Tag Archive | Passover

Not Satisfied with Half the Picture: My Quest for Truth Beyond Tradition

In April 2017, Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler sent out invitations to participate in a book project with the working title, Ten From The Nations: Exploring the Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews. Her motivation is to increase awareness of the fact that we are witnessing the gradual fulfillment of Zechariah 8:23. She did so by compiling testimonies from non-Jews who have experienced a Torah awakening of some sort, and from Jews who are actively building relationships with those who are stepping forward from the nations. Her book includes the voices of Christian Zionists, Bnei Noach, Ephraimites, Gerim and more.
It is an honor to be one of those invited to submit a testimony. What follows is the story of my journey into an appreciation of Torah and the Hebraic roots of my Christian faith.
For more information on Ten From The Nations, visit http://www.tenfromthenations.com/.

For the first few years of my life, people fell into one of two categories:  white, or black.  Then the rules changed and the world got complicated.

Scenes of my formative years. Left: going to church in Pensacola, Florida, with my father and older sister in 1962. Right: Dawson Memorial Baptist Church (with Pastor Edgar M. Arendall) and Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama.

The world into which I was born was white, Southern, and Baptist.  That was in 1961, when the requirements of my father’s career in insurance caused my parents to depart from their native Alabama and take up temporary residence in Pensacola, Florida.  As we moved back to Alabama in 1963, the Civil Rights Movement entered its most active stage.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, sit-ins and marches defied segregationist strongholds, and the Federal Government took steps to correct a longstanding injustice.  Little of this turmoil impacted me until 1968, when a Federal judge ordered the desegregation of Birmingham’s public schools.  One day I went to school with my all-white third grade class of about 20 students; the next day the class had swelled to over forty, half of whom were black.

I cannot say whether the addition of so many new playmates of color caused any trauma to myself, but I know that it shook my parents to their core.  At the end of that academic year, they removed my brother and me from the public school, opting to make the financial sacrifice of placing us in the sanctuary of a Christian academy where we could receive a better education.  It also had the advantage in their eyes of being an all-white school.

Well, almost.  What may have escaped their notice was that Briarwood Christian School had a non-discrimination admissions policy.  That explains the presence of one black child in the kindergarten – the only black child enrolled there during my years at Briarwood.  My education was hardly interracial, and yet this turn of events triggered inexorable alterations to my worldview.  By the age of 8, I learned that the antiseptic white society into which I had been born was less utopian than I had been taught.  There was a world of color awaiting my exploration, and a host of questions that the scripted answers could not begin to satisfy.

What I had been taught was not all wrong.  Much of it was right, but it was incomplete.  So was the worldview of my black counterparts –much of it quite right, but incomplete.  Our combined worldviews formed a far more complete picture, with the white perspective filling gaps in the black perspective, and vice versa.  Thus my education proceeded along two parallel tracks:  a formal track provided by the teachers and preachers at school and church; and an informal track hidden in the recesses of my heart and soul and mind.  The hidden track evaluated everything presented to it, often reaching conclusions at odds with the accepted norms.  Hence the reason it remained hidden.

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The Dilemma of the Ger, Part 3: Dealing with the Kinslaying

This is the third part of a dialogue with Dr. Rivkah Adler of Breaking Israel News on the question of whether the biblical concept of ger, or foreigner, could be considered as a possible status for Torah-keeping non-Jews.  It began with Rivkah’s article, “Are We Witnessing the Restoration of an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews?”, followed by my commentary, “The Dilemma of the Ger, and her observations in “A Jewish Response to the Dilemma of the Ger.

Dealing with the Kinslaying

Albert J. McCarn
April 16,2017

The Kinslaying at Alqualondë, by Ted Nasmith. Used by permission.

A motif running through J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction works is the exile of the Elves from Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar, the gods of Tolkien’s world.  Those who read The Lord of the Rings first encounter the exiles as the High Elves who aid Frodo and his companions in their flight from the Shire.  Readers who venture into The Silmarillion learn that the High Elves are the Noldor, one of three Elven clans who answered the Valar’s invitation to leave Middle Earth and live in Valinor.  The Vanyar and Teleri – the other two clans – remained in Valinor, but the Noldor rebelled against the Valar and returned to Middle Earth to fight against Morgoth, Tolkien’s equivalent of Satan.

The Noldor had justification for their actions.  Morgoth had stolen the Silmarils, the matchless jewels fashioned by Fëanor, greatest of the Elven craftsmen, and had killed Finwë, Fëanor’s father and king of the Noldor.  Nevertheless, their rebellion under Fëanor’s leadership incurred a sentence of exile and separation from any help the Valar could offer.  Over the next several centuries the Noldor and their allies among the Elves and Men of Middle Earth proved unable to defeat Morgoth, and they suffered a long defeat.  At the end of their strength, the humbled remnant repented and begged help from the Valar.  When help came, Morgoth was defeated and the Valar granted clemency for the Noldor to return to the Blessed Realm, bringing with them the remaining Elves of Middle Earth who had never seen Valinor.

This is the unseen backdrop for the Elves appearing in Tolkien’s later and more popular works.  Those who pick up the story with The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings meet wise Elrond, stern yet kindly Thranduil, and gentle Galadriel, but they have no understanding of their history.  Galadriel, for example, was Fëanor’s niece, and along with his sons and her brothers led the Noldor in rebellion.  Upon passing the test of refusing the Ring of Power when Frodo offers it to her, she proves that she, the only surviving rebel leader, is indeed ready to return home as a humble penitent.

In Galadriel’s story we see the stunning panorama flowing through the body of Tolkien’s works.  Yet there is one missing detail:  he never tells us what happens when the exiles return.  It is a significant omission.  We can imagine the scenes of reconciliation as the Noldor made amends with the eternal Valar, but we do not know what happens when they encountered the brethren they had wronged.  At the beginning of their flight from Valinor, the Noldor demanded of their kin, the Teleri, use of their ships.  The Teleri refused, resulting in a terrible battle known thereafter as the Kinslaying.  As Tolkien describes it, “Thus at last the Teleri were overcome, and a great part of their mariners that dwelt in Alqualondë were wickedly slain.”  If that were not enough, when they arrived on the shores of Middle Earth, Fëanor gave orders to burn the wondrous Telerian ships, craft of great beauty the like of which could never be made again.

What happens when the prodigal Noldor return home is a tale we do not know.  We hope they are reconciled with their brethren, but achieving reconciliation requires conscious effort to overcome the debt of blood between them.  Until that debt is paid or forgiven, the bliss of the Blessed Realm remains unbearably diminished.

Tolkien’s epic thus becomes a parable for us, the returning exiles of the House of Yosef (Joseph).  Like the Noldor, we are guilty not only of rebellion against our God and the king He had anointed, but also of an endless Kinslaying of our brethren of Judah.

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The “Official” Snarky Guide To The Differences Between Christmas and Hannukah – Jeff Dunetz

bfb161220-hanukkah-harryIt is that time of year that Christians celebrate Christmas and Jews celebrate Hannukah, and all of us Messianic and Hebrew Roots folks are somewhere in the middle.

Actually, we’re not really in the middle.  Most of us have opted out of Christmas and opted into Hannukah.  Not because we have rejected Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ), mind you.  We understand that His birth happened in the fall, most likely at the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah in modern Jewish practice) rather than in December.  We also understand that all the Feasts of the Lord presented in Leviticus 23 are connected to Messiah’s redemptive and restorative work for the nation of Israel and all the world. 

The fact is, we celebrate Passover (Pesach), Unleavened Bread (Matzot), Firstfruits (Yom Habikkurim), Pentecost (Shavuot), Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Tabernacles (Sukkot) because God established them and called on His people to observe them “as a statute forever”.  That’s different from Christmas, which is a human tradition rather than a Divine decree.  Christmas is a Christianization of the old festivals our ancestors celebrated in honor of other gods before they learned about the One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  We have learned that our Messiah is Jewish, which is why we prefer to follow His example rather than the traditions which overshadowed and obscured His Jewishness and the Hebraic origins of our faith.

One might argue that Hannukah is a tradition as well.  Indeed it is, but it is rooted firmly in history as a tale of our God’s salvation of His people in a time of great distress.  Why is it not in the Bible?  Well, it is, in some canons.  The Catholic Bible still has 1st and 2nd Maccabees, the books that tell the Hannukah story.  There is also a mention of it in the New Testament:  John 10:22 tells us that Yeshua was in the Temple during the Feast of Dedication, which is another name for Hannukah.  The point is, the origin of Hannukah is no less real and no less miraculous than the origin of Purim as recorded in the book of Esther.  Our Jewish brethren established both feasts to commemorate the provision of the Almighty and His faithfulness to His covenant.  Is there a better reason to celebrate?

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7 Ways to Share Your Faith With Your Friends & Family – Kayte Abaffy

One of the most significant developments in the Hebrew Roots movement this past year has is the production of a movie that explains this phenomenon.  Those who have seen The Way:  A Documentary know that it is a quality production that imparts an entertaining, moving, and reasonably balanced presentation of the Torah Awakening among Christians.  This debut work by young filmmakers Luke and Kayte Abaffy has had an expanding impact since its release in August 2016, and likely will receive international attention thanks to a recent screening at the Second B’ney Yosef National Congress in Israel.

In this article, originally published in Torah Sisters Magazine, producer Kayte Abaffy shares her experience and idea on how to present this Torah walk to the people we care about the most – and who often are not very receptive to this message.  Perhaps it is not the message that is the problem, but the manner and timing of the presentation.  That is a central point Kayte makes in this honest and delightful piece.


bfb161106-seven-ways-to-shareOriginally published on Torah Sisters Magazine

Two years ago, I was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway with my husband, sparkling blue ocean to our left and golden mountains to our right, coming home to Los Angeles from a transformative conference in San Diego.  Torah keepers had gathered for a weekend of learning stuff and worshipping and hanging out by the pool till 2am sharing our stories.  And that weekend wasn’t just an awesome conference – it was the start of us filming for The Way documentary, and our first real deep dive into the experiences of people walking in The Way.

bfb161106-pacific-coast-highway

Even after we’d only interviewed our first handful of people, something had already become clear: sharing your new walk with friends and family is … well … a thing.  When we asked interview subjects how people reacted to their new walk (siblings, children, spouses, parents, pastors, lifelong friends), lots of interesting body language things would happen – eyes would well up with tears or dart to the floor, or there’d be a great big sigh, or laughter, or a look of searching for the right words to make a tough situation sound positive.

Of course, some people’s families or friends had taken instant interest, or tried hard to understand what their loved one was learning in the Word.  And some even quickly came to the same understanding.  But for lots of others, the reactions ranged from cold shoulders to confusion, awkwardness to outright hostility.

So how do you share your walk (and enthusiasm for the Torah) with people you love, when there seems to be so much baggage surrounding a conversation that hasn’t even begun yet?

One thought that’s really helped me is to make the fruit of your life available to people who’re actually hungry.  Trees that throw their apples at people are scary, like in The Wizard of Oz.  But in life, a person walks by and picks an apple from the tree when they’re hungry.

So often we try to jam a feast down the throat of a person who’s perfectly full.  And then we’re frustrated when they don’t receive it and wonder why they resent us.  But God works with hunger.  And we should too.  Remember what Yeshua said?  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  It’s hard to convince someone of how great the solution you’ve found is, when they don’t even think there’s a problem.  But the great news is that there are plenty of hungry people out there, we just need to be there to minister to them!

Here are a few other ideas I’ve come up with to share Yeshua and your walk with others, as I’ve marinated on this question over the last two years:

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End Times Reality Check: A Review of The Rapture Verdict, by Michael Snyder

BFB160418 The Rapture VerdictWhat do Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the pre-Tribulation rapture have in common? There is probably a joke in there somewhere, but the punch line escapes me. The answer, though, is that all of them are part of mainstream Christian practice (at least in the West), but none of them have much basis in Scripture. When held up to the light of Scripture, the Jolly Elf, the Whimsical Rabbit, and the Get-Out-of-Persecution-Free Card actually belong more in the realm of legend, myth, and wishful thinking.

There is no need to explain to Christians that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny do not exist. Everyone knows that – and it would be better if our children understood it from the start rather than having to face their first crisis of faith when their kindergarten friends expose the truth. What everyone does not know, or does not want to admit, is that the doctrine of Jesus coming back to snatch His people away from the earth before the trials of the Last Days is not consistent with Scripture. The problem up to now is that there has been no comprehensive reference book written to examine this question from a critical point of view.

Until now, that is. Author Michael Snyder has at last filled the void with his latest book, The Rapture Verdict. It is 268 pages of systematic investigation of the subject from a man who simply wants to sort out the truth. His stark conclusion is stated in the first chapter:

Unfortunately, there isn’t going to be a pre-Tribulation rapture. In fact, millions of Christians are going to die waiting for a pre-Tribulation rapture that is never going to happen.

Depending on the reader’s disposition, such a statement will make him or her angry, fearful, or vindicated. Those with the latter reaction would be the ones who grew up learning about the rapture in church, but who could never shake the nagging doubt that the few dozen verses pulled out of context to justify the doctrine leave far too many unanswered questions.

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When Brothers Don’t Get Along

On December 4, 2015, the B’Ney Yosef Region 35 Conference convened at Camp Copass in Denton, Texas, for the purpose of bringing together people in the central part of the United States to seek YHVH’s direction about His Kingdom work at this time.  The initial concept was to continue in the spirit of the First B’Ney Yosef National Congress in the interest of building Ephraimite (Israelite) identity among believers in Messiah Yeshua.  The Holy Spirit quickly expanded that concept into a call for repentance within the Hebrew Roots/Two House movement and reconciliation with other parts of the body of Messiah, particularly with our Christian brethren.  That was the motivation for this address which opened the conference.

BFB151204 MNF-IThe best boss I ever had was the man under whose supervision I served the last time I was in Iraq.  He was also the most profane man I have ever met.  The name of Jesus Christ was for him but one weapon in a formidable arsenal of expletives.  Not a single day passed that some outrage did not fall from his lips, causing my ears to burn and my heart to wonder how long I would have to endure such offense.  And yet I continued in his service, not merely because I had no choice (both of us, after all, were soldiers assigned to serve together), but because God gave me grace to look beyond the offense to see and benefit from the substantial qualities he possessed.  Those qualities included an encyclopedic knowledge of intelligence functions and procedures based on decades of hard experience.  He possessed as well a dogged determination to persevere through all opposition and achieve success in whatever goal he or his superiors established.  That determination sprang from his undying loyalty to the United States of America, and to his belief in the ultimate good of our mission in Iraq.  Yet none of that would have mattered in the least had this man lacked the greatest quality of all:  he regarded every person as having intrinsic value, and as a potential ally in achieving the goals set before him.  He may have spoken roughly, and even in private moments vented his frustration and anger, but he never diminished the value of the human beings in his charge, nor of those under whom he served.

We had occasion to work with military and civilian officials from a number of services and agencies.  Whether they were Army like us, or Marines, Air Force, or Navy, they were all “great Americans” in my boss’s opinion – if for no other reason than because they had volunteered to wear the uniform and be deployed to a Middle Eastern war zone.  He could not call our British, Australian, and German colleagues “great Americans”, but he did hold them in high esteem – while at the same time recognizing that the highest priorities for each of them were the interests of their own nations, not those of the United States.  The true professionals among us, regardless of nationality, recognized this.  We knew that at times there would be questions we could not ask and answers we could not give, but whenever and wherever possible we helped one another.

That “great American” description did extend to the civilian intelligence professionals we encountered.  Those men and women represented nearly all of the 16 agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community.  The ones you would expect were all there:  each of the agencies of the military services, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State Department.  Our office dealt mostly with the CIA, whom my boss lovingly called, “Klingons”.  Like our foreign counterparts, they, and all the other intelligence agencies, had their own priorities which were not necessarily the same as ours in the Department of Defense.  Their vision of how to support the national interests of the United States sometimes clashed with ours, and the means and resources at their disposal often put them at an advantage over us.  We had much reason to distrust them, but we had even more reason to work with them – just as the Start Trek heroes found reason to cooperate with the Klingons to defeat their common enemies.

We laugh at the description of the CIA as Klingons, but long before I arrived in Iraq I understood exactly what my boss meant.  Early in my tenure in Washington, DC, I had occasion to work with the CIA on a joint project.  Most of the people with whom I worked were intelligence analysts, people not very different from myself.  They were well educated, often from privileged backgrounds, highly academic (a reflection of the CIA culture), and professionally courteous.  As part of our project we had to consult with a different type of CIA employee.  This person was not an analyst.  Intelligence analysts look at information from various sources and put it together in different ways to understand what it means.  They are the friendly face of the CIA.  There is another face, however, and it is not very friendly.  That face belongs to the operators, the men and women who go about the difficult business of collecting the information.  They are consummate professionals, very good at what they do, but they are not the kind of people you would want in your social circle.  Quite often the name by which they introduce themselves is not the name their parents gave them at birth.  In the course of their duties they will have to do some questionable things, and perhaps even some very unpleasant things, to acquire information their agency has commissioned them to gain.

This was the kind of person with whom we met in that office on the CIA campus in Langley, Virginia long ago.  He was an impressive man, and one whom I admired for his courage and devotion to his country.  I could tell without asking that he had suffered much personal loss in service to the nation, and that my own poor service paled in comparison to his.  Yet we could not be friends, and we would have difficulty working together as colleagues.  His world was one I could not enter, and my world was one he would not find comfortable.  Nevertheless, my work could not continue without him, and without me his work would have no meaning.  That is why I have never forgotten the man, although our paths have never crossed since that day.

BFB151204 US Intelligence CommunityWhat would happen if this vast intelligence community in the service of the United States of America ceased to function as designed?  What if the various individuals and organizations within it forgot that they were all Americans, and instead placed their own personal agendas, or the name and reputation of their own agencies and services, above the interests of the country?  That is not a rhetorical question; I can tell you what would happen.  I have seen it.  What happens is a fragmentation of the national intelligence establishment. 

For the most part that establishment consists of good, honest people trying to do the best they can with limited resources and time.  They have a tendency to focus exclusively on the work right in front of them, whether it is office administration, counterterrorism analysis, national technical means of information collection, the number of tanks in the Russian Far Eastern Military District, or poppy production in Afghanistan.  They forget that there is a wider world out there, and that their work is but one small piece in a very, very big puzzle.  It does not take much to convince them that their piece is the most important.  Once convinced, it is but a small step toward competing with others to gain a greater share of attention and resources.  Having entered that arena, it is nothing to begin pushing others aside in ever more aggressive ways, taking resources and people away from them so that one’s own piece of the puzzle grows in size and importance, and the competitors’ pieces shrink, or disappear altogether.  In time the picture that emerges is distorted at best, magnifying certain things to the extreme, diminishing others, and ignoring important bits that would otherwise tie together the seemingly contradictory reports from various sources.  That is the picture which goes before high level decision makers like the commanders of our forces in the Middle East, and even the President himself.  Is it any wonder, therefore, that we have national disasters such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?

My lesson from this should be clear.  National defense is a team effort.  I know my part of the effort, and my job is to do it to the best of my ability.  I do not know most of the millions of others involved in the effort, nor do I understand what they do.  I could not do what most of them do, nor could most of them do what I do.  Very few of them could be considered my friends, and most of them would probably never want to associate with me anyway.  Nevertheless, we need each other:  every warrior, every clerk, every mechanic, every technician, every lawyer, every cook, every aviator, every logistician, every sanitation worker.  If we do not find a way to cooperate, then this living, breathing organism we call the National Defense Establishment will fail, and with its failure the United States of America fails.

Is this any different from the living, breathing organism known as the Body of Messiah?

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Fox Byte 5775 #51: Nitzavim (You Are Standing)

נִצָּבִים

Famous literary figures with identity issues. Top row: Oedipus Rex (Bénigne Gagneraux, The Blind Oedipus Commending his Children to the Gods), Beauty’s Beast (illustration by Walter Crane), The Frog Prince (illustration by Paul Meyerheim), Rapunzel’s prince (illustration by Johnny Gruelle). Bottom row: Hansel and Gretel (illustration by Arthur Rackham), Sleeping Beauty (illustration from Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories), Snow White (illustration by Alexander Zick), Cinderella (illustration by Anne Anderson).

Famous literary figures with identity issues. Top row: Oedipus RexBeauty’s BeastThe Frog Prince, Rapunzel’s prince. Bottom row: Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella.

The worst fate a person can endure?  That would be loss of self.  It is not the same as selflessness, a desirable state of humility which YHVH honors.  Loss of self means removal of what defines a person as a person.  We see this in loved ones who slip slowly away through the ravages of progressive dementia.  Little by little they forget who they are until in the end there is nothing left of them but the memory carried in the hearts of those who once knew them.  It is a tragedy as old as humanity. 

Some of our best stories spring from this loss of identity.  Nearly 2,500 years ago Sophocles dramatized this phenomenon in Oedipus the King, a tale of a man whose birth was accompanied by a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother.  The parents attempt to circumvent the prophecy by ordering the infant slain, but to no avail.  Oedipus is saved and brought up by foster parents, completely ignorant of his identity.  Eventually he fulfills the prophecy.  When at last the secret of his identity is revealed, his mother commits suicide and Oedipus puts out his own eyes.

This motif of hidden identity and forgotten knowledge manifests not merely in classic Greek drama, but in every literary form.  It appears even in fairy tales, where protagonists like Beauty’s Beast and the Frog Prince lose their humanity.  Rapunzel’s prince retains his identity, but he wanders in blindness.  Similarly, Hansel and Gretel lose their way in the forest despite their best efforts.  Princesses also succumb to identity loss, as we learn from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.  Even Cinderella’s true station in life is a mystery to her prince.

The fairy tales generally have happy endings, or at least the Disney renditions make them so, but that is not the case in every tale of this sort.  One might say this identity issue is a perpetual human condition.  We make it worse by ignoring our history, severing the connection with our fathers and mothers of ages past.  This ignorance, whether self-inflicted or imposed by other forces, is the foundation of George Santayana’s famous warning, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.  It is also a reflection of prophetic truth uttered by two men of God in the 8th century BCE:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.  Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest.  Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.  (Hosea 4:6 NASB)

Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst.  (Isaiah 5:13 NASB)

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What to Do When the World Blows Up: A Review of “Know the Time, Change Your World”, by Barry L. Miller

BFB150826 Know the TimeIt seems that everyone is expecting the world to change for the worse in September 2015.  That, at least, is a prevailing topic of conversation here in the United States.  I have been part of such discussions many times over the last few months, and regardless how the discussion begins, it invariably comes down to the question, “What do we do now?”

The people of YHVH should be paying attention to the signs of the times.  We are indeed on the brink of major changes to the world system, and these changes likely will involve a combination of economic, military, political, and civil unrest, with a few major natural disasters thrown in for good measure.  It is, after all, the end of the Shemitah, the seventh, or sabbatical, year in the seven-year cycle the Lord explained to Moses (Exodus 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 15:1-6, 31:9-13).  It is also the time of the fourth Blood Moon of the tetrad we have seen at Passover and Tabernacles over these last two years.  What, if anything, are we to do about all of this?

Happily, there is someone who has undertaken the task of answering that question in a rational, systematic fashion using principles derived straight from the Bible.  We can thank people like Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and Pastor Mark Biltz for bringing the Shemitah cycle to the attention of the world.  Now we can thank Barry L. Miller for helping us understand how to live within that cycle.  That is the message of his book Know the Time, Change Your World:  The Reappearance of the Seven- and Fifty-Year Biblical Cycles.

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Fox Byte 5775 #36: Beha’alotcha (In Your Going Up)

בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ

Stephen R. Donaldson (Photo by  Danacea on Flickr.com via via Wikimedia Commons)

Stephen R. Donaldson (Photo by Danacea on Flickr.com via Wikimedia Commons)

In a response to a reader’s question about his works, author Stephen R. Donaldson provided this enlightening comment about the motivation behind his writing:

I’m a storyteller, not a polemicist.  As such, my only mission is to help my readers understand my characters and appreciate what those poor sods are going through.  (Stephen R. Donaldson Official Website, February 23, 2004)

Donaldson’s best known writings might be categorized as postmodern American science fiction and fantasy literature.  The worlds he creates are not the pristine, archetypical fantasy worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but darker realms that mirror our present ambiguous reality.  Donaldson explores human nature in a secular, relativistic world detached from the moral underpinnings of Christian civilization.  Good and evil manifest in the worlds he creates, but they are often uncomfortably intertwined so as to be nearly indistinguishable.  Such is the case with his most famous protagonist, the anti-hero Thomas Covenant.  In ten novels published over the span of 36 years, Donaldson follows Covenant through three epic quests in The Land, the world of his creation where magic and Earthpower shape the lives of mortals.  Covenant is one of the most unlikely heroes in the history of literature:  a leper living in present-day America who is magically transported to The Land to save it from destruction by Lord Foul the Despiser.  He wears a wedding band of white gold, the source of Wild Magic, which is the greatest power ever known in The Land.  He does not know how to wield this power, nor does he desire to do so, yet the dire circumstances of The Land compel him to find a way.  Each victory comes at a cost.  Ultimately it is Covenant himself who pays the greatest price, and thus he earns not only sympathy, but redemption.

We learn much about power in White Gold Wielder, the last novel of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  The Elohim, supernatural beings who keep watch over the Earth, “silence” Covenant, placing him in a catatonic state so he will not use his ring unwisely and risk destruction of the world.  After Covenant is revived by his companion Linden Avery, Findail of the Elohim explains their actions to her:

The ring-wielder we silenced, not to harm him, but to spare the Earth the ill of power without sight . . . Thus the choice would have fallen to you in the end.  His ring you might have taken unto yourself, thereby healing the breach between sight and power.  Or perhaps you might have ceded the ring to me, empowering the Elohim to save the Earth after their fashion.  Then would we have had no need to fear ourselves, for a power given is altogether different than one wrested away.

Findail’s declaration, “a power given is altogether different than one wrested away,” is a restatement of something taught long ago by One Who understood power:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #32-33: Behar (On the Mount); Bechukotai (In My Statutes)

אַחֲרֵי מוֹת / קְדֹשִׁים

The search of the “Interstellar Other” in film.  Clockwise from top left:  A mysterious monolith enlightens pre-human primates in 2001:  A Space Odyssey (“Arthur C. Clarke's 3001 to become SyFy miniseries “, Wired.Co.UK, November 4, 2014); arrival of the alien spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)”, Steven Spielberg Movies, December 18, 2009); crop circles indicate alien activity in Signs (“Signs Movie Review”, MediaCircus.net, 2002); the end of the world according to Knowing (“Movie Review – Knowing”, Firefox.net, March 19, 2009).

The “Interstellar Other” in film.  Clockwise from top left: A mysterious monolith enlightens primates in 2001: A Space Odyssey (“Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001 to become SyFy miniseries“, Wired.Co.UK, November 4, 2014); arrival of the alien spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)”, Steven Spielberg Movies, December 18, 2009); crop circles indicate alien activity in Signs (Signs Movie Review”, Media Circus, 2002); the end of the world according to Knowing (“Movie Review – Knowing, Firefox News, March 19, 2009).

What is this fascination with the possibility of life beyond this planet?  Are we so insecure in our human existence that we cannot bear the thought of dwelling on the only inhabited territory in the entire universe?  Or is it, perhaps, a deep-seated sense of being incomplete in ourselves?  Whatever the reason, since the dawn of human existence we have sought for something, or Someone, beyond ourselves who shares our experience of sentience and can explain it to us.

For over a century the search for the Interstellar Other has found expression in science fiction.  Novelists like H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke have made their marks on several generations of impressionable youth, yet the massive explosion of science fiction onto popular consciousness came not with books, but with movies.  Clarke’s collaboration with Stanley Kubrick in the 1968 film 2001:  A Space Odyssey took science fiction movies to a new level.  It combined world-class writing with world-class filmmaking to proclaim to audiences that we are not alone, but in so doing left more questions than answers.  Ten years later, Steven Spielberg sought to answer some of those questions in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, proposing that the Interstellar Others have been visiting earth for a long, long time, and asserting that humanity had reached a point where these advanced beings could take us into their confidence and educate us further.  Movies produced over the next generation investigated different aspects of this question.  Some, like M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 thriller, Signs, explored the dark possibility that alien visitors are not friendly.  Signs clings to the hope that humanity can defend itself from alien intruders, and that the hostile encounter restores a sense of purpose we did not know we had lost.  And then there is Knowing, a 2009 drama in which Dr John Koestler, played by Nicholas Cage, embarks on a search for the meaning behind clues predicting one global disaster after another.  He learns at last that he can do nothing about the disasters; they themselves are clues all-knowing alien watchers have tracked through time to warn humanity about the imminent destruction of our planet in a massive solar flare.  The aliens have no intention of letting the human race pass into extinction.  Their clues guide people like Koestler in gathering children so the aliens can take them to a place of safety where humanity can begin again.

A recurring motif in these science fiction films is the search for meaning behind the evidence of alien presence.  In 2001 the evidence is a mysterious monolith, and in Close Encounters it is the connection of unexplainable phenomena across the globe.  In Signs it is the appearance of crop circles, and in Knowing it is the incomprehensible code of numbers and letters scratched by a child and left in a time capsule.  The story tellers would have us believe that the answers to human existence are all there if we can only decipher the patterns.

The science fiction story tellers are correct in that an Interstellar Other has left patterns for us to decipher.  What they have missed is that the Interstellar Other is the Holy One of Israel.  His clues are in Torah, and His answers are in the rest of Scripture.

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