God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God
Notes from the Lenten Journey; a reflection for my church family
12 March 2014
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Joshua 24: 14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Lent is a season during which every Christian is invited to take an intentional “walk” with Jesus, to go out into their “desert” and to face their “demons”: the things that others did that hurt us, things that we did to hurt others, and to think about our own need for the redeeming Grace of God and the Love of Jesus in our lives.
In other words, we are invited to look deep inside and face the truth about ourselves. The psalmist said it best in Psalm 139:24-25, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Today I want to share with my church family one of the trips to the desert that I undertook recently. Many of you know my story, and you are aware that my family is originally from Belarus. A week or so before Lent began, I stumbled upon images taken during WWII in the little village of Bobruisk where my family is from.
Here are these images. I found them by going to flickr.com™, and searching for “Bobruisk” on 12-March-2014.
These pictures depict Nazi officers during occupation of Belarus during Great Patriotic War (1941 – 1945); these officers look relaxed, well fed, and seem to be in a good health. Whoever posted these images knew these men as grandpa Wolfie, or uncle Peter, or cousin Claus. It is obvious that whoever posted these pictures loves and admires the member(s) of their family depicted in these images and cherishes their family history.
I had a very different reaction. As I was looking at these pictures, I saw the officer who probably shot my Aunt Olga (my grandmother’s sister) in front of her family and then hung her husband on the village green minutes after executing her. I was looking into the eyes of the officer who very well may have sent troops to fight partisans in the forests of Belarus, soldiers who were shooting at my Aunt Basya (my grandmother’s other sister), my uncle Gedalia (future husband of my Aunt Basya) and my Uncle Petya (my grandfather’s brother) on the battlefields. If things went according to these men’s wishes, we would now live in a very different world. If things went according to these men’s wishes, all the Jews (including my family) would be annihilated and eliminated, I would never have been born, and the Nazi swastika would fly on countless flagpoles all over the world. If things went according to these men’s wishes, all the Slavs (ethnic Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Polish populations, among many others) would be enslaved, and most of the world would speak German.
As you can imagine, I had rather strong feelings about the men in these pictures: I felt anger, bitterness, frustration and a strong desire to travel through time and chock the daylights out of them. And by the way, when I say that I wanted “to chock the daylights out of them” I am being “polite” and “restrained”; feel free to use your imagination.
And then God called me for a walk in a desert.
As a chaplain in MDDF, I was privileged to be invited to a training session with the chaplain Corp of the Maryland National Guard. When one of the chaplains (Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum) learned a little bit about my story, and that ethnically (although not theologically) I am Jewish and had never been Bar Mitzva’d, he asked me if I would be willing to demonstrate to the rest of the Corp the Bar Mitzva process and the Mitzvot itself. And so, one day during the training I was Bar Mitzva’d. Of course I did not do all the work that 13 year old Jewish boys and girls do in preparation for this right of passage known as Bar/Bat Mitzva. But symbolically, at least for me, that event became the answer to that Nazi officer, and others like him.
In the long run the love of God will prevail and those who live by the sword will die by the sword. There is evil in the world that we live in, but we have freedom to make choices and to strive to be the best versions of what God created us to be.
I want you to think about walks in the desert that God has called you to take lately. What did you learn and how did these walks change you?
May God bless your journey and may you never be afraid to face the truth…