Breaking the World

GlobeThis above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

-William Shakespeare
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82

Just as it is a mitzvah to direct someone onto the path where he belongs, so too it is a crime to direct someone onto a path that does not belong to him.

Each person is born with a path particular to his or her soul, generally according to the culture into which he or she was born.

There are universal truths, the inheritance of all of us since Adam and Noah. In them we are all united. But we are not meant to all be the same.

Our differences are as valuable to our Creator as our similarities.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“To Each His Path”
Based on the letters and talks of the Rebbe,
Rabbi M.M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Both the Bard and the Rebbe, as interpreted by Rabbi Freeman, say something very similar. Not only are we not all the same but we must all “be true” to who we are, differences and all. It’s not a crime to be different from others, even in the worship of God, but there are plenty in the church that would have you believe otherwise. If you don’t go along with “the herd”, if you don’t fit in with “the group”, if you see life, scripture, and God from a different angle based on who God created you to be, not only are you likely not to be understood, but it is very possible you will be actively criticized. In the world of believers, you are even likely to be considered un-Christian, heretical, or apostate.

I’m not saying that there are people who aren’t apostate or heretical, but we must be careful how we toss about our accusations. Are we reacting honestly to the statements and practices of those who profess Christ but who practice a lifestyle opposed to his, or are we allowing our visceral responses to lifestyles consistent with Christ’s but inconsistent with the lifestyle we choose for ourselves to affect us and mistakenly labeling another’s lifestyle apostasy?

I used to consider myself a “Messianic”, that is, a person (in my case, a Gentile) who attached himself to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and who believed that I was required to conform to a completely Jewish religious practice because I was “grafted in”. This actually describes only one subset of the Messianic movement, called “One Law”, which believes that Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Jesus (Yeshua) are all the same in terms of covenant obligation to God. It’s as if becoming “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) for One Law (OL) means that Christians turn into Jews without having to undergo circumcision. There are tons and tons of problems with this interpretation but one of my problems with OL is that it tends to actually discourage believing people who were born and raised in ethnic, cultural, and religious Jewish families from acting like ethnic, cultural, and religious Jews.

I mentioned in a previous “meditation” that I’ve been following a couple of blog conversations lately. One is A Response to Rabbi Dauermann’s Messianic Substitution and the other is Karaite leader Nehemiah Gordon responds to anti-missionary charges. Not leaving well enough alone, not only did I read these posts at Judah Gabriel Himango’s blog Kineti L’Tziyon, but I replyed. I should have known better. These conversations almost never end well.

If you visit the two blog posts and review the comments, you’ll see various snide remarks and unkind words (I’m not criticizing Judah’s blog, but some of the people who comment occasionally express “interesting” opinions). Granted, there is room for “spirited debate” on the religious blogosphere, but often, the religious blogs follow the same standard as the secular ones, especially in responding to the cry, “someone is wrong on the Internet.” We can’t seem to get it through our thick skulls that sometimes, someone isn’t “wrong”, they are just following a different path to the same destination.

I’m not going to balance the relative differences between Christianity (including the OL/MJ world which views religion from a largely Christian viewpoint) and Judaism, but I do want to caution folks not to point to Jews, including those who believe that the Jewish Messiah is realized in the person of Jesus Christ, and say that they’re “wrong” for wanting to live a Jewish lifestyle, worship in a traditionally Jewish manner, pray from a Jewish siddur, and to actually continue to be Jewish.

WrongOne of my favorite Jewish (not Messianic) blogs is Lev Echad. Blogger Asher is focused on the different “threads” of Judaism that tend to get uncomfortably tied up with each other, and his desire is to support Jewish unity among dissimilar perspectives and practices, forming “one heart” (hence, “lev echad”) among Jews. Much of what he says can be adapted and applied to Christianity and indeed, to humanity. Relative to those in Messianism/Christianity who criticize and virtually “demonize” those Jews who have faith in Jesus and who also live and worship like Jews, there is something that Asher wrote in one of his blog posts, although not intended to be applied to my context, that I believe should be read by Christians:

Similarly, there are some Orthodox Jews who too easily brand their less observant coreligionists as “heretics” or “non-believers.” Yet, prominent sages such as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and the Chazon Ish have ruled that we live in a time of God’s concealment and therefore cannot apply the religious laws concerning heresy to modern-day Jews who question their faith. Furthermore, it is wrong to harm those who deny even Judaism’s most basic beliefs. Not only should we not hurt such people, we should help them if the situation ever presents itself.

Now marry Asher’s words with Paul’s:

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. –Romans 11:26

This isn’t the first time I’ve addressed anti-semitism among Christians. About six weeks ago, I wrote The Irrelevant Drunkard, which I wish all Christians/Messianics would read and try to comprehend. I realize the tone of that blog post (and this one) could put off a Christian/Messianic from reading beyond the first few paragraphs. It’s tough to take a good, hard look at what you’re saying and doing, especially basing it on scripture (and just because scripture can be bent and twisted to say many different things doesn’t mean all those different things are actually correct), and then to humble yourself before God and realize that you’re using the Bible to trash God’s Chosen People (see Genesis 12:3).

Going back to Asher’s blog, why can’t we do this instead?

One of the unique aspects of Judaism is learning about all the different roads people take that lead them to God and a life of goodness. While this is certainly a fascinating phenomenon, it can also be a great impediment to how we treat one another. Therefore, our goal in life should not be to turn all our fellow Jews into ideological and/or religious replicas of ourselves. Rather, it should be to guide – not force – others into a life of serving God and His children in a way that best matches their individual personality.

While the above-quote is addressed to Jews about Jews, certainly Christians can extend the sentiment to other Christians and to Jews who have accepted the Jewish Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

Or, we can lock ourselves in a tiny, unidimensional box with God and the Bible, telling ourselves that we’re right and all other churches, synagogues, and everybody else are wrong. We get to be a big deal and everybody else…not so much.

I mentioned before that one of the reasons I do not consider myself a “Messianic” any longer is that I do not believe the Bible supports a Gentile living an ersatz-Jewish lifestyle. Another reason is that calling myself “Messianic” limits what I can say and who I can say it to. As a “Messianic”, even one who supports the message that Jews and Gentiles have overlapping but distinct covenant relationships with God which do not involve identical obligations, if I say I’m “Messianic”, then only “Messianics” will want to hear what I have to say. Christians won’t listen because they consider Messianics to be Judaizers who want to bring believers “under the law”. Jews won’t want to hear what I have to say because many of them consider Messianics as a combination of “Christians in kippot” and “wolves in tallitot”, particularly the Gentiles who dress and behave as if they’re Jews but who don’t do “Jewish” very well. The value of the message becomes diluted or even discounted because of the label associated with the message and because of the audience it is presumed to be attached.

(I should say at this point that there are many people in Messianic Judaism who I consider friends and who do have a very powerful and meaningful message. It is a message that I pray daily will be heard by all Christians and Jews, not because of its “label” but because of the truth it communicates. I try to communicate a similar meaningful message but I do so from my own perspective and personal identity).

For me, it’s much more straightforward to say that I am a Christian, a Gentile who is a disciple of Jesus Christ, and someone who sees a great deal of added dimension to the teachings and life of the Master through the lens of ancient and modern Judaism. I’m not claiming there are one-to-one parallels between the Gospels and the Talmud, Chassidism, and Jewish mysticism, but there are certainly thematic similarities that can be considered. If I proceed from the basic platform that Jesus was a Jewish man, living in the Second Temple period in what was then Roman Judea, who lived as a Jewish man, taught as a Jewish Rabbi, and who did not abandon what it was and is to be a Jew, then the only logical place for me to go in understanding Jesus is to try (in my admittedly limited fashion) to comprehend Jesus as a Jew.

This doesn’t require that I become Jewish or to pretend to behave as if I were a “pseudo-Jew”. It does require that I make a paradigm shift and to study materials, concepts, and ideas that aren’t considered particularly “Christian” (and in fact, there are Messianic Jews who read many more Christian historic and modern texts than I do).

UnderstandingAs a Christian married to a Jewish wife, I can’t simply take the Christian “party line” and judge my wife as condemned because she doesn’t throw her Judaism into the trash heap and turn into a “good Christian woman”. While there’s nothing wrong with being a “good Christian woman”, that’s not who she is or who God made her to be.

God didn’t create Jews and preserve them against all kinds of hideous persecution including the Holocaust, just to have them finally deleted from existence by converting them into Christians. Those Christians who suggest that Jews stop being Jews are considered to be finishing the job that Hitler started (and while that may sound very harsh, I can see why Jews view conversion to traditional, Jewish-rejecting Christianity that way). Those Christians who want to erase Jews from existence by turning them into clones of themselves are saying they want to destroy my Jewish wife (and as you can imagine, that’s not something I’m going to accept with any amount of graciousness or patience).

Like it or not, it takes more than evangelical Christianity or charismatic Christianity or “Messianic Christianity” (OL) to repair the world and make it whole, as Rabbi Freeman suggests:

To create is to reveal the parts from the whole.

To repair takes a greater wisdom. It is to discover the whole from the shattered parts.

He creates a world, knowing it will be broken, so He may empower us with the wisdom to repair it.

While Rabbi Freeman’s intent wasn’t to address the topic of today’s “morning meditation”, I believe his words can be re-shaped to do so. Repairing the world requires that we have all the pieces. If we throw out some of the pieces as irrelevant, apostate, evil, or just “too Jewish”, we are dooming the world to never becoming whole again. It would be as if God tried to make a person but tossed out the heart as unnecessary or the liver as “too different”. By Christianity condemning the Jews as a whole and particularly those Jews who have come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, we are literally frustrating the work of Jesus and what he will complete on his return; the final restoration of everything that was lost because of the fall of man at Eden.

It would be ironic and indeed tragic, if Christianity in dismissing Judaism, desiring the eradication of all Jews everywhere through conversion, and in failing to embrace the picture of Jesus as a Jew, were putting the entire Christian church in opposition to everything that Jesus did and does stand for, both as a man on earth and as our high priest in the Court of Heaven. The church then would be opposed to the will of God. Like I said, “ironic”.

Are some Christians helping to repair the world or to break it?

3 thoughts on “Breaking the World”

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