How my Jewish background opened my eyes to racism

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Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

I often wonder what my life would be like if I had been raised in a Christian home. Would I be the same person I am today? Would I still prioritize understanding different viewpoints – even those (or especially those) I disagree with?

It’s easy for me to resent my Jewish background sometimes. It’s the biggest reason I still feel like an outsider around Christians.

But there’s one big reason I’m grateful for growing up a minority: being Jewish in a town of gentiles who frequently misunderstood me taught me radical compassion for those who are also misunderstood, or wrongly categorized.

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Community: a faith builder or faith breaker

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Community sometimes feels like a necessary evil in my life — I know that I need it, but at the same time, I fear it. I hate being vulnerable with people I don’t know very well. I’m not very good at assessing when being vulnerable is appropriate in new friendships. As an introvert, few things give me anxiety like having to introduce myself to a room full of strangers and engage in small talk.

Thank goodness for the Internet. Through Facebook groups and weekly tweet chats, I’ve found community that challenges me, helps me grow, and makes me feel less alone.

Unfortunately, because it’s the Internet, these are not people I can meet with for coffee on a regular basis. Most of the people I call “friends” probably won’t ever be on the other side of the screen.

It’s a good supplement, but ultimately, I know it can’t sustain me. There is no replacement for meeting with a good friend face to face over coffee. Not even over Skype or FaceTime.

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What Christians can learn from Jews about handling disagreement

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After Trump got elected, and accusations against liberals turning “safe spaces” into echo chambers intensified, I made a personal rule for myself: for every book or article I read that affirms what I already believe, I will read something that doesn’t.

There’s a blogger I follow whose viewpoints I frequently disagree with – which is one of the reasons I read her work. I read all kinds of perspectives and viewpoints, so long as they are presented in a respectful manner, and hers are. But something she mentioned in a recent Instagram story got me thinking, and I want to expand those thoughts here.

She was addressing the issue of false teachers/prophets, and named a few whom she considers to be “false Christians.” They happen to be women whose books I own, and whose writing I greatly respect. So naturally, that was a little disappointing to hear, even though it didn’t surprise me at all.

I started thinking about the ways that Jews and Christians handle doctrinal disagreement. It’s a night-and-day contrast, honestly.

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Seeing the Bible the way we do people

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Lately I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to judge the entire character of a person based on an isolated comment on social media – especially if it’s related to politics. All the assumptions you can make, the stereotypes, the judgments, come easily. Intent and inflection are utterly lost.

I was talking to my mom recently about how hard it’s been to maintain certain friendships since Trump was elected, and which political views, if any, ought to be considered relationship dealbreakers. She said something that really got me thinking (I forget sometimes that she still has much to teach me): “There are some people I’ve made a conscious effort to keep in touch with even if I find some of their politics abhorrent, because I have the ability to see the whole person. The same people who voted for Trump also made meals for us when your father was sick, walked our dogs, and helped out in other ways when they didn’t have to. I have to think that there’s still goodness in them.”

I have the ability to see the whole person. The whole picture. In a roundabout way, I realized that that is the same way I feel about the Bible: some parts, like the rape, the genocide, and misogynistic laws, I find abhorrent. Other parts, like the Psalms, the Beatitudes, and parables, are beautiful.

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Please support the work I do through this site

studyingWhat started as one self-published book has now turned into seven, with several five-star reviews and bestseller status on Amazon more than once in the last few years. As my writing platform slowly grows, so has my network as a freelance writer and editor, granting me the ability to work from home doing what I love. I owe all that success to you guys: my readers.

But as you may be aware, the income of a freelancer isn’t always stable, nor is the income exactly the same every month. Much of my income goes toward creating advertisements with carefully targeted audiences on social media to help boost my reach. This can make it difficult to put much in the bank.

To help facilitate this, I’ve set up a Patreon page, where you can pledge to donate a custom amount each month, anywhere from $1 to $100. You can also make one-time donations via PayPal. Every little bit helps!

If giving financially is not an option for you, that’s totally fine! I am deeply grateful to everyone who has reblogged or retweeted my posts, or shared them across other social media platforms. And to everyone who has purchased my books: thank you. Having strangers read my work is a big check mark off my bucket list (bonus when those strangers turn into friends!).

Once again, thank you, and hope to keep hearing (or reading, more accurately) your voices in the discussion threads here.

The problem with Christian seders

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Source: Food Network

The observance of Passover seders in churches is a fairly recent trend, as more Christians seek to connect with the Jewish roots of their faith. While this seems like a good idea, my conviction is that this well-intentioned practice is better left where it began: within Judaism.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with Christians wanting to learn more about Jewish rituals. The flaw is typically within the execution of these seders, not the intentions behind them.

Here’s just a few reasons why I don’t think church-hosted seders are a good idea:

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The controversial history of Isaiah 53

It happens every year: the famous prophecy from Isaiah 53 shows up everywhere on Good Friday, on which Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus:

He was pierced for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

The punishment that brought us peace was on him,

And by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

Each of us has turned to our own way;

And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

I didn’t have much Bible instruction growing up, but I was taught this: Isaiah 53 is often treated like a “gotcha” verse by missionaries in their attempts to convert Jews. It’s a very effective text to use, because the average Jewish person likely doesn’t have the education to explain why this verse is traditionally not interpreted as a messianic prophecy.

According to Jewish tradition, the “suffering servant” in this passage is Israel, after being defeated by the Babylonians. In short, the gist is that the exiled Jews will still retain their identity, and eventually shall prosper. You can read more of that backstory here.

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Surviving the latest schism

In November 2016, my faith took a hard nose dive. It was going that direction already, after a difficult season at a conservative seminary and acknowledging hard questions I couldn’t find sensible answers to. But if there’s one thing that really threatened to destroy it all, it was seeing a group of people, supposedly united by godly principles, throw themselves at a man who is the antithesis of everything Jesus preached.

I felt completely alone in a community of people I was supposed to call brothers and sisters. Cynicism replaced any hope that I felt about the church’s future in America. I’m still working on handling that cynicism in a more mature, responsible way than simply sharing angry memes on social media.

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Reconciling my faith with anti-semitic Easter vibes

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As I’ve weaved in and out of church groups over the years, sharing my story with the people I met there, someone with an interest in apologetics always wants to know: when was the moment you read the Bible and realized that the Old Testament points to Jesus?

There was no such moment like that for me – my reasons for conversion, I’m now able to say, had nothing to do with apologetics and everything to do with a desire to fulfill spiritual needs that simply weren’t being met in the religionof my birth.

The fact of the matter is, I avoided certain parts of the Gospels on purpose because I couldn’t reconcile their anti-semitic history with faith in the God I was beginning to know.

I’m still not sure what to make of the passages that are commonly recited at Easter time (Matthew 27:25 in particular, “His blood be on us and on our children!”), in which the Jews are depicted as bloodthirsty hounds who seem to crave violence. In this anti-semitic -sounding reading, Jesus isn’t a long-predicted sacrifice necessary for human redemption. Instead, he’s a helpless murder victim. A target of his own people.

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Sarah, Beth, and Sarahbeth: excerpt from my new book

The following is an excerpt from my new book, an essay collection called Things You Can’t Un-see, which releases this week! Pre-order your copy here.

My husband makes fun of me for my obsession with monograms. After he caught me looking at a rotating display case of silver letter charms at a local boutique, I told him, “If you had the opportunity to name yourself, you’d be obsessed with them, too.”

*

First day of fourth grade, circa 1997: the teacher takes attendance with strict efficiency. Since my last name begins with C, I am the fifth student called. “Sarah Caplin?” she calls. I raise my hand. By the time she gets to the end of the list, it is apparent that “Sarah” is the female name of choice: there are four Sarahs in our class of a dozen students, which Mrs. F thinks is hilarious. She places us all at the same table: Sarah K, Sarah M, Sarah W, and myself. It was not the first time I had to be differentiated by my last initial, and it wouldn’t be the last.

I was nine; I was already tired of it.

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