Wednesday, October 10, 2007

walking the three leaf clover

Today is a great day. I love starting off my day taking a brisk walk around Lake Ella. Today I noticed that there is a small line of small trees around the lake and that across the street there are a larger group of trees that line the street. It is interesting to me that I haven’t really noticed the difference in trees. In fact, I haven’t noticed a lot of things lately. Mostly because I have been walking around with my head down. I missed the fact that that there are three fountains around the lake. I knew there were fountains, I just never thought about them collectively. I’ve never really thought much about the shape of the lake itself either. I pondered today, if I were to take a birds eye view from above the lake what shape would I see? I think it might be shaped like a three leaf clover. Interesting. As I walk along I begin to think about the diversity of people that walk around the lake, so many different social and cultural groups are represented. Here all these various groups gather around this beautiful water garden if you will and just for once the diversity isn’t the dividing line, they are part of what makes the place such an enchanting mosaic. It is just beautiful. So many ducks and turtles, how do they all sustain life around so much human commotion?

It is 6 tenths of a mile around the lake, so I usually go at least 5 laps around so that I know that I have made at least a 3 mile effort of the morning. Around the lake there is an American Legion Hall that is used for all sorts of events, a locally owned coffee house, and then there is a cluster of cottages that have been converted into small shops. Everything from gifts to yo-yo’s are represented by these little shops. It really is an amazing little place. The thing I like most about the little shops is that they are all so unique and cozy; there isn’t an air of pretentiousness about these quaint shops. It is really very refreshing. My wife has said over and over she would love to have a little vintage shop in there one day. And I completely agree with her on that, I hope that one day we will have a spot where we can add to the cozy corner of Lake Ella. It would just be grand to live, work, and play, near the park at Lake Ella.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

stickers and colored pencils

Sometimes things start coming together even when you don’t know how they are going to all work out. Mostly, I think I have given up trying make stuff happen and just make the most out of what comes my way. I think I might be closer to living a life bent towards Providence than towards possessions and prestige. I struggle though sometimes knowing that the identity is gone. I may have severely under estimated the rebuilding process for living a life.

Today was great, after I left my consulting session; I went to my youngest daughter’s school and met with her teacher to discuss her progress. I was so disappointed with all the structure of learning geared toward these “state standards,” trying to have an open mind about it, I did see the merit in learning to build a foundation of how to read. I think my daughter has a good teacher and I think she enjoys school for the most part. I really enjoyed being present at the parent teacher meeting. I can’t even remember being present or going to one for my oldest girls. What a shame I missed out on those. When I came home, my oldest asked if I would help her with a school project and my attitude was genuinely glad to help. Later we had to go get more supplies. We had planned to only go to one stop, but it ended up being a three-store stickers and colored pencils trip. I really didn’t mind. On the way home she thanked me and said she really appreciated me taking her to get her supplies and that she actually enjoyed the time together and that was the highlight of my day.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

i don't want anybody over for dinner

I have this question: Since leaving the organized church, has my life worsened or gotten better? At times it seems as it has gotten worse, but I say that because I feel so completely present in my life that it is really messy. By really messy, I mean the practical things like being a husband who listens and communicates well, a father who teaches, loves, and disciplines seems to be elusive at best. And lastly, what does it mean to be a man among men is a question that plagues me.

For the last ten years of my life while I was in church, I was told that all of these things had to look a certain way. The problem was that very few people were really honest with the practical way these things looked. Everything was held up to the status of how God expects us to love and forgive. I went to teaching after teaching to learn how to live the christian life as a man of God. I think sometimes I was at so many meetings I had no chance at putting these things into practice. The busy life of a churchman not only blinded me at seeing the truth, but kept me running after a goal I could never reach.

So left alone to walk these things out, I find myself looking closely at how do I love my wife, my kids, and those I come in contact with on a regular basis? I feel so raw and insignificant that I can't tell if I am compassionate or not. Most of the time I feel like I am not. I say insignificant because my career and church life ended at the same time. And those two things really defined what I thought about myself. That is so ridiculous!

Do I believe that I matter even if no one tells me so? I should.

I say raw because that is what it seems like; everything has been stripped away and I am left to look at the way things really are. Reality is sometimes so difficult to see that I look for just about any distraction so that I don't have to deal with it, whatever "it" is. I am really tired of doing this alone. And I mean just me and my family are alone.

Hope is not lost. Last night a ray of hope and relief came by way of our friends Dave and Trish. They came over for dinner and drinks. Darla was honest about the fact they they had just caught us in one of those moments where we were just fed up to here with each other; I was not so honest. Dave and Trish just smiled and said "that's OK." The girls played a board game and Dave and I watched House of Flying Daggers. Without saying anything their visit spoke: we love God, and we love you, so let's be together in it.

Love came to dinner and lingers even still.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007

a tale of two christianities

(chart found on page 15)

I am reading what could be described as a very dangerous book. Dangerous in the sense that it risks being seen as challenging to the status quo. The books is Marcus Borg's "The Heart of Christianity." Marcus Borg is the Professor or Religion and Culture at Oregon State University and has written several books about the Historical Jesus.

I think this book is good for me because the approach of the earlier paradigm doesn't work for me so much. Borg is a scholar, fellow faith traveler, who is exploring with deepest sincerity the heart of Christianity. I am not saying that I agree with everything he says, in fact I find myself wrestling with a lot of what he writes. Nevertheless, his unending discussion and search for "how we can be passionate believers today" is worth the time to take part in.

Friday, July 27, 2007

what is social capital?

"those tangible substances [that] count for most of the daily lives of people: nameley, good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit... The individual is helpless socially, if left to helpself... if he comes into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substancial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors."

written in 1916 by L.J. Hanifan urging the importance of community involvement for sucessful schools, he invoked the idea of "social capital" to explain why.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

a new venture?

"A good barometer to determine whether something will be of benefit materially, is whether it is the proper thing to do spiritually. A business venture that implies breaking your moral principles will also be detrimental materially.

At times, we experience tremendous pressure when our ethics seem to stand in the way of success --but this is only an illusion. The spiritual and the material are in conflict only to our subjective eyes. In fact, they work in harmony as one."


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

find the spark

"In every hardship, search for the spark of good and cling to it. If you cannot find that spark, rejoice that wonder beyond your comprehension has befallen you.

Once you have unveiled and liberated the spark of good, it can rise to overcome its guise of darkness and even transform the darkness fully to light." rebbe wisdom

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

paper tiger world

"There are two paths:

One: Everything is for the good. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually good will come out from it.

The other: Everything is truly good --because there is nothing else but He Who is Good. It’s just a matter of holding firm a little longer, unperturbed by the phantoms of our limited vision, unimpressed by the paper tiger that calls itself a world, and eventually we will be granted a heart to understand and eyes to see. Eventually, it will become obvious good in our world as well."

A Daily Dose of Wisdom from the Rebbe
-words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman

Sunday, July 15, 2007

creative people and creative spaces

what would happen if a couple of passionate people got together and focused their creative thoughts towards solving a problem?

robert putnam discusses several stories of people who do just that. facing topics such as bringing peace to a neighborhood plagued with crime to a city wide creative project to host a neutral space where people of opposite viewpoints can co-exist for the benefit of a greater whole.

reading his book "better together" stirs in me a longing to be involved in something significant. my searching has been ongoing for some time. i have found bits and pieces of it in my own home. i would love to add to that a project that reaches out into the community and city in which i live every day. there must be something at work out there that is bigger than i am, but that requires my efforts and that of others who are willing to sacrifice time and resources in order that someone else might have the opportunity to experience belonging, purpose, and hope for a future.

social entreprenuership is a field that has recently popped up and really pushes my button. the idea of bringing people together who might not normally meet but yet find themselves compelled to join hand in hand to bring about change is a challange that sparks my soul. whether it is creating something new or whether it is renovating something that is completely outdated doesn't really matter.

maybe my searching is a search to find soemthing that is in need of repair. as i have been doing some much needed updates in my own home, i am also looking outside for a house or project that needs some restorative attention. as hard as it might be to believe, i find that most people don't want help or they don't want to admit that they could use some help. i wish the phone would ring and someone would say, help. i think the One who repairs the world knows that i want to help and i pray that things are in motion that will soon reveal themselves and that the project may begin.

Monday, June 11, 2007

wrecking my comfortable life

ok this was a great book. in just about 3 days or so i devoured the pages to the last drop. here are a couple of quotes:

"Thoreau said, 'simplify, simplify, simplify,' but at that moment I couldn't help wondering if I had gone too far."

"Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch our hands and be lead in places where we would rather not go." Henri Nouwen

Well here it is straight from the guys who lived and wrote the story:

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

mending or not

"If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and how ugly it is, then it is yourself that needs repair." By Tzvi Freeman

Sunday, May 27, 2007

the position of learning

"As we prepare to recreate Sinai during the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, we are struck by the fact that their preparation to receive the Torah was not through diligent study. It was through personal refinement.

Why would personal behavior be the ultimate way to prepare to receive the wisdom of Torah? Because ultimate wisdom is about discovering – and experiencing – ultimate truth, and ultimate truth is not about being smart; it’s about being refined – about a truth that encompasses your entire being and transforms your entire person.

Compartmentalized truth can hardly be called truth. Truth in the mind is not a complete truth. Truth is a full experience.

By humbly refining yourself you become a container that can experience Sinai. Indeed, the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai – the lowest of all the surrounding mountains – to teach us that humility is the key to wisdom." Rabbi Simon Jacobson

the position of learning is a difficult one. in order for me to truly learn something, i must take the position and attitude of understanding that i do not know what it is that i wish to learn. the position of learning is humility. humility can take on many shapes for me. it might be to walk around without my temporary tooth out, it might be not only yielding my position on a certain topic but even going so far as to give first response to the competing argument and then going even one step further which is to repeat that competing argument with respect.

"A fascinating Talmud captures the power of humility in the intellectual pursuit: Three years the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel disputed… Finally a heavenly voice was heard to the effect that both schools expressed the words of the living G-d, but Halacha (the final ruling) prevails according to the school of Hillel. Now if it be true that both schools expressed the words of the living G-d, why should the school of Hillel be thus favored? Because the members of the school of Hillel were modest and patient, and would always repeat the words of the school of Shammai. Moreover, they also always gave the school of Shammai precedence when citing their teachings… From this we learn, that everyone who makes himself humble is raised up by G-d, and one who is arrogant is humbled by G-d. He who pursues greatness, the greatness eludes him, and he who avoids greatness is sought by greatness (Eruvin 13b)."

humility will look like setting aside my "i am right you are wrong" so that i might hear my wife. most recently i ventured outside of my understanding to listen to the sincere words of my bride. i learned that i have a wound that centers around trust. it may manifest itself in my feeling that i think someone might one day steal her away from me, but it comes from a 12 year boy who experienced that is falsely anchored to "marriage is not absolute and can not be trusted" when my parents divorced during my teenage years.

what do i do now? i have learned that deep down i have built a way of living around an experience. one that is real, but yet is not true? how does one tear down and rebuild? why does this deep wound come forward as we rest at the bottom of the manoa valley?

may the One who is true Marriage lead me to the truth. my heart, mind, and soul is bent low, i admit i do not know, please shine your face upon me that i might live in darkness no more. i do not want to live in fear. i want to trust in You. amen.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

this is where we are staying

the question at the bottom of the mountain might have been "will you rest?" what did Adonai say to his people? will you go and can you rest? what is this word rest? is it the absence of work or no labor? what does it mean to rest?

cris said to me before we left for hawaii, dude you got to just go and relax. relax might mean that all i might need to do is have the guts to get on the board and paddle out in the water, the waves will take care of the rest. maddie says saturday we might go surfing. look out i might just get on a long board and paddle out.

did i mention it is absolutely beautiful here. this is where we are staying. you can just make out the mission house behind the garden. if there is a land of milk and honey, this might be it. what a chance of a life time!

Friday, May 18, 2007

more and more I am realizing that the jesus story is a life that is deeply rooted in jewish soil. For instance, for generations and generations the Hebrew people prepare themselves to remember the time when they were on the side of the mountain where Moses gave the instructions from YHWY to the people. This remembrance celebration is referred to as counting the omer. It is a count down to remember the first time they received the “breath of life” in the physical realm in the form of stones tablets. Moses came down from the mountain and captured what was believed as black fire written on white fire (google it if you are curious), the words of the One of Being.

Today we may misunderstand the 10 words as rules, but to the Hebrew people, they were and are like a wedding vow between husband and wife. Like remembering one’s wedding anniversary, the moment these words were given and received is well worth observing with great reverence.

The Hebrew people believed in the life source of these words with such devotion that they would literally write them down and place them in small boxes and tie them like bands to their wrists and forehead. They wanted to carry them with them everywhere they went. It was these words that would sustain and nourish them to be a people of hope to the entire world.

So it became a tradition to observe seven weeks of seven days to remember not only the words that were given but the process by which they were prepared to receive these words. Here is a sample of the blessing that is said each night as they remember:

May G-d be gracious to us and bless us; may He make His countenance shine upon us forever; that Your way be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. The nations will extol You, O G-d; all the nations will extol You. The nations will rejoice and sing for joy, for You will judge the peoples justly and guide the nations on earth forever. The peoples will extol You, O G-d; all the peoples will extol You, for the earth will have yielded its produce and G-d; our G-d, will bless us. G-d will bless us; and all, from the farthest corners of the earth, shall fear Him.
We implore you, by the great power of Your right hand, release the captive. Accept the prayer of Your people; strengthen us, purify us, Awesome One. Mighty One, we beseech You, guard as the apple of the eye those who seek Your Oneness. Bless them, cleanse them; bestow upon them forever Your merciful righteousness. Powerful, Holy One, in Your abounding goodness, guide Your congregation. Only and Exalted One, turn to Your people who are mindful of Your holiness. Accept our supplication and hear our cry, You who knows secret thoughts. Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.
Master of the universe, You have commanded us through Moses Your servant to count Sefirat Ha-Omer, in order to purify us from our evil and uncleanness. As You have written in Your Torah, “You shall count for yourselves from the day following the day of rest, from the day on which you bring the Omer as a wave-offering; shall be for seven full weeks. Until the day following the seventh week shall you count fifty days,” so that the souls of Your people Israel may be cleansed from their defilement. Therefore, may it be Your will, L-rd our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that in the merit of the Sefirat Ha-Omer which I counted today, the blemish that I have caused in the sefirah be rectified and I may be purified and sanctified with supernal holiness. May abundant bounty thereby be bestowed upon all the worlds. May it rectify our nefesh, ruach and neshamah from every baseness and defect, and may it purify and sanctify us with Your supernal holiness. Amen, selah.

For those who have connected with the Jesus way, a tradition of remembrance has also developed around the same period. It is known as Pentecost (check out wikipedia). The tradition says that

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. “

Can you imagine trying to finds the words to describe this amazing event? Could the “tongues of fire” imagery connect the jewish listeners with the ancient tradition of the Great One speaking “black fire on white fire” that created and held all creation together and that was used to speak the 10 words to the Hebrew people at the bottom of the mountain so long ago?

So I guess my question is why would we want to remember both of these events now? What good would it do to bring these traditions forward? What might we learn about the One who is Life? Looking backwards to look forwards might prove to be very profitable. We might learn a great deal about who we were and who we are as the people of God, and possibly expand our thoughts about the Mysterious One who weaves throughout man and time.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Space - Where do you live? Where do you walk? Why does it seem there is all this empty space between us? Have I done something to offend you? I can’t seem to hear you, I can’t seem to find you? Have you left the atmosphere? Why is there a wrestling in my soul? Could you please reach through to my void? I know that you are there but I can’t seem to put my finger on you?

Communicate - I would love a quick text message or a brief email, or maybe we could just skype later tonight. I really would like to hear your voice again. It seems like I am blind folded trying to pin the tail on the donkey except the donkey keeps moving. I really really long to just breath in your brilliant light. Yet I am just caught in between somewhere I am supposed to be and somewhere I am and it is very grey here.

Noise - I try to listen but then I pick up everything like distortion. I hear lots of voices speaking but nobody is really saying anything.

Bricks – it seems like invisible blocks are all around me, blocking me in and keeping everyone else out. Did I put up these blocks? How did they get here?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

the darker side of me and spiderman 3

this image screams "look at me, who am i, really, behind all the masks?"

i went to see spidey 3 last night. the girls were having a night out so i went by myself. there is something about this movie i don't like. i don't like it because it speaks of something dark. the thing that i don't like about the dark is that i am too afraid to face my own darkness. i have hid behind masks before. truth be told, part of me wants to be famous. i would love for someone to give me the key to the city. with all my best intentions, i still can be tricked by greed and selfish ambition.

back to the image at hand, here are some questions to me and spidey:

who is the person behind the mask?
who is the true spidey, the person in the reflection, the person being reflected, or is it the person behind the mask in the reflection, or a combination of all three?
why is this image so powerful?
does it have anything to do with the fact that it is upside down?

at first glance the image seems to speak about external differences, but if one takes just a moment longer... the message shifts to internal conflicts. this morning i read a comment by elizabeth on candace's blog. that comment, so honest, so confessional in its tone, confronted me and prompted me to explore issues of darkness of my own. thank you elizabeth for your transparency, i hope your risk yields significant reward.

so go see the movie, see if you can't help but to be pulled into the story. i think i am going to take the girls to see it tonight. now that i am less concerned about about who wins, maybe i can experience the huge sweeping symbolic themes as the story unfolds. wouldn't it be great if i could do that in my own personal life narrative?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

not the God we would have chosen

We would as soon you were stable and reliable.
We would as soon you were predictable
and always the same toward us.
We would like to take the hammer of doctrine
and the nails of piety
and nail your feet to the floor
and have you stay in one place.
And then we find you moving,
always surprising us
and tearing all things down
and making all things new.
You are not the God we would have chosen
had we done the choosing,
but we are your people
and you have chosen us in freedom.
We pray for the great gift of freedom
and that we may be free toward you
as you are in your world.
Give us that gift of freedom
that we may move in new places
in obedience and in gratitude.
Thank you for Jesus
who embodied your freedom for all of us.

this is a poem/prayer by walter brueggemann

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

how to look at a rose again for the first time

Perspectives – over the last two years I have been exploring and questioning the lens by which I view my faith. The lens of lessons taught, experiences learned, and stories remembered, as well as the movements from childhood to adolescence and finally adulthood. The interesting thing about perspective is that it is viewed from one’s current vantage point. In order to have a fuller perspective of something, one must try to view the object from at least 3 different viewpoints. Leonardo DaVinci used this 3-perspective approach to a subject matter with everything he created. In fact his journal, which was bought by Bill Gates for 30 million dollars in 1992, can only be read by holding it in front of a mirror. I thought this practice was very strange until I understood his methodology of 3 perspectives.

For a week or so I have been marinating on a certain passage in the scriptures. How might I look at Hebrews 10:25 with multiple perspectives? To avoid labels like conservative or liberal, I am just going to list them as I have been exposed to them in my life as a Jesus follower.

My first understanding of the passage comes from a Christian raised in a church environment all my life. So the “not forsaking the assembly” came with a connotation that was centered on the reality of “if the church doors are open, we are meant to be there.” In addition to this concept were the services themselves and the components that they comprised, like singing, sermons, and tithing. All of these things were meant to speak to living life, yet I spent so much time inside the church there was rarely any time to put them into practice. I remember many incredible manifestations of God in and around me as I reflect back on this vantage point of the assembly. During this period my first approach to this and any scripture was seen through the lens that this was meant literally and was written in order to speak to my current context of “the assembly” as church in a building behind the doors. I remember being taught as a child a visual illustration of this: Taking your hands, fingers first, and folding them in with the exception of your index finders and thumb pointing upward, one would say, “here’s the church, here’s the steeple, look inside and here’s all the people.”

The reverse side view comes from my life as a thirty-something. If the first view sees the assembly as the “church in a building behind the doors,” then the reflective side view sees the same “assembly” singing, speaking to issues of truth, and generosity expressed outside the brick and mortar. Also from this reverse vantage point the assembly is mainly seen as the people of faith in any given time or place. The songs and messages of truth and giving are no longer restricted to being expressed or received inside a building with the word “church” on the front of it, rather they can all be experienced by all people in situations that may or may not be labeled as Christian. Scripture from this vantage point is not limited to literal interpretation only, and must be first understood as it was said or written to the cultural context or the time and people it was written.

For example, the Gospels and the Epistles were written in the years 30-70 AD to a group of people who come from primarily Jewish orthodox or who were pagan gentiles having no orthodox at all. Further, it is quite possible to assume that the readers of the book of Revelations might identify the Beast as the Roman Empire, and the Dragon as Nero. Once again in the 1st century they may have taken the scriptures as literal just as I described in my first perspective, which gives credibility to the first view as a normal and natural response, but not the only valid viewpoint. In this second perspective, the passages in Revelations referring to the Beast might describe Germany, and the Dragon might be Hitler. In this sense it is history metaphorized. This is a short glimpse of my reverse side view of “the assembly,” meaning the people of faith who exist outside the brick and mortar of the church building and are not limited or restricted to searching for and of reclaiming the truth in all expressions. I think of the life story of Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place, is a great example of “the assembly” viewed in this second perspective.

So what might the 3rd perspective look like then? What might it look like to take the first view and the reflective view and look at them together from an observer perspective? Jesus seemed to speak to this idea when he would say things like “you have heard it said…” I think the writer of Hebrews might be speaking to the understanding of what it means to approach God. If the writer was writing to a group of Hebrew Christians living in Jerusalem in the first century, the use of “episunagoge” in Hebrews 10:25 is unusual and profound! Normally, the author would have used the word "sunagoge," or regularly scheduled worship services, as in James 2:2 where "sunagoge" is translated "assembly". But the Hebrew Christians are urged to "EPIsunagoge". The "EPI" in front of "sunagoge" adds the meaning "super", or "over and above". So the text here is not telling the Hebrew Christians to go to regularly scheduled church meetings, but to encourage one another on daily basis, not relying simply on once a week temple visits.

Think of the dimensional aspects of an object, let's say a rose. Imagine a flat, one-dimensional rose, the kind of rose sticker my five year old might get in pre-school. Now compare that image with that of a two-dimensional rose which gives visibly to the front surface of the rose. Lastly, a three-dimensional image of that rose would reveal not only the shape and surface, but would give depth and fullness that cannot be viewed in the first two viewpoints alone.

This three dimensional view of the rose is the way that I would like to view the assembly. I want to see the depth, the richness of the colors, even the shadows of the petals where I lose the shape, and even for the sweet aroma of the rose itself. The difficulty is that I must acknowledge the first two as real and valid in order to move to the next perspective. Then I could view the rose connected to the stem as it sinks down into the earth. As a channel of life source, the stem connected to the root dives inward to find water and nourishment. From that point I would look to the top, the petals each reaching towards the sun to collect the energy from the heavens above. With this view, looking inside, outside, around, behind, under, on top, through the center, and in between the spaces, maybe I might be able to really begin to understand the Creator Maker’s beauty called “the assembly.” In this
3-point perspective it is no longer necessary for me to believe in the rose; meaning the existence of the rose is not dependant upon my belief in order for it to be a reality. The point here is simply to find myself captivated by the rose and all its beauty.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

strange flame

this is an article emailed to me this week; it is written by a jewish rabbi. it offers a perspective outside the norm for me. i hope it peacefully distrubs you as it did me.

The Ecstasy of Politics
Drugs: Strange Fire
By Simon Jacobson

Dear Rabbi,

Thank you for speaking to me the other day. Your encouraging words were truly helpful to me in my detox process. As I shared with you, I was one of those wayward teenagers who began using alcohol and drugs recreationally – as a social thing, bored and looking for fun. Then I became more and more dependent on them until I turned into a full blown addict. Procuring a drug became my daily and nightly obsession. I lied, stole money, betrayed people I loved and those that loved me – anything to get my high.

Even with my life completely out of control, I could not get out of my trap until I did some real irreversible damage which I could no longer ignore (as I shared with you, and would rather not put it into writing). Only then, when I hit “rock bottom,” did I began reaching for help.

After years, literally years of rehab, I am just beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

My question to you is this: Beyond the addictive, destructive and unhealthy effects of substance abuse, is there any thing wrong with achieving a high through foreign substances? In other words: if drugs and alcohol would not have any adverse effects would the Torah have a problem with their use to reach a spiritual high?

I know that this question may seem trivial compared to my dreadful experiences. It may even seem as if I am trying to find some justification for their use. I assure you that this not the case. But it does intrigue me to understand the nature of the high induced by drugs, and if it can play a role, when used properly (if that is even possible), in achieving transcendence?

I appreciate your help, your vote of confidence and above all your contagious hope that gives me strength to continue my fight.

David ,

Dear David,

Beyond the personal words of encouragement… I first hesitated to reply to your question, precisely because it seems completely out of place. You of all people know the horrible abyss of drug addiction. So why bring up even a slight consideration as to the possible benefits of an induced state of altered consciousness?

But then I reconsidered and realized that many others may have the same question. Additionally, it seems important to discuss not just the symptoms, but the actual roots of addiction.

You may be surprised to know that your question is directly addressed in no other place than the Bible itself. Yes, long before the plague of substance abuse in our times, we have a precedent that clarifies for us this topic, as well as many other issues around the timeless search for spiritual transcendence.

The opening of this week’s Torah portion concludes a mysterious event that took place three chapters back:

After the Sanctuary was finished, the Torah tells us that the two elder sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, “offered a strange fire before G-d, which He had not commanded.” The result: “A fire went out from G-d and consumed them, and they died before G-d.”

Now, in this week’s portion, following the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, G-d specifically commanded that their example should not be repeated: “And G-d spoke to Moses, after the death of Aaron’s two sons, who came close to G-d and died... Speak to Aaron your brother, that he not come at all times into the Holy... so that he not die... with this shall Aaron come into the holy place” (Leviticus 16:1-2), and the Torah continues with the conditions how to enter the Holy of Holies. Rashi explains that this command comes immediately after the statement of the death of Aaron’s sons, to warn him that his service of G-d should not be like that of his sons.

What lies behind Nadav and Avihu’s actions? Did they behave properly or not? On one hand, they were clearly great men who “came close to G-d;” on the other hand, “they died” because they “offered a strange fire before G-d, which He had not commanded.” And G-d is warning Aaron not to behave like them.

And what is the meaning of the “strange fire” that they offered?
Above all, if Aaron’s sons behaved wrongly why is it important to document their sad story, which presents them in a negative light?

The key to the story lies in the word “fire.”

Fire is passion. All passion comes from the fire of the soul, “the soul of man is the fire of G-d.” Like a flame, a soul always reaches upward, licking the air in its search for transcendence, only to be restrained by the wick grounding the flame to the earth. The soul’s fire wants to defy the confines of life; the free spirit wants to soar ever higher, always reaching for the heavens.
Like fire, the spirit ablaze cannot tolerate the mediocrity and monotony of the inanimate “wick” of materialism. Its passion knows no limits as it craves for the beyond.

But just like it can be the source of our greatest strength, the fire of the soul, like any fire, can also be the cause of great destruction.

Therein lays the story of Nadav and Avihu, two extraordinary souls:

When the holy Sanctuary was finished Aaron’s sons, deeply spiritual individuals, were drawn to enter the holiest sanctum on earth. They wanted to bask in the ecstasy of the Temple’s pure spirit.

Indeed, the behavior of Aaron’s two sons was not a sin; it was an act of great sanctification, as Moses tells Aaron immediately following the tragedy: “This is what G-d spoke, saying: 'I shall be sanctified by those who are close to Me.'” The sages explain: Moses said, “Aaron, my brother, I knew that the Sanctuary would be sanctified by those who were beloved and close to G-d. When G-d said 'I shall be sanctified by those close to Me,' I thought it referred to me or you; now I see that they – Nadav and Avihu – are greater then both of us.”

Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar (the Ohr Hachaim) explains, that their death was “by Divine 'kiss' like that experienced by the perfectly righteous. Only the righteous die when the Divine 'kiss' approaches them, while they died by their approaching it.... Although they sensed their own demise, this did not prevent them from drawing near [to G-d] in attachment, delight, delectability, fellowship, love, kiss and sweetness, to the point that their souls ceased from them.”

Nadav and Avihu’s death was a result of their profound yearning for a Divine experience. Their error was that they initiated it at their own discretion, and “selfishly” allowed the ecstasy to consume them. Their sin was not they got close to the Divine, but that they died doing so. In a sense, they wanted it too much, so much so that they rushed into the fire and got burned in the process. Their bodies could no longer contain their souls.

Thus the Torah says “when they came close to G-d and (with such passion that) they died.” Why does the Torah add “and they died” when it has already said, “after the death of the two sons of Aaron?” Although it is healthy to divest yourself of material concerns, at the moment when you stand poised at the ultimate ecstasy of the soul, you must turn again to the work that the soul must do to transform the physical existence. Nadav and Avihu achieved the ecstasy but not the return. This was their sin and the reason for their death. They “came close to G-d and they died.” They allowed their spiritual passion override their task to transform the world. They escaped beyond the world and beyond life itself.

If their motivation was pure, driven by the fiery passion of the soul, why then was it called a “strange fire?”
Because even if their intention was a good one, it ultimately was driven by their personal desire, albeit a spiritual desire, but still defined by their subjective drives. It may have begun for Divine reasons, but they allowed it to become their own personal interest, mounting to a point of intensity that it destroyed them, thus rendering the “fire” into a “strange fire,” one which “He had not commanded.” They entered on their own terms, at their own pace, at their own choosing – not on G-d’s terms.
And this was the reason that they actually ended up dying in the process. Because the same G-d that imbued us with passionate souls also commanded us to use the passion not to expire in ecstasy and escape the universe, no matter how appealing that choice may be, but to channel the passion downward and transform the material world in which we live into a Divine home. This is the purpose of the Temple: “build me a sanctuary (out of physical materials) and I will rest among you.”

Thus, the ultimate test of Aaron’s sons’ intentions was their inability to integrate the experience: Had they patiently and humbly entered on Divine terms, they would have been able to integrate the experience into their lives and return to sanctify their world. Integration would have confirmed that they were doing it not for themselves but for the cause, for G-d. The fact that they allowed themselves to be consumed with their own spiritual fire, demonstrated that it was their “own thing,” not G-d’s, a strange fire not commanded.

Now, in this week’s Torah portion, “after the death of Aaron’s sons,” Aaron is warned not to enter the Holy of Holies like his sons did. Rather, “with this shall Aaron enter the holy place” – in awe, obedience and self-abnegation. And in this way he would be able to “make atonement for himself and for his house” on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, and to say a prayer for the sustenance of Israel – acts of concern for the world.

In other words, the determining factor whether the soul’s fire will be a constructive or destructive force is dependent on the person’s motivation, how he begins his spiritual journey: If it’s a self indulgent experience, driven primarily by personal desire and interest, then you will not wish to turn back from your private ecstasy to the needs of the world, and the fire will inevitably consume you. If, however, it is driven by the selfless dedication and all-out surrender to the Divine, then within this ecstasy, the desire ultimately to return and sanctify the world will always be implicit, and the fire will lift you and your world to exalted heights.

In the famous Talmudic story of the “four that entered the garden” (a mystical experience) only Rabbi Akiva began the journey with the proper attitude: He “entered in peace and (therefore) came out in peace.” Because he entered with humility, in obedience to the Divine will and seeking to unite the higher and lower worlds, that is why he came out in peace. His intention of returning was implicit at the outset of his path to religious ecstasy. While the other three – Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma and Acher – all entered for other reasons, which determined how they emerged. Ben Azzai entered seeking ecstasy, not return; therefore he “looked and died.” Ben Zoma “looked and was stricken” (with madness). Acher “mutilated the shoots” (i.e., became an apostate).

We are told the story of Aaron’s sons in order to teach us an invaluable lesson about our own life experiences:

Each of us contains a powerful soul, with fire in its belly. Each of us will, at one point or another, encounter spiritual opportunities; passionate moments which will entice and light up our fires, craving transcendence – the need to get beyond the daily grind. Transcendence can take on many shapes: Spirituality, music, romance, travel, or sexuality, to name a few.
How you act in these times – when the flames of your soul are ablaze – will define the destiny of your life.

This explains why this week’s portion is known by the name “after” or “after the death.” Why name a Torah portion with an odd title – “after the death?” Why emphasize their tragic death?

The Torah is telling us that the “death” of Aaron’s two sons – both the death itself, and “after the death” – teaches us a vital lesson, actually a twofold lesson:

1) The search and need for transcendence, the craving and yearning for a spiritual high is healthy and a necessary ingredient in the human journey. All mans greatest achievements, his noblest acts, his deepest loves – draw from the soul’s passionate fire.

2) Yet, as with all powerful things, great care must be taken that the spiritual experience doesn’t “burn you up,” but is integrated in your life.

The fire of our souls, like any fire, can be the source of sustenance (healthy fire), or… an inferno (“strange fire”). The challenge is great. The choice is ours. Therein lies the twofold positive lesson from the children of Aaron, both from their death and “after the death:”

Their death teaches us how not to enter the Holy of Holies uninvited, not to enter at our initiative, at any time we so choose, not to enter as a result of our personal desire; “after the death” teaches us how to enter – “with this shall Aaron enter the holy place” – with utmost humility, with sensitivity and above all, total immersing and sublimating yourself into the experience.

Let us now return to the issue of drugs and alcohol. The essential problem with inducing a (spiritual) high through foreign substances is threefold: 1) It is driven by personal desire, and therefore 2) you have not earned your right of entry, and 3) it will not be integrated into daily life. It will be an escape.

And this is precisely the reason why foreign substances are addictive and take control of your life. As their name implies, they and the altered states of consciousness they induce are foreign substances – a “strange fire” – which don’t belong to you. For a brief, but temporary moment they have the power to transport you to another place. But you don’t belong there and you have not earned your way. Having not paid your fare, the “strange fire” will come back to collect the debt: It will take control of your life until it consumes you.

By contrast, when you earn your right – through the arduous, selfless work of ego-nullification – then the emerging spirituality carries you to great heights.

The formula goes like this: Superficial experiences are just that – experiences that are felt with your sensory tools. Real experiences – love, truth, health, happiness, sexuality, spirituality – are the exact opposite: As soon as you sense them, as soon as become aware of yourself, your needs and your search – you lose the ability to “own” the experience.

Why? Because a real experience is not an experience; it is state of being. Health for example is not a verb, but a noun. It has no sensation. It just is. The same with true love: Love can manifest itself in the senses and be expressed through the senses; but love itself is not an action, but a condition, as is truth and all other inside-out realities.

Spirituality, the spiritual high, is a permanent state of being that lies beneath the surface of existence. The “container” can be artificially forced open with a “strange fire” (foreign substances), but only temporarily. No single act can be done to access the spiritual truths within; no magic can open up your soul. When you selflessly dedicate your life to a higher cause, when you transcend your ego and strip away the forces of material self-interest that impedes access to your soul within, then the spiritual will emerge. The operative word is emerge. You don’t create it, you don’t induce it, you don’t import it; you eliminate the weeds and the flower emerges.
When you try to take control, you lose control. When you let go, you begin to gain control. When you try to contain it, you lose it. When you let it free, it becomes yours.

The soul’s fire manifests in many ways. Perhaps its deepest expression is in the fires of love and sexuality. Like a fire, burning desire can be the root of our noblest acts, but also the source of our most decadent behavior. Sexuality as selfish drive, divorced of intimacy, brings us to the lowest depths; infused with sanctity, intimacy, commitment and integration, it lifts us to the our greatest heights, infusing us with the power to create – allowing us to enter the “Holy of Holies” close to G-d.

But this is paradoxically possible only when our burning desires are not driven solely by human needs. When they are, the same force is rendered into a destructive addiction.

All addictions are a result of a deep void demanding attention. The desperate search for passion will look for an outlet. If the spiritual thirst is not quenched in a healthy way, it will demand nourishment at all costs – even if it means self destructive methods.

Addiction by its very nature means profound dependency. Why would someone get addicted to anything? Why would we need something that badly that we should become addicted to it? True, this may be due to the actual substance itself. Some substances are chemically addictive; they have the power to stimulate and ultimately alter certain chemicals in the brain that creates a compulsive craving and uncontrollable dependence on that substance. But that still doesn’t explain why a particular individual allows him or herself to become addicted. What need is this substance induced altered state serving; what void is it filling?

Addiction demonstrates two things at once: A deep hunger, but the hunger is being sated with a force outside of yourself, trapping you, killing you. The solution is not to eliminate the need (by becoming a passive bore), but to relieve its pangs by feeding it with the surrender to the Divine.

The ultimate relief of the soul’s profound tension is bittul – humble submission to the world of spirit. The greater the soul’s hunger and passion, the more its need for selflessness.

The story of Aaron’s sons teaches us that the spiritual state fills the healthy human need for transcendence. But this healthy need can be filled in unhealthy ways, served by unhealthy tools; the desire can be pure, while the objective of the desire may not be, turning the flame into a firetrap.

From Aaron’s sons we learn why the Torah utterly rejects any induced state of altered consciousness. Besides for the obvious issues of health, addiction and complying with the law – all fundamental concerns in the Torah – the mere fact that one turns to a “strange fire” to access spirituality (even if the experience was in some ways genuine) reflects the abovementioned distortions: A yearning driven by self-interest, unearned, escapist and non-integrative.

Even when using healthy and natural methods and means to achieve spiritual highs, the key lies in your actual attitude and drive: If transcendence becomes another extension of yourself, and is driven by your need or desire to get high, then even if you use healthy methods, ultimately transcendence will elude you. Only when you realize that you have to let go – let go of your drives, needs and even hunger – then the spiritual high will emerge.

And then, its will also be an integrative experience instead of an escape. It will open you up to spiritual freedom, instead of becoming an addictive monkey on your back.

Ecstasy that is driven by human politics is politics not ecstasy; ethereal perhaps, but still man-made. Spirituality on human terms not on spiritual terms.

The fire of the soul is our greatest asset. The passion that burns in the unfettered spirit can overcome any challenge. Yet, our success in harnessing these powerful flames is in direct proportion to our humility and selflessness in appreciating them. And carefully protecting and nurturing these flames.

The question we must always ask is twofold:

Are my fires burning?

What will I do with these fires – will I indulge myself in them or will I allow them to lift me and the world around me to greater places?

Friday, April 20, 2007

powerful words


--Evil talk kills three people: the speaker, the listener, and the one who is spoken of. (Talmud, Erachin 15a)

The speaker obviously commits a grave sin by speaking negatively of his fellow. The listener, too, is a partner to this evil. But why is the one who is spoken of affected by their deed? Are his negative traits worsened by the fact that they are spoken of?Indeed they are. A person may possess an evil trait or tendency, but his quintessential goodness, intrinsic to every soul, strives to control it, conquer it, and ultimately eradicate its negative expressions and redirect it as a positive force.

But when this evil is spoken of, it is made that much more manifest and real. By speaking negatively of the person's trait or deed, the evil-speakers are, in effect, defining it as such; with their words, they grant substance and validity to its negative potential.

But the same applies in the reverse: speaking favorably of another, accentuating his or her positive side, will aid him to realize himself in the manner that you have defined him. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

the garden and the voice

Two young hearts wandered into a life garden of rose bushes. Searching for the truest path through the garden, they walked around admiring the beauty of the roses. Reaching for the beauty, they pricked their palms on the long stems. Both of them sensing that they were meant to be caretakers in this garden together, found it difficult at times to handle the deep thorns of life. How would they work together? In the midst of their toil in the soil and the feeling of not knowing exactly how to tend to the delicate beauty around them, they listened for guidance.

One day in the middle of cuts and bruises they heard a voice. “Who are you?” they asked of the voice. With a tone as soft and beautiful as the roses, the voice said, “I was here when the garden was made and I will be here long after you are gone.” “What is your name?” they asked. With a gentle reply, she said, “I have been known by many different names, but you might recognize me best by Sophia.”

So with an open spirit to learn, the two young lovers walked hand in hand with Sophia through the garden. The melody of her voice sang, "It's through me, Lady Wisdom, that your life deepens, and the years of your life ripen."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

dreaming with leonardo

In my recent visits to the library I have been exploring the story of art. I find it interesting that throughout human history, man has been fascinated with attempting to capture the divine. From Rembrandt, Michelangelo, to DaVinci each artist has tried to recreate the beauty as seen by the eyes of their heart.

Watching the History Channel the other night, I found it very interesting the connection between artist, man, and God. I realize that unfortunately many times the creative works of man have been elevated above the Great Creator. Man, at times, has fallen in love with his own creative artwork. I guess that must have been a risk God was willing to risk when he lit the divine creative spark within our souls. Knowing that with the magnificent power of creativity we might seek to elevate ourselves, but at the same time through the hands of his artist the world might come to experience a divine language that transcends culture, time, and people.

I really don’t have a point here. It is really just a trail that somehow has caught my attention. I have talked to people about this dream I have that is somehow connected with a school of sorts that is centered on art. Maybe a charter school or something, and the main idea would be middle school, why middle school? That is the last group of folks that I would choose personally, but yet part of me knows how extremely difficult that part of the life journey is. Middle school is the transition from adolescence into adulthood but you’re not quite there yet. Not to mention all the hormones and social issues that arise during that period. I dreamt a year ago of a place called “mosaic learning.” I really didn’t know anything about it, but I found lots of things online about it. In fact I found one white paper on a school in England that made the break from traditional school patterns to do something special for this group of people.

Once again all of this is way beyond my comprehension or control. I don’t know anything about a school, education, or starting or running a whole school. And when would I find the time to do it. Nonetheless, the dream is still stirring in my heart. I can’t do anything to make this thing come to life, but I think that the True Teacher knows the dreams that linger in my heart.

Saint Francis of Assisi held to the opinion that we are all made with a divine creative spark. He took this position from the “imago dei” that is woven into the creation narrative in Genesis. He even went so far as to say that when we intentionally walk away from the creative person, our true identity, that we are rebelling against God. That is some pretty strong language. I don’t know if I can totally go all the way there, but it is a very compelling position.

I continue to dream that things can be different… I think Leonardo dreamed too.

Monday, April 09, 2007

living in the garden

"to live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle persistent efforts into a garden of solutude." henri nouwen

Thursday, April 05, 2007

being present in lovingkindness

Day 2 - Gevurah of Chesed: Discipline in Lovingkindness

"Healthy love must always include an element of discipline and discernment; a degree of distance and respect for another’s boundaries; an assessment of another’s capacity to contain your love. Love must be tempered and directed properly. Ask a parent who, in the name of love, has spoiled a child; or someone who suffocates a spouse with love and doesn't allow them any personal space."
by Rabbi Simon Jacobson

what does it mean for me to respect my wife's boundaries? maybe it means that i should not be like an army general with marching orders to divide and conquer. maybe i should not be authoritarian but rather diplomatic and sensitive when it comes to her borders of sensitive issues. how to be tempered and direct, this is a very interesting idea.

most of the time when engaged in sensitive issues with my wife, i have a tendency to retreat, to withdraw from conflict. i was reminded of this recently when watching "shalom in the home" on tlc. the husband of the family that the rabbi was visiting was retreating when any emotional turmoil arose. in addition to his retreat, the husband also refrained from any heart level engagement with any of the family. he was brought up in an environment of "tough love" and therefore had a very hard time being open and vulnerable with those he loved.

i recognized and related to the feeling of wanting to retreat when i saw the husband do it in the show. but the rabbi explained to the husband that by leaving the situation and going out to the garage, he was sending a message to his family that he cared more about working on his classic mustang than he did about working on his family. wow, the guy was completely oblivious to that perception.
this spoke to me about my level of connection with my wife and kids. do i regularly take time to explain my feelings or to ask for their true feelings about life? do i take time to share the thoughts that are wrestling in my head? do i seize moments when it is obvious that one of them are troubled, or do i just wish it all away hoping that it will work itself out? these are serious questions that stare me in the face and demand attention. discipline can mean the regular practice of being present in lovingkindness.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

crazy life poet

here is my first attempt at a very large scale piece of wood. this is a backdrop for a teen poetry slam at our local library this month. i am really excited to bring this as my contribution. i have thoroughly enjoyed learning this process of painting a brick wall and then painting the graphic over it. i haven't used spray paint as a medium before but it really is fun. it kills your fingers and forearms after a couple of hours though. anyway,

masking off the board with painters tape and then painting really made for a great finish for the wall. funny though i was telling a friend that yesterday i was helping a local school restore a mural on their building that had been vandalized with graffiti. and then for the next two days i worked on a back drop painting my own graffiti. sometimes life is such a paradox.

this friday we are going to a first friday art gallery night. there is a vibrant local art community that i am looking forward to checking out. the event is held at railroad square art park. it will be a date night for darla and i as the kids are going to be at grandma's for the night, yea!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

what's in it for me?

day one - Chesed of Chesed:

"LovingKindness in Lovingkindness. Love is the single most powerful and necessary component in life. It is both giving and receiving. Love allows us to reach above and beyond ourselves, to experience another person and to allow that person to experience us. It is the tool by which we learn to experience the highest reality – God.
Examine the love aspect of your love. Ask yourself:

What is my capacity to love another person?

Do I have problems with giving?

Am I stingy or selfish?

Is it difficult for me to let someone else into my life?

Am I afraid of my vulnerability, of opening up and getting hurt?"
questions posed by Simon Jacobson

i think the question for me is, can i give without wanting a "thank you" or "boy, you did a great job?" those things are fine by themselves, but sometimes it seems like my motivations are driven by the need to have those "atta-boys." i think this year God has been working with me in this area. giving, wanting nothing else in return, that is a character of Yeshua. when i think about it, giving in any other way seems so burdensome and heavy. this word "chesed" brings a new dimension to the word freedom; freedom to give out of knowing who i am, not dependent on external forces or compliments.

Monday, April 02, 2007

crummy cleaning time

Here are the seven areas on the emotional map that i mentioned yesterday in my blog:

Emotion 1 - Chessed is lovingkindness, benevolence—anything that’s included within the family of love, and the warmth and nurturing that comes with love. It’s a feeling in our hearts. It’s our first and most fundamental emotion.

Emotion 2 - is Gevurah the alter-ego to love, and that is justice, discipline, restraint, awe. If love is giving and flowing, there’s another emotion which is withdrawing, focusing, disciplining, channeling.

Emotion 3 - is Tiferet. Tiferet is translated as beauty, harmony and compassion. It’s somewhat of a synthesis of the first two, but it’s beyond that: tiferet has its own power, the power of compassion that goes far beyond love. You can have love for those who are close to you, those whom you appreciate. Compassion is for strangers and people who may not deserve it: mercy, or in Hebrew and Yiddish, rachmanut.

Emotion 4 - is Netzach. Netzach literally means victory, but the emotion involved is endurance, fortitude, ambition. Netzach is the driving force behind every ambition.

Emotion 5 - is Hod, and that translates into humility, splendor, and the emotion of humility, yielding. If the alter-ego of gevurah is chessed, where chessed is a flowing love and gevurah is the channeling, the measuring of it, then if netzach is ambition and drive and fortitude, hod is humility and yielding that balances the ambitions within us.

Emotion 6 – is Yesod. Yesod literally means foundation but it’s an emotion called bonding. When you bond with something it’s not just that you’re experiencing it, you actually bond with it.

Emotion 7 - is Malchut. Literally it means nobility and kingship, but on the emotional spectrum, it’s sovereignty, leadership, the independence of a human being, the feeling that we are sovereign, that we have something to contribute, something unique about us.

“Freedom means the liberation from dependency on matters or forces that are external to our true selves and goals. True freedom allows the self to shine forth unhindered.” by Yaakov Paley
The escape hatch

“You're trapped in your marriage. You've said certain things, she's said things, both quite unforgivable, so now you're imprisoned in this cube of tense silence you used to call "home" and the only place to go from here is down. Yes, there is a way out -- just yesterday there was a moment, a fleeting opportunity for reconciliation. But you were too big to squeeze through.

You're trapped in debt. There's the house redo you just had to do, the car you absolutely had to have, the vacation you simply wanted (you deserve something for yourself, too). The bills are closing in, and the only place to go from here is down. Yes, there's a small opening, through which a tiny voice inside you sometimes beckons, "You don't really need this." But you've gotten too big to squeeze through.

You're trapped in your life. Whichever way you turn, you encounter walls -- unshakable habits, antagonistic colleagues, elusive desires. The only direction that seems not to be closed to you is down -- the direction leading deeper into the quagmire.

Sometimes, the weather clears enough for you to see the escape hatch set high up in the wall -- the way out to freedom. But it's so small. Actually, it's not so much that it's small as that you need to make yourself small -- veritably flatten yourself -- to fit through.” by Yanki Tauber

arrogant bread -

“The characteristic of leavened dough (Chametz) is that it rises and swells, symbolizing pride and boastfulness. A Matzah, on the other hand, is thin and flat, suggesting meekness and humility. Passover teaches us that Chametz – arrogance – is the very antithesis of the ideal of Torah.” author unkown

Spring cleaning –

“Ready or not, here it comes... Once again it is time for the annual pre-Passover house-cleaning. It is time to move the furniture and scrub the chairs, line the counters and scour the dinette; perhaps, perhaps, we will unearth a stale cookie or come across a half-eaten piece of licorice which the baby stowed behind the couch.”

Growing up cleaning my house was usually reserved to times when special quest were coming to visit. With that understanding, I never understood “spring cleaning.” Why clean up when nobody was coming to visit? Maybe my understanding of cleaning is being redefined. Looking for crumbs in the cushions and corners is about something deeper. For thousands of years this physical act of “spring cleaning” is a symbol that speaks to a spiritual reality. Where have I allowed myself to become egotistical? Have I literally become puffed up?

Setting out to find areas where I have become full of myself is not a fun project. I think however that it has huge implications on how I love my neighbor. Becoming “flat” is not so easy. Flat sounds like humility to me. No wonder people for generations have tried to abstain from eating bread filled with air during this time. The act of abstinence is not the point, it is “remembering” that the Creator acted on our behalf and liberated us from our enslavement. We didn’t’ break out of Egypt by our own might!

So maybe part of my captivity is my ego, and humility shapes my realization of true freedom deep within.

“The characteristic of leavened dough (Chametz) is that it rises and swells, symbolizing pride and boastfulness. A Matzah, on the other hand, is thin and flat, suggesting meekness and humility. Passover teaches us that Chametz – arrogance – is the very antithesis of the ideal of Torah.”

Chametz -- grain that has fermented and bloated -- represents that swelling of ego that enslaves the soul more than any external prison. The flat, unpretentious matzah represents the humility, self-effacement and commitment that are the ultimate liberators of the human spirit.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that the liberating quality of matzah is also shown in the forms of the Hebrew letters that spell the words "chametz" and "matzah". The spelling of these two words are very similar (just as a piece of bread and a piece of matzah are made of the same basic ingredients) -- chametz is spelled chet, mem, tzadi; matzah is spelled mem, tzadi, hei. So the only difference is the difference between the chet and the hei -- which, as the illustration above shows, is also slight. Both the chet and the hei have the form of a three sided enclosure, open at the bottom; the difference being that the hei has a small "escape hatch" near the top of its left side.

Which is all the difference in the world.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

who are you to begin such a journey?

traveling requires a map. a map is made by those who have braved the unknown and carved out a way. the idea behind this journey is not destinational, rather it is experiential; it is to experience what others have gone through deep inside their being. where does this inner trek begin?

The beginning of all journeys is separation. You’ve got to leave somewhere to go somewhere else. It is also the first step towards freedom: You ignore the voice inside that mocks you, saying, “Who are you to begin such a journey?” You just get up and walk out.

landmarks from the patriarchs - genesis 12 (abram leaves), exodus 12 (hebrew people leave egypt). sometimes leaving what you have always known is very difficult. we don't realize what impact local routines and material surroundings have on our beings, until we think about moving on without them. anxiety can quickly come rushing in, followed closely by panic, climaxing in fear. so what are we to do when these emotions come flooding our safe little predictable world? we must begin to dismantle these distorted emotions. this redefining process could be what is meant by the word "kadesh."

This is the first meaning of the word, “Kadesh” -- to transcend the mundane world. Then comes the second meaning: Once you’ve set yourself free from your material worries, you can return and sanctify them. That is when true spiritual freedom begins, when you introduce a deeply significant meaning into all those things you do.

the sages tells us that there are seven basic emotions that make up the spectrum of human experience. at the root of all forms of enslavement, is a distortion of these emotions. what does it look like to travel deep into these areas of the soul? could there be a perfect journey - perfect in the sense of completeness not free from error? seven weeks of seven days - 49 - this is the scope of the ancient spiritual path that begins at Passover.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

If I lived in the first century, and my family for the last 40 generations had carried with them the weight of imprisonment, I would take freedom very very seriously. In fact our whole attitude and way of life would be centered on one ancient but profound act that set our family free from 4 centuries of oppression. A tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation would involve remembering the great Divine work of Freedom. The best way for our people to understand freedom was to remember that we were liberated from our enslavement.
To truly know freedom is to remember captivity.

This “remembering time” would occur around the time of spring known as Passover. As I am just learning about this I think I will journal this time on my blog, maybe others will learn as I learn. My hope is that this journey is more than obtaining knowledge; rather that it is an internal journey.
As I follow in the footsteps of many who have walked before me, I recognize that the Creator of All is the One who transforms all who travel the great path. It is our choice to acknowledge Him or not. I choose to acknowledge what I do not understand, but rather choose to go beyond that point led by the Spirit of YHWH.

Friday, March 30, 2007

My Own Prison
Originally uploaded by ryan_carville.

what is freedom? is it just doing what i want when i want?

Am I not then just a slave to my whims and fancies? What if my fancies are not really coming from me? Maybe I have desires that were placed in my head by others. Am I truly free if I follow those desires? What if I have instinctive drives that are harmful to myself? Can you call me free if I am bound by those drives? What about compulsive or addictive behavior? Bad habits? Can't you also be a slave to what you want?

True freedom is the ability to express who you really are. If there are levels to your personality that have not been explored, if your soul has not had the opportunity to be expressed, then you are not yet free.

"Passover is all about breaking out of our constraints, attaining personal freedom. Each of us is enslaved inwardly in some way or another and Passover helps us break out of our personal slavery and become free. Doing things that are beyond our comfort zone, pushing our limits for the sake of a higher purpose, a higher calling, actually liberates us.

I think this is a concept many people don't recognize. We think of slavery as someone else enslaving us, but in truth, we are often the ones enslaving ourselves. We are so busy being influenced by money, by society, by external pressures, that our true identity and abilities can be hidden.

It is this slavery that keeps people caught up in "Egypt," in the false safety net of their lives, in their external distractions, and it keeps people from going into the wilderness of their souls, from delving deeply into themselves.

It is only when we realize what we have within, that we can act from the inside out instead of the outside in." Matisyahu

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Sages tell us that the leaving of Egypt is a constant process. It means realising our freedom, in all aspects of our lives. What does this mean?

For a plant, freedom means good soil, water and light. To be trapped in one place does not worry the plant. It does not expect to be able to move around. But an animal does. For an animal food and water are not enough. The animal also needs freedom of movement. But the animal does not feel deprived if we do not teach it how to read and write, how to think and be creative. So we come to the higher freedom of a human being. He or she needs food and water, freedom of movement - and also education, creativity, freedom of self-expression.

what do we mean by self-expression? It means a sense of identity, the quest for knowledge, for the "imago dei" expression in daily life. If we take this away, or limit it, then the aspect of the person - his or her essential aspect - is not free. It is in Egypt.

The way to go free is to let this "imago dei" aspect express itself. In every generation, and indeed every day, this is our private Exodus, our personal, our "true self' liberation.

The Exodus and Daily Meditation

There is a kind of personal deliverance from 'Egypt' every time we stop and still ourselves before the Creator. The soul of each person is a sacred portion of the Divine. However, the soul feels itself to be trapped by the limitations and self-centredness of the body and the ordinary material concerns of the person. For the soul, this is a kind of Egypt. In fact the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is very similar to the Hebrew word for 'limitations', meytzarim. Sometimes the person is able to leave these limitations of material concerns, at least for a few moments.

This is a brief moment when the person is actually focused on the One of Being. For those few seconds one is oblivious to the weather, the state of the world, the meal one is going to eat, the possibility of buying a later model convertable. At this moment there is just the individual and God. Temporarily at least, for the soul, this is freedom.

What does all this mean to me here and now?

Today I felt the warmth of the sun and the spray of the sprinkler on my feet. I looked deep into creation through the evergreen blades of grass glistening around my feet and for just a moment I was ok... in the center most part of me... I was free for a moment.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

a dialogue worth having

i began reading "the meaning of Jesus" this weekend. it is a difficult read, yet i am completely intrigued by the first two chapters. borg challenges me on one end, wright pushes me beyond what i thought i knew on the other. i wonder what it was like for the two of them to work on this project coming from such diverse perspectives?

Friday, March 23, 2007

reading the foot notes

i just finished reading "sex god" by rob bell. it was fantastic. i think it was better than his first book. there was a lot of material in this book that i hadn't heard him teach on. and the real bonus is the reference/notes/comments section; he gives people a whole new rabbit trail to chase. whether you are single or married this book is a must read just for the exposure to a larger understanding of what sex is and isn't all about.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


i ache today
from the center of my being
i try to look away
but the ache remains
i don't want to be alone
love is such a mystery
she wounds
she heals
deep in a cave
i want to hide
heavy is my chest
where is the air
hear me
beautiful One
come to my aid
do not let this depair
grip too tight
humble me
restore hope
or live with pain
if i must

Monday, March 19, 2007

and he shall come riding a red stallion

and a cry of great joy was heard throughout the land! for the rider and his steed had come at dusk and rescued the winn people from their plight. the great horn of hampshire was blown as the red stallion rolled upon the wild plains of overgrown cloverleaf and dandelion.

can i just tell you how overjoyed i was to see my good friend pull up in his truck with his mighty red riding lawn mower. not only did he cut my grass, but all the leaves were sucked up like some wicked kirby vaccum was unleashed upon the fields of weeds and such. then all the kids got a turn riding the mower. it was as good as pony rides at a birthday party. my friend stayed and the rest of his family came over as we shared a fine meal together. we topped off the night with a game of apples to apples. if you haven't played, you are missing the boat.

seriously, i want you to know it really did my soul good for my friend to show up just at the right time. he may or may not have read my plea for help on saturday, but when he came with mower in tow, he brought a little piece of hope along with him. when the lee and winn family come together, the ten of us make one heck of a party.

i think God does hear the whinning and complaining of his kids. and unlike me he responds using all the resources under heaven and on the earth, so that we might know His goodness to us.

thank you anthony, my good friend... may your deed be returned to you 100 fold!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

the movement of creativity

"A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his mind is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist."
(St. Thomas Aquinas)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

broken camera - lens of life is cracked

things are breaking all around us. this week our garage door buckled while trying to close, today while walking at lake ella our camera dropped and busted into two pieces, and then this afternoon one of our girls pushed a boy down and he fell on his glasses cracking the lens. his mom came down and told me that he had just bought the glasses and they were nearly $200. she is a single mom i think and has five boys one who has mental disabilities. who knows what kind of life she really has behind the doors of her house.

ok all of this is going to sound really stupid but here it is. we sold all of our stuff because we were hoping to move to hawaii to start a creative community center or something like that. now we are back in our house and have minimal stuff. the minimal stuff is not so bad. but we have no lawn equipment and now it is time to do spring yard work. it is a different feeling not being able to just go out and do what it is you need to do because you don't have the tools to do it. it sort of is a trapped kind of feeling.

yes we have neighbors and friends who would gladly let us borrow their lawn stuff, but that flows against the grain of being self sufficient. so does being self sufficient somehow work against the idea of community?

now the family camera is broken, this has become almost a 6th member of our family. we have shared many moments of our life with our friends through the pictures taken from our camera. but does a broken garage door come first? not to mention my wife's glasses are just about out of prescription. oh yeah i forgot that the timer on our dryer doesn't work so sometimes it just goes for hours and hours if we fall asleep and forget to check it. oh yeah and the ceiling fan in delaney's room doesn't work, well the light part works but the fan part doesn't. is it neglecting these things or is it trying to get by with minimal stuff? at this point i really don't know.

is this the grip of materialism or is it being lazy or is this simply being retarded? once again i don't know. and if all men struggle with wanting to fix things what does all this broken stuff say about me. i really don't like this post one bit. in fact i think i should just delete it. i really don't want all you people out there to know that i am this whacked out about this silly crap.