It clicked when I saw this photo. I realized what’s been bothering me all along. I finally got why I was counting time down. Why I was waiting for it all to end. Why I didn’t believe my life in the community of faith was ever going to last. I realized I didn’t belong. I wasn’t part of the whole. No matter how hard I tried, I’d always be on the outside looking in.
Let me explain.
In reading the Rudolph and Willitts book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, I found a confirmation of what I believed about Jewish/Christian relations on so many levels. It all made so much sense. Chapters 17, 18, and 19, written by Craig Keener, William Campbell, and Scott Hafemann respectively, all spoke of Jewish and Gentile interdependence within the body of Messiah, specifically accessing Paul’s letter to the Romans. I’ll write about those chapters in more detail some other time, and I believe that there is an interdependence between believing Jews and Gentiles, but there’s a puzzle to solve, at least for me. The contributors to the Rudolph/Willitts book universally present the Messianic Jewish movement as one that is a home to believing Jews who are ethnically, culturally, religiously, and experientially Jewish. You cannot separate the lifestyle of being Jewish from the person who is Jewish, regardless if they have come to faith in Jesus as Messiah or not.
However, for the vast amount of Gentiles who are believers, their culture is the church. I know there are multiple expressions of the Christian church in our world, but they all have one thing in common. Their culture isn’t even remotely Jewish. Jewish religious and lived culture isn’t even remotely Christian. It’s like two different worlds that are trying to intersect and as interrelated as they are in Messiah, I’m not sure how they’re ever going to fit together.
And then there’s me.
No matter who you are as a believer, you “fit” somewhere. There are Gentiles, just tons and tons of them, who fit extremely well in the church. I’m anticipating seeing a lot of them tomorrow morning, Sunday morning at the church I attend. They are all very comfortable where they are. I’m the only one who sticks out like a sore thumb.
No, don’t tell me to go to a Jewish religious venue. None are accessible to me and even if they were, I don’t fit in there, either. Even if I fit in, that wouldn’t “fit in” with my wife. She’d feel extremely uncomfortable with my being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. And that’s what I’d be. My past participation in pseudo-Jewish Hebrew Roots wouldn’t even come close to preparing me for an actual Jewish cultural encounter.
I like to think of myself as a person with a foot in each of two worlds but the fact is, I am only standing in between them. I’m not in contact with either one. I don’t belong in either one. That isn’t to say I don’t believe, but faith and religion and worship don’t exist in a vacuum, they exist in community, and I don’t belong in any of them.
It’s like someone tried to transplant a heart into my chest, but my body is rejecting it. It doesn’t belong. It’s alien. Without it, I’ll die (metaphorically speaking, of course), but I’m not being nourished by it, either.
A friend of mine once said, don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism, but rather, seek an encounter with God. But how do I meet God without a context and a culture? People can’t experience God in raw, unshielded contact. We need an interface, layers of abstraction so we can make sense of what’s happening to us, so we won’t be obliterated by connecting to God. For Jews, that interface is Judaism, cultural, Talmudic, tradition-based Judaism. For Christians, that’s the church and all the culture and traditions that are attached to the various “Christianities” in our world.
But I don’t connect to either one. I don’t belong. That’s the problem. I can read the Bible, but if I read it in a Jewish or Christian framework, it seems alien. Only just plain reading it makes any sort of sense to me, but then I’m limited to my own experience. To access the sages and the experts, I have to apply a context, which puts me in contact with denomination, with doctrine, with theology, with culture, and while that seems to work for everyone else, it doesn’t work for me because their doctrine, theology, culture, and context doesn’t belong to me and I don’t belong to them.
Classic approach-avoidance syndrome or as put more plainly, can’t live with it and can’t live without it.
That’s why doing my homework for Sunday school seems like an exercise in emptiness. It’s a culture that I don’t relate to, a perspective that seems hollow. If I’m ever going to experience God, it will be somewhere outside religion and culture, but that’s impossible for a human being. So where does that leave a “hollow man?”