Being misunderstood sucks.
I’m not a big people-pleaser by nature, but it does bother me when I’m disliked for the wrong reasons. This doesn’t happen too often, but the following scenario has happened to me more than once:
New Jewish acquaintance: “So you grew up Reform, but then converted?”
Me: “Basically, yeah.”
Them: “So you’re a Jew for Jesus.”
Me (squirming): “Er…no. I’m Episcopalian.”
Them: *blank stare*
Me: “I have a book and blog that explain that transition…”
Them: “Yeah, no, bye.”
I fully get that taken-aback feeling, when you meet someone you think is a kindred spirit, and they turn out to be…well, not quite what you expected. It’s happened to me before (which is one reason I always balk at meeting readers in public!).
But in this scenario, when I wasn’t given a real chance to explain…well, that’s just not fair. Tolerance is a two-way street. And I don’t initiate friendships with the intention of eventually winning people over to my beliefs (though if they do it on their own, I won’t complain).
In my “About me” page, I used to have the line “I believe Jews and Christians have much to learn from each other.” I recently changed it to “I believe Christians have much to learn from Jews” because, let’s face it — while it pains me to realize that many Jewish people have been exposed to only toxic forms of Christianity, Jews have been on the receiving end of lessons from Christians for centuries. They are repeated targets of evangelism by specialty groups like Jews for Jesus.
Now, it’s Christianity’s turn to take a seat, zip our lips, and listen. You can learn many things in church about Judaism and how it was practiced by the early followers of Jesus, but nothing quite compares to learning about Judaism from other Jews.
I don’t get angry anymore when people respond to me the way that person in the above scenario did — Christians don’t have the best reputation for interfaith dialogue, and converts like me tend to have a certain kind of zeal that is especially threatening — more so than that of your typical street evangelist. I get it — the fear, that tendency to back away and put on protective gloves when engaging in conversation with me, is totally legit.
But it shouldn’t be that way.
And that’s why the work I do is so important.