On the positive side of things

I.


In the aftermath of World War II, Wernher von Braun, the brainchild of Nazi Germany's rocket program, was brought to the US and conscripted to work for the US Army on its fledgling rocket program.

In the following years, von Braun developed the rockets that launched the US's first space satellite. By 1960, he lead the team that built the heavy rockets that propelled the first man to reach the moon.

Now pause a minute and consider: was this a good thing for humanity?

If viewed in the positive light, the US took knowledge that was being put to evil use -- Nazi V-2 rockets that reigned destruction on London civilians -- and redirected it to something beneficial in the form of putting a man on the moon.

But one might view it in the negative light. The US space program was built upon the backs of evil Nazi scientists. Rather than destroying the enemy, the US Military Industrial Complex (cue Darth Vader theme) co-opted the enemy and put his knowledge of war to use on America's ballistic missile program, which has undoubtedly taken the lives of thousands (millions?) of civilians over the course of the last few decades.

There's some truth to both sides, isn't there?

I've noticed this pattern repeated all over.

Vaccines have saved millions of lives and eradicated diseases like smallpox and polio. But government-enforced mandatory vaccination goes against American ideals of liberty and self-determination. In the 1960s, cells from two aborted infants were used in the making of some vaccines, and those cell lines remain in use today.

Do you focus on the positive or the negative?

Religion has produced sincere people of faith who are driven by ideals like "love your neighbor as yourself" and "consider others more important than yourself", to improve themselves and repair the world, causing it to come more in line with the Divine image. But it's also produced holy wars, genocides, persecution, torture, suicide bombers, and worse.

Capitalism has raised millions (billions?) out of poverty and into a better life, as we benefit from goods and services produced through capitalism. But it's made wage slaves of us all. We work and work and work, so that we can have money, money, money. To buy more stuff, stuff, stuff. (To such an extent, might I add, that the youngest generation's embrace of alternative economic systems has resulted in a Socialist candidate nearly winning the Democratic Presidential nomination.)

Genetic engineering is curing previously-untreatable diseases, most recently sickle cell anemia. But last year Chinese scientists announced they used gene editing to modify human embryos, raising the Frankensteinian possibility of designer babies, super soldiers, or worse.

Medicine, surgery, antibiotics, and more has saved perhaps billions of human lives and reduced suffering. But, isn't modern medicine corrupted by money? Aren't doctors over-prescribing pain meds, resulting in nationwide opioid addiction crisis? We're bombarded by commercials of medicines we don't need or don't fully understand, leading to addiction and unintended side effects. And isn't much of modern medical knowledge standing on the shoulders of Nazi and Imperial Japanese medical experiments on humans, the inheritance from Dr. Mengele? Isn't the whole field corrupted by the giant Medical Industrial Complex?

(One can demonize nearly any industry by adding "Industrial Complex" or "Big" to the name. "Big Pharma: the Medical Industrial Complex." Cue Vader again. )
As far as "being in the pocket of Big Egg" goes, I think the real threat is Chansey.

Technology is amazing and improved our quality of life. If you're reading this, it means you have a computer (maybe even a pocket-sized one!) that works anywhere without wires and connects you to the Giant Repository of the Sum Total of Human Knowledge we call the internet. You're probably sitting in a heated, spacious home, with a giant metal air-conditioned throne-on-wheels sitting in your driveway. On the other hand, the internet has produced all kinds of perversion, pornography, and immorality of many kinds; the recent school shootings originated with troll chat rooms that encouraged the shooter to "get a high score" (that is, murder many kids). Technology and the internet has propped up conspiracy theories and given a voice to the previously-ignored fringe elements of society.

Education has raised humanity out of darkness and into enlightenment, leading to innovation and improvement of the world. That is, until education is directed by political motives, at which point it becomes closer to political or anti-religious indoctrination. And consider the modern education system, which leaves new graduates in debt by tens of thousands of dollars.

Even within the Hebrew Roots movement, there is such a view on Christian holidays. Christmas celebrates the birth of the Messiah, but is tainted by pagan myths and traditions adopted or co-opted by the early Church. (Or, celebrating Messiah's birth is great, but what does boughs of holly, trees, reindeer and elves have to do with that?) Ditto for Easter, whose date was chosen for antisemitic reasons, with the Nicene Council ruling to "separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jew."


II.

Some groups, for example, secluded religious groups like the Amish Christian community or the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community might view many of these in the negative, resulting in shunning or restricting technology, trading capitalism for study, opting out of vaccines and modern medicine, opting out of public education.

But are those religious groups really better off?

I'm not at all convinced they are. Those groups are certainly not being a light to the world; they are literally closing off the world.

The other end of the spectrum would be the modern liberal streams of Judaism and Christianity, primarily Reform Judaism and Mainstream Protestant Christianity. These groups don't view these in the negative, but in fact embrace modernism in nearly all its forms.

Are these groups better off?

I don't think so! Liberal Christianity is in steep decline, and there are signs of the same for liberal Judaism; Reform Judaism is almost non-existent in Israel. The reason for the decline may be best summed up by the satirical Babylon Bee:

It seems to me that focusing entirely on the negative or entirely on the positive doesn't work out well. It produces either cult-like communities that are shut-off to the world, or alternately an anything-goes permissive kind of religion indistinguishable from the world itself.

III.

How should disciples of Yeshua view complex subjects like these, where there's a clear benefit but a problematic background?

Paul's encouragement to the Philippian believers comes to mind:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
I think that's a good default: focus on the positive. Otherwise we become heresy hunters of religious or secular variety, Negative Nannies always pointing out the dark side, the ultimate Debbie Downer. Nobody wants to be around such people!

I can think of abuses of Paul's words, though. Focusing on the strengthening of Germany's desperate economy during the 1930s would certainly be the wrong application.

As it stands today, I think most folks don't have a rule set, a consistent guideline, for where the focus should be. (Or, the rule set is, "If it's something I already don't like, then I'll focus on the negative and find reasons for my dislike.") Most folks don't have a consistent guideline for this.

I'm not much better here. I can take Paul's words and default to the positive. Good start. But when and where do we say, "The negatives here outweigh the positives?"

Going back to 1930s Germany, surely the line would be, "Human lives are being taken unjustly, outweighing all else." Easy enough. But most cases aren't so clear cut.

Thinking about this a little deeper, maybe the answer is not a simple yes/no, right/wrong. Maybe we should, for example, embrace the positives of vaccines while speaking out against abortion and pressuring manufacturers to avoid using cell lines from aborted children. Maybe Hebrew Roots folks can appreciate the good in Christian holidays while speaking out against adoption of things not from the Lord?

A question remains, however: can something with negative origins still be a net good? My answer is that yes, absolutely, because nearly everything is tainted in some way. Including, you and I, friends. If things are irredeemable because of tainted origins, then humans themselves are irredeemable. And that statement runs counter to the work of God in human history.

Aaron’s Recovery

Hey Kineti readers,

I’ve put together a new site that documents my younger brother’s road to recovery and his current health status: aaronsrecovery.com

As you may know, he was found drowned near his home in August. After CPR resuscitation, he was rushed to a hospital, where he’s been treated for coma resulting from hypoxia. In September, I visited Aaron in the hospital and wrote about trusting God and even rejoicing in difficult times.

I’m in the midst of moving out of state, so things have been a bit busy here. Meanwhile, many of you have been asking about Aaron and I haven’t always had time to respond to each of you. Hence, this new site, aaronsrecovery.com. It logs Aaron’s recovery by posts from friends and family: every report from his doctors, our time spent visiting with Aaron, prayers and intercession for Aaron, dreams we’ve had about Aaron, medical prognoses, and more. All of it is there on aaronsrecovery.com, ordered by most recent. As new developments happen with Aaron, we’ll post them at the new site.

Thanks to all of you who have asked about Aaron and continued to lift him up in prayer. He needs it more than ever! He remains in a coma with an uncertain prognosis.

But one thing we are certain of is, God is in control and will do what’s right. Aaron often would tell me in years past, “God is in control of even the smallest things in life! Nothing happens without God willing it.” If God wills it, I look forward to Aaron reading this post himself and laughing and praising God. I think I’ll join him.

Today Was My Last Day: Reflections on Leading a Congregation for Over a Decade

Me, leading worship at Tabernacle of David, my spiritual home of over 15 years
Today was my last day at my congregation of over 15 years, and my last day in Minnesota. My job has moved me out of state, leaving our friends, family and home congregation. I'm on the flight out of Minnesota right now -- writing these thoughts while they're still fresh. Thanks for reading.

Tabernacle of David has been my spiritual home since I was a teenager. (For reference, I turn 36 next week, ha!)

My parents started this Messianic congregation years ago. After I got married -- our 15 year anniversary was last week -- I learned guitar and started singing Messianic worship songs at home. The first song I learned was Baruch Hashem by Lamb, a golden oldie from the '70s. 🙂

I can remember the week my parents first asked me to lead music at our congregation. Holy cow, I wasn't ready. (I'm finding this to be generally true in life: you're never ready. Being placed in responsibility makes you ready.) I crammed practice that week. Come Erev Shabbat, I sat in a chair in front of maybe 20 people. I was nervous; I stared at the song sheets in front of me, and I couldn't for the life of me remember how any of the songs were supposed to sound like.

I got through that music set eventually and even had a few moments of genuine praise amidst all the nerves and guitar stumbling.

Over the next decade, I grew a great deal. With worship, I came to understand good worship -- worship that's pleasing to God -- is above all sincere. There's a great deal of emotionalism, performances, whip-up-the-crowd music sets. It's easy to get into that mode, because our modern worship services are modeled after stage performances: a big personality, feel-good emotion, stage, lights; theater. (That might be an area for reform in our movement in the years ahead.)

Sincerity is hard to fake, and people can usually see through it. If our worship isn't sincere, it's better to not worship at all. (I'm reminded of  the Jewish principle that if prayer is not directed to God, and instead is performative, it's better not to pray at all.

If our worship is sincere, genuine, it produces gratefulness, as we sing thanksgiving psalms. It produces joy, as we sing about what God's done for His people, what He's doing now, and rejoice with joyful songs. It produces contriteness, humility as we consider how vast and deep His love for us, and consider His forgiveness of all our sins. And, as the Psalmist said, "A broken and contrite heart You will not despise, oh God."

I grew as a person at Tabernacle of David. As a leader, I learned to listen to people. People are broken. There are a great deal of hurting people. Sometimes, people need someone to talk to; no solution proposals needed. Other times, people need help. I can remember one instance several years ago where a woman slipped on icy stairs near her home and badly broke her leg. She was in the hospital for awhile, then in a nursing home while she rehabilitated the leg. It meant so much to her that we visited with her, brought her hot meals, sat and visited with her. (She was at the congregation today, my last day, and told me through tears how it meant the world to her.)

I grew theologically at Tabernacle of David. When I was young, I used to think that Shabbat, the Feasts, and eating kosher was of prime importance! (It sounds silly even now as I write it.)

Those things are good and from the Lord, but God is bigger than that. He calls us to feed the hungry, visit the sick, have compassion on the poor, visit the imprisoned. Repairers of the broken. Servants who care for people, prioritizing human relationships over religious ritual. Considering other people as more important than ourselves. A high, demanding calling, this discipleship!

But this is the holy Torah of King Messiah.

As I reflect on my congregation's accomplishments in the Lord -- our volunteering at women's shelters, homeless shelters, food shelves, Feed My Starving Children food packs, Loaves and Fishes food cooking and serving to people in need -- we fed and ministered to, in my best estimation, several thousand people. (All the glory to God, and in Messiah's name!)

I first began to preach at Tabernacle of David. I can remember when I was young people prophesying over me saying I was to preach. It was difficult growth for me, because I was not a public speaker. (And, I'm an introvert at heart. Public speaking and human interaction is exhausting for me. After a full day at the congregation, I often go home and collapse in bed.)

Preaching became a joy; still is! Prep was always difficult, though. My wife will attest I always worked hard to prepare notes, Scripture and supporting arguments. I put a great deal of effort into something heartfelt, Scriptural, and cohesive. I'd engage with modern Jewish and Christian scholarship and with great Messianic minds and mentors: J.K. McKee, Daniel Lancaster, Tim Hegg, David Stern. I would spend 4 hours each night, several nights a week, preparing a teaching for Shabbat service that would minister to the people at my small congregation. It did subtract from my family life.

I grew in life skills at Tabernacle of David. I learned how to deal with conflict. Over the years, I've dealt with troubled people -- conspiracy nuts, flat earthers, transgendered people, trouble makers of a variety of sorts, interpersonal conflicts, and more! In each circumstance, I learned how to handle it better: when to put your foot down, when to show compassion, when to listen, when to say no. When to reconcile. When to ask people to leave. (Thank God, it was required only once, to my best recollection.)

I learned to set boundaries at Tabernacle of David. (Though my wife would probably say I didn't do this enough.) Being a leader means everyone wants to talk to you, pitch their theology to you, ask you questions, ask for help. Some people just like to talk (and often, not listen!) Some people want the good feeling that comes from a leader listening to you. I always did what I could. Sometimes it's returned with gratefulness. Other times, people would resent you for not giving enough.

[I wrote here a recent, painful example of this in this paragraph, but decided to delete it. Suffice to say, there are believers-eating-believers in our movement, and it's discouraging.]

It's easy to become jaded ("all people suck" was my first thought) after those things. Also, it's easy to be discouraged when people leave your small congregation. But I came to understand we help people without expectation of repayment.

Many folks were huge blessings to me and my family. We became close with several families over the years. Friends we could open up with. Share everything with. Parting with these folks is the hardest part of leaving our congregation.

Today as we closed worship, several folks stood up and blessed me and thanked me for my service. The other leaders at the congregation laid hands on me and blessed me. One couple gave me a beautiful hard cover siddur as a parting gift. Several dozen hugs and goodbyes. And a lot of teary eyes, from them and from me. One of our leaders brought to oneg a giant bon voyage cake, with a Microsoft logo on it. (We are leaving because I am taking a new job with Microsoft.)

I feel blessed in a way that's difficult to say. I've grown closer to God and grown as a human being through serving at my congregation for over a decade. In retrospect, I'm certain that growth would not have happened without serving at Tabernacle of David. I'm beyond grateful for these years!

What's in store next? God knows! I have two inklings.

First, I have a calling to be a minister to my own family. I have been serving my congregation, often times at the expense of neglecting my own family. (It's strange; I know how to be a pastor, preacher, and worship leader. But I'm unsure how to minister to my own wife and kids. What does that even look like? God will have to help me with this.)

Second, our location in Washington state is home to Torah Resource, a ministry I greatly admire. I want my whole family to plug in with them and grow with them, if it's the Lord's will.

(Oh, and third, REST! A Shabbat where I can rest and not prep music, presentations, song lyrics, bring food, prepare teachings, setup sound equipment, lead services, talk to people for hours, pack up, empty garbages and sweep, vacuum and clean up? Oh man, Shabbat of REST here I come!)

Today was my last day at Tabernacle of David, and my service there to God and to God's people is now complete. Thanking God for these years of growth and maturity. And thank you, fine Kineti reader, for reading.