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What Do I Think of Calling Yourself Messianic?

November 10, 2014

She’s my friend and I love her, which is why I’m willing to take the time to write about this thing that makes my heart clinch up. I write this knowing full well I am talking directly at some folks I have history with and, sadly, some of them aren’t friendly any more but some of them?

I really like.

But this girl who asked? Well, I have sat on her porch drinking coffee and we wrestled with big thoughts and I slept in the guest room, safe and welcomed, when the rest of the world seemed dark and lonely.  She and her family have loved us, all four of us, down through the years with a consistency and a precious kindness that makes me pay attention to her questions.

So, because she asked, I will tell you.

IMG_6909The “red tent” for menstruating women to be set apart from the community.  Israel Museum – Jerusalem

“What you thought before of Messianic – and what you see now. “

(This gets long-winded, you have been warned…)

Before coming to Israel, the Messianic movement seemed to be little more than a harmless expression of authentic interest at best.

At worst, it appeared to be a simple identity crisis the Evangelical and Charismatic disenfranchised who found themselves dissatisfied with a stale status quo and wanted a community that was more Biblically accurate than where they had found themselves before.

Somewhere in the gray middle, it seemed to offer Gentile and Jewish believers an opportunity to enjoy interacting with the faith of Israel and gave meaning to those seeking insight behind much of the Hebrew thought and ideology of the Bible.

Perhaps, for some, it even became a personal means of identifying with the nation of Israel.

However, it didn’t stop there, with finding meaning and understanding.  As with most facets of any movement as it grows, pageantry began to expand while traditions and a sub-culture developed.  But in this case, the traditions and subcultures began to emulate Judaism without the history and the tradition.  A selective cultivation, as it were.

A little kippa here, a little tzit-tzit there. A lot of fabrics with glitter, dancing in circles, blowing of horns, and the waving of prayer shawls as we stumbled over Hebrew phrases in a poorly executed transliteration of the guttural and soft rumble of a language drawn on tablets and the hearts of an ancient, yet newborn, society which has, against all odds, resurrected a people, a nation, an identity, and a language from the ashes of the Holocaust, the gulags, the pogroms, and the centuries old evils of replacement theology.

torah17th century Torah –  Israel Museum – Jerusalem

Being Messianic was about gaining a terminology and understanding new to our western ears with varying degrees of success. Toward the end of our involvement with part of the organised movement, over seven years ago, the way we argued over the finer points of what it means to “follow” this Hebrew Messiah, Yeshua, became dividing lines growing larger and more pronounced until an inevitable shattering of relationship and shared purpose.

One of the elements that consistently bothered me was that sometimes, among the “enlightened”, there could be a tinge, or more, of smug superiority when sharing, with those who didn’t know,  the beauty of deep and intricate roots hidden within an East/West shared faith heritage.

The Messy-anic movement, as such, offered answers to many questions for me, personally.  I grew in my faith and it’s expression.  I discovered both how much I despise man’s traditions and egos trumping Scripture and yet, how much more I love the constant party which is the Hebrew calendar of events declaring God’s plan and purpose throughout the seasons.

Many thoughts to investigate and wrestle with led us to walk away from the more Judaistic expressions of a Hebrew roots faith long ago while still trying to identify with those things in the Pentateuch, or Torah, that clearly offered direction.  Shabbat, the Festivals, the face of Yeshua writ on parchment in pictures and reflecting His love of humanity and mercy…

Yet, despite all these questions and concerns, we sit here, in a suburb of Jerusalem, in the soft twilight of Shabbat having lit candles, blessed wine, and tore open braided loaves of bread before having a family dinner.

As families all over this city are doing the same and as we have done for the past 10 years.

There is an unmatched spiritual significance and beauty to simply following an annual progression of celebrations and holy-days as laid out in Scripture.  Holidays that don’t require convoluted mental and spiritual gymnastics to justify their observance.  When we say, “Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu…” just as Yeshua would have on the eve of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Pesach (Passover), and every Shabbat (Sabbath), it provides ample food for thought as we begin to recognize the depth of God’s desire for relationship and intimacy with His creation.

shabbat

I am in awe of this land and the people who live here while being humbled by the reality of their determination to begin again and again and again.  There is an irrepressible strength to the Children of Jacob.

Yesterday, pressing my forehead to the massive, cool, smooth, stones of the Western Wall, where prayers written on papers littered the ground and filled every crack, silent tears rolled down my cheeks.  Unstoppable and quiet, I joined my heart’s cry with the voices of women of every age on every side.  Some bobbing in the ancient tradition of davenning, (praying the written liturgical prayers), some with faces covered with trembling hands.  Some simply standing, as I was, with our faces pressed against stones cut long ago and adding our presence to the cumulative prayers of millions.

IMG_7188Evening prayers at the Western Wall – Jerusalem
heidi at the wallWalking away from the Wall with a heart full of the whispers of divinity.

There are so many questions about what it looks like to be a believer who rejects man’s tradition in favour of an expression of faith found within tissue paper pages and written in black and white, large and prominent, on our hearts. How do I follow the truth I see without taking on an identity that isn’t what our Hashem (Father) has set out for us as we walk in the adoption of His Son, Yeshua. 

Because, even though I struggle with what an appropriate way to show my support for Israel should look like? I don’t hesitate to support her.

I am grateful for kindness here as, foolishly, I fumble with the few Hebrew words I know and rely on the benevolence of a people who take refugees from every nation and make of them a giant group of extended relations.

We confuse them, those of who say they are “messianic”, if you are still with me and we are still asking the question of what to do with “Messianic Gentiles” in the context of Israel.

If a Jew is a believer, they are, wait for it… Messianic.   These individuals are Jews who found Messiah, fellow believers whose faith is often tinged with the history and liturgical traditions from generations past. If you are a Gentile who wants to connect with the Hebraic roots of our faith and understand the brilliance of a very, very Jewish Messiah, then finding an identity that borrows selectively from a history which is foreign to you and embellishing it almost beyond recognition isn’t really the best way to win friends here.

Need some examples?

Like the groups in the rest of the world, folks here blow the shofar. Like, on Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets) or special occasions… Not every. single. time. Days of Elijah comes through the worship rotation or someone has a prayer request or someone says,”Blow the trumpet”.

Nobody here wears glittery spangled dresses to dance in giant circles… Every week. An Israeli believer friend rolled her eyes and told me how she couldn’t understand the dance circles all organised in tiers of experience with dance leaders who want to tell us that Israeli folk dancing is a specific and precious skill reserved for only the most holy intercessors who ever managed a coupe, turn left, bow.  Here young people grab arms spontaneously and dance in massive circles and none of them look practiced or polished.  But they all look joyous.circle

Youth dancing, singing “”and the most important no fear at all”, in the Western Wall plaza, Old City, Jerusalem.

The Christian Messianic fascination with tzit tzit is viewed with skepticism. Here? Orthodox folks, yeshiva students, and a few others wear them. Varying in length, they are not tied to the belt loops or worn elsewhere on the body. These tangible mitzvot are worn on a special linen garment even over exercise clothing for the very observant and religious.

To the uneducated, you probably don’t understand the very specific traditions and understandings, teachings, and a certain set apart-ness to the wear and use of these fringes.   Not knowing what those unique pieces of information are makes us look like pretenders when we intermittently wear them, at our leisure, as the mood strikes us.

Coming to Israel and being part of the city-wide observation of Yom Teruah with a three day Sabbath (the whole city shut down for 3 days, seriously), the silence and holy hush of Yom Kippur, the exuberance and gaiety of Sukkoth as the city filled to capacity with friends and family eating under the booths on every corner, at every square, in every balcony, was a brilliant experience.   To be with those who celebrated, finding a sense of solidarity knowing that they were holding onto a tradition which has stood fast since the time of Moses, was the normalising of a very esoteric expression in the foreign-ness of the rest of the world and our very protestant faith history.

IMG_6928Peeking into the shuttered window of a 15th century German sukkah.  Israel Museum – Jerusalem
tuscany synagogue.JPGsParts of a fully restored synagogue from 16th century Tuscany, Israel Museum
suriname synagogue 2Fully restored synagogue from 18th-19th century Suriname – Israel Musem

Standing on the streets of the Old City it wasn’t hard to imagine the disciples and their purposeful walk toward the Temple. A walk I’ve begun myself only to be stopped short by closed gates and armed guards.

There is a place for those of us interested in the Hebrew roots of our faith. Instead of redefining their faith? I believe it begins with being willing to abandon a western-centric ideal that tells us we can pick and choose which Scriptures are for the “modern believers”  and which are for those who still think Torah is important.

Real change should start with realizing that we are the younger brother here and there is much to learn about what the faith of Yeshua would have looked like in practice, not in King James interpretation, from the older brothers who still speak the language of Moses and have never forgotten the Commandments, the 613, even while we argue over which of the 10 are still relevant.

head scarves museumHeadscarves from the Jewish  History Clothing Exhibit – Israel Museum

What do I think about Messianic now?

I believe it’s sadly become another label dividing believers within the Body of Christ while appearing to be something which causes unbelieving Jews to become suspicious of a methodology that looks like them in so many ways but denies much of the tradition and integrity which has kept them a cohesive unit of humanity for nearly 2,000 years of dispersion.

Example?

A bona fide rabbi, in many modern circles, must have a 4 year degree, a year in Israel, familiarity with Hebrew, 5-6 years of study in Talmud, philosophy, Hebrew, history, Bible, etc. while there are minimum requirements in each subject area plus a variety of practical Rabbinics, pastoral psychology, etc. and possibly an internship at the end to verify readiness…

Messianics in America and abroad. When you are  calling the dude up front a Rabbi although he has had very little or no training at all? It’s distasteful to your Jewish neighbors.  Not just a little.  A lot.

So, can you just stop it?

You can’t be a Dr. without med school either, no matter what people want to call you.

I’m sure he’s cool and all that, and looks terrific in his sparkly tallit, but seriously… You aren’t making any friends over here in Israel by looking like the kid on dress up day.

It’s embarrassing.

It’s not respect they see, or flattery. It’s being trite about something they take very, very seriously.

From people here in Israel I have heard that observant Jews tend to think you are trying to take ownership of their culture and, after thousands of years of having their homes ripped from them, their children murdered, lies and abominations thrown their direction, they find that behavior more than a little offensive.

Taking over the very thing which has kept them together as a people smacks of replacement theology and a “we can do this better than you” kind of mentality. It didn’t end so well for them in the Middle Ages and they get a bit twitchy about it now.

Getting all loud with shofars and mangled Hebrew set to Christian worship music played by people who don’t know that what they are doing isn’t really bridging any kind of gap.

dead sea scrolls 2Dead Sea Scrolls – replica – on a giant scroll – Israel Museum
giant torahDead Sea Scrolls – replica – on a giant scroll – Israel Museum – Photo Credit: Isaac Stone  www.internationalbrofari.com

We are here, as believers in Yeshua, in Israel, to support her right to exist, her people as they call out to the God of Avraham, Itzahk, and Yakov, and to bring light and not more confusion.    We want to learn what we can and not to take over the expression of a culture and call it our own, but to identify with a people called out from slavery, given a new name and purpose, recognize that YHVH, Elohim, Hashem, has spoken and given guidelines for living in a way that looks like Him.   The same guidelines that shaped the faith of the Apostles, the first century church, and have been largely ignored by the church today under a mis-conception of cheap grace.

We are not here because we believe the promises to Israel are our, but because those covenants reflect the character of the Redeemer, our very Jewish Savior, Yeshua.

For me, it all boils down to this: I’m crazy about Him and He loves these people.  We love these people too, and when you love someone, you want to know everything you can about them.  When your life is intrinsically tied to another you often start looking like each other.

Love builds bridges, tears down walls, and gives the wisdom to know when we’ve overstepped and when we’ve been simply transformed by the relationships we’ve built.

  • Serena

    I love what you wrote! This statement so well describes so much of the Messy-antics we’ve seen – “Taking over the very thing which has kept them together as a people smacks of replacement theology and a “we can do this better than you” kind of mentality.” I’ve been calling it “know more, know better.” It IS offensive. The new kid on the block, the younger brother who was eating what the pigs wouldn’t thinks he knows better how to live the Torah, how to understand the Torah. Not only that, he arrogantly struts it before the older brother who stayed faithful. There is much humbling that needs to be done. Maybe every person who thinks they “know more, know better” should spend an extended time in Israel where they can see and feel the rhythm of the life there, the hearts of a people who have been persecuted and slaughtered but get up and keep going, of a people who love G-d.

    I have to say I do have some envy of your time there. We SO want to be there ourselves. It was going on 16 years ago when my husband and myself spent a month there, a life-changing month. I do think it isn’t too much longer before we “go up” to Jerusalem. In the crazy transitions of our lives right now our two youngest are asking us to go to Israel. They love a place they have never seen or experienced. Gaelyn was there in my womb and she wants to be there, be part of the IDF, to defend the people she identifies with and that live the rhythm of life that she knows, even if it is a feeble attempt on our part yet.

    Thank you for writing this!

  • The same guidelines that shaped the faith of the Apostles, the first century church, and have been largely ignored by the church today under a mis-conception of cheap grace.

    You know I have stood on the other side. Frustrated and disappointed with Christians today who have. O heart to know who God really is. They want to know His blaessings and walk in the Spirit, but flat out refuse to learn who He is, What He did, What He wants, of his children. It breaks my heart. I feel like I stand alone. My heart quickens when I learn of others who want to know and Identify as His People here on earth. It crushes my very iner larts when I hear folks dismiss any tradition, from the Word, that doesnt involve cheap grace. You don’t have to do that anymore, Christ said so. We have freedom nkw, don’t choose slavery. Well, I continue to choose to learn. I choose to participate, to teach the boys, and to grow deeper in knowing who God is. And when our ideas are wrong, and we hurt, an our choices create consequences, I know that God has a plan. And he always has, through the ages, to deliver us. It has been freedom and grace, worship and truth, from the beginning of time. Thank you for this post. I am so enjoying walking alongside with my eyes and prayers.