When I graduated from college I was given a tassel with blue and white cords and a small gold plate with the year 2018 stamped on it. This tassel was on my cap as I walked across the stage and graduated from Grand Valley after 6 years of college and the end of my 20 some years of education from kindergarten to college graduate. It's a time of change in my life as I start looking to start my career in teaching but I find myself looking back not to college but to high school.
In my last day of class with Ray Vander Laan all of the students were given titzits; a tassel that was worn by the ancient Jews to help them remember their role on this earth to be priests to the nations of the world. They were called to show the world what G-d is like. The titzit would have been worn on the corners of a robe, today they are often worn around the waist. The purpose of wearing this tassel was not to show some kind of academic achievement but to be very annoying. The titzit gets caught in doors, bumps against your leg every time you take a step, it's a constant reminder that you're wearing this thing. The thought behind this is that whenever the tassel causes you an inconvenience or you remember it's there you would reflect and think back on why you're wearing it.
This is how I want to live my life wearing a tassel that will bring me closer to G-d as I go throughout my daily life instead of one that is supposed to elevate my own achievements. The titzit will continue to challenge me and remind me that I am here to spread G-d's kingdom by being like Jesus and living my life the way he did. Jesus simply lived a life to honor G-d and that is what I must strive to do to in my everyday life. This is why a tassel that I was given by a Bible teacher in high school will forever hold more meaning to me than any award or achievement I receive because it challenges me to love whole heartedly and help those in need with every fiber of my being. That is the spirit I want to take into my classroom where I can make an impact on the lives of students. I want them to see that I will be there to support them and push them to be the best they can be. I want to lead by example and model for them what learning can look like when you give one hundred and ten percent.
This lifestyle choice is for all christians though not just me. Jesus called everyone that believed in him to be his talmidim. We often translate that world to mean disciple but it means so much more than that! The word implies someone that wants to not just be like their teacher but to be their teacher. We are all called to be like Jesus and make an impact on this world in the way he did. We are supposed to be his priests that live such different lives than those around us because we care for the helpless, lonely, and downtrodden. We are called to live like Christ in our daily lives, so grab your tittzit whether it's real or not and get out there to shape the world for his kingdom.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
The Bible comes from a land of deserts that differs very much from the culture in which American Christians like myself live in today. This causes us to distort our image of the Bible and not take into account the region and the geography of the book. I've made it a personal and academic hobby of mine to study the Bible in it's context and the results are astounding for both my knowledge of the book and the reshaping of my beliefs that I draw from it.
When most Westerners picture the tree in Jeremiah we like to picture an oak tree but the acacia tree is most likely the tree discussed in Jeremiah 17. This image of a tree out in the middle of the desert surviving on very little water contradicts what most people would like to picture. This is the key to interpreting the verse. Instead of the verse sounding like a cheap way for God to say that people who do not practice evil will be rewarded we are given an image of a person that will once in a while receive from God. The gifts that are received are then meant to be used to help others.
There are two things that are very uncommon to find out in Israel; water and trees. Water is a very rare natural resource that can be found in two different ways standing and moving. Standing water or water collected in cisterns or pools is not often safe to drink. The very hot environment makes it very difficult to keep water like this for long. Water that flows from springs is called living water. Water is not the point of this entry. ( More on it later; on to trees) The region is so dry that there are no large trees that grow there. Wood has to be shipped in for large projects just like how Solomon received wood for the temple. The trees that do grow there are short, wide, bush like and very good at managing their water supply. This image is something more when we apply it to ourselves.
G-d calls us to be like this tree because we can give back to the community like it does with all it's parts but the shape and nature of the tree is also something for us to replicate. The acacia tree is used by desert dwellers to build tents, create medicine, start fires and so many other things in their daily lives. The trees of Israel are short and wide because they do not waste the energy it would take to grow tall and mighty. They are wide so that they can catch as much of G-d's sun as possible. They manage the small gifts of water that are given to them so that they can continue on being what they were meant to be. The roots of acacia's do not run deep to support themselves but spread out near the surface to collect as much nutrients as possible. Acacias gather to store up not to anchor themselves in this world so that they can stretch to the heavens. The shape is a scraggly mess of branches much like most of our lives and like us they were made like that by our creator. He did not design us to be straight tall trees. Jesus wants people who will be dependent on him not individuals who are caught up in their own image and believe they can do everything themselves. So what will you be for G-d; a Redwood or an Acacia tree?
There are many times in the Bible where the idea of meditation is mentioned. David in Psalm 1 says that he meditates on the word of the Lord. The image that most Christians get of this passage is of someone sitting quietly and reflecting. The word used here is Hagah (in Hebrew) and Hagah has a much more interesting interpretation. Hagah can be interpreted as growl or devourer.
The picture that is painted by this Hebrew word is a lion devouring his pray. If another lion comes over the first will roar and challenge the newcomers. This is the mentality we as students of this book should have. As one of my Bible teachers in High school said, “This is mine and I’m not missing one single scrap”. We need to ravage this book; tear it to shreds as we pull out every detail of G-d’s word. The Bible isn’t suppose to sit on our shelves collecting dust we need to use it everyday, tear into it and discover as much as we can about this story… this love letter from G-d to his people.
This is the philosophy and foundation for my faith and lifestyle. I commit all of myself to everything I am involved in. Teaching, learning, volunteering, I want to give one hundred and ten percent of myself so when I look back I will not feel guilty for not having done everything I could have to; reach that one student who was quiet in the back of class, make the best lesson or Bible study I could, or succeed in whatever I've set my mind too. I encourage you to live a life that tears at every scrap you have been gifted. Don't simply sit by and meditate or think about what you have been called to do with your life, take action build his kingdom!