(I found an old article that Isaac wrote about our Chanukkah cleansing a few years ago. I think it is really good so I’m posting it now!)
We have become strangers in a strange land. But we don’t look too strange, I hope.
It’s hard to be an Israelite living in a pagan land, especially during the pagan holidays. Our first loyalty is to Yahovah. We believe He has a heart that is passionate and feels things very deeply. The pagan holidays are an abomination to Him. He said we were to have no other gods ‘in His face.’ I believe he remembers the smell of burning human flesh and can still hear the screams of the innocent victims being offered to the pagan gods on the high holy days of paganism. That is why proper sacrifices were such a pleasing aroma to Him. They helped to purge the stench of paganism from His nostrils. Now, even here in the midst of an enlightened, rational age of human wisdom and information, the pagan holidays are still at the forefront of the calendar and permeate nearly every aspect of culture.
And so we find ourselves, Israelites, living in a pagan land. And yet, we don’t live in a vacuum. While we are trying not to be of this world, we are still living in it. While we are a set-apart people, we are not trying to live in isolation. We do not hide out in some religious enclave. We live and move and breathe along with the world around us. The people around us are our friends and neighbors. We have many acquaintances at the stores and shops which we frequent. We are always making friends at the school and in the community. In many ways we prefer the company of pagans to that of those claiming to be Israelites.
The people who have taken care of us during the last few years have mostly been pagan, at least by our definition of the word. We have discovered that those who claim to be Israelite are most often characterized primarily by rudeness. Messianics are, as a rule, completely self-absorbed, egotistical, judgmental, pretentious assholes. In a word, heartless. We still feel a much stronger affinity with a host of pagans who believe that the heart matters than we do with those who claim to be “Torah observant.”
Except during the pagan holidays.
During the pagan holidays the path gets extremely narrow. We find ourselves trying to walk the razor’s edge. On the one side are the hearts of our Elohim and our desire to be loyal and faithful to them. On the other side are the hearts of our friends and neighbors and our desire to not hurt, alienate, or turn them off by coming across as self-righteous or just plain rude.
Every year there are people who feel compelled to reach out to us in the spirit of Christmas, a spirit which we have been working hard to purge from . . . okay, pardon the interruption, but a neighbor just walked up the path to deliver us a holiday greeting card and a tin full of holiday goodies. We just smile and say “Have a nice day” or “Well, thanks for thinking of us.” It’s hard to know what to say, and unfortunately we don’t usually get very much time to think of a response. People don’t seem to hang around very long at these times. Rebekah was just noticing this. One of our neighbors drove by, handed a bag out the window to her and then drove away. The neighbor who just came handed me the tin and then immediately turned back down the path before giving a hurried explanation that he was off to his other holiday obligations giving a quick goodbye over his shoulder. Two other neighbors actually stood and made small talk for a few minutes after giving their “offerings” to us. But still, it was clear that they had come just to fulfill their holiday duty and then move on. In each case, we were left standing there with our heads spinning, trying to figure out what we were supposed to do with what just happened, as well as with what we were now holding in our hands. To be honest, it hasn’t been so long since we were on the other side that we can’t remember how the holiday obligations work, what its like to be under the influence of the Christmas spirit. It used to be us going from house to house spreading ‘holiday cheer.’ But now we have crossed over and become Hebrews. Now our culture clashes with the culture around us. And sometimes those clashes leave you feeling like you’ve just experienced a hit-and-run.
I used to think that we would get past these situations, that we would eventually learn how to manage our life during this time of year so that we could completely avoid any of these awkward and undesirable circumstances. What was I thinking? When we are in relationship with someone for years then I suppose there is hope that we can educate them in a tactful, caring way so that neither of us ends up in awkward situations this time of year. But we are all subject to forgetfulness and there is only so much that a person can understand while they are still on the other side. And more than that, every year there are going to be new people in our life. This year we had a significant situation develop that involved not just one or two new people, but two whole groups of people who chose us as the focus of their attention during their special time of year.
Hanukkah began more than two weeks before the pagan holiday this year. During the weeks leading up to Hanukkah a lady at Maggie’s school informed us that a 4-H group as well as a home school group had decided to “adopt” us this year. It is something they do every year for a “needy” family. We qualify. While they said it wasn’t a Christmas thing it, of course, fell at this time of year. The lady at the school knows we are Hebrews and don’t celebrate Christmas. She did her best to be sensitive to that and said the groups were also sensitive to that and were, in fact, excited about the opportunity to be exposed to a different culture. What we’ve learned is that, while most people are aware of Hanukkah, they simply understand it to be a Jewish version of Christmas.
Shortly after this began to develop, a nice neighbor lady that we are just getting to know informed us that she and her family are part of a small group of well-to-do people who enjoy blessing a needy family every year at this time. This lady and her family had never had the opportunity to chose the family before. This year they wanted to and they wanted that family to be us. What can you say? She, also, knows that we are Hebrew and promised to be sensitive to that but that they just wanted to help us out with getting some things that we need but might not be able to buy for ourselves. Both groups asked us for detailed lists of things that we might really need. We were assured that people weren’t going to just go out and buy us Christmas presents but that they would simply be trying to meet some real needs that we had. We thought that sounded okay, especially if things were delivered well before the pagan holiday and were not wrapped in holiday paper. Rebekah took quite a lot of time over several days to make detailed lists of all the things that we could think of that we really needed. It included some higher dollar items such as winter coats for the girls, work boots, a cordless drill and a deer rifle for me and an iPod Touch for Maggie.
As things progressed they seemed to be going well. Both groups reported that they had been taking the opportunity to find out more about Hanukkah. We knew it would be the Jewish version that they were studying, but that was at least a step in the right direction. It felt like their hearts were in the right place. As it got closer to delivery, both groups informed us that many of the people were giving us their gifts as Hanukkah presents wrapped in Hanukkah paper. Although, the neighbor lady ended up telling us that she had unwrapped many of the presents she had collected from her group because they came in Christmas wrapping paper. When it came time to deliver her presents, they came in large Christmas gift bags. She tried to be sensitive and kept asking if that was okay. The whole thing felt mostly out of control but until we actually had the presents in our hands, the only experience we had was with our neighbor lady herself and our contact person at the school. That experience we enjoyed and appreciated. They were both so excited, interested and enthusiastic. Our experience began to change once we started to open the gifts.
The gifts all came during Hanukkah. Although they came in batches spread out over several days during the first half of the feast. The neighbor gave us a tote full of gifts that were specifically for the girls to have one for each night of Hanukkah. The rest were unwrapped in bags for us to go through whenever. The group from the school divided their gifts up so that there would be one for each member of the family for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. It was quite a lot of stuff. We had been told that we were getting just about everything that was on our lists.
We don’t make a big deal out of Hanukkah gifts ourselves. We bought enough gifts for each other that we would each get one on four nights of the feast. Something maybe in the ten dollar range. We also each got a treasure box gift each morning, something costing only a few dollars. The first day of Hanukkah we all had our own gifts, then the girls each got their gifts from the group, then we opened the first bag of gifts from our neighbor. There were some larger items such as coats then some slippers, blankets, etc. The thing Rebekah noticed right away was that our own gifts to each other kind of got lost in it all. She also felt like she wasn’t going to be able to compete with the gifts we were getting from other people because we don’t have a lot of money. That aspect of it didn’t turn out to be quite as bad as she thought it would though.
It turned out that almost none of the gifts were right for us. Many of the clothing items were way too big. It also seemed that most people had basically ignored the list completely, or at least were uninformed regarding sizes and styles. And, most of the stuff was of very poor quality. I guess when rich people are shopping for poor people, they think that Wal-Mart is good enough. There were also no gift reciepts from one group and only one person in the other group thought to include them.
As we sat opening packages and bags, the ‘stuff’ began to pile up around us. We began to feel a little gluttonous just from the mere quantity of items we had on our hands. It was a little reminiscent of Christmas mornings years ago. Another old feeling also crept in. Disappointment. Many of the packages looked great on the outside. But on the inside would be another package of cheap synthetic socks that were too large for any of us. The girls hopes would be raised with each present placed in their lap or each bag brought out from behind the table, but it invariable would end in disappointment. A pretty good representation of Christmas or any of the other pagan holidays. Lots of time is spent trying to make it look good on the outside, to put a pretty face on it; but on the inside, at the heart of it, it’s nothing but a counterfeit, an empty promise that can never deliver.
The second night, the girls started bickering or whining about many of the items we were trying to get them to let go of. These were items that they would never have given a second look to in the store, items which we would never have allowed into our own shopping cart. We could tell it was poisoning our experience of Hanukkah so we decided to just plow in and open everything so we could be done with it. We did that on the second day. It was also a time when we got a very real word picture for what we were experiencing.
We have solar power. It only works when the sun shines and we hadn’t seen the sun for a couple of weeks. We decided to take the batteries down to the fridge to hook them up to the battery charger. It takes about a half hour each way to move the batteries and make connections. I took them down in the morning and left them on the charger all day so we could have some good power for our Hanukkah lights that evening during our party. When I hooked the batteries up that evening after dark we had a not so pleasant surprise. The gage on our solar setup read the same as it had that morning before I disconnected the batteries. They had not received any charge whatsoever. We had no light. This is the Festival of Lights and we had no light. The darkness of paganism had crept into our life and that was not okay.
When we realized that the spirit of Christmas had crept in we knew it was time to get rid of it. It was time to reorient and realign and get back into the spirit of Hanukkah. We were on our faces praying, asking for cleansing, asking for light. It wasn’t so much repentance as it was cleansing. We had prayed about the decision to accept the gifts from both groups and we felt like Yahovah was in it. We felt like it was blessed by Yah for our provision. It felt like a waterfall that we couldn’t really stop anyway and we thought it would be a waterfall of blessings. Now we feel a little differently about Yah’s purposes. Maybe it was for Maggie’s benefit to learn an important lesson about outside appearances and to deepen her desire for the real thing, the genuine article, the pearl of great price. While we were still in the process of opening everything Rebekah noticed that Maggie’s eyes kept roaming around looking for more packages to open, hoping for a really good gift. Rebekah asked her, “What if you could trade all of these cheap things for one iPod Touch.” That was what Maggie really wanted. That was what she had asked for. That was what she was looking for, but it wasn’t there.
At any rate, there was nothing else to do but move ahead and that meant doing a little cleansing. Rebekah spent 2 days collecting and sorting everything and then running all around town returning things. She had to enter store after store, each in full tilt for the high holy day of paganism. It wasn’t affecting her heart, but she felt like she needed a long hot shower after wading through all that filth. We realized it had some similarities to what the Maccabees had to do. They had to enter the defiled and desolate temple in order to clean it up. They had to wade through the filth, to pick it up and move it out so the temple could be cleansed. Then they could rededicate it and return it to its original purpose. That is what Hanukkah is all about. That is what our Hanukkah this year was all about.
– written by Isaac Garvin, 2011 at the tipi