Why so bitter?

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“Bitter” is a negative buzzword in Christian culture: it’s holding on to anger and resentment, refusing to let it go. It’s the opposite of forgiveness.

In some circumstances, what some Christians call “bitterness” is actually trauma, depression, or anxiety. But good Christians aren’t supposed to be “bitter”; they’re supposed to reflect the joy they have in Christ, always.

If this sounds like an unhealthy, warped church environment, you’re right. I could dismiss it as fringe, if only I didn’t encounter it so often, both in study groups and on social media.

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Interfaith dialogue is necessary for peace

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If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you may be aware of the controversy regarding Donald Trump declaring Jerusalem the official capital of Israel. This is a controversial move for spiritual reasons as well as political ones. It’s interesting that the same issues that plagued interfaith relations 2000+ years ago are just as relevant today. As anti-semitism continues to increase around the world, interfaith dialogue becomes more and more necessary.

That’s why I need your help. I started writing about interfaith issues six years ago because I was fed up with the lack of source material in both bookstores and online, from people with backgrounds similar to mine. If you are able to do so, I would be highly appreciative if you would consider donating via Patreon so I can continue to write full-time about issues that drive a wedge between Jews and Christians. This isn’t just a career concern for me — it’s rooted in a deeper desire for peace.

Can’t afford to donate? No problem! Another thing I’d greatly appreciate is if you reach out to me via the contact form on my website with topics you’d like to see addressed on the blog in the future. In what ways do you think Jews and Christians can work on their relationship to each other? What can each group do better to help build bridges? No idea is too small or too silly! I would love to hear them.

Thank you again for following along on this journey!

-SB

Photo by Elias Bauer on Unsplash

The revolution needs dish washers

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This may sound strange, but when I was growing up, I wanted to be Joan of Arc.

Or rather, I wanted all the fame and glory that comes with being Joan of Arc (minus the arrest, trial, and tragic execution). Leading a revolution is complex business, to say the least, and I didn’t have the slightest idea how one did that. All I knew was that I wanted to change the world, and maybe, somehow, end up being the first Jewish saint (yes, I was a very strange kid).

So when I saw an article in the New Yorker comparing Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez to Joan of Arc — or at least, to Renee Maria Falconetti, who is an older doppelgänger of Gonzalez in her role as Joan of Arc in the 1928 silent film — I had to laugh, because my 17-year-old self would have been blazing with jealousy.

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Environmentalism isn’t just for secularists

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Growing up Jewish, it was not unusual to hear about humanity’s mandate to care for the environment in synagogue, in addition to hearing about God. In fact, I learned more about basic ways of caring for the earth in Sunday school than I did in public school. To be Jewish and an environmentalist was treated as one and the same.

In Genesis, Adam and Eve were given dominion over the animals and the planet. Humans were tasked with picking up their baton, to ensure that the world would be in good condition for future generations to come.

Which is why it baffles me that so many Christians are in complete denial of climate change, the amount of plastic in our oceans, and carbon footprints. More mind-boggling is how these concerns get dismissed as some kind of liberal, secularist propaganda — as if we don’t all share the same planet.

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Hold fast to what is good

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White Evangelicals Are the Most Fragile of all White People is a bitingly brilliant article by Brandi Miller, which I highly recommend. Linked within the piece is an older article by Miller, published on The Salt Collective: The Chasm Between White Theology and Black Liberation. As I read the first article, I couldn’t help thinking, Why do I bother with Christianity at all when Christians keep ruining it? And as I read the second: the history of black liberation and Jewish liberation have interesting parallels.

And, finally, this verse from 1 Thessalonians came to mind: Test everything, and hold fast to what is good.

Test everything, and hold fast to what is good.

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When spiritual nourishment comes from two different places

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Some people can be fully nourished from a bible study, singing worship songs, or just being around fellow believers. When your identity is interfaith, it’s not always that simple.

After several disappointing experiences with Christians, I found myself hungry for connection with the Jewish community again: a group that is more concerned about asking the right questions than having the right answers.

When I started grad school at Colorado State, and happened upon a flyer advertising weekly Shabbat dinners at the campus Jewish Student Center, I decided to give it a try — knowing full well that people might not want me there once they discovered who I really was.

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Why the Episcopal church?

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One thing that scared me away from the chaplaincy program at seminary was the requirement of having the support of a specific denomination. I lived under the “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” banner at the time, so the thought of having to align myself with a “religious” label abhorred me.

My academic adviser said something very wise: “You can’t force yourself to find your people. It has to happen naturally.”

Unfortunately for me, that didn’t happen until long after I quit seminary, and the denomination I found is probably too “liberal” by the seminary’s standards anyway. But just like the cliched love advice that “The One” will enter your life when you least expect it, I discovered the Episcopal church under similar circumstances. I wasn’t looking for a new church at all – in fact, I had seriously considered leaving it for good.

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On cultural appropriation: how much do intentions matter?

I read with interest a Washington Post article about a white teenager who wore a traditional Chinese dress to her prom:

Like many other teenagers preparing for prom, Utah senior Keziah Daum wanted to find a dress that would stand out, “something that would be more unique and bold and had some sort of meaning to it,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Daum decided to browse a vintage store in downtown Salt Lake City, where she came across a red cheongsam, also known as a qipao — the high-collared, form-fitting traditional Chinese dress.

“I thought it was absolutely beautiful,” said Daum, who is not Chinese. She appreciated its high neckline, a difficult trait to find in many prom dresses. The dress, she said, “really gave me a sense of appreciation and admiration for other cultures and their beauty.”

On a Sunday after the dance last month, like many other social media-savvy high schoolers, she posted a photo in her dress alongside her friends. “PROM,” she wrote.

She had no idea it would elicit such a response.

The photos Keziah posted on Twitter received backlash along the lines of, “My culture is not your damn prom dress,” and other accusations of cultural appropriation.

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Source: https://bit.ly/2HFGZll

This story interests me since I’ve written before about concerns with appropriation of my own culture.

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I’m not a “real” anything

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The fear is mostly internal, but it’s been authorized before:

“You’re not a real Christian.”

I’ve heard it out loud in Bible studies; I’ve received it in my mentions on Twitter, and in comments on this blog.

Conversely, I also heard this a few times in my life:

“You’re not really Jewish.”

I heard that gem from friends at the Hillel Jewish Student Center in college who felt betrayed when they learned I converted. It was a sentiment I felt when I first visited Israel, because I was not Orthodox.

Over time these comments have lost their sting, because they are generally said by people who aren’t interested in taking the time to really know me and understand my life. Most of the time, the phrase “You’re not a real [blank]” is said by people who are only invested in winning some sort of argument.

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