Sunday, December 31, 2006

Last Day of the Year

It's early morning, still dark outside, and before the day gets to hasty, I wanted to reflect on yesterday and today. I always like to pause and write a bit about the prior year and think about what may be ahead. An event that always shapes that reflection is the party our family holds on December 30th. That's the day my brother Matt was killed by a drunk driver. Matt was on his way home, early in the morning, from a friends house, coming to town for church. I was already at the church making preparations when Tara came to tell me the tragic news.

So each year we get together on Matt's Deathday to remember him, celebrate him, and enjoy each other. The events include traveling to Pilgrim's Rest Cemetery in Huntington to visit Matt's gravestone - and Ben's which lays next to it. It's easier to laugh now during this ritual since the kids have come along. But I wouldn't miss this trip and celebration, mostly because I don't want to stop missing Matt. This is what gives me perspective about the year I am wrapping up and for the year waiting for me. Matt reminds me, and so does Ben, that 2007 is an Everday one after the other. If I'm going to make the most of the year, I need to make the most of Everyday. Matt and Ben remind me of what everyday is supposed to be about. Thank you God for Everyday.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Ahh... It's Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is better then Christmas Day because of the anticipation. But don't get me wrong, I still really like Christmas Day.

We just celebrated Christmas with Tara's mom. I'm excited about the skewers she gave me - now I can make shiskabobs! I love to eat them (Dave my brother in law makes really tasty ones), so now I can experiment and make some soon. I also received a thick book on how to become a mastergriller! Summer can't get here soon enough.

Jamil and I dressed alike, and so did our was weird - in a cool sort of way.

They kids loved their toys - which is the way it is supposed to be at Christmas time.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Another note about Numbers

This makes post number four in a row out of the book of Numbers. It's not been my favorite book in the past, but it's moving up the rank. There two intriguing stories I read this past week as I try to catch up.

First was the story of Moses being admonished by God: the punishment - barred from entering the Promised Land; the crime - claiming responsibility for the miracle of Water from the Rock. It seems like the punishment does not fit the crime. Yet there are several good things that happen through Moses' death. First, the guy is 120 years old at this point - he's tired and ready for the Next Life; second - he's tired of leading these stubbornd and stiffnecked people (remember how many times they complained, wanting to go back to Egypt/exile/slavery?); thirdly - new leadership is needed to take the next generation into the Promised Land. The punishment also included grace for Moses.

The Second story I found fascinating was the one about Balaam and his Talking Ass. The level of detail about the story is intriguing and rare. It would seem that when a story gets this kind of attention, it must be important. God seems to be quite familiar with Balaam (a nonIsraelite), and vice versa. Balaam's assignment to curse a blessed people is turned on its head; Israel will end up blessed regardless of what accursed action enemies take against her. God invoked the original blessing, no human action can undo it.

Two lessons:

God's punishment to us is always layered - meaning that it is corrective, it is just, it is merciful, it is given with a bigger picture in mind. In one sense it is punishment, but that's using a negative word. Using a positive word, it is discipline designed to further us along God's designated path of blessing.

God brings people into our life, enemies and friends and strangers, who are mysteriously and sometimes anonymously used to be an agent of blessing for us. Sometimes things just seem to go the way they are supposed to, good things happen to us and we're not sure why. Know that God is ALWAYS at work to bring about his good purposes in your life, whether you see him or feel him or understand him.

Emma can't keep "secrets"

Friday morning Emma helped me wrap the gifts I purchased for Tara. The most expensive gift was labeled from Emma and me. She admired it, asked questions about it, and was excited about wrapping it with me. I told her that she could absolutely not tell mommy about this gift. It is a surprise.

So as I sit am sitting at the bar, Emma rushes up and in her loud "Ben" voice asks ever so innocently and sweetly: "Is it okay if mommy opens up her Christmas ring thingy?" I whip my head around to catch Tara's eyes, who was in the living room. We both grinned big...I knew that something like this would happen.

She was so sweet about it: she really wanted to give it to her now...she just can't wait. Fortunately Tara doesn't know what kind of ring it's still a surprise.

P.S. A word about the use of the word "surprise". We use to use the word "secret". But the other day, at preschool, Emma declared to her teachers that she had a secret she couldn't tell anyone. So when they brought Emma out to the car where Aunt Shirley was waiting, they asked her about this secret: was there something they needed to know about? Shirley quickly replied: Emma, it's not a secret, it's a surprise - they were going to go to Dairy Queen! So now we make sure that everything is a "surprise", lest others think suspicious thoughts about us! Bravo to Emma's teachers for caring!

Sniffing Scotch Tape...

Every time I smell Scotch Tape, memories of Christmas past flood my senses. Mom always makes shortbread cookies (the absolute best!) and we always used only Scotch Tape to seal our holiday gifts. Once in awhile an off-brand tape dispenser would get into the bag. I'd throw it back or throw it away - it doesn't smell right or stick nearly as good as the green stuff.

So today, as I was finishing up wrapping of gifts for my brother, I took a moment to get a good sniff of the Scotch Tape. Ahhh...the memories.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Of Warmer Memories...

Everyone is always wishing warm greetings at this time of year. It is lousy weather outside, so here are some fun pictures of the kids picking raspberries in our backyard this summer. The berries were tasty, the picking was memorable, and the sunshine was perfect.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Account of God in Numbers

Starting in chapter eleven of the book of Numbers (known in Jewish literature as "Book of Wandering in the Wilderness"), we read about God getting angry...alot.

In the reading for Number last week (I'm still behind), I read a fascinating comment regarding God's anger as a reaction to human action: "The Torah often describes God as angry, especially in these next several chapters (starting with ch. 11). It portrays God as a passionate God, a God who cares deeply about what we do and how we live."

This intriguing comment is followed up by a quote by the great writer Abraham Heschel: "The God of Aristotle (the ancient Greek philosophers and Western Civilization) is the Unmoved Mover; the God of Israel is the most-moved Mover." The commentary goes on to read: "moved to anger by human cruelty, corruption, disloyalty, and ingratitude."

Rule number one for the wandering Israelite: don't make God angry.

Rule number two for the wandering Israelites: Stay grateful to God for what good you have already received, and keep trusting him to provide what you need next - especially when you are enduring days when the going is difficult, the days are hot and the stomach constantly rumbles; do what he says and you will have more to be grateful for in the end.

This is how to live and not make God angry. This way of living upholds the dignity of your fellow human, it upholds your dignity before your neighbor and God, and it most importantly upholds God's dignity before you and your community.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

More Nuggets from Numbers

Sorry it has been so long since I've posted. The past ten days have been crazy. On Monday I finished up my finals and submitted the last of my assignments for the semester. The rest of the week was spent getting reoriented to a life devoid of homework; it was joyful!

But now I'm back - but I'm behind on my Scripture reading. I just finished Numbers 5-9 this morning. I'm almost two weeks behind. It'll probably be next week when I'm caught up.

Here's some interesting observations I found while reading through Numbers 5-9 (the insights come from the commentary section of the Bible I am using - a Jewish version of the Torah, it is reallly neat).

For the section about the nazarite: "The sin for which the nazarite brings an offering of atonement would the be the sin of seeing the pleasures of God and the world as a source of evil and temptation."

One talmudic sage (the talmud is a book of writings on the torah) wrote what I thought was a fascinating comment in regard to the issue of pleasure and evil: "In the world to come, people will have to account for all the good food God put in the world which they refused to eat."

In chapter six we read about a blessing which the priests would invoke on behalf of the people; the commentary made it clear that God was the source and power of the blessing, the priest was the mediator/conduit/mouthpiece for the blessing; it is a three line, memorable blessing:
May the LORD bless you and protect you!
May the LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!
May the LORD bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!

This was what the priest would say to the people: as Christians we are considered all priests of the LORD, thus we are able to bless others, to use the above prayer to bring God's best to those around us - oh how our world needs Blessers!

Chapter 9 ends with comments on celebrating the Passover - remembering the Exodus from Egypt. One writer states: "Every Shabbat (Sabbath) and Holy Day (holiday) is a remembrance of the Exodus." I thought that this idea provided insight into our preparation for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Putting Up Porch Lights

Saturday evening we attempted to have the whole family help put up Christmas lights. Ha! Little did we realize how crazy this would be.

First of all, we've never put up Christmas lights outside of our house here on Whispering Woods Dr; second - we didn't know how many or what kind of lights we had that worked. And before we could figure it out, our kids were out the door and ready to start "helping".

They started helping by grabbing all the garland and dragging it down the sidewalk and driveway. Then when I got the ladder out they decided it was very important for them to climb it.

Emma found a hammer and declared that she would do all the hammering - especially if it meant she got to climb the ladder. Later we saw her hammering her brother Isaac, who was laid out on the grass...we're not sure what that was all about.

The evening created memories...but next year we'll have a gameplan ready before the kids are out the door.

Welcome to Numbers

Here's some interesting notes about this third book of the Torah. The original title of the book is "In the Wilderness", but the English Bible has it as "Numbers", likely due to the beginning of the book having a census. Numbers do play a role in the book, but the real story of is the travelling of the Israelite nation from Mt. Sinai through the wilderness, to the Promised Land. The Hebrew title makes more sense. This book includes pieces of narrative (story), intermixed with pieces of law - instruction for assembling and caring for the Tabernacle, rules for cleanness, and such.

Geneaology is important to the ancient Hebrews, hence their recording of details of who was related to who, and who was supposed to do what is an important historical document.

In chapter one, verse 46 it says that there were 603,550 men above the age of twenty, able to bear arms, from twelve tribes (not including the tribe of Levi - they were dedicated to guarding and serving the Tabernacle); Jewish commentators note that according to legend, there are 603,550 letters in the Torah - "Just as the absence of one letter renders a Torah scroll unfit for use, the loss of even one Jew prevents Israel from fulfilling its divine mission."

Chapter five includes an odd piece of legislation concerning a husband who suspects his wife has been unfaithful to him, but he is unable to prove it. In reading this account, it may come across as demeaning to the woman. Understanding context reveals it to be a brilliant piece of law designed to protect the right of the woman (in a day and age when women were often unprotected and very vulnerable). If the man suspects his wife, without proof, the lawcourts will not be helpful to him; there needs to be some authoritative way to settle the issue. By taking the wife to the priest, and having her drink some water that will only have an effect if she has been unfaithful, the assumption is that she is not guilty.

Monday, December 04, 2006

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!

On Saturday the Hallman clan journeyed to a field of evergreens at St. Joe Tree Farm for our traditional "Hunt for the Christmas Tree". This year Levi and Isaac got to help, last year they had to ride in a wagon across the frozen tundra. Emma wanted to carry the saw...instead everyone got to hold a knee foam piece. Yipee!

It was a beautiful, freezing, sunny day. Perfect. Tara and Emma went ahead of the pack, scouting out the field for a Scotch Pine. It's what we get every year...they're the cheapest. The guys were the rearguard, slowly making our way forward, frequently dropping the foam pieces every five feet.

Emma and her mom found the perfect tree (later we found out it was a Douglas Fir - but it's still pretty), and the guys approved of the selection. Everybody got a turn at sawing down the tree, but dad got stuck carrying it by himself.

Finally, it was time for the train (actually it is a tractor) ride. We took a trip around the fields, relaxing and watching other tree hunters search in vain for the perfect tree.

Cutting down a Christmas tree is a favorite tradition for us...I have lots of fond memories with my dad getting a live tree. So far, it's been lots of fun with Emma, Levi, and Isaac - and Tara!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Jesus of Nazareth in the Four Gospels

The Gospel of Matthew: Jesus of Nazareth is the King of Israel come to return all true Israelites from exile, back to life under the delightful rule of God.

The Gospel of Mark: Jesus of Nazareth is the brilliant, compassionate, authoratative Son of God, greater then Caesar Augustus.

The Gospel of Luke: Jesus of Nazareth is the Teacher of the Way back home to God; his wisdom, his healing, his power, his love make for a new kind of God-community.

The Gospel of John: Jesus of Nazareth reveals the way to eternal life, available to those who have returned home to God from exile: Jesus is the way to eternal life, the truth of eternal life, the source of eternal life.

The gospels were written by Jewish men who thoroughly understood their Scriptures: the Law, the Prophets, the Writings. They were writing about a Jewish man, who in their lifetime announced that the Exile was over.

The Jewish people were defined by the Exodus and the Exile. God brought them out of Egypt, thus the Exodus. But God put them in Exile, for they had turned away from Him. God promised that he would exile his people if they turned away from Him and his Way. After repeated warnings and heartfelt pleadings to return to him that fell on deaf ears and blind eyes, God fulfilled his promise to exile them. God had promised to return them to the Promised Land, if they would return to Him and his Way. Northern Israel turned away from God, and God turned his back on them in 722BC. Southern Israel turned away from God and God turned away from them in 586BC. Over five hundred years later the people of Israel were still in exile, they still had not returned to God, thus their land had not been returned to them.

Jesus came as the promised one to return God's people back to the promised land, to return them back to God and His Way. The Gospel of Matthew is this story to the Hebrew people scattered all over the world. The Gospel of Mark is this story to the Roman citizens baffled by the noteriety of this Rabbi Jesus. The Gospel of Luke-Acts is this story written to a Greek nobleman who seeks truth and God. The Gospel of John is written to all who want to believe that Jesus is the way to eternal life.

The Jesus of Mark's Gospel

Jesus and Politics: give to Caesar what is his, give to God what is his.

Jesus and Sacrifical Generosity: a widow who gives away her last penny is to be honored more then a woman who gives away ten percent of her income.

Jesus and Ophthamology: people who are blind to Jesus receive new sight when they believe what he says about reality.

Jesus and Wealth: too many possessions can impede your return from exile.

Jesus and Religious Leaders: beware when the longing for power and prestige replace your longing to return home to God.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Year of Jubilee in Leviticus

Near the end of this book is this awesome idea called the Year of Jubilee. Yahweh of Israel had commanded the Israelites to regularly rest from work. He commanded them to rest from work on the seventh day of the week, to rest the fields every seventh year, and then after forty-nine years, the fiftieth year was the Year of Jubilee. In chapter twenty-five Moses explains how it is supposed to work. This year of rest and celebration was also a time when slaves were set free, when land was returned to orignal owners, when debts were canceled.

Slavery was part of the economy, if you owed debts, you could sell yourself or family to a landowner or some other owner, and there purchase of you would cancel the debt. Slavery was a way for people to be taken care of, rather then left to their own fate in a rough and harsh land. Jubilee was about setting people free. God had sent them free from slavery in Egypt, and now he was instituting a similar idea for them twice a century.

What a unique festival with huge implications!