Yom Abba: a Father's Day Dedication

As we celebrate the national holiday of Father’s Day, let me introduce blog readers to my dad. Robert “Rob” Roy Lane is just about the greatest father anyone could ever have. I could go on, but the rest are just details. Oh, alright. Fine, I’ll continue. 
Since I can remember, my dad has been the perfect combination of love and discipline in a parent. I don’t recall a single day of my childhood going by without multiple hugs along with being told “I love you”, but he could also be a disciplinarian when he needed to be; and yes, every spanking I received, I totally had coming, if not had had coming for quite some time. Not only was he an outstanding son to his parents, but has always been head-over-heels in love with my mother and has always treated her like a queen. He’s been teaching me how to be the best husband I can be as well as imparting some of his own father’s knowledge on parenting; “The greatest thing you can do for your children is love their mother.”
Yes, that’s me on the far left from high school. Don’t you judge.
To this day, I believe that my strong relationship with God is because I’ve had such a strong father-figure in my life. With a biological father that provided for me, truly loved me and gave me signs of his love, disciplined me, and would intently listen to any and all of my problems, it wasn’t much of a stretch to think that there was an Eternal Father who might possibly do the same. Before I really had a relationship with God, he helped pave the way for a relationship with the Father unlike anyone could. 
It’s probably weird to a lot of my friends my age that my dad is one of my best friends that I talk with on a regular basis. We’re beyond father and son, we’re pals. We’re buds. We’re chums. We’re homies. With that being said, he still won’t hesitate to tell me where I’m screwing up (again, I have it coming). 
I’m eternally grateful for the father I have. It is my regular prayer that I’m at least half of the father he is. I love you, dad. 

Shalom and Happy Father’s Day.

Spiritual Units of Measure

I don’t usually knock aspects of other faiths strictly because I have respect for them. Not to say other faiths are foolish, but I believe that a fool has the right to believe whatever they feel is truth in their own heart. After all, who am I to say what I believe doesn’t sound completely foolish to someone who does not believe what I believe? I’ll be the first to say that what I believe probably sounds completely nonsensical to someone outside of my faith.
With this said, the only time I will call people out on a spiritual belief is when they go against their own beliefs. I believe that every faith (or even lack of faith) is held to a certain standard; even if that standard itself is a non-standard. If you’re a Buddhist, you probably abide by the Mahāsāṃghika and the Mulasarvastivada; which I don’t, but I completely respect your right to. If you’re a Mormon, you probably go by the Book of Mormon and a Muslim, the Quran. Though I disagree with these works, these are the standard by which these people have chosen to live their lives and these are the units of measure for which they have chosen to be tried. 
One of the only faiths I have come across that says they abide by one thing, but then are offended when they are measured by this standard are Christians. I don’t like to bad-mouth Christians because I used to be one and I’ve learned so much from many wonderful Christians over the years, but something needs to be said about those Christians who teach a message that is contrary to the teachings of the New Testament; which is undoubtedly the key Christian text. There are those who teach that “faith” covers all things, all sins, all transgressions; both now and in the future. The fact that they would say this offends my understanding of the word “faith.” While I could harp on about my disgust of a majority of Christian’s concept of “faith”, it wouldn’t do any good because I am not a Christian. In order to hold Christian’s to their own standards, the author of the book of James has already said everything I wish to say; so I will let him say it for me: 
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is One; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” -James 2:14-26
I am not calling out those Christians who genuinely love their neighbor as themselves. I am not even calling out those who only say that faith is required; that you can be an absolutely heart of ice towards your neighbor, but as long as you “have faith in Jesus” you can be saved (having “faith” meaning to BE faithful in action). No, I am not calling you out; your own text is calling you out. I could have not phrased it better myself. 
To my Christian friends: any person who tells you that the New Testament gives you a get-out-of-jail-free card to be able to submit to your own lusts without any consequence is lying; either by their own ignorance of the New Testament or by their own manipulation of the text. 
Any faith you decide to be a part of, thoroughly study its text. If you feel you cannot be held to the standard to which others dutifully aspire, do not tarnish their efforts with your lies. 
I’ll end with the continued wisdom of the author of the Book of James: 
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” -James 1:27

Shalom.

The Right Rite of Passage

According to Rabbinic Jewish tradition, there is ceremony held for a boy on his thirteenth birthday commemorating when this boy becomes a “bar mitzvah” or “son of the commandments.” A similar ceremony is held for girls at the age of twelve; after which they are refered to as a “bat mitzvah” or “daughter of the commandments.” Though a bar or bat mitzvah is the term for the individual and not the ceremony, this is an occasion in which the young boy or girl proves that they are ready to take on the responsibility of keeping all of the commandments of the Torah that apply to them. After this point, they are ceremoniously deemed adults even while according to the land of the land, they are still very much minors if not children.  


Because I wasn’t into Torah or anything remotely Jewish until I was already 18 years old doesn’t mean I wasn’t familiar with the philosophy behind the bar mitzvah ceremony. Raised in a very conservative branch of the Lutheran church from the time I was born until I was about 17, I went through an extensive “bar mitzvah” program that Catholics and Lutherans refer to as “confirmation.” Since both sects baptize their members as infants before the child has the ability to decide whether or not to take hold of the faith, starting around the fifth or sixth grade, the children enter a much more rigorous religious educational system in which they study the Bible and the Biblical interpretations from famous Christian theologians of their particular sect. After a couple years of study under a clerical figure and pass somewhat of an examination (nowadays more ceremonial than academic) of their knowledge of the Bible and the writings of Church Fathers, they are invited confirm their baptism and are granted “adult” member status in their church. Some additional perks include being able to receive communion and voting on issues at church committee meetings. 

Believe it or not, I have very fond memories of my days in confirmation classes. Studying directly under the Pastor and Vicar of the church in my hometown was very rewarding for a young kid who wanted a deeper relationship with God. Though most of what we learned was Christian tradition rather than Holy Scripture and the issues of the Bible we did learn were just in the form of motivational stories, my religious study gave me comfort as my inquisitive mind was constantly on the quest for answers to questions that were just now becoming more and more heavy. I was getting to the point where God was no longer like Santa Claus and more like the God I have a relationship with today. I excelled in my studies and members of the clergy recommended to my parents that I consider becoming a pastor. For years leading up to my coming out of the Christian church, I actually was heading down the path to Christian seminary. 

Though my confirmation day was momentous for me and I actually confirmed my faith in God to a room jam-packed with friends and family members, some traveling to my Oklahoma hometown from as far away as New Jersey just for the event, I didn’t feel the same feeling was shared by some of my fellow confirmant peers. Many were kids who had been forced by their parents week-in, week-out to attend Bible classes and “get confirmed” in the church so that their family could remain in good standing with the religious community. I feel the same is probably taking place in many synagogues around the country, if not the world, as the bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies are less about claiming adult responsibility in keeping Torah and more just a coming of age ceremony like a graduation from childhood. When one researches personal transformation in more detail, the age factor becomes a complete non-issue; just like it should be today. 

Taking on more of a Karaite Jewish interpretation of Torah instead of a Rabbinic Jewish interpretation, I tend to favor a more pragmatic side to Torah observance and less of the traditional. In the Torah, there is no commanded coming-of-age ceremony in which a boy becomes a man or a girl become a woman overnight. There is no point in which a member of Am Yisrael is not expected to keep all the Torah and then suddenly are expected to. Actually, according to Torah, men are not eligible for military service until they are 20 years old; well into the age of child-rearing. This does not mean that they were not considered men, but simply that there is a shift between the Torah and traditional rites of passage. 

Though there is no place in Torah that talks about a bar mitzvah ceremony, there is Torah support for being a bar mitzvah, or literally “son of the commandments.” Throughout Mishle, the Book of Proverbs, Melech Shlomo (King Solomon) imparts wisdom to the reader like a father teaches his son:

בני תורתי אל־תשכח ומצותי יצר לבך
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.” 
– Proverbs 3:1

All those who have come into covenant with the God of Israel and dedicated themselves to upholding the commands of Torah can be referred to as a bar mitzvah or a bat mitzvah; son or daughter of the commandments. Traditionally, this personal transformation toward keeping the commandments is done around the age of twelve or thirteen, around the time the child can better understand the weight of what it means to keep the Torah. There is no problem with this traditional celebration and I actually encourage people to celebrate becoming a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, but every bit of celebration, every song sung, every bit of food offered, and every “mazel tov!” proclaimed is all for n
aught unless that personal transformation towards truly being a son or daughter of the commandments has occurred. 
At age 40, actor David Arquette proves that you’re never too old to become a bar mitzvah.

God Has it Figured Out

As I was headed home from work today and taking my usual exit off of the highway, one of Tulsa’s finest pulled out and changed lanes to end up just behind my car. Any other time there wouldn’t have been any problem, but today…I had expired plates.

I knew it was difficult to see the date on the plates without being right behind the car, so I tried to think of a way to limit the amount of time this officer of the law would be sitting directly behind my car at the red light that was up ahead. I immediately changed lanes to be able to hang a right at the red light. Guess what? So did he.

As I headed down the street, I kept a close watch in my rear-view mirror as the police car passed a car to wind up directly behind me. All but riding my bumper, I knew it was only a matter of time before I saw the inevitable blue and red lights. At the approaching intersection, there was a gas station on the left on the opposite side of the street. If he was following me, he’d just follow me into the parking lot. I got into the left lane just a second before he did as well. I decided to pull off to allow him to hit me with a traffic ticket or at the very least, a warning. I really didn’t feel like receiving either. 
The green left-turn arrow flashed and I turned first left, then immediately right into the gas station parking lot; assuming the squad car would follow me all the way in. As I turned into the parking lot, much to my amazement, the cop kept driving. As he vanished around the corner, I pulled into the nearest parking spot to celebrate my near brush with the law. Not paying attention to where I had pulled in, I found myself looking into the blood-shot eyes of a sweat-covered poor man in a stained and tattered t-shirt standing over the open hood of a car. We locked eyes and my stomach sank. I did my best to shoot him a smile. 
As I got out of the car, I could tell this man was in real trouble besides just having a broken down vehicle. In barely coherent words, he told me that his car needed a jump so he could get “him” home. Before I could ask who he was talking about, he pointed to the backseat of his car. In the backseat sat a little boy slumped over asleep in a car seat not a day older than three. The boy was drenched in sweat and his nose had run completely down his front. The backseat of a non-air conditioned car on a 90 degree day was no place for this little boy. I quickly scurried to my trunk to get out my jumper cables and hooked them up. I didn’t immediately notice that he had been holding up the hood of his car until I got out and he asked me to hold up the hood while he tried to turn the car over. The car started right up, I detached the cables, and the man mumbled a “thank you” as he quickly drove off in his rattling car; the little boy still asleep in the backseat.
From the moment that I saw the little boy, I felt like I was being drop kicked in the chest with the sensation that God is completely in control of everything. Many people ask “Where is God?” in certain situations. Others say “I will wait for God” in other situations. These people desperately need to open their eyes to see that God is not a man in the sky, but rather every molecule screams His existence. God lead me straight to that boy. He could have sent a tzadik (righteous man), but instead He sent someone who avoiding ridicule. He could have whisked the little boy away in the arms of an angel but instead, He chose someone who was trying to outrun responsibility.
I hardly remember pulling out of the parking lot to go home because I was so jazzed on the Oneness of God. May we never forget that God is in complete control. 

When Your Tzitzit Come Untied: More Than a Blog About Fringes

There is a Jewish tradition of making a brakha (blessing) over the ritual fringes that are commanded in the Torah: 

דבר אל־בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם ועשו להם ציצת על־כנפי בגדיהם לדרתם ונתנו על־ציצת הכנף פתיל תכלת
“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.”
– Numbers 15:38 

The verse continues to explain why Israel is commanded to wear fringes with cords of blue in them: 
You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.” – verses 39 & 40. 

That was just a little background on tzitzit (tassels/fringes). Now, I will get to the subject matter of the post. 

Anyways, like I was saying; there is a tradition of making a blessing to God for giving us the opportunity to wear these fringes everyday so that they might serve the purpose for which they were intended. That blessing goes like this: 
בָּרוּך אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-להֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם אַשֶׁר קִדְשָנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ עַל מִצְוַת צִיצִת

“Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us regarding the commandment of fringes.” 

There is another tradition that accompanies the first one; examining the tzitzit to make sure the fringes are suitable to be worn. This means checking out the strands of the fringes to make sure they are tied and that the strands are not overly frayed. In many instances, these fringes can be metaphors for one’s spiritual life. I had an encounter with this recently. 

Though I’m devoted to Torah observance, my practice of certain traditions that surround different mitzvot (commands) of Torah isn’t all that strong. I don’t always kiss a mezuzah when I pass it, I don’t always make a brakha before I eat, and I don’t always check my tzitzit. 

Lately, I had been pretty immersed in things going on at work, things going on with my band, my friends, hobbies, and additional activities to the point of it cutting in on my prayer life and my study of Torah. I was very stressed out about a whole number issues going on in my life one morning, when I went to don my tzitzit, I noticed that the double-knot in the bottom of a few of them had come completely untied. These were not easy knots to untie and I know my cat had not been in my room, they must have been coming untied over the course of a few days.  Instead of just immediately stopping to tie them, I sat on the edge of my bed, held them in my hands, and just stared at them for a couple minutes. 

A rush of shame washed over me. No, not shame of a couple knots that weren’t tied correctly (the Torah makes no law about how exactly tzitzit should be tied, so that part of it has been left up to the wearer’s discretion), but about myself. I had been so wrapped in my life that I had it took God causing my tzitzit to become untied to get my attention. In that instant, my tzitzit were me. They were starting to come untied just like I was letting stress and other activities make me begin to unravel. 

It took me a second to gather up my thoughts, make a blessing to God for my tzitzit, and get to work, but the thought stuck with me the entire day. Wearing tzitzits has been one of the weirdest experiences of my life, but also one of the most rewarding. Just like these strands of white and blue are never far from me, this helps me remember that God is never far from me either. 

Because we can’t see God just like we can’t see the wind, God instructed B’nai Israel to wear these weird fringes on the four corners of their garments so that we can begin to see the good that He brings to the world everyday. They are a reminder that He is always there. Baruch HaShem (Blessed be The Name [of God]).

Shalom. 
– Ken