Lived Simplicity

Yes, there is a part of the shore NOT populated by "those who shall not be named"

Down the shore, reading a book

To break up the flow of longer posts before cranking out part 2 of my analysis of Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30 in juxtaposition with the Jewish High Holiday’s (see part 1 here), I thought I’d direct some attention to a sweet post of somebody else’s that I recently discovered about the concept of lived simplicity.

For a long time, I’ve valued elegance in multiple forms–in music, in mathematics, in interior design, in dancing, in physical accouterments, in self defense, and most pointedly of late, in my work life. So, I’m always on the lookout for helpful ways to distill the things I’m doing towards greater simplicity. This has really paid off when it comes to my workout routine, which I have boiled down to three days a week of high intensity interval training cardio coupled with three days a week following the regimine. I never spend more than 35 minutes a day working out (unless the yen for something like a longer, just-for-fun bike ride strikes), I often spend only 10 minutes a day working out, and I have both shed unnecessary weight and gained muscle plus agility better than any other single method of exercise I have ever tried.

I learned about this approach to physical fitness by scouring the web to see what worked for other folks with limited time, and that also lead to me this great post at the blog, “Marc and Angel Hack Life,” noting 60 very basic things one can do to substantially simplify one’s life. I was pretty psyched to learn that I had already implemented several of these suggestions, like no.20’s “Relocate closer to your place of employment,” no.29’s “Learn to cook, and cook,” and no.60’s, “Make mistakes, learn from them, laugh about them, and move along.” Nevertheless, there are lots good recommendations in this article that never occurred to me before, and there are still others that I’ve certainly heard in the past but could still greatly benefit from more intentionally weaving into my daily life. Here are a couple I plan to focus on over the upcoming month or two:

  • No.5 – “Get enough sleep every night.  An exhausted mind is rarely productive.”
  • No.11 – “Get rid of stuff you don’t use.”
  • No.23 – “Say “I love you” to your loved ones as often as possible.”
  • No.24 – “Single-task.  Do one thing at a time and give it all you got.”
  • No.54 – “Take it slow and add up all your small victories.”
How about you? What are some things you’ve done or, alternatively, some things you’ve cut out of your routine that have really helped to simplify your life in a substantially beneficial way? Are there any book, blogs, films, or passages of scripture that have really helped this way of life to sink in for you? I’d love to hear about it, and I’m curious what suggestions from the aforementioned article resonated the most for you. To wrap up this post, here are just a couple of my favorite verses on prioritization and simplicity upon which I’m meditating these days:
  • Psalm 37:16 – “Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked.”
  • Proverbs 16:32 – Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
  • Proverbs 15:16 – “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.”
  • Ecclesiastes 2:24 – “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.”
  • Proverbs 8:11 – Wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”
  • Ecclesiastes 4:6 – Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
May your life be blessed with greater simplicity.

The End of Moses and the Beginning of the Year – Part 1

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What Heather Was Reading on March 26, 2011. Used with permission.

For erev Shabbat last week, I got the chance to deliver a parsha teaching at my friend, Heather Blecher’s flat. Heather is an accomplished, young adult leader of Chicago’s Jewish-Christian community, worshiping with an evangelical congregation in Evanston and serving as a senior ministry partner with the Skokie branch of the non-profit, para-church organization, Jews for Jesus. Beyond this, Heather is a gifted photographer who distributes her prints through etsy, posts one shot a day on tumblr, was recently featured on, and occasionally exhibits her work in assorted coffee shops and art galleries across Chicago and New York. It’s always an honor to partner with her, and I’m glad I got the chance to do so once again last week. To spice up this post accordingly, I included a couple of my favorite photos from Heather’s aforementioned tumblr blog, which you should obviously check out, pronto.

My ultimate goal in this post is to set up an analysis of a key portion of scripture that many Jews reflect upon during one of the most important times in the Jewish calendar, the same portion of scripture upon which I taught at Heather’s flat a few days ago. I want to do this from an explicitly Jewish-Christian angle, illustrating just what is at stake for followers of Jesus who want to better understand the Jewish roots of their faith so that they can more faithfully follow after Messiah. In order to pull off this sort of analysis, I have to lay out a prolegomena of sorts describing a bit more about Jewish life and practice so that the biblical analysis I mentioned is achievable at a deep rather than a superficial level. In other words, this post is not merely anthropological but hermeneutical; it is not just about various, whimsical facets of Jewish culture but about the context of holy scripture, our attention to which will enable us to engage with God in a vital way that has been often neglected in the church. My next post in this series will deal with the in-depth, biblical analysis; this post will properly set it up. Let’s get rolling by unpacking a few of those religious terms I casually tossed into the very first sentence of this post. When is “erev Shabbat” and just what on earth is a “parsha”?

Jewish people measure the beginning of a given day from nightfall of the one that precedes it. Hence, a lot of religious observances scheduled to occur on a given day in the Jewish calendar get inaugurated the previous night–you know, because that’s technically already the next day. Hence, there’s a pretty frequent use of the term “erev” referring to the night preceding a given day, which is also the same thing as the very beginning of that day for a Jewish understanding of the ways that days and nights work. If this seems confusing, maybe this analogy will help clarify things a bit. For a Gregorian or Julian calendar, the first day of the week is Sunday and the last day of the week is Saturday, meaning that the weekend starts on Saturday morning and runs through Sunday night. But just about everybody knows that you really celebrate the weekend not on Saturday morning but on Friday night, right? The night before the technical weekend is so wrapped up in the observance of the weekend itself, it winds up getting functionally lumped together in our minds. (And parties, where applicable.) Well, something like this is true for the Jewish observance of every day, except that the evening before a given morning is technically a part of that morning and not just functionally a part of it. The linguistic marker of this fact is the term “erev,” the night before a given day that is also a part of that day.

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A Sunset Heather Shot on April 20, 2011. Used with permission.

Incidentally, the effect of this arrangement is such that one often wakes up on the morning of a spiritually significant day that has already begun and has in some part been commemorated before one went to sleep the previous night. To illustrate the significance of this way of doing things, the average, observant Christian does not associate Saturday night with a Sunday worship service, and the average Sunday morning is often frenetically paced. (Some buddies of mine actually leveraged this fact by planting a church in Brooklyn whose Sunday services began at 6pm.) In contrast, the average Jew does associate Friday night with a Saturday worship service, and they will have prepared themselves to participate in the latter with a focused yet relaxed rhythm on Friday night–literally going to sleep and waking up again in a state of rest devoted to worshiping the Living God and celebrating this blessing with their families and community of faith.

The key term in Hebrew for the seventh day of the week is שבת, i.e. “Shabbat,” or what most English speaking people call “The Sabbath.” Not only is this the final day of the week, it is the only day of the week with a proper name in scripture. In Hebrew, the other days of the week are given nicknames for their distance from Shabbat; that’s how ridiculously important Shabbat is for an observant Jew. Moreover, Shabbat it is the only day of religious observance mentioned in what is popularly called The Decalogue, or “The Ten Commandments” recorded in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. These are ten of the most important instructions delivered to the Jewish people out of all 613 commandments articulated in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and Shabbat receives more commentary than any other teaching in in those two, aforementioned portions of scripture.

In order to help Jewish people study scripture faithfully each week, the rabbis apportioned various selections from Torah into units for sequential study, called parshas. Each Shabbat, Jews are encouraged to study the given parsha selection, then meditate and act upon it over the course of the following week. So, last Friday night for erev Shabbat, i.e. the very beginning of Shabbat last week, I delivered a teaching on the parsha selection for the group of people Heather had rounded up at her flat. We also shared an awesome time of prayer, laughter, dialog, and the consumption of some utterly delicious food and drink, but those are topics of discussion for another time.

I’m going to move towards wrapping up this post by mentioning one detail that will provide a nice pivot for part two of this series.  According to the Jewish calendar, this present week spans Elul 26, 5771 to Tishrei 3, 5772. Whereas the common era calendar measures everything with reference to the birth of Christ circa 1 B.C.E. and 1 C.E. (even though it’s pretty likely that Jesus was actually born around 4 B.C.E.), the Jewish calendar measures everything from the date it has calculated the creation of the world for religious purposes, which corresponds to 3761 B.C.E. The months are also run on a strictly lunar cycle and given different names than, say, the Gregorian or Julian calendars; hence, today is the 27th day of the month of Elul in year 5771 for the Jewish calendar and also the 26th day of the month of September in year 2011 for the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

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Fields Heather Shot on April 19, 2011. Used with permission.

Now, you may have noticed in the second sentence of the above paragraph that the parsha actually runs right across the new year according to the Jewish calendar; we’re going from the end of the month of Elul 5771 to the beginning of the month of Tishrei 5772. The festival marking this shift is one of the four most important holidays for Jewish faith and practice, holidays so important that one was supposed to suspend all normal work in order to properly connect with God through them such that one could be excommunicated from the Jewish community for callously disregarded their significance back in the days when scripture was being codified. Those “big four” holidays are Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Pesach. And just to make things interesting, while it is Rosh Hashanah that functionally serves as the Jewish new year, the day falling right in the middle of the week for which our parsha section is reserved, it is actually Pesach that technically serves as the marker for the Jewish new year.

Sort of.

Alright, I cannot leave this post dangling on such an apparent contradiction; so, here’s one way to understand the matter. The central, religious event for the Jewish people recorded in first five books of the Bible is God’s miraculous deliverance of the Jewish people from hundreds of years of bondage and slavery in Egypt. This single event predicated everything that followed in such a fundamental way that God literally reset the Jewish calendar to commemorate it, and this is precisely what Pesach, also known as “The Passover,” accomplishes. I love how the first couple verses of Exodus 12:1-28 illustrate the matter, where God says to Moses and his brother, Aaron, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.” It’s like God is saying, “What I am doing right now on your behalf will blow your minds so much, it is so completely unprecedented, I want you to rearrange your entire year around it.” So the first two weeks of the Jewish year during the month of Nisan are devoted to ramping up to Pesach, and there is an entire week of celebration afterwards named the Feast of Unleavened Bread to protract the lesson. In other words, Jews take three weeks to celebrate the new year, and the most important point of time over that period isn’t the first day of the year but twilight just before the morning of the fifteenth!

A similar thing happens as we go deeper into the year and approach Yom Kippur, also known as “The Day of Atonement,” which commemorates God’s process of making amends or reparations for the sins of the Jewish people and thereby reconciling them back again to God’s self. Remember how we took two whole weeks to ramp up to Pescah? Well, we take ten days to ramp up to Yom Kippur nicknamed “the days of awe,” which begin with Rosh Hashanah. Now, Rosh Hashanah is actually a Hebrew nickname meaning “the head of the year” for the more biblical term in Leviticus 23:24, “The Day of Sounding,” which refers to the trumpets whose blast indicated to everybody within earshot that the gradual ramping up towards Yom Kippur had begun. The Jewish rabbis would later develop the concept of four different new years commemorating the beginning of different parts of our world. Pesach commemorates the beginning of the salvific relationship God established with the Jewish people by liberating them from slavery in Egypt and, consequently, the beginning of all holidays. Perhaps in some part due to the significance of forgiveness and the removal of sins commemorated by Yom Kippur, the rabbis treated Rosh Hashanah as the day when the world was created; that’s why the calendar actually advances a year on Rosh Hashanah and why it gets that nickname, “the head of the year.”

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Mountains Heather Shot on April 18, 2011. Used with permission.

What all this means for our purposes is that the parsha for this week, Deuteronomy 29:9 – 31:30, spans an incredibly significant period of time for the Jewish calendar, the week when observant Jews celebrate the creation of the world and begin to prepare themselves to encounter God on a day devoted to recognizing their need for forgiveness and the removal of sins as a people. I’m going to go out on a limb here to say that the rabbis picked this parsha with care; they meant for us to meditate on the truths of scripture in that aforementioned context of observance and meditation on these key aspects of our relationship with God.

Paradoxically, while Jews are supposed to reflect upon this parsha selection near the end of Deuteronomy over a week that includes a day dedicated to remembering God’s creation of the world, a day marking the turnover of the Jewish calendar and, hence, a celebration of the beginning of the new year in Rosh Hashanah, the actual scriptural content of the parsha marks the end of one of the most important figures in all of the Bible, Moses. What’s the significance of that detail? Well, now now that we’ve done the work of establishing more of a culturally edifying context to explore this passage of scripture, we can turn to an in-depth analysis of it.

Next time…

The Costly Lesson of Troy Davis

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One might think that a guy excited about Jewish-Christian ministry would surely dedicate some verbiage today on the scheduled bid for Palestinian statehood in the UN security council. Or at least gripe about the facebook news feed update inflicting confusion and distress across the Interwebs, like virtually everybody else is doing at the time of this post. But the single most noteworthy event on my mind right now is the probable, unjust execution of Troy Davis tonight and the exceedingly costly lesson it should teach us.

Troy Davis is an American death row inmate convicted of the murder of a Savannah, Georgia police officer, Mark MacPhail, in August of 1989. According to Amnesty International’s dedicated page on the matter, the case against Mr. Davis “consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony.” In fact, these inconsistencies prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to order a federal district court in Georgia to review Mr. Davis’s situation to determine whether or not new evidence had arisen that could clearly establish his innocence. This resulted in a June 2010 evidentiary hearing during which nearly all of the witnesses who had originally testified against Davis altered their stories, some claiming that they had been coerced by police in their original testimonies and others alleging that a completely different assailant had actually confessed to committing the crime if question. In fact, you can view a .pdf of multiple, sworn affidavits recanting testimony or statements given in Troy Davis’s case right here.

But this is where things get complicated. As Bob Herbert’s 2009 article in the New York Times describes the matter:

There was no physical evidence against Mr. Davis, and no murder weapon was ever found. At least three witnesses who testified against him at his trial (and a number of others who were not part of the trial) have since said that a man named Sylvester “Redd” Coles admitted to killing the police officer.

Mr. Coles, who was at the scene, and who, according to witnesses, later ditched a gun of the same caliber as the murder weapon, is one of the two witnesses who have not recanted. The other is a man who initially told investigators that he could not identify the killer. Nearly two years later, at the trial, he testified that the killer was Mr. Davis.

How could a just basis for the execution of any individual be drawn from such a tenuous body of evidence? It seems that much has turned on U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr.’s  August 24 rejection of Troy Davis’s petition on the grounds that Davis failed to prove by “clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would have convicted him in light of the new evidence.” Speaking self-consciously as one not extremely well versed in American jurisprudence, this is an exceptionally precarious measure against which to hold a man’s life in the balance. Since the state of Georgia requires a unanimous jury to avoid a mistrial, just one juror dissenting from a guilty verdict at Davis’s original court date would have been sufficient to forestall his conviction and prompt a retrial at most or a dismissal of his case at least. But now, the situation is reversed; the burden of proof lies on Davis’s shoulders to demonstrate that all reasonable jurors would have reached the conclusion that he was not guilty based on updated evidence.

I’m aware of the fact that there’s a litany of case history upon which Judge Moore based his ruling. Its goal is to uphold the integrity of past legal proceedings even while attempting to course-correct for substantially new information, and while this makes plenty of sense in general, the matter is tensed when something as final as the taking of a life is in question. I am in no way attempting to position Moore as the villain of this story, nor am I presently interested in analyzing Coles’s relative guilt or innocence and its implications for Davis’s case. Nor is my purpose to argue against the death penalty at the level of pacifistic principle, to claim that the practice of state execution is inherently barbaric and should be outlawed because it is always wrong in every circumstance to take a human life.

Theologians have debated this matter for centuries, and despite the fact that Jesus himself rebuked his disciples when they attempted to assault others according to Luke 9 (and even healed at least one person his disciples had impertinently attacked when he was arrested), Jesus also kicked arse when appropriate and recommended a variety of submission to earthly, governmental authorities. Perhaps explicitly expanding on this point in the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul asserted that such “rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” There is such a thing as governmentally effected, non-pacifistic justice.

Rather, the main point I want to make in this post is this: Even if there are circumstances in which it is legitimate to take a human life, the American justice system’s particularities repeatedly fail to yield the most just state of affairs for our society in the case of the death penalty. At the time of this post, nearly 150 previously convicted death row inmates have either been acquitted or had their charges dismissed since 1973 upon investigation of new evidence or review of past court proceedings–only 17 of which depended on the submission of new, DNA-based evidence. Our justice system can reverse an indefinitely lengthy prison term when it becomes clear that a mistake has been made; it cannot reverse the taking of a human life.

Furthermore, multiple studies have emerged demonstrating that is actually more costly to execute convicted individuals rather than imprison them for life without the chance of parole. One California-based study found that the state could save $1 billion in five years by replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment. (And if you doubt the legitimacy of these claims, visit this website presenting a list of noteworthy pros and cons arguments comparing the costs of the death penalty versus life in prison.) Not only is the death penalty extremely risky in practice at the bioethical level, it is literally worse for our economy.

But speaking now as an aspiring theologian, one of the main points that keeps arising in my mind regarding the practical problems with the death penalty and American jurisprudence is its pitting a sense of retributive justice against redemptive justice. As reported by a Fox News article posted yesterday on Troy Davis’s case, the son of the police officer who was gunned down, Mark MacPhail Jr., believes that the state of Georgia’s repeated denials of Davis’s requests for clemency boil down to one, all important result, that “justice was finally served for my father.” If Davis is not guilty as many claim, MacPhail is tragically misguided, and another injustice has been perpetuated from the moment Davis was imprisoned up to the final hour of his incarcerated life. But even if MacPhail is right, even if Davis actually did murder his father, executing Davis will not reverse this fact. Killing Troy, even if he is guilty, will not bring back Mark’s dad, and it will not replace the years of loss with which Mark has coped from his infancy onward.

The Bible has two, key terms reserved for its description of divine justice: shalom and the Kingdom of God. It is shalom that both Troy and Mark and pretty much everyone else needs today, and that is a state of peace, well-being, and wholeness rooted in the self-giving being of God in which we have the opportunity to participate. Human retribution cannot accomplish wholeness, even when it is directed against a truly guilty party. Only the redemptive grace and love of God can repair Mark’s loss if Troy is guilty, and only that same love and grace can heal Troy’s wounds if he is innocent. The death penalty interjects a time limit on this process for the sake of retribution that tenses our opportunity to experience justice for the sake of redemption. It does so in an extremely problematic way for those of us who are convicted, in a dramatically irreversible way for those of us who are executed, and in a deeply costly way for those of us who are free.

Moreover, this willingness to trump God’s redemptive justice with humanity’s attempts at retributive justice in the case of the death penalty threatens to obscure the fact that the only perfectly just state of affairs for which we can hope has already been inaugurated and paid for through the penalty God willingly took upon God’s very self in Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. The author of the book of Hebrews lifted a passage from Psalm 45 by putting it this way: Through Messiah’s death and resurrection, God effected a “throne” that will last forever, “a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” It is only in the Kingdom of God, heralded by Jesus’s first coming and eventually completed through his second, that society will finally be made perfectly just. In the mean time, we can find no lasting consolation in vengeance for wrongdoing because God is the only being capable of equitably executing such, and God has already freely elected to absorb the cost of this upon God’s very self. As Paul put it while quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35 in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'”

We should work hard for justice, and there is a legitimate place for our governments to attempt to effect such. Again, this is not a diatribe for the sake of pacifism, full stop. But the ethical and theological costs of the death penalty far outweigh any possible benefit when considered from a general, practical standpoint. And more specifically, our country will execute Troy Davis, a man far from clearly guilty, this very night unless some last-minute, highly unlikely reversal of fortune occurs. Countless people have petitioned on his behalf across the religious and political spectrum, including Pope Benedict XVI, President Jimmy Carter, former U.S. Representative Bob Barr, ex-Justice Department official Larry Thompson, former FBI Director William Sessions, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Amnesty International, and the NAACP to no avail.

If it’s too late to stop an unjust execution for Troy Davis, may we learn an exceedingly costly lesson about how we can and should live better in the days ahead. And may God bless you and I to labor to that end until Messiah returns in glory. (Note: I am indebted to my San Franciscan brother, Marcel Jones, for initially drawing my attention to this matter.)

Update: The state of Georgia has ended the life of Troy Davis, confirmed dead at 11:08pm EST. Immediately before Davis was administered a cocktail of lethal injection, a reporter with the Associated Press recorded his final words, as follows:

I’d like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.

The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. All I can ask … is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth.

I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight.

For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.

Yesterday, Davis sent this statement through Amnesty International: “The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath.”

If you want to join that fight in his stead, here is one beginning.

Germinating The 2:16 Ministries Network

Behold! El guapo, the apple seedling.

This week, I realized a childhood goal by successfully germinating a seedling from an apple. I used to loves apples as a kid; so, I tried all sorts of completely unsuccessful, haphazard ways of producing more apples from those I happily consumed at virtually every turn. Nothing worked–not even freezing the seeds for a couple weeks to simulate their passage through winter. (I was really banking on that one, too.) Eventually, I put the matter aside, figuring I just wasn’t meant to cultivate apple trees. Yet.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I learned how to germinate cucumbers and cantaloupe from my buddy, David Bareford, by drying out their seeds, then stuffing them in the fingers of a vinyl kitchen service glove with a damp wad of cotton. Something about that process suggested a solution for the failed apple growing attempts of my youth. (I rarely take things completely off the range of my life; I just have an incredibly spacious back burner.) I checked around for articles online and found the method for acquiring apple seed growth is almost identical to everything else, except that you must refrigerate the seeds while germinating them in that damp wad of cotton or bit of cloth or something. Bam! I now have about half a dozen properly germinated apple seeds and precisely one precious, viable seedling. I am calling him el guapo because he is so handsomely eager to grow into my first apple tree–you read it here first.

In a lot of ways, my experience with Jewish-Christian ministry is like this. Although I was acutely aware of my Jewish heritage growing up, although I was surrounded by a robust, missionally engaged, Christ-centered community virtually free from the sorts of anti-Judaic tendencies plaguing many ostensibly healthy Christian congregations across the world, my experience with forms of ministry attempting to bridge that Jewish-Christian divide never quite cleared the germination stage. Don’t get me wrong; there were all sorts of great experiences. They just never seemed to coalesce into a healthy, nuanced,  transferable, scalable pattern for growth and life in Jesus for me as a self-identifying Jewish follower of the self-identifying Jewish Messiah.

There are a lot of ways to solve problems, and the final resort to which I used to turn during my studies of applied mathematics was “brute force.” If you’re totally lost on how to solve a given problem, exhaust all of your available options until one of them sticks a bit better than the others. Adapt your approach accordingly, and loop the whole process over and over until you have achieved success or can conclusively show with mathematical certainty that there truly is no solution for the problem at hand.

There’s another parallel with my experience of apples and Jewish-Christian ministry. Every time I learned yet another way to not grow apples, yet another way to quash effective Jewish-Christian ministry rather than successfully cultivate it through my efforts, I did happen to gain just a little bit more information about more promising paths to explore. That body of apparent failure, if dealt with in an optimistic, non-fatalistic way can function as a battery of resource when some potentially game-changing event or bit of information drifts your way. That’s the thing about catalysts; they don’t magically act in a vacuum. They create change for some other group of substances within a preexisting set of conditions.

The last couple years have been marked by a pretty substantial body of misses for me when it comes to Jewish-Christian ministry–the loss of extremely valuable relationships, the lack of a certain sense of belonging, the encroaching effect of multiple other responsibilities demanding my time, my own felt need for ever more equipping and research and networking and guidance and straight up chutzpah… But these past few years have also been visited by several key, catalytic events, and I have been blessed by God’s grace to have been able to respond alongside a precious few, fellow travelers without blowing the whole shebang.

As a result, I’m elated to say that I have been able to help cultivate the very beginnings of an approach to Jewish-Christian ministry alongside some amazing men and women that promises to accomplish some things none of us have ever witnessed in our lives. Like my little seedling, el guapo, it really is a bit presumptuous to claim bushels of fruit when the thing at hand seems barely larger than a thimble. But there’s life in that thing, the conditions are well prepared for its roots, and my compatriots and I have learned how to help it grow in a positive sense even through all of the missed opportunities and false starts that I and they have encountered in the past.

In subsequent posts of this category, I’ll delve into greater detail about the biology of this approach, and I’ll more carefully define a lot of the terms I have thrown around somewhat casually above. For the time being, my pastoral self is just as flippin’ excited at what God has in store as my inner, six year old child also happens to be about cracking the code on acquiring trees from apples. Facilitating as of yet unheard of growth in Jewish-Christian outreach, discipleship, community building, education, celebration, theological equipping, and (dare I say) winsome transformation of the church at large–should God will it–by germinating The 2:16 Ministries Network? You read it here first.

The Conclusion of the Matter

א וּזְכֹר אֶת-בּוֹרְאֶיךָ בִּימֵי בְּחוּרֹתֶיךָ: עַד אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָבֹאוּ יְמֵי הָרָעָה וְהִגִּיעוּ שָׁנִים אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵין-לִי בָהֶם חֵפֶץ

ב עַד אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תֶחְשַׁךְ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְהָאוֹר וְהַיָּרֵחַ, וְהַכּוֹכָבִים וְשָׁבוּ הֶעָבִים, אַחַר הַגָּשֶׁם

ג בַּיּוֹם שֶׁיָּזֻעוּ שֹׁמְרֵי הַבַּיִת וְהִתְעַוְּתוּ אַנְשֵׁי הֶחָיִל וּבָטְלוּ הַטֹּחֲנוֹת כִּי מִעֵטוּ וְחָשְׁכוּ הָרֹאוֹת בָּאֲרֻבּוֹת

ד וְסֻגְּרוּ דְלָתַיִם בַּשּׁוּק, בִּשְׁפַל קוֹל הַטַּחֲנָה וְיָקוּם לְקוֹל הַצִּפּוֹר וְיִשַּׁחוּ כָּל-בְּנוֹת הַשִּׁיר

ה גַּם מִגָּבֹהַּ יִרָאוּ וְחַתְחַתִּים בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְיָנֵאץ הַשָּׁקֵד וְיִסְתַּבֵּל הֶחָגָב וְתָפֵר הָאֲבִיּוֹנָה כִּי-הֹלֵךְ הָאָדָם אֶל-בֵּית עוֹלָמוֹ וְסָבְבוּ בַשּׁוּק הַסּוֹפְדִים

ו עַד אֲשֶׁר לֹא-ירחק חֶבֶל הַכֶּסֶף וְתָרוּץ גֻּלַּת הַזָּהָב וְתִשָּׁבֶר כַּד עַל-הַמַּבּוּעַ וְנָרֹץ הַגַּלְגַּל אֶל-הַבּוֹר

ז וְיָשֹׁב הֶעָפָר עַל-הָאָרֶץ כְּשֶׁהָיָה; וְהָרוּחַ תָּשׁוּב אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר נְתָנָהּ

ח הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר הַקּוֹהֶלֶת, הַכֹּל הָבֶל

ט וְיֹתֵר שֶׁהָיָה קֹהֶלֶת חָכָם: עוֹד לִמַּד-דַּעַת אֶת-הָעָם וְאִזֵּן וְחִקֵּר, תִּקֵּן מְשָׁלִים הַרְבֵּה

י בִּקֵּשׁ קֹהֶלֶת, לִמְצֹא דִּבְרֵי-חֵפֶץ וְכָתוּב יֹשֶׁר דִּבְרֵי אֱמֶת

יא דִּבְרֵי חֲכָמִים כַּדָּרְבֹנוֹת וּכְמַשְׂמְרוֹת נְטוּעִים בַּעֲלֵי אֲסֻפּוֹת; נִתְּנוּ מֵרֹעֶה אֶחָד

יב וְיֹתֵר מֵהֵמָּה בְּנִי הִזָּהֵר עֲשׂוֹת סְפָרִים הַרְבֵּה אֵין קֵץ וְלַהַג הַרְבֵּה יְגִעַת בָּשָׂר

יג סוֹף דָּבָר הַכֹּל נִשְׁמָע אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים יְרָא וְאֶת-מִצְו‍ֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי-זֶה כָּל-הָאָדָם

יד כִּי אֶת-כָּל-מַעֲשֶׂה הָאֱלֹהִים יָבִא בְמִשְׁפָּט, עַל כָּל-נֶעְלָם אִם-טוֹב וְאִם-רָע