Moishe Rosen, Jews for Jesus, and interfaith identities

BC_JewishChristianDifferenceandModernJewishIdentity_1It was with great personal interest that I read Jewish-Christian Difference and Modern Jewish Identity by Shalom Goldman: a collection of mini-biographies about seven 20th-century converts from Judaism to Christianity, and vice versa. Of the seven, only one name was familiar to me besides the biblical Ruth: Moishe Rosen, the controversial founder of Jews for Jesus, the largest messianic Jewish organization in the world.

Rosen’s story in particular implicitly asks the reader: what makes someone Jewish, or not Jewish? This question becomes more pertinent as an increasing number of American Jews embrace a secular brand of Judaism, allowing them to take part in a cultural narrative and embrace a lineage without partaking in religious tradition, while other Jews embrace Rosen’s “Jew for Jesus” brand.

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Certainty is the goalpost

“Beware of false teachers” is a biblical warning I’ve heard a lot this election season. “For many are wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

But this is a warning I heard many times before the presidential nominees were chosen. It’s a warning that’s tossed around whenever someone claims to speak for God in a way that defies the norm: “Do not listen to him, he will lead you astray.” People who do this, I’ve been told – those who preach ‘false teachings’ – will be held responsible for all the souls they mislead when they meet God on Judgment Day.

Not surprisingly, I’m more than a little uncomfortable with claiming that my beliefs, my interpretations (based on all the resources at my disposal), my convictions, are all capital-T True. Even if my understanding of ancient Hebrew and Greek was perfect (it’s not), I’m still a human being, tasked with understanding a collection of writings that God himself supposedly dictated.

As far as I’m concerned, if fallible men transcribed the words of a perfect God, and those writings were later copied (and copied and copied and copied) by other fallible men, we’re all looking at Truth through a clouded mirror.

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When you can’t register shock at the news anymore

Lately I feel guilty about my inability to muster much shock and horror anymore whenever I turn on the news. Many people posted updates last night to say “My heart is breaking” or “I am so horrified,” but I can’t. Maybe it’s because living with depression tints everything with a degree of numbness; maybe because my own cynicism and pessimistic view of the human race makes it easy to believe there will be no end to the creatively brutal ways of killing people.

Whatever the cause, this state of numbness actually makes it easier to keep on taking care of myself in basic ways: getting out of bed, showering, feeding myself. There was a time not too long ago when news of the attack in Nice would have driven me into persistent panic at best, or hiding in a wine bottle at worst…neither of which would enable me to be healthy; to be an agent of change that the world so desperately needs.

Don’t feel bad if you need to turn off the news. Don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with you if you need to censor your newsfeed or avoid certain news outlets to maintain your sanity. Help yourself however you need to so you can help others.

And because it seems needed now more than ever, here’s a sweet sleeping kitty to brighten your day a little.

“Hate the sin, love the sinner” sounded radical once, but it isn’t anymore.

**As with any of my posts on controversial subjects, “I could be wrong” is always an implied caveat.**

My friend Cassidy has been writing a series of reviews based on People to be Loved by Preston Sprinkle: a book that purports to describe a “radical love and acceptance” of gay Christians in a way that has never been done before.

Long story short: there is nothing new regarding mainstream evangelical rhetoric about homosexuality in this book. Same-sex relationships are still sinful. What Sprinkle actually does is rephrase his anti-gay stance in flowery, user-friendly language so he doesn’t come across as bigoted. He describes a text conversation in which a pastor friend of his deliberately dodged answering a woman’s question, “Would your church welcome my lesbian daughter?”

Instead, he writes that the pastor invited her to join him in a series of coffee dates to “get to know each other,” almost as if he intended to soften her up before delivering the bad news: yes, your daughter is welcome, but if she’s in a same-sex relationship, she will be encouraged to repent.

“Hate the sin, love the sinner” sounded radical once, but it isn’t anymore.

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When grief and Bible study collide

Two years ago at this time, I had my father-daughter dance five months before my actual wedding. I tried on my dress in the Catan’s Bridal suite, gathered my un-hemmed skirt, and shuffled over to Dad’s wheelchair to ask him to dance with me. Mom played Pachelbel Canon on her iphone while we “danced” as much as his advanced illness would allow, reducing all the employees to tears. But no one cried as much as us.

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I have moments like these every now and then – sudden spurts of memory that sometimes coincide with anniversary dates, such as this one. Others come to me at random: when I hear a Billy Joel song on the radio. When I see a young father with a blonde, curly-haired toddler who looks like I did at that age. When I have the occasional dream about him and remember his voice.

It’s during these moments, which sometimes result in a passing sadness, a sore smile, or at worst, intense heartache, that I might retreat from the one place it would be expected for me to go to seek comfort: church. Specifically, my bible study. I’ve been known to withdraw from time to time, not always with advanced notice, because it’s not like I can predict this episodes with accuracy. But when they happen, sometimes it’s just best for me to be alone. Sometimes, being with other Christians is the worst thing for my still painful grief.

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“I don’t know” is a truth, not a cop-out

This is my weekly conundrum when I meet with my small group for Bible study: do I ask the questions that I really want to ask, at the risk of derailing the discussion and starting a debate? Do I say what I really want to say, at the risk of accusations that I have “bad theology,” or that I lack faith?

It’s my willingness to ask the uncomfortable, and often unanswerable, questions that make me feel more at home among skeptics than with conservative Christians. I took the “Christian” identifier out of my Facebook “religious views” because I know that this term implies certain assumptions about me that just aren’t true. Beyond a shared love of God, I often feel that there’s not much I have in common with the tribe I’m supposed to belong to.

I’ve found that skeptics are more inclined to understand the hurt I’m still dealing with from my seminary fallout and borderline spiritually abusive college ministry. My skeptic friends are more inclined to appreciate my questioning of doctrines that are assumed to be “no brainers” in conservative, evangelical circles. There is no tension with them to be a committed Christ follower or a perpetual doubter, but not both. They understand that it’s possible to be both at the same time.

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“God will never forsake you”

Some people use Facebook to keep in touch with their relatives and post baby pictures. My timeline is almost exclusively silly memes, cat pictures, and questions like these:

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So I guess that makes me that Facebook friend…whatever that means. I can get away with this only because the people I knew would respond are people who can carry on a religious-themed discussion without fireworks. Inevitably, there was disagreement, but none that made me have to step in as a mediator.

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Self care, unemployment, and what I’ve been reading

This summer, Josh and I made the biggest and scariest step in adulting: we bought a house (one step less scary than having a baby, in my opinion). So now the pressure is on to start saving money: a difficult task for a book hoarder like me. Luckily, I don’t mind rereading old favorites.

Reading and freelance writing are pretty much taking over my summer. As is typical with a new release, the buzz for Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic has slowed, though it did pretty well for a solid month and a half: #25 in Judaism, #26 in Ecumenism on Amazon. It even ranked #6 in Ecumenism a month before release, which has never happened with one of my books before (then again, I’ve never had a book available for pre-order until this one). So really, I don’t have much to complain about in the way of book sales. I’ve out-bested my original goal to just have people other than my mom read my work, and that’s no small feat.

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Grace and eternal conscious torment

I’m blogging at Off the Page today with my fourth column on the ever-pleasant subject of hell as eternal conscious torment. Enjoy!

One week before my father died of cancer, I received an email from a family friend— we’ll call her G—wanting to know if he had been “saved” yet; the implication being there wasn’t much time left before it would be too late. By that point, Dad had succumbed to a comatose-like state, with occasional hallucinations and unintelligible ramblings. In other words, though technically still alive, he had already left us—and if this “friend” knew him at all, she’d have known he was never comfortable talking about religion.

That email sent me down a rabbit hole of anxiety, which I’m still wandering through, nearly two years later. Having been involved in evangelical church groups for years, I knew G probably had good intentions. In her view, the most loving thing a Christian could do was warn nonbelievers about their eternal fate, but her timing could not have been worse. As far as I know, my father died as the agnostic I always knew him to be.

Considering my entire family is Jewish, you would think the doctrine of hell would have kept me from becoming a Christian altogether. Indeed, it is one of the most exclusive, horrifying, and offensive aspects of the Christian faith from an outsider’s perspective, yet I never allowed myself to think about it. I was instead drawn to the person of Jesus, the radical Jewish teacher who flipped tables and pissed off the righteous gatekeepers of religiosity. He was a feisty mensch, like me. By my sophomore year of college, I had made the decision to count myself among his followers.

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The agnostic and the believer in my head

13240613_10206290139038637_5289369345436948456_nI remember going to my local book store as a kid, eagerly seeking books that would teach me about God. I remember the bitter disappointment I felt when, time and time again, the “Jewish” shelf contained The Diary of Anne Frank, a handful of other Holocaust books, and little else – nothing pertaining to the study of the faith itself.

So I’d reluctantly go to the “Christian” section, which never had a shortage of devotionals and what seemed like spiritual “self help” manuals. I remember flipping through the books that seemed to be written for a teenage audience, trying to figure out which ones contained the least amount of references to Jesus so it would be applicable to me. Sometimes, after I purchased them, I’d go through each book with a pencil and cross out “Jesus,” and squeeze in “God.” But the references to dying on the cross weren’t such an easy fix.

You can see how Christianity was sort of a default for a young kid who wanted a relationship with God. As much as I’d love to say I was being lead on a path to discover The Truth, the reality is, if I grew up Jewish in Utah, I might have found “truth” in Mormonism, or maybe in Hinduism if I grew up in India.

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