For a while, I was into memoirs about Christians who suffered some kind of trauma that injured their faith, and the subsequent journey to get it back. I still love those books, but I’m also going back to reread my Jewish ones. I have an entire shelf stocked with Kushner, Frankel, Wiesel, and Talmudic commentaries that have, believe it or not, helped shape my Christianity more than any C.S. Lewis book.
Because Kushner is a classic in any Jewish library, I started with his book To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking first, and stopped to ponder this thought-provoking passage:
Talk about an idea that is antithetical to Evangelicalism in just about every way. You will never hear a Christian teacher say that our faith changes with time; God is the same today as he was yesterday, and will be the same forever. But if the faith hasn’t changed, the culture certainly has: few churches in America prohibit female worshipers without head coverings, for example. Most Christians in America aren’t using Scripture to justify owning slaves anymore (I hope). I’ve often wondered what Jesus would think about the presence of Starbucks-style cafés and bookstores connected to houses of worship.
It’s with some uneasiness, then, that I agree with Kushner: religion does evolve, whether we want to admit it or not. And if this is true, I believe it stands to reason that the definition of a Jew is constantly in flux as well. Before addressing my lineage, my DNA, and my Jewish childhood, I think the foundation of my unique Judaism is summarized by another Kushner quote: “The serious Jew is recognized by his questions more than his answers.”
How fitting is that for my life? I’ve always been that person who made other people uncomfortable in bible studies because I asked so many questions. The typical pat answers never satisfied me. And most of my questions have been about the afterlife, for obvious reasons. I imagine those questions were easily brushed off by some of my friends because they didn’t have the same pressing concern about their relatives’ souls as I did.
As religious tradition continues evolving, so does my perception of God and what it means to have a Jewish identity with not-so-Jewish beliefs (some, anyway). Judaism will continue to affect my understanding of any religious concept, any political movement, and any cultural norm because it was the first tradition I ever learned. Judaism has taught me to be curious, and it has taught me how to make choices that make this world a better place, rather than focusing all my energy into longing for the world to come. That is my Jewish foundation, and it doesn’t have to be a universal one.
If religion is defined as a set of beliefs, then claiming any divinity in Jesus automatically makes one Christian. But if religion is also defined as a culture and a community, mine is Judaism always. I haven’t always been comfortable admitting this, but the fear of embracing an identity because you don’t want to offend others is just stupid. You can, to some extent, control what you believe, but not your circumstances of birth.
Similar thoughts and more in Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter