Reflections on 9/11

I will never, ever forget the day when planes crashed on the Twin Towers and in Washington, DC. It is vividly engraved in my mind, as one of the most horrible images I’ve seen. Buildings on fire, people hanging and eventually jumping out of windows, structures melting into rubble, and panic everywhere. So much death and destruction. So much darkness.

Today, September 11, 2015 is no different than that day 14 years ago. We often times live under the illusion that we are safe; we assume that we will get up in the morning, go to work, come back to our families, dine a good meal, and sleep in our beds at night, untouched. But life can change in an instant. And evil is still alive and at work. Just across the Atlantic there are millions of Syrians trying to stay alive, walking to refugee camps, hoping to find a place of permanency. How are they different than us? 9/11 is a sad reminder that we are just as vulnerable as the rest of the world, and that our lives are as fragile and finite as anybody else’s.

  • This world can be a harsh place to live in. Evil surrounds us; evil lives within us. Perfect happiness and absence of pain are impossible to achieve. The bad that we don’t want to do, we end up doing. We cannot control evil and good in ourselves, much less in others around us. This world is harsh.
  • Life and death are  unpredictable. We can make plans, structure our weeks, months, years, take care of our health, eat well and exercise. We can go to school to get a degree that will land us a job that will provide a good income for the family we are to have and the life we want to live. But in an instant, it could all be gone. My friend, Haider, recently lost a good friend who was riding a bike and got hit by a truck. Just like that. Alive one moment and gone the next. We cannot control death. The only thing for certain is that sooner, everyone will go through it. Everything in this world is unpredictable.
  • Life is fragile. Relationships can crumble; jobs can be lost; friends can move away; children grow up and leave; health deteriorates with age. Such is life! Gunmen can open fire; planes can crash into buildings; terrorists can terrorize; countries can wage wars. Such is life! Fragile and uncertain.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

  • God is not of this world. He does not live under our rules, uncertainties, or frailties. He is above it all, safe, trustworthy, and sovereign. Not only do we have his power available to us right now, but we also have his life extended throughout eternity, accompanied by his peace and complete satisfaction. In this world, he conquered death and suffering, by freely giving himself to undergo a horrific act of sacrifice on our behalf. Through this sacrifice, he satisfied the guilt we carried and made way for us to have access to him, not only now, but for all eternity. So despite the sufferings of the here and now, we can all have this hope. If we believe in Christ, then we will also receive his life. God is not of this world!
  • Nothing can harm us, in Christ. We can suffer evil, loss, and destruction, yet have all things, because we have his life. Our bodies can cease living and decay in a grave, but our spirits can remain alive and in his presence. We can laugh and love and enjoy every day on this earth, knowing that this is not everything there is! Noting can harm us!! Can there be a sweeter hope?

“He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 25:8

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Fiddler on the Roof: Musings and Pondering…

What a show! What a magically, wonderful show! As I prepare to be the music director for CWorks’ winter production, I can’t help but to ponder on the meaning and the impact this script and music will have on all of us. First of all, the show is highly entertaining due to its rich characters, fabulous music and dancing, timeless humor, and deep cultural connections. It is also thought provoking and enlightening, covering themes such as family values, tradition, and antisemitism.

I am a Christian, therefore I see everything in life through the lenses of my faith. From that perspective, I write this analysis of the content of this script. It is not exhaustive by any means. It simply reflects my own (limited) thoughts and pondering on the subject matter.

Brief Summary

In the fictional, Russian village of Anatevka, lives a milkman by the name of Tevya, along with his wife Golde and his 5 daughters. The story takes place at the turn of the 20th century, depicting life in a Jewish community coexisting with gentiles who, influenced and encouraged by the Tsar and a generalized antisemitic sentiment, persecute, drive away, and disperse the Jewish people living among them.

In the midst of this political turmoil, Tevya faces even greater challenges and difficulties in his own family. He has always held fast to the traditions of his people, but now his daughters are stepping away from his way of life, rejecting the old ways and choosing their own path. In Tevya’s mind, there is a struggle maintaining a balance between protecting the traditions of his people and supporting his loved ones. The fiddler on the roof illustrates such a struggle. In Tevya’s own words: “You might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy.”

Analysis

While there are many aspects of this show that could be analyzed, my aim is to limit it to the traditions depicted in this story. I find them fascinating and worth thinking about.

In Jewish communities there are discrepancies as to what is allowed or desired according to their religion. Much like Christianity, which has differences in denominations and cultures, yet has the same core system of belief across the board, Judaism has many faces and degrees of religiosity, while being united in common beliefs. This is not an analysis of Judaism in general, but a discussion on the traditions seen in this particular family and community of Anatevka.

Traditions

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of traditions reflected in this story: Those ordained by God, and those made up by people. The script does not make a distinction between the two, but I think it’s worth mentioning the difference.

The God-mandated traditions are the ones that were established in Scripture from the time of Moses. The ones designed by man happened through the years and have strong cultural roots.

The Sabbath: The show opens with preparations for the Sabbath. The day of rest was most definitely established by God. In the Genesis account of the creation of the world, God worked for 6 days and rested on the 7th. One of the 10 commandments given by God to Moses said to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”. The Jewish nation was strictly ordered to maintain a day of rest, from generation to generation. The purpose of the Sabbath was to 1. provide time for everyone (including servants, slaves, and animals) to rest; 2. have a day dedicated to the worship of God, free of distractions; 3. to point to the Messiah. In fact, from Christianity’s world view, all God-mandated laws were given to prepare the way for Jesus, and in Jesus, all the law is perfectly kept and fulfilled (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill it” – Matt 5:17). So how did Jesus fulfill the law? 1. By keeping it. 2. By becoming our rest. This sounds simplistic, but it truly is a remarkable, deep truth:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus provides rest. This profound truth shows us that in our quest for salvation and in our desire to be right with God, man has always struggled to perform, do good, please a perfect God, and has always failed. Through religion, we cannot possibly reach God, because He is holy and we are not, he is perfect and we are flawed. All our efforts, in the end, are tiring and heavy. So when Jesus stretched out his arms on a cross and died on our behalf, He unequivocally declared that He, the only perfect sacrifice, paid the penalty for our sins. Therefore, we need to struggle no more. We can actually rest from trying to be right with God. We are right in Him. We now please God because we love him, not because we hope He will avert his wrath. It is the greatest of news! And it is most certainly true rest from our labor. JESUS IS OUR SABBATH.

Match-making: Now here we see a tradition that is not mandated in Scripture. This is a cultural custom which in many cases has proven to be very practical (I guess?) Match making is at the center of this story, as one of the traditions that is upheld, almost at the same level of the other God-given laws. We see examples of matches being made in Scripture, but there is no law dictating it as the only way to marry. Tevya’s daughters go against this tradition by choosing their own husbands. Even though he struggles with this, Tevya goes along with their choices (at least with two of the three daughters), proving he is progressive and caring enough to break from his own way of life in order to support and love his family.

Marriage: The topic of marriage is central to the story. Again, marriage is mandated by God back in the creation of Adam and Eve. It is the holiest of unions in the human realm and it is to be highly valued by God’s people. In Fiddler on the Roof, the issue of mixed marriages comes to light. We see in Scripture that God created all races and colors and He doesn’t have an issue with inter-racial marriages. However, it was clearly mandated to the Jewish nation that they were to marry within their own faith. Why? 1. To preserve the worship and the knowledge of God throughout the generations, and 2. Of course, to point to Christ.

First, the Jews were the only monotheistic people group for thousands of years. They were the only ones who had the truth of God in their minds, hearts, and in the written law of Moses. They were to marry each other to preserve and advance this knowledge. In Christianity, we see the same principle at work. God calls us to not be unequally yoked (II Co 6:14). This inequality has nothing to do with race, education, or cultural differences, and all to do with our faith.

Second, marriage points to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32). More specifically, it points to the relationship between Jesus and his people (the church). What used to be a distant relationship between man and God, worshiping in a temple containing a big, heavy curtain for the purpose of separating man from God, has become a close, intimate relationship. Jesus has drawn near to us, opening the door for us to have access to God. Ephesians calls it a “great mystery”. I am very thankful for this reality. During this Christmas season, I am especially blessed by the knowledge that Jesus condescended and became a human, in order to be like me, make atonement for me, and have an intimate relationship with me.

Conclusion

I am so thankful for the Jewish people. They have been the recipients of God’s covenant and love, as well as His law and prophets. In spite of persecution, dispersion, attempts of annihilation, and hatred, God has preserved the Jews and has been true to His promise.

I am grateful for Jesus Christ, who was a Jew and fulfilled all the laws and the prophets. He has broken the divides that once separated the people of God from all other nations. In Christ, there is no longer Jew or gentile, male or female, master or slave. Salvation is equally available to all, through faith. There is no longer a need to strive to gain salvation, for He has done that for us. He is truly our rest.

Aside from the conceptual analysis of the main themes of this play, I am beyond excited to be a part of it, simply because it is fun and entertaining. And, of course, the music is fantastic! In fact, I need to stop writing this oh-so-long post and get downstairs to my piano to finish studying the music. After all, auditions start tomorrow!

If you live in RVA and want to see this amazing production, you can buy tickets here.

Shalom!

Fiddler on the Roof

Gomer’s Song

So I wrote a song a little while ago. I don’t particularly like this home recording of it, but oh well, here it goes.

The reason why this song is meaningful to me is because it’s based on the story of Hosea and Gomer. It goes basically like this:

Hosea was a prophet of God. God spoke to him and told him to take Gomer as wife. She was an unfaithful woman who continued to be unfaithful, even after their marriage. She had children with other men. Somehow (not specified in the book), Gomer ended up back out on the streets prostituting herself. She ended up in a slave market, more than likely being sold as a sex slave. By all standards, but especially by God’s standards, Gomer did not deserve for Hosea to stick by Gomer. But God spoke again to Hosea and told him to go and buy his wife from the slave market (even though he had full rights to her, for free). He did just that. With 15 shekels of silver, he paid the price to redeem his wife from slavery.

Hosea is a picture of Jesus, who was to come years later. The imagery of this book explains how God’s people are unfaithful to their God, but Jesus paid the price to buy us back to himself. He paid the highest price for us, because He loves us and desires an intimate relationship with us, with me. What love! What gift! This is why I will love him forever.

My Testimony

It was the summer of 1983 in beautiful Quito, Ecuador. I was a rising senior in high school. I had a good family, a good school, good friends. I lived in a pretty house in a pretty neighborhood. I was minding my own business going about my life, thinking of my future after high school. I was not sure what I wanted to pursue in college, so I opted for a leap year. I would leave town as a foreign exchange student for a year and then decide how to grow up. I was in no hurry. I didn’t feel the need to change.

And then out of nowhere my life was radically transformed. A group of missionaries had moved into a house two blocks away from mine. They went door to door evangelizing, and when they came to mine, they talked to my mom. She was not interested in their message and decided that in order to get them off their back, the best thing would be to send me to one of the meetings they were so eagerly inviting her to attend. I guess I was bored. Not really sure why I even went in the first place, but I did. The meeting took place on Saturday, August 9th. My initial thoughts about it: These people are ridiculous. Their songs are terrible. Why are they so excited? I think they are crazy! Why would I agree to return the following Monday to have a private conversation with one of the missionaries? Certainly there is no logical answer to that question.

On August 11th, 1983 I met a sweet missionary who greeted me warmly and led me to one of the rooms in the house. I had no idea why I was there. I didn’t know what she wanted to tell me. I felt compelled to comply, and that is all I knew. We sat in two adjacent chairs and shortly after some initial chit-chat, she pulled out a little track entitled “Four Spiritual Laws”. She read it out loud as she held it in front of me so I could read it alongside her.

  1. GOD LOVES YOU. Um, yes, I kinda knew that, I thought.

  2. YOU ARE SINFUL AND SEPARATED FROM GOD. I saw a picture of a broken bridge. It all seemed pretty elementary. I guessed she was probably right. I knew deep inside I was a sinner, even though I couldn’t really list a whole list of bad sins. Noting major came to mind.

  3. JESUS IS GOD’S PROVISION FOR YOU. Another picture. The bridge was now repaired by the cross. I was a little confused by it, but I was also encouraged by it. I had never thought I could “reach” God. He had always been far removed and disinterested.

  4. YOU MUST RECEIVE JESUS AS LORD AND SAVIOR. Aha! There had to be a catch. I wasn’t completely sure what that meant, to receive Jesus. Maybe it wasn’t a catch. She proceeded to explain something about putting my faith in him and asking him to come into my heart and forgive me. Frankly, it was all too much for me to understand. The reading of the little pamphlet took about 5 minutes, not enough time for me to digest anything she was saying. I had never heard anything like it. It seemed a bit simplistic, a bit unrealistic. I wasn’t sure what I would get in return.

She read a few scriptures and then asked me if I would like to pray with her and ask Jesus to come into my heart. I nodded yes.

Wait, what?

She verbalized a prayer and asked me to repeat after her. If I were to sit today and share the gospel with another person, I would never pray a pre-written prayer and ask this person to repeat after me. Not a chance. But that is exactly what I did. I repeated. The prayer started with Dear Jesus. Up until then, I had stayed rational and collected. And then a flood opened in my heart, my mind. I cannot describe it well, other than to say that it felt as if I went from being a hard stone to a soaking sponge, absorbing every drop, every word that came out of my mouth. Had someone turned on a switch? I said a quick prayer, but I meant every word. Somehow. My eyes were filled with tears. I didn’t want the prayer to end. I wanted to stay there.

After we said amen I felt very confused about my feelings and what I was experiencing. I had no clue what hit me. The missionary girl looked at me a bit surprised but with a big smile. I couldn’t stop crying, but I wasn’t sure why. She gave me a quick hug and told me to come back in a few days so we could talk some more. I think she gave me another little pamphlet for me to read at home, but I’m not exactly sure about that memory.

I returned the following week. I wanted more.

My new friend asked me if I wanted to study the Bible with her. I replied that I did not own one and that I didn’t think my parents would want to buy me one (truth is I never asked them; I just assumed that if they were not Christians, they would not want to do that). So she said that we should pray for one. Pray? I had never imagined that we could actually pray for something so specific. What a novel idea. Sure, why not? Despite my skepticism, I prayed along with her.

Two weeks later I was on my way to visit a friend in the neighborhood. There is nothing fuzzy about this memory; I remember it as if it were yesterday. A man was walking on the same sidewalk I was on, coming towards me. As we were crossing each other he asked me if I owned a bible. What? No, I said. Then he asked me if I wanted one. I swallowed hard. Y-yes. He handed me a bible. HE HANDED ME A BIBLE. Right there, in the middle of the block, a stranger handed me the bible we had prayed for. It was a brand new one. It was a soft leather-bound, gold-trimmed, prayed-for bible. And then the man left without another word. I never saw him again.

Three weeks prior to this moment, I had had a very emotional experience praying a pre-written prayer. But this moment dug an even bigger and deeper mark into my spirit. My mind was convinced that this God I had prayed to was real, and that he heard me and cared for me. I was completely overwhelmed by his goodness. There would be nothing that could have possibly wiped off the smile on my face for a long time!

I read that bible all. the. time. I woke up and read it before I got out of bed. I read it through the day. I read it in bed before falling asleep at night. I studied it with my friend every Monday. I meditated on it. I LOVED it.

And God changed me.

I took that little pamphlet with the four spiritual laws everywhere I went. I read it to my boyfriend, I read it to my best friend. I read it to my mom. I read it to my math teacher. No one seemed impressed by it. Everyone seemed to think I had lost my mind. But my love for God grew and grew.

My senior year in high school was the beginning of my walk with God. Today marks 31 years from the day I prayed that little prayer. My life was completely and irrevocably transformed, forever.

I planned on leaving to Europe for a year as a foreign exchange student, but my parents changed their mind at the last minute, and did not let me go. I was very disappointed and disoriented, since I did not have a plan B; Yet, with my newly found faith, I trusted that God had a purpose for my life. The turn of events led me to make the decision to come to the United States. My grandfather and his wife, Mary, lived in Miami and I could stay with them. I did not know at the time that they were also Christian and would support me and help me grow in the faith. And that was that. I said good-bye to my friends and family. I took a plane and cried all the way there. I landed in Miami on August 24th, 1884, not knowing what I would do with my life. My grandfather suggested community college. A week later I was sitting in classes at Miami-Dade Community College as a music major.

Five months later, I met Juan. His love for God was irresistible. One month after that I was engaged. And the following January, married. But that is a story I will write in another blog post 🙂

About a year after I became a Christian, my mom believed in the lord Jesus as well. She shared the gospel with my dad and he also believed and was converted. He is now with the Lord.

My understanding of the gospel has grown. My experiences with God have deepened. My knowledge of the bible has increased. But I know one thing for certain. God saved me that day 31 years ago. Among other things, I have learned that a prayer doesn’t save you, but faith does. I did not “decide” to know him. He pursued me. He compelled me. He moved me. He spoke to me. He confirmed his presence to me. He took me from a state of death (that I was not aware I was in) to a state of life. And it was ALL his doing. I was born that day. And I am so grateful!

This is the story of the way God saved me. Fortunately, he continues to save me (otherwise known as “sanctify” me), transforming me constantly through his words given to me in the bible. Not a dull moment with him. Not a single regret. And my heart is full with anticipation at the thought of meeting him face to face one day, after my days are done on this earth. I know when and how my walk with him started, but the even greater news is that it will never end.

The summer I was saved. Spending a week at Salinas, a beautiful Ecuadorian beach

The summer I was saved. Spending a week at Salinas, a beautiful Ecuadorian beach

My senior year in high school, studying at my house with my best friends

My senior year in high school, studying at my house with my best friends

Newly arrived to Miami, FL, sporting my incredibly cute old-beat-up VW

Newly arrived to Miami, FL, sporting my incredibly cute old-beat-up VW

The Cliff

Standing on the edge

The void before my feet

No place to run. No safety in sight

Will you catch me if I go?

Will you fly on silver wings and halt my desperate fall?

I sense a scent of death

I shiver in my bones

Frightened in the darkness. Terrified of heights.

What awaits me at the end?

The crushing of my flesh?

Or will you catch me if I fall

Into the depths

Into the night?

I’ve seen you fly before

Around me

Through me

For me

To you, void is light

And mysteries are fully known

You fly and fly

With strength in rescue

Your eyes fierce with purpose

Watching

Will you catch me when I plunge?

No retrieving

No escape

My feet inch forward

The cliff before me

No rope. No handle

Just you and me

I’ve seen you fly before

Catch me

Catch me on my way