Finding My Exit

no-exitWhen you and the path you have chosen get along just great, it’s hard to know whether your motives are sincere.

But when you come across a path to do good, and this path goes against every sinew of your flesh and every cell in your brain, when you want only to flee and hide from it —do this.

Then you shall know your motives are sincere.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I hit what seemed to be a pretty significant wall this past weekend. Hopefully not too many people noticed, but I was turning myself into knots inside and very seriously doubting my current path for a day or two.

The first event that contributed to this mess was from divisiveness in the blogosphere. I should have known better, but a miscommunication between a friend and I and then another in a long series of online “nastygrams” caused me to question whether or not my friend was pulling away from me and pulling much of my current world view along with him (long story).

As personal as the first event was, the second event was far more intimate. On Sunday morning, my wife and I were having a small chat before I left for church. I happened to mention that Pastor Randy gave me a paper on the different arguments between Arminianism and Calvinism and my difficulties in they way the author of the article was expressing his viewpoint.

I didn’t think much of it, but my wife, who is Jewish, started touting how Judaism has received the Torah in an unbroken line between Sinai and the present and that in any response to changes of circumstances across time, the Rabbis always consult the core text and all applications are based on strict adherence to the Torah, thus avoiding the problems I was having with a Christian commentary.

I think it was her attempt to show me that Judaism has a better handle on the Bible and thus on God than Christianity, which I don’t mind, but in our conversation, she brought up how, if the Christian view of the Bible were true, then it totally invalidates Jews and Judaism.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that her perception of Christianity is not what I believe at all. And yet I was confronted with a dilemma. I could explain, thanks to all of the information I’ve captured within this blog, why I believe she’s wrong and why a Messianic interpretation of “Christianity” is wholly Jewish, but my being a “prophet without honor in my own land” (and needless to say, in my own family), how would she take it?

The worst that would happen if I were talking to any other Jewish person was that they’d tell me I was “full of it” and walk away (not that I desire to insult anyone). But what would be the worst that would happen if that transaction were to occur between me and my wife?

I didn’t want to find out so I let the conversation die.

But as I went to church, I was confronted with two highly significant relationships in my life being (apparently) damaged, all because of who I am and my faith in Christ.

I remembered part of a conversation I had with my Pastor. I told him I left the Hebrew Roots movement in part because I knew my participation was very embarrassing to my wife. He asked me, somewhat incredulously, if my being a Christian and going to church were any less embarrassing to a Jewish wife. I absolutely didn’t consider that before, but at that moment and again last Sunday morning, it hit me like a punch in the teeth from Mike Tyson.

I also couldn’t help but consider a few verses.

Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

Ezra 10:10-11 (NRSV)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Matthew 10:34-38 (NRSV)

leavingThe Master doesn’t address husband and wife specifically, but it wasn’t hard for me to read between the lines. And in relation to Ezra, I guess I would be the “foreign wife.”

I wasn’t afraid this would dissolve my marriage, but I could see my friendship receding into the distance and, as damage control, what would be my only option to contain this conflict? If my wife was saying that my being a Christian made me “anti-Semitic” by definition, then how could I prove otherwise except to stop going to church? But how could I stop going to church and maintain my faith in Christ?

The conflict between my faith and my marriage came abruptly into sharp focus.

So last Sunday at church was miserable, not because of church, but because of me.

It’s actually pretty painful to see all of the other couples at church because they’re couples. There’s no conflict that I can see between husband and wife because of their faith. They sit together at church, they bring their children, they go to Sunday school together, they support each other’s views.

That’s also true of most people (but not all) I know in the Messianic movement. I sometimes feel like the only oddball.

So with a nudnik (and I know something about nudniks) trying to drive a wedge between my friend and me on the one side, and my most recent “religious conversation” with my wife on the other, who I am supposed to be at Christ was stuck soundly in the middle. All I could see were “no option options.” I was in a box with no way out, a room with no exit.

So what happened?

I did what I always try to do under similar circumstances…I didn’t do anything about it. The temptation was to act impulsively to reduce the discomfort, but that’s usually the wrong thing to do.

After church, there was plenty of gardening to do and that’s relatively mindless work, so I had a lot of time to think. After that, I was given the annual task of cleaning out my book closet (if left to my own devices, I’d keep everything I’ve ever owned). My wife and daughter tackled the equally daunting job of cleaning out and arranging the food pantry.

My son Michael came over by the by and cooked dinner for us while we were working. By the by, my wife and I interacted and I noticed that she was behaving, not as if I were an anti-Semite in the camp, but like I’m her husband and we’re doing typical Sunday evening family stuff together in our home.

The bubbling pot began to cool.

I got an email later that night allaying my other concern and reminding me that just because “bad attitude” people try to interfere with friendships doesn’t mean those friendships are any less established. The message couldn’t have come at a better time.

when-the-forest-beckonsThis whole episode reminded me that I have a duty to my wife to share the Good News of Messiah with her. The problem is, she’s already heard it, accepted it within the church, re-accepted it within a Hebrew Roots context, and, when transitioning first to the Reform-Conservative synagogue in town and then the Chabad, chosen to reject the Gospel of Jesus “because that’s not what Jews believe.”

I wish I could convince her otherwise, but that “Good News” might not be easy for her to hear coming from me, especially when I’m competing with the Chabad Rabbi, a lot of anti-missionary rhetoric, and two-thousand years of post-Jesus Jewish history.

That particular “adventure” is to be continued, but I do have a message for blogging nudniks who deliberately try to mess up friendships in order to further their own agendas:

There are people who believe they are doing good by swallowing others’ egos alive. The egos of those they cannot help, and of those who cannot help them, are inedible to them—and therefore intolerable. They cannot work with others—because their egos leave no space for “others”—only for those extensions of their own inflated selves that show they need them, or for those whom they need.

You don’t love your neighbor to glorify your own ego. When you come to your sister’s or brother’s aid, leave your own self behind. Love with self-sacrifice.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Free Love”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

If you come to realize that what you do is not for the sake of Heaven but for the requirements of your own ego or emotions, then the need for you to attend to your own affairs is far, far greater than whatever temporary issues I may be experiencing.

I found the exit from my no-exit room and am continuing down the path that God has set before me.

7 thoughts on “Finding My Exit”

  1. After reading this blog post, I hope (SO MUCH) that you will learn about the work of Michael Wyschogrod. If you have not read it yet, take the time to read it, digest it, read about his work on the Internet, and then soak in the understanding and implications of what this means for Jewish-Christian partnership in the Consummation of the cosmos. It should light your hair on fire. It will make issues like Calvinism and Arminianism dry up in their insignificance by comparison.

    And you wrote about your beloved’s perspective: “if the Christian view of the Bible were true, then it totally invalidates Jews and Judaism.” She is absolutely correct. Wyschogrod identifies the reason for this clearly, and then finds a way to bring a fruitful dialogue back between Judaism and Christianity. It is brilliant.

    I just finished his book Body of Faith (and Soulen’s book). There could be no more important work to help the church realize the fundamental brokeness of its canonical model used to interpret scripture, and to recognize the terrible invalidation it does of the Jewish people and Judaism and the very high cost associated with that for the church and all humanity. I am not exaggerating.

    I posted one link to Soulen’s summary of Wyschogrod’s work, here is some more:
    God’s First Love: The Theology of Michael Wsychogrod by Meir Soloveichik in First Things
    “Reason, Revelation and Election: Hermann Cohen and Michael Wyschogrod” in Journal of Jewish Thought

  2. Thanks for the reminder, Karen. Actually, I haven’t forgotten about our conversation at the Shavuot conference. Unfortunately, I can only read so fast and my plate’s been pretty full since I got back. I promise I’ll read Soulen and Wyschogrod as I find the time/availability.

  3. Hmmm… Given the terms of the discussion as you summarized them, that the “Gospel of Jesus” is “not what Jews believe”, I would have to agree. But I have had a rather definite perception of you that you well understand the distinction between the traditional post-Nicene Christian definition of the “Gospel of Jesus” that invalidates Jews and Judaism, and the messianic Jewish perspective on Torah and “malchut ha-shamayim” as taught by Rav Yeshua that affirms them thoroughly. The latter is thus very much consonant with “what Jews believe”, and more importantly with “how Jews behave”, though it certainly contains elements that are believed by only some Jews today, as well as elements that were believed by some Jews in the past but are ignored or de-emphasized currently. Regrettably, your prior Hebrew Roots experience could not have acquainted you or your wife with this theology, even though HR does in some ways try to affirm biblical Jewish validity. Wyschogrod’s and Soulen’s writings point in the right direction and have encouraged a number of messianic Jewish theologians who are working to develop and clarify MJ alternative views. Of course, I can’t guess at what might encourage your wife to reconsider radical types of Jewish thinking about Rav Yeshua without dismissing their Jewish validity a priori. But respected Jews (e.g., R.Shmuel Boteach) are becoming increasingly willing to discuss in print a positive Jewish view of the genuine Israeli rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef as distinct from the traditional Christian misrepresentation of him as “Jesus”. That doesn’t mean that they are ready to embrace him as Messiah, but in some ways they lay groundwork to open the discussion about ben-Yosef versus ben-David and exactly what are the requirements of either type of messiah. And such radical MJ thinking might not sit well with Pastor Randy or facilitate your efforts to integrate into a local Christian fellowship community, because the disconnect between perspectives represents more than 15 centuries of long-standing misapprehensions. And you are sitting right in the middle of those tensions, wrestling with the challenges they present and counting the days until some anticipated change may occur in your situation. So I will continue to wish you and your family well, continue my occasional interactions with your blog to encourage thoughtful consideration of various issues that seem to arise, and hope that you seldom encounter existential dilemmas of the “no exit” type.

  4. Thanks, P.L. Apparently “sitting right in the middle of those tensions” is where God wants me to be. I know that He sees what my limited perspective fails to perceive.

  5. I hope you can find time to read Wyschogrod Body of Faith. He creates touch points between Christianity and Judaism that are sorely needed. Your wife is right about the way Christianity in general interprets scripture IMO.

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. James, this post is timely in my life because a spiritual division has developed in my marriage as well.

    My wife and I were both raised as traditional Christians and attended church together our whole lives up until we left church all together around 2007. For a time we drew closer together spiritually then we had ever been but then grew apart. To be certain we both have a rock solid faith and faithfulness to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to Yeshua as Messiah. That has not changed and so your situation is much more severe than mine.

    As I have continued to study and search and stayed attached at least tangentially to Torah Messiahism, is that a word :-), she has stayed firmly in the traditional Christianity camp. She is respectful of me in ways such as no longer serving pork… although the smell of bacon occasionally wafts through the house when she is making a BLT for herself. That doesn’t bother me.

    After reading The Tent of David, thank you again btw, I have been church shopping near our home. To date she has not accompanied me and I too am experiencing some of what you are experiencing.

    We have been married nearly 40 years and I feel out of place without her by my side. I feel like a leper, an outcast, sitting in church among couples who are worshiping together. It doesn’t feel too good and, like you, this past Sunday was an emotional experience for me.

    I very much appreciate your honesty in this post and while my situation is not like yours it helps to know others feel the same thing though the details are not the same.

    I can tell you that it is a very odd thing to be married so long and to now have some separation between us at the most basic level.

  7. I can tell you that it is a very odd thing to be married so long and to now have some separation between us at the most basic level.

    Indeed. Certainly one of those times in life when trusting God is absolutely required. Hang in there. As you have already observed, you’re not alone.

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