Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Weekend with Messianic Jews

I got to dance.

This last weekend, the Soulation speaking team (read: Dale and me) flew to Atlanta for the Young Messianic Jewish Association's (YMJA) Annual Youth Leaders Retreat. We had already been prepped with the request to call Jesus by his Jewish name, "Yeshua" and to do "what we do best" which in this case was train the leaders to answer their teens' heart and mind questions.

Followers of Yeshua, not Followers of Christ

The Yeshua bit was, as we've come to realize, a way to love our Jewish brothers and sisters better. The phrase "Christ-killer" has been a weapon used to destroy Jews for centuries, so any way we could indicate our belief that Jesus was in fact, a Jew, and that many Jewish people did follow him (his entire band of disciples for instance) is a way to honor the Messianics we know.

We arrived late Friday evening and after fighting Atlanta traffic found ourselves wandering around the synagogue unable to find the way in. It looked a bit different from most churches we had attended. Then our contact found us, and smilingly ushered us inside.

Where are we?

At first I thought Beth Hallel Congregation looked fairly normal, until I saw an elderly man with glasses on, one glass covered with blue star of David stickers. A bit unnerving, like a retired Judeo-pirate. Later I discovered he was the congregation's cantor, a man honored with giving the closing blessing. By then, the star on his glasses was not as stunning to me as his voice, raised in chanting prayer to God.

I didn't really realize I was anxious until I started feeling tangible relief that so many women had dress slacks on. They weren't all wearing skirts and some of the men weren't even wearing their yamikas. Maybe it would even be okay if I accidentally said, "Jesus." I relaxed a bit as our contact continued to help me understand the meaning of the service.

Believers in Yeshua

As we rose to sing, I felt their love for Israel soar. One song used the word Yeshua. As the believers around me rang it out, they began to raise their hands. That's when my eyes filled. To hear so many Jewish people, many with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob's blood in their veins claiming they had found their Messiah, undid my composure. My heart rose with joy with them, but I could not sing my throat was so tight.

Coming Home

There is something about Messianic Jewish people that makes me feel I have come home.

Perhaps it is due to a dear friend, Ellen, who mentored me from my early teens, a New York Jew who found Yeshua. Perhaps it is because of my love for the Jewish Scriptures (the "Old" Testament) and how these stories have built my understanding of who God is. Perhaps it is my love for genealogy. Perhaps it is my love for apologetics. When Messianic Jews claim that their God has a specific name, God of Israel, a God with a specific history with a specific people group, all the "well when you say God and I say Krishna we actually mean the same thing" stuff disappears. This is a God who will not be confused with Allah, the Jehovah Witnesses Jehovah, the Mormon's one-time physical God, the Buddha, Krishna or Kali, Brahmin, Zeus, or the Goddess.

Perhaps I feel at home among Messianic believers because they know that God's determined choosing of the Jewish people is regardless of their qualification, their willingness, even their obedience. Perhaps it is because of the Jewish music that moves me more than any praise song chorus or hymn can. Perhaps it is because the Messianic Jewish people are, to use one of their own comparisons, sort of like an island of misfits, a motley crew of different sorts of people, with so much variety and yet such freedom for each other. Perhaps it is because every time I meet with Messianic Jews, I am loved, very well by them. They remind me why I follow Yeshua.

Beauty in Dance

Saturday morning we began our program in earnest. But, before I was even able to start speaking, we sang. I watched their praise band sing and the women join in a circle up front and dance. It was a movement of both grace and unity, no one spotlighting dancer, no leader, no followers, all moving in unison in a circle. This was a dance without sexual undertones, this was dance young and old could join. And as they danced they were a visible manifestation to me of a people who continue to worship even as they know pain.

Dale and I began to weep. Good grief, I thought, this is no way to professionally begin a talk, all drippy mascarad and wet nosed. But the, well, I have no other world but beauty and pursuit of God felt so deeply precious to me, like a true sacrifice. For, as I came to know much more this weekend, Messianic believers pay a high price for following Yeshua.

The Price

Jews don't want the Messianics for they have accepted the one Jew who the Christians have used to persecute, even torture and kill the Jews for centuries. Accepting Yeshua as Messiah is the ultimate betrayal, the ultimate capitulation to the Christ-ians, the final disregard for the Jewish distinctive pain and practice.

And Christians, I'm afraid, do not accept Messianic believers either. If we express interest in Jewish feasts or meaningful rites (like how Lord's Supper can have a bit more pizazz if you bring in a "Jews for Jesus" guy to explain the Passover). Often we like Jews because we want to know more about God, not because we want to know more about his people. And Messianic Jews pick up on this. They know how many are attracted to their movements to get at something "old and ancient." They can see those who have come more to play dress up, than to identify and own the Jewish identity and burden and suffering. Jewish Messianics regularly experience the way Christians want to know about Israel because it is a key to understanding the end times, sort of like a missing puzzle piece. But rejoicing over the completed escatological picture that you have so cleverly put together is completely different from rejoicing over the intrinsic meaning and value of that puzzle piece. It's worth celebrating, as much as the lost sheep, the woman's lost coin, the father's lost son.

A Place to Dance

My Messianic sisters taught me how to dance this weekend. Not right way. After our first talk on "Developing a Strong Believing Worldview" we long break where we spent 3 hours talking back and forth, sharing questions and puzzles we both had. I found these Messianic believers so good at being patient with sustained dialog, there was a steadiness to learn for each other. I felt listened to and thereby loved. I learned why there is so much misunderstanding of the Messianic Jews and I discovered more beautiful puzzle pieces: why the Messianics do not focus on ethnicity, but on following Yeshua, how there can be such little hierarchy of Jews over Gentiles. Then it was time for supper and then our evening talk. During the singing portion, and against my better judgment I accepted Mara's invitation to dance with the women.

I lept into the weaving and circling group of women, attempting to keep up, to raise my hands to sway and glide and in the process getting all my footwork messed up. One woman broke from her place in the circle, came over to help me. She took my hand, another counted the steps for me. When the dance was over a more seasoned Messianic Jew named Rachel took me outside to show me the steps. And by the last day, I could dance. It looked much like this (but without any fancy costumes!)

I have not worshiped God like that in years.


Sunday came and the women met separately from the men because Dale and I had prepared separate talks for each group. To date this was the most open gender talk I've experienced. Their open confession and the beginning of healing flooded the room. I felt I was taking their hands and counting the steps with them into another dance. This one of identity and owning the bodies God had given them. And then during the last time of singing women who had not yet danced stepped forward and joined the circle.

I danced among them.

I felt healing surrounding us.

At the end of our sessions we gathered to pray for the leaders. Then, unexpectedly the youth leaders circled us and laid their hands on Dale and I. They prayed for us, for Soulation to flourish, for us to become more appropriately human, for us to love the many spiritual babies God has given us. I was weeping all over Dale's jacket by the time they finished blessing us.

This weekend has left me so spiritually full that though my body is exhausted from travel my soul is rejoicing. Something is happening on earth, something larger even than President Barack Obama's inauguration, something I'm so thankful to know about it, to have experienced.

See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.

Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.

The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. (Song of Solomon 2:11-13)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Makes a Woman True?

This post is devoted to introducing a new initiative to you called the True Woman Manifesto, written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss (think radio "Revive our Hearts") . While I do not believe the manifesto adequately represents all true women, I do think you ought to be aware of its purpose and power. Much of it I agree with it, while some of it I do not. Perhaps it is the title that bothers me the most.

I believe it's important for you to read the True Woman Manifesto. Take time to discover if it's name is appropriate and why you could or could not sign it. I'd welcome your comments in response and your thoughts to this question: What makes a woman true?

When I look up femininity in wikipedia I find that it can mean qualities that people deem best suited for women and can include any of the cultural trappings including, but not limited to, superficiality, corsets, heels, makeup, long necks, bound feet and cleavage. Now I believe there are some key, essential attributes to femininity. I'm not convinced Scripture teaches them clearly enough to codify. But DeMoss and others do.

Read the True Woman Manifesto.

After perusing the Manifesto, check out this adept critic of its content at a fellow blogger, site:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

While I know John Piper is a much beloved theologian, it's his gender theory I cannot agree with, particularly how he believes that because women are distinct from men, they should not be in any authority position where men will heed their leadership. For Piper, the spiritual buck stops with men. I believe that if women are so amazingly distinct and complementarian to men, why not create churches and homes that are complementarian all the way up the chain of command? Why not use women's distinct gifts for every decision, every leadership opportunity? Why not use the helper God provided to man?

I believe the current crisis in masculinity is a direct result of the strain men accept (often without women lifting a finger) believing God placed ultimate responsibility on their human shoulders. When men and women believe males are directly responsible for all spiritual health in church and home, the body is operating with 50% capacity. Strain and eventual injury is the result. God originally created woman to be helper, an ezer. But helping is impossible if we come under the husband’s spiritual authority and the final buck of spiritual leading falls to the men.

The godly man that I partner with in life and work reminds me that there are some men so confirmed and confident in their masculinity that they can realize their need of woman, just as their forefather Adam, recognized his need of woman. Unless the first Woman could shoulder responsibility with Man, she was not a help at the beginning. This pyramid model for home and church (the same one endorsed in the True Woman Manifesto) shrugs off the community of the body, where every members is needed, the weaker, the stronger, all to fulfill the role we have been gifted to find and fill.

Piper's words:

I regard the True Woman Manifesto as a faithful, clear, true, wise—indeed—magnificent document. What an amazing thing it would be if hundreds of thousands of women signed on with their heart to the True Woman Manifesto.

—Pastor John Piper

This is where Piper and I disagree. Do you?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

An Interview with Tosca Lee

As promised, an insider's look into the woman who wrote Havah: the Story of Eve, a book I relished (read review), a book Publisher's Weekly starred in their review.

A passionate and riveting story... Lee’s superior storytelling will have readers weeping for all that Havah forfeited by a single damning choice."
- Publishers Weekly

I first met Tosca Lee when we both sat at a poorly attended boo
k signing in Colorado Springs. The authors had more time to mix and mingle among themselves than with any fans. It was an unforeseen perk. I had already seen Tosca's book cover, but when I saw that it was a story of Eve, the tractor beam pulled me right in.

When I began to talk with Tosca, I discovered that she was not the typical writer. Right off
the bat I was monstrously curious about one line in her biography, "Tosca Lee is a sought-after speaker and first runner-up to Mrs. United States 1998." You better believe I peppered her with questions.

I'd never met a true beauty queen, or a runner-up for that matter. But Tosca endeared me to her pretty darn quick when she told me, "You should run for Mrs. United States." When I laughed and she just looked at me seriously, I thanked her profusely.

Still, I have to admit I had plenty of prejudice about these beauty pageantry types, especially after Miss South Carolina's exhibition a few years back.

Here are the words from a woman who's been on the inside, a fellow-writer, and a woman I'm proud to call my new friend.

J: What got you into beauty pageants?

I was eating dinner at my mom’s house and one of her dinner guests who volunteered with the production of the Mrs. Nebraska pageant, said, “Hey, Tosca, you should run for Mrs. Nebraska.”

I laughed at him.

Now, you need to know that he was saying this to a woman who was one of those Smart Girls growing up—the kind that a boy would sooner copy homework from than ask on a date. I was short most of my early life, a half Asian girl in the middle of a 95% white school in Nebraska in a time when Christy Brinkley was on the cover of every fashion magazine. It was so not cool to be ethnic when I was growing up, or to be into the arts in a state that lives and dies on sports. And while the American definition of beauty changed around the time that I was in high school—by then I sprouted up from the short kid that I used to be--I was still voted Most Likely to Become a Librarian my senior year. If that tells you anything. ;)

I went on from high school to Smith College--the liberal feminist college famous for alums like Gloria Steinem, and first ladies Nancy Reagen and Barbara Bush (our class of ’92 t-shirt said, “There’s got to be a better way to get a woman into the white house.”)

So by all accounts, the pageant was a stupid idea.The more I thought about it, though, the more intriguing it was. The fact that he had mentioned it at all moved the idea from the outlandish to the possible. I was curious to know if I could do it. And If I’m honest, I think a part of me also just wanted some validation as someone who could be “beauty” material.

2. How did your college studies feel harmonious or incompatible with competing for Mrs. United States?

On the one hand, I had friends who really questioned my decision to take part. This is not what women from Smith College do. I kinda wondered if they were going to sic the National Organization for Women on me. On the other hand, my definition of feminism has always been that a woman has choices. She can work or not work. She can have children or not have children. She can go to school or not. She can compete in a pageant or not. The definition of feminism, to me, is not just about equality or equal pay, but about being able to exercise the full range of her intellect, her spirit, and her femininity.

3. What were the female friendships like among the contestants?

I met some of the coolest new friends. To this day I keep in contact with Cynthia (Mrs. Ohio), who won the 1996 Mrs. America title, with Annie (Mrs. Hampshire) who was also my roommate, and Christy (Mrs. Hawaii). I made a great friend in Deanna, (Mrs. Tennessee) in the 1998 Mrs. United States pageant, and also several great friends competing on the state level. I’ve also inherited a whole sisterhood of Mrs. Nebraskas—those before me and those who have won the title since—who have become good friends.

Sure, there was some cattiness, too, but that’s more a reflection of competition and life in general than the pageant system, if you ask me.

4- What moved you out of pageantry into writing?

I had already established myself as a professional writer several years before I entered my first pageant, having written on the staff of Smart Computing Magazine, authored two computer books and freelanced for several years. It was harder to get much writing done especially with the 1996 Mrs. Nebraska America title (I was by then working on a novel); I made some 60 appearances that year on behalf of charities and community events, and also started a speaking career that would help launch me into my consulting job a few years later.

I always say that a pageant is a very strange means to a good end—after all, aside from the national pageant, I never appeared in a swimsuit, and only attended a couple events in evening gowns. Most of my year was spent raising money for causes (I raised $8000 for breast cancer with my own Mrs. Nebraska golf tournament), meeting kids and talking to Girl Scout groups, taking part in events for the American Cancer Society, the Heart Association, Alzheimer’s groups, local fairs and state-wide events like Nebraskaland Days, doing interviews on the radio and TV about each of these causes. By the time I became an author, I had good experience with the media, which helped a lot.

In 1998 I ran for Mrs. United States, mainly because by the time the Mrs. America experience was over and I sort of understood the whole thing—it was over. Having not grown up doing pageants, that was my first national experience. So in 1998 I competed for the Mrs. United States title mainly to flex what I had learned about presence and interview and reaching out to people—even from stage in 5” heels. Seriously. I won first runner-up and when it was over was ready to move on to something new.

Once the pageant titles were behind me I had more time to pursue my own projects—one of which became my first novel, Demon. I also started my consulting job with the Gallup Organization a few years later, too—about the same time I started modeling professionally as a hobby. Strange dichotomies, I know, but modeling, consulting, writing and pageantry have all managed to inform one another in my life.

Five Inch Heels.... wow.

Meeting Tosca made me all the more eager to get back to writing my next book, "Walking in Her Shoes", a project that has been put on the backburner as Dale and I finish up our book on "Faith and Friendship." In the meanwhile, I would love to hear your thoughts about women, pageantry and competition.

Check out more about Tosca Lee and her new book, Havah at her website.