Tag Archives: intermarried

73 Days: The Higher Road Less Travelled

The number of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation has hit an all-time high — about one in five American adults — according to a new study released Tuesday (Oct. 9) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Labeled “nones” because they claim either no religious preference or no religion at all, their ranks have hit 46 million people. Much of the growth is among young people — one in three U.S. adults under 30 are now considered nones.

The report also found that the number of self-described atheists and agnostics has hit a peak — 13 million people, or 6 percent of the U.S. population. That’s a rise of 2 percentage points over five years.

Still, claiming no religious identity does not mean an absence of religious beliefs, the report found.

The majority of “nones” — 68 percent, including some who say they are atheists — say they believe in God or some form of higher being. Half say they feel “a deep connection with nature,” and 20 percent say they pray every day.

-Kimberly Winston
“Losing our religion: One in five Americans are now ‘nones'”
Religion News Service story

Those who intermarry face barriers to religious affiliation. Interfaith families who want to educate their children in two religions often cannot affiliate with religious institutions. Many religious institutions discourage or even forbid families from belonging to more than one religious community, or enrolling their children in more than one religious education program. These families may turn for support and religious education to independent interfaith communities such as the ones in New York, Chicago, and Washington DC. Or they end up religiously homeschooling their children in both religions. Either way, they may become part of the “religious but not religiously affiliated” demographic documented in the study.

-Susan Katz Miller
“Interfaith Marriage and the Rise of the Religious ‘Nones'”
On Being Both blog

This is the other road I could take and in fact, it’s probably, to some degree, the road I’ve been walking lately. Although I do have a “religious affiliation,” it is self-declared and unsupported by any larger group or community, at least in the face-to-face world. I’m a Christian, but one who doesn’t go to church or interact with other Christians in any manner except online. Even then, most of the Christians I interact with are otherwise identified as “Messianics” and a significant number of my online peers are Jewish.

Yeah, I’m one strange Christian.

Until I read the Susan Katz Miller article, I had no idea to what extent my situation was rooted in being intermarried. Here’s more of what she wrote:

I am grateful to Pew for drilling down into data on the “nones” and discovering some of the rich complexity of religiously-unaffiliated spiritual life. In an interesting parallel, many of the early studies on interfaith families conflated “doing nothing” with “doing both.” Just because a family does not affiliate with a church or a temple does not mean they are doing nothing. On the other hand, families may claim to be doing both, or attempt to do both, but cannot always follow through successfully without the support of clergy, family, or like-minded interfaith families. It will be important in future studies to examine the full range of practices, beliefs and experiences of unaffiliated interfaith families.

I encourage you to read Susan’s entire blog post to get the full context of what she’s saying about being intermarried and being “religiously unaffiliated.” In some sense, it’s rather empowering to think that there are many more people like me who, rather than “splitting the difference” so to speak, and having husband and wife exist in different religious worlds, choose instead to live “outside of official religious institutions.”

But that puts me into a state of flux again. Should I start attending a church, or some activity held at a church, and thus associate with other Christians? If I don’t and instead, continue on my current path, does that qualify me as a “none” and a “nobody?”

In the beginning, G‑d created everything out of nothing. He could have decided to make everything out of something, but He knew that nothing is better material than something. Because something is already whatever something is, but nothing can become anything.

That’s why, at least as far as this universe is concerned, the only way to become a real somebody is by being a nobody first.

Many of us today are nobodies. That’s okay. The moon must disappear before it becomes full again. The seed must rot away before it becomes a great oak.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“How Nobody Became Somebody”

Rabbi Freeman tells an entire story between the second and third paragraphs of the quote just above, so you’ll have to click the link to find the full details. But the core of the message is just what I posted: there is a required relationship between being “nobody” and “somebody;” there is a necessary process involved in being emptied so you can become filled.

I started this “days” series at 78 Days, giving myself that amount of time (my time expires on New Year’s Day, 2013) to either figure out where I belong in the online and face-to-face community of God, or give it up, the blog, and maybe even my faith (outwardly, anyway) and just let the world of vitriolic attack dogs and nudniks (pests) toddle along on the web without me. That has nothing to do with being intermarried, but a lot to do with my patience running out for so-called “Christians” who completely miss the point of the one commandment of Jesus that we should all obey. Tragically, it’s the one commandment of the Jewish Messiah that is most often ignored. More’s the pity.

But while the visigoths may be pounding at the (metaphorical) gate of my so-called “peace of mind,” ready to invade and visit wide-spread destruction on everything in their path, though I could escape simply by withdrawing from the web, I can’t withdraw from the world. I know I’m supposed to do something, but I continue to vacillate between my options. I know that God has placed me here for a reason, and that unpleasant experiences (and unpleasant people) are also here for a reason. I’m not supposed to give up on even the nudniks, (although I finally had to on one) so I guess that means I can’t give up on myself.

I’m still not sure of what the process is where I’m supposed to be emptied now and filled later, but in trying to live out that process in writing and in person, I prefer to think of myself as taking “the higher road less traveled” (and I’m indebted to Lrw in her comment on one of my blog posts for suggesting the title of today’s “extra” missive). Whether I ultimately choose to contact a church, to attend church-sponsored activities up to and including Sunday services, and whether I maintain a long-term relationship with a church or not, (and I’m discovering that I’m not the only Christian who is afraid of church) I do trust that I am walking with God on that “higher road less traveled,” and that one of the reasons I have so few “traveling companions” is that my situation as an intermarried spouse really is unique.

“You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith.”

-Mary Manin Morrissey

There’s got to be a reason for this mess and for “messy” people. I just need to keep walking on my higher road, and may I uncover the sparks I’m supposed to find, and then release them to Heaven, returning them, and you, and me, to the God who made us all.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, British writer

Genesis: Learning Beginnings

And G-d said: “Let there be a firmament…”

Genesis 1:6

It is written: “Forever, O G-d, Your word stands firm in the heavens.” (It is written: “Forever, O G-d, Your word stands firm in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89) Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory, explained the verse thus: “Your word” which you uttered, “Let there be a firmament…,” these very words and letters stand firmly forever within the firmament of heaven and are forever clothed within the heavens to give them life and existence. As it is also written, “The word of our G-d shall stand firm forever” (Isaiah 40:8) and “His words live and stand firm forever.” (From the morning prayers) For if these letters were to depart even for an instant, G-d forbid, and return to their source, all the heavens would become nought and absolute nothingness, and it would be as if they had never existed at all, exactly as before the utterance, “Let there be a firmament.”

And so it is with all created things, down to the most corporeal and inanimate of substances. If the letters of the “ten utterances” by which the earth was created during the six days of creation were to depart from it for but an instant, G-d forbid, it would revert to absolute nothingness.

This same thought was expressed by the Ari (Famed kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534-1572), of blessed memory, when he said that even in completely inanimate matter, such as earth and stones and water, there is a soul and spiritual life-force – that is, the letters of Divine “speech” clothed within it which continually grant it life and existence.

-Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi

One year, following the Rosh Hashanah prayers, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi asked his son, Rabbi DovBer: “What did you think of during your prayers?”

Rabbi DovBer replied that he had contemplated the meaning of the passage, “and every stature shall bow before You” (From the “Nishmas” prayer received on Shabbos) – how the most lofty supernal worlds and spiritual creations negate themselves before the infinite majesty of G-d. “And you, father,” Rabbi DovBer then asked, “with what thought did you pray?”

Replied Rabbi Schneur Zalman: “I contemplated the table at which I stood.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Wooden Thoughts”
from the “Once Upon a Chasid” series
Commentary on Torah Portion B’reisheet

“I contemplated the table at which I stood” seems an odd way to begin a commentary on Genesis and the beginning of a new Torah cycle, but it tells us something about how Jews see life and, to some degree, the differences in generations. Maybe it also teaches us something about different levels of learning. Rabbi Zalman’s son, who was undoubtedly at a relatively early stage of his education, was focused on “the most lofty supernal worlds and spiritual creations negate themselves before the infinite majesty of G-d,” which is not such a bad thing to contemplate during prayers. But why then, would his father contemplate the table at which he stood?

What was God creating at the beginning of all things?

“Firmament” has also been translated as “expanse” (JPS Tanakh, NIV Bible, ESV Bible) or “space” (New Living Translation Bible) and can also be rendered as “canopy.” Although we may think of this as “sky” or “heaven,” there is an apparent “physicality” and “permanency” to God’s creating of everything. And why should God have to create the physical and permanent? For us.

Neither Rabbi Zalman nor his son was wrong about what they were contemplating during their prayers, but this also tells us something about the nature of God, man, and this week’s Torah Portion. Heaven and Earth aren’t necessarily the separate things we consider them in Christian thought. Everything, the physical and the spiritual, are from God, so we should consider them equally as eternal (or at least extremely long lasting) gifts from our Creator.

But I mentioned before about the differences between generations and the different levels of learning. The younger learner strives to reach up to God and the spiritual realm, and the older, more experienced Rabbi, has learned to see Him, even in a wooden table. I guess that tells us to relax a little when we think we can’t see God. He’s all around us anyway and in many ways. Even in the humble wooden table we’re standing next to when we pray. However, this isn’t always the traditional experience parents, Jewish or otherwise, have when trying to pass their traditions and culture from one generation to the next.

I also am not scoring high on the Jewish parent scale these days: my older daughter, who turned 9 in August, recently decided she hates all worship services and doesn’t want to go to Hebrew school. Even though she likes her teachers. My response, for now at least, is that she doesn’t have a choice about Hebrew school, so she might as well try to enjoy it. (Yes, I know, that sounds like the horrifically insensitive comment some clueless people make about rape.)

From toddler-hood until now was like a Jewish identity honeymoon; Ellie loved Hebrew school and her only complaint about services — they are a regular part of Hebrew school each week — was that she didn’t always get called up to the bima to read.

In fact, the first year we belonged to the temple it was my younger one — then 4 — who put up a fuss about Hebrew school, wanting instead to hang out with me on Sunday mornings. But after a few months of conflict, Sophie decided she adored her teacher and the teenage assistant teachers. Two years later, she has nary an objection (although I fear I’ll jinx that now), but Ellie complains constantly.

-Julie Wiener
“Tweens and Torahs”
from her “In the Mix” series

Wiener’s experience is probably more “normal” in terms of religious parents trying to make sure their children receive a “proper education.” I imagine Christian parents have similar struggles getting their “tweens” to go to Sunday school or some Wednesday night Christian kids meeting.

Last year, for this Torah portion, I talked about rerolling the Torah scroll as, in part, a way to reset the clock and turn everything back to the beginning. In the beginning, we not only find the familiar, but we look at it in new and different ways. That’s why I can write a commentary on Genesis from one year to the next and have them be quite different from one another.

But that’s a mature attitude. For a child, it might be, “Not Genesis again,” as if they were having meatloaf for dinner the third time this week. At a certain age, when children are in-between independence and childhood, they navigate a difficult course between parental priorities and their own.

For Jews, the additional layers aren’t just the religious but the cultural. While Julie Weiner is a Jewish agnostic and thus does not transmit a strong religious tradition down to her two daughters, the fact that she is Jewish means she must transmit a strong Jewish cultural identity to her two daughters. The fact that she’s also intermarried adds another wrinkle to the fabric, but that’s what her blog is all about.

It’s also what my blog is all about. It is sometimes incredibly interesting to be intermarried. There was a time when I attended Shabbat services at the local Reform-Conservative synagogue with my wife and kids (who are all Jewish). I felt pretty out of place at the time, but in my heart, I was worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If I had it to do over again, I would have become much more involved in the synagogue community, but I wasn’t in the right place mentally and spiritually back then.

I had no intention of evangelizing or making a nudnik (pest) out of myself. I tried to fit in as best I could but it wasn’t my culture or my identity. I followed the service and spoke to God, but none of that made me a Jew and really, I wasn’t practicing Judaism. I was worshiping alongside the Jews in the congregation (and since it was Reform, I wasn’t the only non-Jew present). I was “in the mix” to borrow from Weiner’s blog, in a group fraught with “mixes,” but I still was and am a Christian.

Rolling the Torah ScrollI mentioned quite recently that I see the mission of Christianity, and particularly those Christians who have an affinity for Judaism, is to support, promote, and encourage a return to the Torah for the Jewish people in our midst. An extension of that mission is to communicate to other Christians what our mission means and how we see it fitting in to the expansive plans of God.

Julie Weiner is trying to pass down Jewish identity from her generation to her children’s. That presupposes Weiner, as a Jew, having ownership over her Jewish identity. That would seem like a no-brainer for the vast majority of people including the vast majority of Christians and Jews, but as I said before, there are some Christians out there who seem just a little confused about who is Jewish and who isn’t. That question extends outward into the larger, “What is Judaism?” which includes What is Messianic Judaism?

The answers aren’t easy, but we can start at a basic foundation. We can see that being Jewish isn’t just a “religious” thing. Wiener (remember, she’s agnostic) can take her two daughters to Simchat Torah with encouraging results.

For Simchat Torah, I dragged the whole family to services, because I remembered how much fun it had been two years earlier (we had to miss it last year), and both girls love dancing. When I was invited to carry one of the Torah scrolls around the sanctuary, I asked Ellie if she wanted to join me, assuming she’d roll her eyes and say absolutely not. To my surprise, she not only came along (eagerly trailed, of course, by Sophie) but then, when offered a small Torah scroll of her own to carry, proudly took it. To her delight, someone took a picture of her marching around the temple with the Torah. (Yes, it’s a Reform temple, we take pictures on Jewish holidays. Go ahead and judge, judgmental reader.) And she danced with gusto for the rest of the night.

There are a lot of Jews in my area who attend Erev Shabbat services at our local Reform-Conservative shul largely for social, cultural, and community reasons as opposed to “being religious” (the Saturday service is thought as “too religious” by many of the Friday night folks).

Those of us who find Jewish cultural and religious practices attractive for whatever reasons, must strive to remember that attraction does not equal ownership. Julie Wiener and her daughters own their Jewish identity, religious and otherwise, because they’re Jewish. Chances are, most of you reading this blog are not. Chances are, most of you reading this blog have no problem with not being Jewish and thus not claiming Jewish identity, either conceptually or by behavior.

We are at a beginning point in the Torah reading cycle. Jewish children are at a beginning point in understanding and establishing a Jewish identity at the levels of religion, culture, ethnicity, and spirituality. It can be very hard to grant someone something that you don’t understand. How can we give the Torah and Jewish identity back to Jews and Judaism? We may think the Bible has told us all we need to know to comprehend what it is to be a Jew, but unless we grew up in a Jewish home and were raised by Jewish parents, in a lived, experiential sense, we don’t have a clue. We just have a little knowledge and a lot of imagination.

In Genesis, God creates the world and its various components and life forms and He creates man and woman. In Abraham, He created the first Hebrew by covenant relationship. At Sinai, by covenant relationship, He created the people and the nation of Israel, who were separated in perpetuity from the rest of the nations; the rest of humanity, in order to serve God in a very, very specific way.

While we Christians were also “created” in covenant relationship to God through the blood and death and life of Jesus Christ, and we are equal in God’s heart and God’s love to the Jewish people, we are not the same as the Jewish people. How all that will work out after the Messiah comes and after all things that are supposed to come to pass, have long since come to pass, I don’t know. I just know that right now, I’m a Christian. People like Julie Wiener and my wife are Jewish. Being Jewish means a whole lot of things and maybe not exactly the same things to all Jews. On the other hand, when you’re not Jewish, it’s pretty obvious, or it should be. For kids in intermarried families, it can be confusing, but the world has done away with enough Jews over the last 3,500 years or so and we need to stop. We need to make it easier for Jewish kids with intermarried parents to recognize what it is for them to be Jewish and not “muddy the waters” for them, so to speak.

Let the Jewish children have their beginning and discover who they are. We Christians should be busy discovering who we are and then teaching that to our children. May the Jewish and Christian children one day find out who they are in relationship to each other, and may all of our generations on that day, stand before the Throne of God and worship the One.

My Hope Comes From The Lord

Worry is self-humiliation. Trust is dignity.

To worry is to worship the world. To fall on your knees in dread and grovel before it.

To trust is to lift up your eyes and stand as tall as the heavens. To live with nothing else but the bond between G‑d above and you below.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Just the Two of You”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

OK, I need to review my own lessons on trust. Being human, I sometimes forget that reality exists on more than just a human level. As a person of faith, I believe in God, but it takes a person of trust to actually rely on God to do, if not the impossible, then the highly improbable. I speak of the topic I chronicled recently as Vain Hopes.

Yes, it’s no fun when your spouse tells you that the most important single aspect of your existence, your faith, is embarrassing to her, but that’s hardly something I can change. So what’s next?

Understanding. I can’t change who I am (well, I can, but that would involve not being a Christian anymore and I’m not willing to do that), but I can try to better understand who she is. Maybe that will be some comfort.

So who is she? Expanding on the question somewhat, what is being “Jewish?”

In a very real sense, I’m totally unqualified to answer that question since I’m not Jewish. Even if I received documentation tomorrow that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother was Jewish (which I’m sure would come as a complete shock to her) and that all of her ancestors were Jewish in a long line going back as far as could be recorded, thus establishing that I’m Jewish, it still wouldn’t give me something I would sorely lack: an actual, lived, experiential, Jewish life. So how can I describe something I’m not and that I have no experience in being?

Really, I can’t. You would think Jewish people could, but actually, it’s more complicated than it seems.

I’m just out of college and struggling to forge my identity. I have strong Jewish feelings, but am meeting some really nice non-Jewish women and am having trouble articulating why Judaism is so central to my identity.

Can you tell me why I should hang in there with the Jewish people?

“Why be Jewish?”
Ask the Rabbi

Please click the above link and read the Rabbi’s answer, but personally, I found his response rather disappointing. What the Rabbi outlines as the advantages of Judaism, living a moral life, specific Jewish values, and so on, could as well be applied to just about any person who follows the lessons of what God gave to the world, “a set of ‘instructions for living’ – the Torah.”

However, the answer to another Ask the Rabbi question may prove more illuminating.

To categorize Judaism “only” as a religion is a misunderstanding. The Jewish people are a nation, who share a common land (Israel), a common religion (Judaism) and a common history (dating back to Abraham).

What is amazing is how the Jews have maintained their distinct national identity having been scattered to the four corners of the globe. This achievement was possible only because of our adherence to the Torah, the “constitution” of the Jewish people. The Torah lays out the scope of personal rights and obligations, as well as laws covering lifecycle, business practice, medical ethics, parenting, married life, etc. Observance of the Torah was thus the thread which kept the Jewish people alive, and thriving, in every place and time.

Judaism cannot be classified as a race, because anyone can become a Jew by converting. The convert is considered a Jew in every regard, and his relationship with God is the same level as that of every other Jew. Come to Israel and you will find black Jews, oriental Jews, Indian Jews, etc.

This is what Christianity lacks. We can enter into a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and draw close to his covenant community Israel, but we don’t become what the Rabbi describes above; a nation, a people, a unified whole that transcends the boundaries of religion, and if you include those few who convert, ethnicity and race.

Well, that’s not quite true. Anyone, regardless of national origin, race, color, ethnicity, gender, or any other attribute, can come to Christ and worship the God of Israel. But we are of the many nations and the Jews, regardless of where they were born, what secular citizenship they may possess, and whether or not they were born of a Jewish mother or converted from the nations, are uniquely of Israel, and though scattered across the planet, form a united nation before God.

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, in his commentary on Torah Portion Nitzavim, said:

As the commentators point out, the phrase “whoever is not here” cannot refer to Israelites alive at the time who happened to be somewhere else. That cannot be since the entire nation was assembled there. It can only mean “generations not yet born.” The covenant bound all Jews from that day to this. As the Talmud says: we are all mushba ve-omed me-har Sinai, foresworn from Sinai (Yoma 73b, Nedarim 8a). By agreeing to be God’s people, subject to God’s laws, our ancestors obligated us.

Hence one of the most fundamental facts about Judaism. Converts excepted, we do not choose to be Jews. We are born as Jews. We become legal adults, subject to the commands and responsible for our actions, at the age of twelve for girls, thirteen for boys. But we are part of the covenant from birth. A bat or bar mitzvah is not a “confirmation.” It involves no voluntary acceptance of Jewish identity. That choice took place more than three thousand years ago when Moses said “It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with … whoever is not here with us today,” meaning all future generations including us.

But how can this be so? Surely a fundamental principle of Judaism is that there is no obligation without consent.

Please read the full commentary by clicking the link above, but the reality of the Jewish people and Judaism, is that it exists and is obligated to God beyond the simple will of the individual. When you are born a Jew, the mitzvot are yours, whether you want them or not. In the best of all possible circumstances, you are taught to live a Jewish life and you learn to love that life as a Jew before the Throne of Hashem. Judaism chooses the Jew, not the other way around (apart from converts).

In Exodus 4:22, God directly refers to Israel as “My child, my firstborn, Israel.” Whoever and whatever we are as Christians, we do not enter into the presence of God except through Israel.

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

John 4:22 (ESV)

If we consider the Jewish Messiah as the firstborn of Israel, this point becomes even more specific.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (ESV)

The irony for me is that my closest Jewish relative is my wife, and not for a split second would she consider Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, nor see herself and her people as the authors of my salvation through Christ.

More’s the pity, and I pray that it won’t always be that way.

None of this is doing a very good job of defining who a Jew is or what Judaism is, at least down to the finest details. In fact, it gets a little more confusing when you consider the Ask the Rabbi answer to Definition of a Jew:

Torah methodology is universal – for Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular, Israel and the Diaspora, left and right. The Torah is alive and relevant for today. And for the Jewish people, the ability to effectively communicate this message is our single most important undertaking.

Simchat TorahThis makes it seem like what the Torah contains, at least at its core, is a set of instructions that applies to all of humanity, not just the Jewish people, but it is the responsibility of the Jews to “effectively communicate this message.” That sounds almost evangelical, until you realize the mission of Judaism isn’t to make the people of the nations into Jews, but to teach them/us about the One true God of Israel. In modern traditional Judaism, that extends no further than the level of the Noahide, but from Christianity’s point of view, we enter a whole new world when we know God by accepting Christ.

Where that world takes us is a journey beyond imagination, and one that is unique, in many ways, to each individual. In some ways, as is in my case, it actually leads somewhat away from its source; away from Judaism, at least at the personal level, since most Jews cannot tolerate a great deal of Christianity in their lives. But while faith is easy, trust comes very hard, especially in the presence of disappointment.

However, as Rabbi Freeman stated at the beginning of this “meditation,” “To trust is to lift up your eyes and stand as tall as the heavens. To live with nothing else but the bond between G‑d above and you below.”

Please forgive me if I take the liberty of applying those words of wisdom to all of us and not just to the Jewish people.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2 (ESV)

When you’re in the middle of the journey and it all seems so futile and hopeless, then the path has reached its end, regardless of what actually lies before you. But when there is hope, when you lift your gaze out of the dust and darkness and raise your head up to see the light, the journey begins again as if you had just taken your first step.

Vain Hopes

“Cast your burden upon Hashem, and He will sustain you.”

Psalms 55:23

Everyone in the world has burdens. Some are heavier than others – some are lighter. You cannot always tell how heavy someone else’s burden is; you only have the subjective experience of your own. But know, with clarity, that just as you have burdens, so does everyone else.

Here we have the ultimate advice on how to handle your burdens: do not do it alone. You never have to do it all yourself. As a matter of fact, it’s impossible to do it all yourself. You can call upon the Almighty, your Father, your King, Creator and Sustainer of the universe to help you. Our verse tells us that you can give over your entire load of baggage to Hashem, and He will sustain you.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Casting Your Burdens, Daily Lift #595

I had a most illuminating conversation with my wife a few weeks ago. Actually, it wasn’t so much illuminating as it was confirming. I don’t know how we got on the subject. We were home alone, just the two of us. We were talking at the kitchen table. I can’t remember exactly the words that were used but I discovered, or rather confirmed, the reasons that I will never be part of my wife’s Jewish life. She’s embarrassed that I’m a Christian.

I guess that’s why she never invites her friends over to our house. She always meets them for coffee or something. I think it’s just awkward to acknowledge me in front of other Jews. She said during our conversation, “What am I supposed to do? Introduce you as my ‘Messianic husband’?”

I corrected her and said that I’m a Christian and that I walked away from the “Messianic” life, in part, just for this reason. I don’t think it helped. I think, in her eyes, it’s just as bad for a Jew to be married to a Christian as to a “Messianic Gentile.”

At any rate, the end result, which is now finally in the open, is that I will not be attending shul with her, nor any classes at synagogue, nor any public festivals such as Sukkot. I even wonder if this is why she stopped lighting the Shabbos candles in our home. For all I know, she doesn’t go to synagogue anymore because people there know she’s got a Christian husband. For all I know, tongues wag about this misfortune of my wife’s.

That last part is my imagination, but again, who knows?

I never wanted my faith to come between us. For over a year, I’ve done everything I could think of to minimize the “impact” of my Christian faith in her Jewish life. Now I know that nothing I did worked. I’m embarrassing. I recall a situation that happened some months ago when my wife and I were shopping at our local Costco. We had just checked out and were about to leave when my wife ran into a friend from synagogue. They chatted for several minutes and then parted. All during their conversation, at no time did my wife pause to introduce me to her friend. It was as if I wasn’t even there. I guess I know why now.

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:49-53 (ESV)

This compares to Matthew 10:34-39 which also quotes Micah 7:6. I thought I recalled a variant on the Gospel verse that specified “husband against his wife,” but I can’t find it.

Close enough, I guess.

But I don’t want to be against my wife, nor do I want her to be against me.

Tough luck, eh?

I used to say that “in a created universe, there’s no such thing as luck,” but just how closely does God control circumstances? Were my wife and I truly fated to be married, or did God allow random chance to take charge? What about our decisions of faith? I might never have become a Christian if not for a long and what seemed to be, highly orchestrated and unlikely series of events that occurred over several month’s time. My wife became a Christian at almost the same time and for a while, we had similar ways of looking at God, Christ, faith, and marriage.

Then, through another set of long, unlikely occurrences, we have found ourselves where we are now: at opposite ends of the identity of the Messiah, a Jew and a Christian searching for God while living in two very different worlds. And thereby hangs our tale. I could stand to have the rest of the world be the enemy of my faith as long as my wife was by my side. Now, I realize that such a wish is vain and foolish. If “God is in control” as the Christians like to sing in church on Sundays, then what he’s planning to do with all of His control is beyond my comprehension.

Or, as Paul Simon sings:

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

Or is that too cynical?

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:21 (ESV)

I suppose that could be coupled with:

Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

Job 13:15 (ESV)

Argue? Argue about what? Shall I adopt Adam’s argument?

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:11-12 (ESV)

No, that’s as ridiculous now as it was the minute Adam said it. There’s no blame to be assigned, either to God or to my wife. I can’t even blame myself for being a Christian, since I must be convinced that this part of my experience was and is within the purposeful will of God.

So what do I do? Of late, I had been considering going back to a church. My son David told me he’d talked to a Pastor of a local Baptist church who had lived in Israel for fifteen years (not as a Pastor, but before being called into the ministry). No, he’s not Jewish, but this Pastor did tell my son that he didn’t consider himself “usual” for a Baptist Pastor.

But now I don’t know if it’s a good idea. The wedge is there between my wife and I and if I cannot bridge the gap and heal the wound that gapes wide and bleeding between us, I certainly don’t want to rip it open any further. Right now, I’m just one Christian alone in our house with no direct connection to any larger group of Christians. If I started going to church, how much worse would it be for the both of us?

My wife doesn’t invite her Jewish friends over because she’s embarrassed by me. She removed any pictures and other items from our home that were obviously communicating a faith in Christ (we once had a framed copy of the Lord’s Prayer written in Hebrew on the wall of our formal dining room), but unless she’s willing to give me the boot, my very presence (though I wouldn’t speak a word) is a glaring inconsistency to her faith and her life as a Jew.

Conversely, I couldn’t bring any Christian friends home, couldn’t host a Bible study, couldn’t have a few church friends around for coffee, not because I’m embarrassed that my wife is Jewish, far from it. No, but because it would be very difficult for her to tolerate.

Of course, she would say that I’m within my rights to practice whatever faith I choose in whatever manner I choose. She would never deny me that. But exercising my rights is still an embarrassment to her, at least in the presence of anyone she knows who is Jewish. Add this to my list of reasons why I can’t go to church.

I cannot do what logic would suggest, though, even for the sake of peace in the home:

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 10:32-33 (ESV)

I sometimes envy those Christians out there in the “Messianic” space for whom faith is just an intellectual exercise. Those folks who are almost obsessed with their sometimes unique take on “Judaism” in terms of personal doctrinal statements, systematizing theologies, categorizing the Jewish mitzvot, and other arcane pursuits, and yet who never actually feel and live a life immersed in pools of infinitely deep faith, transcending the written word and living between life and death, between love and despair, between God and the emptiness of the abyss.

There are all manner of interfaith marriages and many are able to make their way across the differences and to share the commonalities. My wife and I too share many commonalities between us, but our lives of faith and our vision of God are not among them.

As I was “mentally composing” this missive some hours ago (as I write this), I couldn’t help but be reminded of Solomon and Ecclesiasties:

For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 3:19 (ESV)

(My son and I built the sukkah in my backyard on Sunday afternoon, just hours before Sukkot began and I suppose the experience is what brought all this to the surface with such force…after all, what business do I have performing the mitzvah of building a sukkah…and notice that I’m blogging during the first two days of Sukkot…however, my son is Jewish so I guess that covers it)

With all of this in mind, I have been examining time, the past, the future, marriage, life, faith, as if they were all in a sealed box that I am turning over and over in my hands. God made the box, inserted all that it contains, locked it tight, and gave it to me. No, that’s not fair. I’ve certainly contributed the vast majority of the items the box contains. We all take the basic materials God gives us at birth and make them into what we are today. I can’t blame God or argue with Him, tempting though that might be.

Maybe that’s why Solomon wrote Ecclesiasties…because no matter what we do, we’re born, we live through whatever happens, and then we die. In the end, what will it matter? Why do some of us who are unworthy live, and others who are very worthy die? (you’ll need a Facebook account to open that last link). It’s a mystery. Who can know the vastness of the mind of God?

I quoted Psalms 55:23 at the beginning of this blog post, but as I’ve been reminded periodically, not everything that is written in the Jewish texts, including the Psalms, can automatically be applied to we non-Jewish Christians. Perhaps my desire to cast my burdens on God is merely vanity as well.

If you are ever feeling sad or dejected, there is a faster and better way to create a more positive feeling that to simply wait until the feelings change through happenstance. There are a few basic choices with a multitude of variations. You can take positive actions. Perform a mitzvah and experience joy for the good deed you are doing. Also, you can remember the good in your life and the positive things that have happened to you in the past. If need be, you can find a positive lens through which to see your present distress.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskn
Creating Positive Feelings, Daily Lift #594

Alone in silenceI can’t stop being a Christian and so I can’t stop being an embarrassment in the home. If I can’t openly express my faith, except in the blogosphere where she never travels to, then the mitzvah I must perform is to try to stay out of the way of her being Jewish. That’s kind of hard since we live in the same home, but I can only encourage her to do all that she can and must do as part of her Jewish community.

And as for me? I originally created this blog, this “morning meditation,” to chronicle my anticipated journey of faith with my wife into her Jewishness. Now that I realize my ambitions were only vanity and foolishness, what is there left to accomplish?

I have several projects related to this blog that are in process. Once those processes have reached their conclusion, the results may well dictate the continuation or dissolution of this experiment. As always, you’ll be the first to know of my decision.

Longing for Yom Kippur

Because the day has passed, shield us by the merit of [the Patriarch Abraham] who sat [at the door of his tent] in the heat of the day [to welcome wayfarers].

Genesis 18:1 (Ne’ilah prayer)

Just prior to Ne’ilah (the concluding service of Yom Kippur), one of the Chassidic masters ascended the bimah (platform) and said tearfully, “My dear brothers and sisters! God in His infinite mercy gave us the entire month of Elul to repent, but we failed to take advantage of it. He gave us the awesome days of Rosh Hashanah, when our standing in judgment before the heavenly tribunal should have stimulated us to repent, but we neglected that opportunity. He gave us the special grace of the Ten Days of Penitence, but we let these pass too. All we have left now are a few precious moments that are propitious for forgiveness.

“The Sages of the Talmud tell us that if a person enters a marriage contract on the condition that he is a perfect tzaddik, then it is binding even if he is known to be a complete rasha (wicked person). Why? Because he may have had one moment of sincere contrition that transformed him from a complete rasha to a perfect tzaddik. “Do you hear that, my dear brothers and sisters? All it takes one brief moment of sincere contrition! We have the opportunity of that moment now. In just one moment we can emerge totally cleansed of all our sins, in a state of perfection akin to that of Adam in the Garden of Eden.”

The rabbi wept profusely and uncontrollably. “Could we be so foolish as to overlook such a rare opportunity? Let us assist one another and join in achieving sincere repentance!”

Today I shall…

…take advantage of the Divine gift of forgiveness, and make my resolutions of repentance sincere, so that the new person that emerges will be unencumbered by the burdens of the past.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 10”

I’m not going to be fasting for Yom Kippur this year. I’ve fasted in the past. Further in the past, I’ve fasted and attended religious worship, although only elements of the Yom Kippur service were involved. A Jewish friend emailed me last night and asked if I were going to fast in solidarity with the Jewish people. I had thought about it, but I know that my family won’t be fasting and it seemed a little presumptive for me to fast, since I’m the only non-Jewish member of my immediate family.

I suppose you could say that if I fasted, I would be leading by example, but it could also boomerang back and make me look like I’m being critical of them and taking on a “holier than thou” attitude. I’m not taking the day off of work, either. I think my family will be working tomorrow as well. I suppose this is a problem, since they are Jewish and choosing not to observe the Yom Kippur fast nor going to shul to repent with the community of Israel.

Last spring, I wrote an article called “Redeeming the Heart of Israel” (Part 1 and Part 2) in which I defined the Christian relationship to the Jewish people as one of encouragement and support for Jews to return to Torah and to the ways of their fathers. That’s easier said than done when it’s your own family.

Oh, I’ve dropped subtle and not-so-subtle hints, but ultimately, the choice isn’t mine to make. It’s theirs. Each individual, Jew, Christian or anyone else, negotiates their own relationship with God. For me, my atonement is in Jesus Christ. Frankly, I believe that’s true of everyone, but not everyone perceives that truth in their lives. There are elements of both the Abrahamic and New Covenant that link both Jews and Christians, through the Messiah, to God, so Messiah is the hope for all of us.

But since I am not Jewish, the particulars of the Sinai covenant do not have blessings for me. Without a Jewish “lived” experience, I’m unsure how to encourage my family to be who they are and maybe it’s not my place to try. But then, when you love someone, you want what’s best for them; you want what will make them happy.

God opens His Hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing (Psalm 145:16). My desire is for my family to return to the mitzvot; return more fully to the Torah, and to be the people God made them to be; Jewish people. I apologize and regret anything I may have said or done that has been to the contrary. I pray to God that in the coming year, He may help turn the hearts of all His Jewish children back to Him and help we Christians be more compassionate of His Chosen People, that we may stand at their side and together, all acknowledge that God is One. On that day, may all Christians fast on Yom Kippur in solidarity with their Jewish friends and family.

May the Messiah come soon and in our days, and may you be sealed for a good year in the book of life.

To honor the most Holy day for the Jewish people, I will not present a “morning meditation” on Wednesday which is Yom Kippur (begins at sundown on Tuesday). My next blog post will be Thursday morning.

Man On A String

interfaithFortunately, sociologist Steven M. Cohen has awakened me from my bloggy slumber with a post on Rosner’s Domain, a blog on L.A.’s Jewish Journal. Journalist/blogger Shmuel Rosner (who updates his blog just a wee bit more than I do) asks sociologist Steven M. Cohen, “Are you biased against intermarried Jews?” In essence, Cohen’s reply is that he has no problem with intermarried Jews, just with intermarriage.

-Julie Wiener
“Some Of My Best Friends Are Inmarried”
from the In the Mix series
The Jewish Week

I’ve missed Julie’s blogs. As an intermarried Christian husband to a Jewish wife, I have a sort of affinity with her favorite topic. On the other hand, even for an intermarried couple, my wife and I are very strange. We don’t fit anyone’s idea of intermarried, mainly because my wife’s parents were intermarried (her mother was Jewish) and she wasn’t raised in a Jewish household.

In a blog post called Being Married to the Girl with the Jewish Soul, I’ve mentioned how I feel about my wife, about her being Jewish, and about my absolute need for her to embrace her Judaism. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so before continuing here. It’ll provide a lot of context and dimension for what I’m going to say next.

Being intermarried is not bed of roses but it’s not exactly a bed of thorns, either. It does define a demarcation point between my wife and I on certain topics, but for the most part, our marriage is just like a lot of other marriages in the U.S. We’ve been married thirty years as of last April. We have three adult children. One of my sons is married and has a three-year old son of his own (my grandson, playmate, and fellow Spider-Man fan).

Another thing that makes our particular intermarriage unusual is my background in the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots movement. As a blogger, I’m remain actively involved in that realm, but only because I tend to write on Jewish and Christian themes. My wife intermittently attends shul and I don’t attend a church or congregation of any kind (long story). We both have our faiths but except for brief moments of passionate interaction on some point, they have lives of their own and rarely show up in the same room. I started this blog fifteen months ago, in part to chronicle what I imagined would be my introduction into her religious world.

When that didn’t happen, I kept on writing because that’s just what I do. I write.

Back to why I’m writing this though. As I was reading Julie’s latest blog, I started thinking about my marriage and how it seems to mirror the larger dynamic between Christians and Jews in the world. More specifically, there is a significant parallel between how I live every day of my married life and the sort of relationship, call it a vision, I would wish upon the Christians and Jews to attempt to connect and interact within the Messianic space.

There’s a sort of debate going on in certain corners of the blogosphere about the exact interaction between Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah and those Christians who are drawn to a more Jewish (or Hebraic) lifestyle and worship template. For years, there’s been a kind of “jockeying for position” among the various groups that reside beneath the Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Roots umbrella regarding whether or not it was Christ’s original intent for non-Jewish disciples to perfectly emulate their Jewish mentors in all things, including a form of “Jewish” identity.

I used to believe that such an emulation should take place and now I don’t. Some people didn’t (and still don’t) appreciate that I changed my mind, let alone my lifestyle.

But here’s the interesting part.

Sometimes, the motives for my change in perspective have been attributed by others to the influence of various individuals and groups in the Messianic Jewish world who advocate for a Jewish/Gentile distinction within Messianism. It was as if I was accused of being a type of Pinocchio to a Messianic Jewish Geppetto; a marionette dancing at the end of someone else’s strings.

I certainly won’t deny that I have been influenced by various folks in the online and real world Messianic community, but that alone probably wouldn’t have been enough to start me investigating the scholarly and Biblical evidence for Jewish and Christian covenant distinction and relationship. After all, organizational position statements and blogosphere commentaries have never changed anyone’s mind about anything.

But I’m married to the girl with the Jewish soul and that made all the difference in the world.

I know I’ve probably explained this before, but I don’t think people understand how important this is to me. I doubt that even my wife understands any of this. Remember in my previous blog post I stressed how vital it is for me to support my wife being Jewish. Obviously, I can’t direct her observance or her lifestyle, but I know how to avoid standing in her way.

In addition to traveling on my own journey of faith, I’ve been watching my wife’s journey. As the months and years passed, I saw just how critical it was and is for her to be part of the Jewish community, to be thought of and treated as a Jew. Every time I picked up a siddur or she “caught” me praying with a tallit and tefillin, I started to feel as if I were stealing from her. It was as if she walked into the room while my hand was in her purse. It was embarrassing and I felt it was pushing us apart rather than bringing us together.

intermarriageNot that she said anything, of course. She always supported me in whatever expression of my faith I chose to observe (though there were times when she was vocal about not understanding it) but I could sense a growing wedge between us. She tried to discourage me from leaving my One Law congregation and I know she didn’t want to influence any of my decisions about what I believed and how I acted upon those beliefs.

Fat chance. How can a husband not let himself be influenced by his wife if he cares about her?

Setting all of those people, those congregations, those organizations aside who have some sort of stake in Messianic worship between Jews and Christians, I’m still a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife. I’m not the perfect husband of course (and my wife reminds me of that periodically), but that doesn’t mean I don’t love my wife and that what’s important to her doesn’t matter to me.

Being Jewish is important to her. Forging a Jewish identity and Jewish relationships for the first time as she’s well into middle-age wasn’t easy for her. She worked very hard to establish her place in the community of Jews. Being married to a non-Jew isn’t a disaster for a Jew, but my being a Christian does throw a monkey wrench into her machine (she’d deny this). My being “Messianic” and performing traditional Jewish acts of worship absolutely threw a pipe bomb into her machine (she’d deny this, too).

My wife is more important to me than whether or not someone on a blog somewhere thinks I should wear a tallit when praying, devote myself to a day of complete rest on Saturday, and try talking to God in a bad approximation of Hebrew (I know some of you are thinking about Matthew 10:34-39, but I don’t think that applies here). That’s why I do what I do and don’t do a bunch other things that other people do.

This next part is important, so pay close attention here! While I agree that Jews continue to have a special covenant relationship with God and unique covenant responsibilities that are not shared by the rest of the world, (including the world of Christians) what really sent me “over the edge” was filtering all that information through the lens of watching my Jewish wife be Jewish. If you’re not a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife, you don’t have my perspective and you are absolutely not going to get the lived experience of my point of view.

But there’s hope. I think I know how to show you what I’m feeling. I’m getting to that part.

Being married to a Jewish wife has allowed me to see Judaism from a singular perspective. I can see how important it is for a Jewish person to be uniquely Jewish and how some Jews struggle when they see others trying to co-opt that uniqueness for their own use. Part of that uniqueness is the way Jews talk, and pray, and worship, and interact, and what they wear sometimes, and lots and lots of other “identity” stuff.

And I don’t want to put my hand in my wife’s “purse” because I love her and I don’t want to take stuff from her.

Please understand that I’m not dancing at the end of some puppeteer’s strings. I’m just a husband who is looking out for his wife. I suppose my methods of doing so seem strange or unusual, but even for an intermarried couple, we can be strange and unusual. She’s not a stereotypical Jew (if there is such a thing) and I certainly am a very odd Christian.

But that’s who I am and who I choose to be and why I’ve made the choices I’ve made. I don’t think these are bad choices and in fact, I think there is a lot to be gained by we Christians coming alongside the Jewish people, even as I am “alongside” my wife, and being co-heirs with Israel, just as my wife and I share our lives together.

I was discussing some of this with my friend Gene on his blog Daily Minyan, and at one point, I made this observation in response to one of his comments:

When I was at the FFOZ Shavuot conference last spring, I met a young Jewish woman named Jordan. She is a gifted scholar and during one of her presentations at the conference, she referred to the Gentiles who supported the spiritual and national redemption of Israel as the crown jewels of the nations. Your comment reminded me of that and the fact that we Gentile disciples of the Master do have a wonderful gift from God, and He has planned out a terrific future for us.

Jordan’s teaching meant a lot to me, not just because it presented such a wonderfully unified vision of a Christian/Jewish “partnership” in the Kingdom of God, but because it so amazingly resonated with how I see my marriage. If I could give everyone reading this blog a gift, it would be to see the relationship between Christianity (that is, all non-Jews who are disciples of Jesus, regardless of denominational or congregational affilation) and Israel the way I see myself and my wife together. If we Jewish and Christian disciples of Jesus could achieve that level of affection and intimacy toward each other, we would be fulfilling the words of the Master.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” –John 13:34-35 (ESV)

Love and peace.