways Torah builds the world.

Month: April 2008 (page 1 of 3)

From Clocks to Calendars

If I ask a person, “What time is it?” Normally they will respond with an answer that includes hour and minutes such as, “It’s 5:45.” The clock and the watch have trained us to think of time in terms of minutes and hours. While we don’t normally count time in terms of the second hand, our watches usually provide us with the ability to count seconds as well.

While this is one way of thinking about time, it has actually limited our field of sight by reducing the vast ways we should think about time. We think we are managing minute blocks of time, so we scribble on our calendars and PDAs and Blackberrys, 30 minute meetings, 60 minutes meetings, and so on. But the idea of time management is much more ancient than trying to follow a hectic schedule that may or may not have any lasting sginificance.

A better way to think about time and time management might be in terms of calendar instead of clock. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy suggested that if you want to understand people from a given point in history, you should look at their calendars. What days and weeks do they observe as significant?

Calendars teach us that for over several millenia, people have counted time in terms of significant points in time. They associated meaning with specific points in time. For example, two of the oldest points in time that people have counted are the spring and fall equinox. Planting and harvest are activities that took place during these events, but the activity is hinged with significance beyond simple survival.

The spring and fall equinox were “times” to exercise tribal memory. Consider Halloween. This ancient holiday has had different names and manifestations, but it has consistently remained a time for remembering. The idea of dressing as skeletons or ghouls would be a connection with some Celtic traditions of looking back to ancestors or spirits that have not freely entered into rest.

So the calendar provides a way of remembering. In the church, the liturgical calendar is rooted in memory. Not simply memory as thoughts but memory as action. We remember the birth of Christ by certain activities. We mark the memory. We build a monument in time: a memorial. This memorial serves as a reminder for who we are and the community that helps to define us.

As long as we are limited by minutes and hours, we do not have the ability to really see time: past and future. This infatuation with measuring and controlling small bits of time, limits our ability to really understand who we are, where we are and what we are supposed to do. As a result, we become slaves to the urgency of the moment. And in one sense, time then becomes captive to space.

We search for significance in timeless space such as nicer cars, bigger houses, more stuff. Without the weightiness of time, this stuff is empty. Simply look at the latest foible of some rich and foolish to see the emptiness of lots of stuff with no weighty significance of time.

A healthier understanding of time moves between the past and the future through memorials. By looking back and forth, we might begin to see larger epochs of time. We might think in terms of years, decades and even centuries. Our grasp of time and our call to act in time will move us beyond actions that benefit us in this moment, this hour, this minute. Rather, we learn to act in ways that anticipate, and create a future that extends far beyond us.

Obviously, this way of thinking and acting is not appealing if I need immediate satisfaction. If I am in fact a slave of space, and I want my moment in the sun now, I will not see any value in acting in ways that benefit the future or in some ways complete the past.

But if I want to act and speak in ways that are rooted in the weightiness of time, I must rethink the way I approach time and the way I respond. To help us better understand where we are and what we are to do, we can draw from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality and think in terms of moving in four directions: past, future, inner and outward. These four directions encompass time and space.

To think more about the relation of time and human, I will write the next post on life-time.

Relationships, Houses and the Tabernacle

doug and kelly house

We can begin to think more about how space and time intersect by considering the Tabernacle.

There are three areas related to the tabernacle: outer court, Holy Place, and Holy of Holies. The Israelites can come to the outer court, but only priests can enter the Holy Place. And only the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies at specific times and according to specific rules. The Holy Place is veiled from the eyes of those who are not priests, and the Holy of Holies is veiled from everyone except the High Priest.

Now consider a house. We build walls around a set a relationships we call family. Family members can freely come and go from the house, but the house may be locked to those outside the family. We put a solid veil or a door between the outside world and the inhabitants of the home.

The door represents more than a physical barrier. The relationships within the home are veiled to the outside world. Within the sacredness of family, there are guarded memories, conversations, and stories. The space of the house represents a sacred placed for shared relationships or shared time. Inviting someone to pass through the outer veil is an honor. By inviting them into our space, we are inviting them at one level into our shared time.

The dinner table might be likened to the Holy Place. At the dinner table, we eat (break bread) and drink (pour wine). The bread and the wine (or whatever the meal) becomes a point of contact for sharing space and time together.

As we eat and drink in the presence of one another, we begin to discard veils. If wine is present, it can help accentuate the removing of veils/inhibitions. As we let down our guard (our veils), we begin to speak.

Around the meal, we tell stories. We share the highlights of our day. We recall memories. We dream together. We think out loud. The dinner table is place of the gathered tribe where people (both in the ancient past and in our current world), learn identity, connect to a family, learn proper social behavior, learn patterns and rituals that will shape their memories and dreams for the rest of their lives.

The dinner table extends beyond the family (tribe) and is a place of forming treaties between tribes. Thus the dinner table has been a place for negotiating great decisions like marriage, peace, business and friendship.

Beyond the dinner table, there is one other room that bears an even weightier sense of the sacred: the bedroom. The bedroom is an exclusive place of protection for only the husband and the wife. Behind the veil of the bedroom door, the couple removes all veils (both physical and emotional).

The physical veil is easy to remove and comes off on the wedding night. But the emotional veils guard such precious secrets that they take years to removed. And unfortunately, some couples never develop the trust of vulnerability required to begin remove these inner emotional veils.

Removing a veil leaves a person naked and completely vulnerable. Isaiah experiences the intensity of such exposure in his vision of the Holy God. A similar (though much less invasive) exposure happens between a husband and a wife.

This removing of veils binds memories and dreams together in a way that makes the couple both physically and emotionally one. The bedroom can be a great gift of healing and transformation when properly guarded, allowing for deep vulnerability, deep trust and deep shared time.

The husband and wife relationship gives a glimpse of the relation between the person and God. By the Spirit (through Jesus), the veils are removed one-by-one as we grow from glory-to-glory. Eventually we will truly behold Him with unveiled face—and we will be changed, glorified in the light of His love.

Without the Spirit’s grace of gently unveiling, exposing and transforming, the glory of the unveiled soul would be painful and terrifying much like Isaiah’s encounter and the encounter of the Israelites on the side of Mt. Sinai. This unveiling exposes our weaknesses, our sins, our absolute need for mercy and grace. Without mercy and grace, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.

Thus the gift of a home begins to help us understand how space becomes a place which serves time: the sharing of memories and dreams and the essential mystery that forms us as unique persons.

Relationship Requires Space and Time

Relationship with another human being does not exist in abstraction. It requires space and time. By reflecting on relationship, we may begin to better understand our relation to space and time.

Think of a marriage. The relationship begins and is cultivated in specific places and specific times. There are times and places where an intimate relationship bonds, and these might be thought of as sacred space and sacred time.

Sacred time might include a family meal, soft conversations in the bedroom, and even sleeping together (resting unguarded in one another’s presence). These sacred times occur in specific places like the dinner table and the bedroom. In a house, some rooms carry more weightiness due to history of cultivating relationships in these rooms.

The same activity may or may not enhance intimacy, depending on the participation of the people. Sometimes when my wife and I watch a movie, I sit on my recliner and she lays on the couch. During the film, I may also divert attention to my laptop to check my email. Or we might watch the film sitting together on the couch, sharing the experience in a more intentional way. The dynamic of shared time and space changes based on how we participate.

I would suggest that the element of intentional intimacy is located within time. Dumitru Stăniloa suggested that time is the interval between the offer of love and the reciprocation of that offer. Intimacy is not something that exists within a space but rather it is something that the people choose to do within that space. They choose to spend time together. We don’t speak of “spending space together” but “spending time together.” (I’ll share more on time and intimacy later.)

By choosing to use a space in a way that enhances our time together, we invest that space with greater significance. A house should be built in a way that accentuates the time we spend together. If we choose to use large spaces within our houses for private experiences such as bathrooms and walk-in closets, we may be suggesting by our use of space that our personal space is more valuable than our relational space. The shape and size of the spaces/rooms within a home and the objects within those rooms (furniture and decor) can all communicate stories or ideas that reflect the values of those who occupy those rooms.

So the content of our spaces and the uses of our spaces reflect the value we place on the times or shared relationships within those spaces. We’ve heard the saying, “A house does not make a home.” This statement reinforces that idea that a place to live, eat, and sleep may not always be a place where people forge intimate relationships.

On my next post, I’ll try to consider “How is a home like a tabernacle?”

Meditating on the 10

My friend David Legg has been meditating upon the 10 Words as well. He spends most of his time as a hermit in a small house (that he built) on Top of the World.

I Started Yet Another Blog

Because you can never have too many blogs to neglect:

Go Team a Go-Go

No Other Gods!

The first word shatters the illusion of strength and freedom, revealing the slavery our idolatry has produced. In Deuteronomy, Moses repeatedly warns against worshiping other gods. Finally, in his prophetic song to the people (Deuteronomy 32), Moses reveals that these “other gods” are not gods at all. They are “foolish idols.” Developing Moses’ revelation, the prophets will mock the idols that people worship as God.

In order to prepare his people to bless the whole world (Genesis 12), God must free them from the enslaving results of worshiping the creature instead of the Creator. Paul picks up on this theme in Romans 1, revealing that worshiping the creature distorts our desires, our thoughts and our actions. We are no longer free to bless freely but we become enslaved to the idol that now controls us.

God sends Israel to Egypt to become a nation (Deut. 26:5), but this land of plenty becomes a land of oppression. At some point, a new Pharaoh forgets the covenant with Joseph and begins to oppress and control the Israelites. We also learn that at some point, the Hebrews begin to trust in the gods of Egypt instead of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Joshua 24.14).

In the land of provision, they lost site of the God of provision. Egypt is the place where God chose to bless and test Israel, but Egypt is only a place of provision not the person of provision. As I meditate upon the ancient Hebrews failing to trust God in the land of plenty, I become ever aware of my own idolatry.

Often I’ve confused the place of provision with the person of provision. Forgetting that God is blessing and meeting my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, I’ve looked to the place as the true provider. I’ve done it in the workplace, and I’ve done it in relationships.

Both in the workplace and in the ministry, I sometimes sought for provision that God was bringing from other places. For instance, we all need encouragement and affirmation (this is clear throughout several of Paul’s letters). There have been times I’ve struggled with discouragement in work and ministry because I didn’t receive the affirmation in the specific place. He was bringing it in other places like in my relationship with my wife Kelly, but not in the ministry or in the workplace.

One night I couldn’t even sleep because I was discouraged about my job. As I sat up and began to reflect upon Scripture, He immediately convicted me of trusting other gods. Just as Israel was prone to trust in the power of the horse (Egypt), I find myself not trusting that God will provide all my needs–in the places that He chooses. Sometimes that provision looks like manna (what is it?) and other times it looks more like field waiting to be plowed.

As long as we are trusting other gods to provide our emotional needs, our physical/financial needs, or even our spiritual needs, we will be subject to oppression and slavery. And worse, the image of God in us will be distorted. If we are ever to rule as kings and priests, bringing the blessing of Abraham to the whole world, we must be freed to the control of other gods.

We must be free to trust on YHWH (the Covenant God) alone. Then we are free to move as He pleases. Then we are free to have or to have not, to prosper or to suffer, we are free to rejoice and be source of blessing regardless of any circumstance.

Have mercy Lord and free me from the rule of other gods.

Note: I tried writing a variation this again as a meditation over at Floydville.

Science Fiction: Meeting Place for Believers and Non-Believers?

Claw of the Conciliator points out a Mind Meld at SF Signal exploring the question, “Is Science Fiction Antithetical to Religion?” I must admit that I am a total novice concerning science fiction and subscribed to Claw of the Conciliator’s feed to get some good ideas for my reading listening list.

Anyway, I skimmed through the discussion at SF Signal and was surprised to find a mix of believers and non-believers engaging in a civil and provocative discussion about science fiction and religion. Whether you read much sci-fi or not, I think you’ll find the discussion worthwhile as they exploring the nature of the questioning mind versus the non-questioning mind.

Meditation, Martin Luther and the 10 Commandments

Martin Luther, the great Doctor of Grace, gave the 10 Commandments a place of prominence in the oral instruction of Christian truth alongside the ancients standards for training: the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed. As Luther’s heirs many of us have lost connection with his emphasis upon the commandments. We may fight to place them in public places, but we rarely pause to meditate upon the convicting wisdom of God revealed in these words.

Without the unchanging foundation of the 10 Commandments, many words in the Christian faith like love and fear of God are reduced to an undefined subjective experience. As a result, we struggle to understand what is means to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Or worse, we pit the fear of God against the love of God, because we cannot grasp how the two are at work in our lives (with limiting them to some personal feeling toward God). The Word of God links the fear of God and the love of God to the 10 Commandments, and as we meditate upon them, the Holy Spirit changes us by this holy reflection of God’s truth upon our lives.

Luther’s simple advice for praying through the 10 Commandments might be helpful for all of us as we seek to learn how to meditate upon the commands. He recommends four ways to approach each command:

1. Instruction – We ask the Holy Spirit to teach us what the command is intended to be and how does God require me to act in response.

2. Thanksgiving – We thank the Lord for the grace and blessings of the command, and His power that is at work in me to fulfill and embody the command fully.

3. Confession – We confess our own failure to obey the command and our sins related to that command.

4. Prayer – We pray for His guidance and strength in obeying the command.

Luther suggests that we pray through each command in the above manner. We may not always pray through all the commands because the Spirit may choose to bring one particular command into focus for our prayers and meditations. I believe that as we take time to meditate and pray through the commands, the Spirit can reveal how these commands unfold throughout the Old and New Testaments.

You may find great benefit from read Luther’s Simple Way to Pray online.

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10 Commandments in Stone

God impresses 10 words in stone. 10 words, 10 commands revealing His heart of blessing for the world. The words are not meant to stay in stone but to become enfleshed. They’re not simply rules about what to do and what not to do, they are revelations of life.

The 10 words in stone were glorious, but a greater glory was coming. Jesus embodies the 10 words fully. He fulfills the law. Jesus comes as YHWH in our midst to reveal the heart of God flowing out from the 10 words. He  calls for an obedience not rooted in will but in relationship. Jesus bears both the death that comes from violating the words and the life that comes from fulfilling the words.

In Him, we enter into the words. Or rather, they enter into us. The Spirit writes the law upon our hearts, so that we, as the body of Christ, might also enflesh the words. By the Spirit, we reveal His life, His blessings, His kingdom to the world.

Mercy is not for the Lawless

For I, the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands (of generations), to those who love Me and keep My commandments. Deuteronomy 5:9-10

And yet, God shows mercy again and again and again to those who violate his commands. The challenge of the Old Testament is not judgment and destruction but mercy upon mercy upon mercy to those who betray His word, oppress others and destroy the land.

When inequity has reach its fullness upon the earth again, He doesn’t send a flood. And yet, He still brings judgment. He brings the inequity into Himself and therby carries the judgment and the suffering and anguish caused all by all the inequity.

Some may foolishly read Scripture and suppose they are more merciful than God but they are not. We may have a great confidence in our untested morality but in a moment our true character is revealed by some secret thought of hatred, some killing word or even an act of betrayal disguised as righteousness. The great mystery in Scripture that we will never understand is the mercy of the Lord.

And as we gaze upon His lovingkindness, we can only bow in worship, offering praises to the one who alone is worthy of all praise.

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