“Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic” is 90% finished, and it’s been a while since I shared an excerpt. The final version may not be finished until I complete my writing workshops this semester, so feel free to critique as you see fit.
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.
One of my books discusses the idea of an ever-evolving Judaism: that as developments in culture and society change the way we think and live, so too does Judaism mold to fit these changes.
Talk about an idea that is antithetical to Evangelicalism in just about every way. You will never hear an evangelical preacher 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 this idea: 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 the wisdom that a Jew is recognized by her questions more than her answers.
I’ve always been that person who made other people uncomfortable in bible studies because I asked so many questions. The clichéd pat answers never satisfied me. I imagine many of my questions were easily brushed off by my friends because they didn’t have the same pressing concern about their relatives’ souls as I did.
It’s offensive to many people to say there’s a Jewish Christianity out there, but maybe it’s possible to practice Christianity somewhat Jewishly: by asking all the hard questions. That’s the only way I know how to do it.
As religious traditions continue to evolve, so does my perception of God and what it means to have a Jewish identity with not completely Jewish beliefs. 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. It’s sort of like a bilingual person translating sentences in her head in her native language before speaking in a different one.
Judaism has taught me to be curious, 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 to fear 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 the circumstances of birth that precede and influence your belief.
Check out my first memoir, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter, here.