‘have you heard about jesus’ ‘oh yeah he was highly recommended’

Yeah so I was recommended to like Jesus today on FB:

lol

BASICALLY two thoughts went through my mind:

1.) What kind of guy would you have to be to pose for a picture to BE Jesus? Freakin weird.

2.) What do Christians think/feel when they see pix of the J man? I mean obviously they’re representations. I would be kinda distracted and a bit weirded out I think. You would really have to be thinking of a lot of things at once, like “oh that guy, my lord and savior, that’s not the real guy though, so I shouldn’t have that guy in mind for this worship, there’s just a guy out there somewhere who is my lord and savior, and if it’s just a representation he could be represented by anything really, even a banana. Or a nice, like, woman. I mean who knows. Just cause it’s a MAN. Oh, has to be a man. They use different races, different facial expressions, and it’s all supposed to represent the same guy. Very strange.” Then I’d be like I simply can’t look at this picture any more.

Well, I went to a Bulgarian Orthodox church today. It was only a matter of time, right?

Basically, I was dragged into it by a Spiritually Seeking Friend (TM). She says she’s using her “emotions” to “guide” her to the right denomination, which is completely foreign to me, but OK to each their own.

The first thing that struck me when walking into the little one-room church was the utter solemnity. Like, I didn’t even want to rustle (hello Reform temple). I tried to decide whether that was just because it was my first time, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, and let me tell you why.

Everyone was standing, ladies on the left and men on the right, all the ladies had their hair covered and were wearing long skirts and bad shoes. There aren’t any “pews” in Eastern Orthodox, I learned. Every once in a while they would start singing “Lord have mercy” etc. and I must admit they had a nicer communal singing voice than I ever heard in shul or anything. It was like they were the freakin hired choir or something. Sometimes people would come in (slowly and tentatively, of course), and take candles out of this “candle bin” attached to the wall, and cross themselves like a hundred times and one lady kissed three icons (on the feet, naturally). I couldn’t really see the men, but the women were standing with their hands politely folded in front or behind them, and obviously I was standing there in the very back with my friend with my arms folded looking like a nervous wreck in that place but whatever.

The priest looked like he motorcycled in his spare time, and I think one of his assistants (beacon? deacon? wtf) went to my high school. Notwithstanding that, they read a lot of stuff. And when they did it was in this annoying churchy monotone. It only ceased when the priest gave his sermon, which was totally weird and seemed out of place given the supposed ethereal ideal that place was supposed to have (there was incense).

There were icons literally covering all the walls…and of course I was standing right in front of the scariest Jesus in the whole church…freakin no-chin Jesus staring me down with his beady eyes in that scary picture.

So yeah, we’re standing in the foyer/hallway facing the main room, and I look up and suddenly see this looking back at me:

"I'm here to save you."

“I’m here to save you.”

I’m not sleeping tonight.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is this: I don’t get this about Christianity, culturally speaking. The whole “be serious in church,” “church is somber” thing. My friend said she liked it (it gave her a “good feeling”), but I thought it didn’t make any sense because it seems like that just serves to keep religion contained inside the church. Like, I get trying to make it like the altar or whatever with the incense and stuff, but once you get outside, what do you do? Go to Country Cookin’?

I mean, I know for Eastern Orthodox those ladies were wearing their long skirts and stuff, and I guess that stays with them, and I’m guessing they, like, say their Christian version of daily tehillim or whatever, but still. It’s kind of like saying “God is mostly in here, and in everyday life just minimally.”

I like that in Judaism for better or worse, it’s not like it’s “everyday life” outside and then “SUPER SERIOUS GOD TIME” inside. Like, I hated it at the time that no one was paying attention, but when I was at that shul in Flatbush ladies would be setting up tables like right next to me and people would be in and out and kids would be walking around and you stand when you want and you sit when you want and so on and so forth. And it doesn’t end as soon as you walk outside, indeed it improves when you leave because you get to go to someone’s house and eat free cholent, which if you don’t know already is basically the food of the heavens as far as I’m concerned. And, here’s my favorite part, that’s just as important as shul.

A letter I wrote to the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast people

Hey guys,

I’ve been listening to Catholic Stuff You Should Know for a couple weeks now, because I’m interested in different religions and the way people think. I usually try to be pretty objective about things, but the [Four Approaches to] Politics podcast made me mad.

I’m sure you get emails like this every day, but bear with me.

Help me understand how someone can believe in Separation of Church and State, and Religious Liberty, and still feel that their own religion should set the rules for an entire country not explicitly governed by that religion. It seems contradictory. I know that you believe there are universal truths, and so do I. Still, the idea that one religion’s rules can dictate an entire country is foreign to me. I’m Jewish, and in Judaism there is a pretty extensive set of rules. No Jew would expect a non-Jew to follow all these rules…even the seemingly innocuous “moral” ones! That doesn’t make the rules any less universal or true. After all, how could Jews expect someone to, say, keep the sabbath, if they don’t understand why or how? That doesn’t make keeping the sabbath any less important. It’s not the Jew’s job to impose either his ideas or religious rules on anyone else.

That being said, I know you believe in universal truths. So do I. But you’re Catholic, and I’m Jewish, and these don’t exactly look the same.

For instance, you mentioned abortion. For Catholics, abortion is never an option, am I correct? In Judaism, abortion is an option if the mother’s life is in danger. This is our law. I completely understand prohibiting abortion for Catholics, or even in Christian hospitals…but on the other hand, trying to prohibit abortion throughout the entire country would violate my religion.

You also mentioned same-sex marriage. (I would be interested to know the Catholic view on homosexuality, by the way.) Same-sex marriage is also antithetical to Jewish law. But I don’t find it contradictory to say that it’s prohibited for Jews under Jewish law, but to have secular marriages legal. A gay couple could be married civilly, and still not be recognized under Jewish law. Judaism has basically the same conception of marriage as does Catholicism, but we also know that it makes no sense to try to govern non-Jews under Jewish law! Why can’t it be the same in Catholicism? To use one example, the fact that divorce is legal in the US doesn’t make divorce any less “wrong” in Catholicism. (And outlawing divorce in the US would violate my religion, because divorce isn’t prohibited in Judaism!)

Isn’t it our job to help people see why we disagree with abortion or divorce, rather than imposing our will on them with hardly an explanation?

There’s a saying in Judaism: “Worry about your friend’s physical well-being, and your own spirituality.”

Thanks for your time,
Laura

++++++

Dec. 24, 2012: Response!

Hi Laura

Thanks for your email and my apologies on the delay.  I appreciate that you listen to the podcast and are from a Jewish perspective.
Let’s set “faith” aside for a second.  There are a set of philosophical principles that unlay any just society, that help human beings flourish according to the common good.  These principles can be known by the light of human reason.  My arguments for the podcast are that to hold that a respect for life, freedom for religious liberty, and the preservation of marriage as it actually is (one man, one woman) need not have anything to do with faith.  To lose these principles would be destructive to society.
Maybe another example would be helpful.  Let’s say politicians want to legalize rape – that men can rape women whenever they want.  But because rape is against my faith, I can’t impose my belief on the society I live in and say that is wrong?  According to your logic, I cannot speak up against this without “imposing my faith on others.”
Just because God reinforces by Revelation the truths we can know by nature to form a just society (cf. Aristotle, Politics), does not justify the absolute lose of credibility and objective content to my natural moral claims as a man of faith.
Thanks again for listening.
fj

A Politically Incorrect Guide to Christians

I’ve learned to become wary of Christians. I was pretty positive regarding them at first, and I thought that “well, although their religion seems pretty off, I suppose they are quite kind anyway and I guess if it’s done good for them, they’ve done some good charity work and stuff so Christianity can’t be that bad, consequentially speaking.” But that was then, and this is now (see above links). I used to think you could be pro-Christian and pro-Jewish, but you can’t. (Because you can’t be pro-Jewish and want to convert all the Jews.) You can “tolerate,” but that’s about it.

So, I found this picture, which is really representative of two things I basically suspect about Christianity. I know, I know, you have nice Christian friends who aren’t like that etc. but this isn’t about your friends, get it? I only know what I’ve experienced. That goes without saying.

Obviously, this picture is for gay rights, but it came from a website advocating the timely idea that “misunderstanding religion leads to homophobic attitudes.” That can be true more often than not, but I noticed that one popular way of showing that Christianity isn’t so homophobic after all is to show that just like shellfish and mixed materials are impertinent and outdated, so too is Leviticus 18:22. I’ve seen this many times. That’s annoying, but I get that they don’t get it. It’s not their job to know that that’s still an actual religion.

The thing that I don’t like is that Christians still want to take what they like out of Judaism and call them their own. My friend recently said “There’s a difference between Torah scholars and Old Testament scholars,” but the problem is when Old Testament scholars try to present themselves as knowledgeable Torah scholars, as if the Torah is theirs for the taking. They learn a couple words in Hebrew and call themselves experts (I recall a professor wishing us a “tova shana”). They try to separate the “cult” from the “ethics,” Judaism is “tribalistic,” it’s “unenlightened” etc. They don’t especially like the Torah the way it is. But they want it the way they want it.

Same for other things: the Catholic group on campus wants to co-host our seder. I have a Jewish friend whose group consists entirely of Christians, and she told me they “jokingly” say anti-semitic things to her like “Oh, do you have a lot of money?” And she is picking up their ideas of how “unethical” Judaism is, by exclaiming how unfair it was to kill the Egyptians etc. We shouldn’t fight in defense. Turn the other cheek! Where’d you hear that, again?

And the Christian groups love setting up debates and panels. They want to discuss our “shared heritage”…but, once we’re all sitting down…hey, have you heard that there is neither Jew nor Greek? Come be one of us! And Christians want to wear the Star of David. Christians want to compare Joseph and David (and basically everyone else) to Jesus. They like having license plates with things like 6 7DEUT on them. They like the idea of Jesus being a “rabbi.” They like the idea of Judaism. They just want it their way, without the Jews.

Out of this comes another similar thing I’ve noticed. There’s a sentiment underlying the text of this picture. It’s like when Christians (or anyone trying to use the Old v. New Testament to argue their point) say things like “the jealous, vengeful god of the Old Testament” or “the god of punishment of the Old Testament versus the god of love of the New Testament.” They are positive about the delineation between the Old and New Testaments, but what is the irony? These statements imply that there are two gods, the one of the Old Testament and the one of the New Testament. If God doesn’t change, how could it be any other way?

Christians have no problem looking at the “god of the Old Testament” with an objective eye, judging, and criticizing, and being glad they’ve got a new one now. They’re not going to say this or anything, but being in that Biblical criticism class with thirty freshmen and a professor who says things like “tova shana” made me realize how nonchalant they all were about it. They talked about stuff the ancient Israelites “used to do,” weird stupid things like tzitzit and tefillin. They tried to pronounce the Name of God with reckless abandon. (Encouraged, of course, by the fact the professor said it approximately twice per class, despite my cringing. Actually, maybe because of my cringing. He was jerky like that.)

And so I started getting the sense that it was all just as well to them, because all that existed in the past, “that god” existed in the past, “that covenant” existed in the past, “those Israelites” don’t exist anymore, and now they have Jesus etc. I don’t think they’d be talking about Jesus with such flagrant apathy and even scorn at times. Even if such a class started out jovial, they’d probably notice eventually what they were doing. But with the Old Testament, it’s OK. Never when I heard a Christian say “Yahweh” did I suppose they were thinking “This is my God I’m talking about.” This insistence on the demarcation between the “old god/old styles/old tricks” and the “new one” seems very dualistic, if not idolatrous. So does praying directly to Jesus or reading the Bible “in Jesus’ name” or doing things “in Jesus’ name.”

So there you have it. And that’s why I don’t do interfaith relations anymore.

Interview Series: Father John David Ramsey, W&M Catholic Chaplain

Is it important for the Bible to be historically accurate?

The Catholic perspective on the Bible is that there are intrinsic to the nature of a holy text, multiple layers of meaning. If you think about it this is true of many forms of literature—for example, you can read a play of Sophocles or Shakespeare and you can read it for its historical interest. You can learn a lot about Elizabethan or Greek society by reading those plays, and that’s interesting and helpful and positive knowing all of that for fully engaging the play. But people still perform Shakespeare’s plays or the Greek tragedies because there’s more to it than that, that there’s something in those texts that speak to us as human beings. If you apply that the the Bible, texts understood to be given to us by God through human hands, and through the inspiration of those texts, they provide the guideline for Christian living.

What that means is that the historical aspect is very important. From a religious standpoint, what matters as well is the fact that God continues to speak through these texts. So when the gospel writers were writing their gospels, they were certainly aware of historical facts, but they were more interested in drawing out the deeper meaning of Jesus’ life. There were layers of meaning, and the writers weren’t trying to write a modern biography. They were trying to elucidate what happened in Jesus’ life as they understand it after his resurrection.

Is the Old Testament essential?

It’s absolutely essential. For Christians, it’s not just the first 3/4ths of the Bible that you get through to get to the good stuff. Everything about Christianity is completely rooted and participates in the Old Testament story. When we speak of an old and new covenant it doesn’t mean “old” as in “we can forget that.” It means that the old covenant has been taken up in Christ and made new. And the parameters have been expanded, and there’s this new universality to it. Christians understand that Christ is the fulfillment of everything that has come before. The New Testament attests to that fulfillment in Christ. But it’s not new in the sense of leaving the old behind.

So would you say the New Testament is showing how the Old Testament was fulfilled?

Exactly. It’s an interpretation and understanding of the Old Testament in light of Jesus.

Is it important for the Old Testament to be historically accurate, like the Exodus or Genesis?

Sure, but in almost the same way as the New Testament’s historicity. it’s important to remember that the New Testament was written over a period of 50-60 years. the Old Testament was written over a period of probably six to seven hundred years. So what happens is that there is a process of editing and amending the documents of the Old Testament over time so they continue to expand in meaning, like someone gives you a text and says “This is what happened,” and as they keep experiencing the presence of God in their midst, they can add more layers of understanding. It’s simply harder to investigate the historicity because of lack of historical evidence after more than two millennia. The historical quality is very important, but Catholics do not believe that it must be absolutely accurate in a modern, historical sense.

It’s like treating a poem like a physics textbook. The creation accounts in Genesis are poetic expressions of the true way that God created the world. You know, the Big Bang theory and all of that is a scientific explanation of the same thing. I find them complementary. Some of our Protestant brothers and sisters say that you should read Genesis like a science textbook. For Catholics, it was never meant to be read that way. It’s true, because it’s revealing true things about who God is and how He loves human beings. But the point of those stories is not a scientific account of creation. The point of those stories is that God created out of love, and that He created unique human beings as an object of His love.

What challenges are facing Catholicism?

That’s a good question. I think you can sort of see it in two sets of things. One is an internal challenge, growing in holiness and growing in faithfulness. The Catholic Church on every level is made of human beings, quite capable of failing and sinning and doing the wrong thing. And in the last few years with the sex abuse scandal—it was proportionally a small number of priests, but that’s still completely unacceptable—the fact that some figures in the Church hid it, it was hidden by some people, caused great damage; a great sin that caused great damage to the Church. But Christ is larger than that. And it’s a challenge that we need to face and do continue to face. Not just that issue, but any time there’s something in the Church that isn’t Christlike, that needs to be brought to light. If you read the Scriptures, the Church has always been a mess, but its a mess that Christ has chosen to be with, to work through, to draw to himself. So the holiness of the Church has to do with Christ being there, helping us to be holy, not because we’re always the best of people. But there’s that, the ongoing struggle internally.

The other thing that the Church is facing is that we’re in a time of growing secularism—and secularism doesn’t just mean non-Christian; it means unreligious in any way. That means that many, many people think that science and what’s here now is all we need, “I can figure it out for myself, I don’t need any notion of God” and they think that if there is—if there were—no God, it would be fine. I think it would be depressing, you know, but you could do that. But what we find and what a lot of religious people see is that the world is becoming more and more materialistic, more disinterested in transcendent good, transcendental notions of truth and beauty and love. So we’re becoming very turned in on ourselves, very here and now, and very uninterested in anything beyond ourselves in terms of the transcendental realm. And that’s destroying our humanity, because we’re more than that, we’re more than just materialist consumers. And this is not just a Christian view: in world culture, this is one of the rare times when there’s been a decreasing interest in any religious impulse at all.

So the Catholic Church, which believes that knowing God and loving God and being loved by God is essential for a beautiful human life, the challenge for us as Catholics is to live out on every level a witness that says God is loving, God is good, and He has beautiful things for you, and He has true freedom for you.

The Catholic Church, especially among people who don’t care for the Church, they say it’s restricting; you have to check your mind at the door; that you are not allowed to think; and A. that’s absolutely untrue, and B. when I was a college professor I used to tell my students, “Go be a Zoroastrian, go be anything, but don’t be a secular humanist because its so boring.” And it really is! It’s terribly constricting in terms of imagination in a way that Catholicism or Judaism or Islam is not. When you accept a transcendental realm everything takes on a transcendental beauty, a meaning beyond something just sitting there.

Science and the Catholic Church. People say, “What about Galileo?” Well, that was a bad moment. The Catholic Church has always been pro-science, but pro-science with God.

I’ve always thought of it as ‘Science tells you what, but religion tells you why.’

Exactly. That’s exactly the traditional distinction.

I guess we should talk about CCM [Catholic Campus Ministry]. Is it hard to engage students?

It’s really not. We probably have about six to seven hundred people involved in some level or another. There’s no demand—nobody’s forcing the students to go to Mass; to be involved in things. CCM has so many different aspects, from outreach to missions trips to the liturgy to fellowship meals and all that sort of thing, that it reaches far more people than is obvious. Many people come because they were involved in their church as Catholics growing up and its just a natural step to be involved. And it’s student-run, so students know they have a role here. Other students come after a year or two years, and do the typical college thing and don’t become involved…but then they realize something’s missing. Many of our students are also involved in service or campus life, but they find something here that is essential. So we don’t have to work to get students’ interest. We always try to do things that will draw people in…

But you don’t have to program to get people in.

No. Obviously our programming is oriented toward students, but we’re not sitting around wondering how to get people involved in the sense that it’s a problem. We want more people involved because we want more people to experience this joy, but not because we’re starving for new members.

What’s a day like for you?

Half the time I’m at CCM, and half the time I’m the associate at St. Bede. So I split my time. But a typical day here: there’s Mass every day that I’m here, and confessions most days that I’m here. And we have staff meetings for the CCM staff…but the great majority of what I do is meet with students, students who want to come by once or on a regular basis, who want to talk about their faith or grow in faith. Or who need somebody to talk to, and outside of Mass that’s the thing that I most love.

I so respect college-aged people because you’re living in a world that’s a little overwhelming, especially W&M students. I admire their openness, their tenacity, their willingness to ask questions and ask hard questions. So I have so much respect for the students in general. I feel very privileged to be able to do that.

Is it what you expected it to be?

Yes, because I’ve been involved in ministry with young people for many years. I just became a priest two years ago, but I was involved as a college professor and other things before that. But there are no surprises in that way. But when there were surprises, they were pleasant ones, like how really seriously young people take the questions of life, and how honest they are, and that sort of thing.

When did you know that you wanted to become a priest?

That’s a long and complicated story. I’m actually a convert. I became Catholic in 2000; I had been United Methodist before that. I was very active, and my parents were very active in the church. I still love the Methodist church, but I ultimately found there was a sort of freedom and fullness in the Catholic faith that really drew me in; that was richer than what I had experienced before that. I became Catholic when I was teaching at Hampden-Sydney College. And not very long after that, I realized God was saying you can be a priest if you want to. And I did want to. Being a priest allows me, since I’m called to that as a priest, to meet and be with people and bring the fullness of what Christ offers the Church to people in a very direct way, and that’s very compelling to me.

Were you especially interested in working with students?

Oh yes. I have a very academic background. I was a classics major in Davidson College. And then I did a Master’s of Divinity and PhD in Theology at Duke, and it was through that that I became interested in the Catholic Church. And I have another Church degree called a License in Sacred Theology. So my whole life has been sort of academic; I’ve always loved being in environments that are about the life of the mind and asking questions and seeking answers. So I love everything I do—I love being at St. Bede and working with people of all ages, but I think my background and interests have suited me for this kind of environment. which is why I was put here by the bishop. And I really love it.

How has your worldview changed since this whole experience?

Becoming Catholic and all of that? I think it’s both opened my eyes to the real brokenness of the world, and the yearning that people have for something more. The yearning people have for peace and love and beauty. Therefore also, and this is the even bigger thing that has changed, I’ve come to see much more clearly and much more richly, and how intimately God is present in our lives and how passionately He loves each one of us and He wants to draw us into the freedom of our humanity.


No seriously, what’s with Jews for Jesus?

I think I talked about this before, and I remember because some guy commented saying “Messianic is perfectly legitimate” etc. so let’s just open that can of worms again.

This post is inspired by the fact that on iTunes, there are approximately three Messianic talk radio stations, and one Jewish one. The Jewish one is French, though, and it’s some sort of rock station. We also have a Messianic ‘synagogue’ here on the peninsula, and a couple more in Richmond.

I have to tell you, it’s a little distressing to me. We are discerning people, who know that anyone can use any text to predict the messianic qualities of anyone else. In Rambam’s time, apparently, that person was Mohammed. But the question really is how they wrangle people up with their tactics, and what do they do with them afterwards? Messianic ‘synagogues,’ I should think, aren’t long-term solutions. But when I think of different pragmatic problems associated with this, I hit a roadblock.

I could suggest that they probably become uncomfortable when they realize that most synagogues aren’t messianic, but then I suppose I could say the same for those messianic hasidic sects. And we don’t bother them.

I could suggest that their ideologies bar them from any synagogues other than their own, but then I just think of how the denominational divides are doing the very same.

Speaking of hasidic sects, I’m not really sure how that works, either. I don’t suppose they go around trying to find prooftexts for their rebbe’s resurrection, but something’s going on that might not be so different.

And if you want to talk about beliefs, what about all the atheist Jews out there? I feel like that’s, like, the majority, a statistic I don’t love but I always knew this. I’m just saying I wonder why Jews for Jesus “absolutely aren’t Jewish” wherein Jews with other unusual beliefs absolutely are (save for conversion differences, obviously Jews for Jesus converts aren’t Jewish converts—however we also know that all the controversy isn’t just about conversion validity).

Could be the proselytizing. I am more against proselytizing a Jew towards idolatry than you could ever know. But even beyond that, I certainly have qualms with Jews for Jesus. I just don’t know what they are, exactly. It’s similar to my qualms against non-Jews co-opting Jewish symbols like Kabbalah and the Shema (we saw a car today with a Jesus fish and 6 7DEUT on their license plate; that was just odd). I just don’t know what to say. But I still want to throw up. You know the feeling, I’m sure.

The next question is how people actually get into that sort of thing. If you love Judaism so much, just be a Noahide. If you love Jesus so much, just be a Christian. You’ll find a large and accepting community as a Christian. It’s not hard to find a Christian community, you know. Just come to the South if you can’t find one.

And really, if you’re looking for a rebbe, how boring is Jesus? You can do way better, if that’s what you’re after. Then you can be Hasidic and that’s way more interesting than spending your life scavenging for a Messianic ‘synagogue,’ always on the fringes. Maybe you enjoy that sort of thing. And I hope you’re also aware that spending your life with other Christians who just really like Judaism isn’t really an authentic Jewish cultural experience, if that’s what you want.

Christians who are too interested in Judaism just weird me out in general a little, just because I know that there’s always underlying stuff under their interest. Interested in Israel? Maybe because you want to do missionary work (i.e. “Convert all the Jews”), or maybe because you want the second coming, which will only happen if all the Jews are in Israel?

Still like Catholics though.

I like other Christians, too, so long as they stay on their side of the fence.

YOU WON’T LET ME CARE

I took philosophy. I know that cultural relativism is really popular with the kids. But when you’re stuck in a car with someone who says that “Jews for Jesus morally should proselytize, if that’s their belief,” or when you’ve got a friend who claims to be into both Judaism and Hinduism (and doesn’t seem worried that Hinduism is polytheistic)—it’s harder to argue with than a highly theoretical philosophy class.

It’s one thing to accept other people’s religions. I go out of my way not to offend Christians by fighting back when they ask “why I can’t just believe in Jesus”, and I tend to think it’s important that Christianity continues to exist, because some people just do better having someone to pray to that they can actually see, for instance. But it’s quite another thing to accept—nay, “tolerate“—a belief system that is internally incoherent! Therefore, one can be Christian; one can be Jewish; but it’s logically inconsistent to be both. You can’t be both—same with Judaism and Hinduism. I don’t care how open Judaism is to syncretism or how our religion is “our personal business” or whatever. You have the right to your opinion; you don’t have the right to be wrong in facts.

Not to mention the fact that Messianic “Judaism” is not very internally consistent in general. Some questions:

1.) Jesus died. Great. So, what did he actually do? Unlike mainstream Christians, you can’t say he superceded the Torah.
2.) Do you follow Talmud? Why or why not? It’s the writings of the Pharisees; your mortal enemies. Where does it stop—Mishnah; Gemara; Tosafot; something else? What do you have to say about what Talmud says about Christianity and like sects?
3.) What siddur do you use, anyway?
4.) What is the difference between you and Christianity, theologically?
5.) When the Torah and New Testament clash, which do you follow?

It’s not popular to argue against other religions, I think; we’re supposed to say “well, that’s OK for you; I don’t like it, but then again I’m not Messianic!” But these people are real (I have friends who have Messianic friends), and even if they’re not proselytizing, their existence is perpetuating a lie. And they’re treading on my territory. So yes, my politically correct generation, I do care. Christians are going to keep asking me “why I can’t believe in Jesus”, but I don’t want it to be because they “have another Jewish friend who does.”

I’ve got to talk about Tony.

Tony.

I went to the Catholic church again with a friend. I don’t know why I keep going, except for the fact that it seems like it’s the only way I get to see her (she’s not Catholic, in case you were wondering). The priest we’ve seen there twice is very interesting but rather plain compared to the new guy…..

TONY!

He walked up the aisle to the tune of the organ, stopping once to pet some crying baby. When he got to the front, he said something Catholic and everyone was like “Amen” all decorous-like and he was like, “Now that’s no way to express your enthusiasm! I want to hear it louder!” or something like that, and everyone was like AMEN!

It was like that the whole time. Later on, he was like “Who in here’s a Christian?” and people were like, “Yeah, me,” and he was like “Whoa, there are only SIX CHRISTIANS IN HERE? LET ME HEAR YOU, WHO in here is a CHRISTIAN?” He also make a joke about pizza. Twice. He called out this guy in the front row by name. “John? Are you the one who wrote all those books?” He was making flailing hand gestures, going “I’m Italian, don’t mind me!” and shouting stuff and all like he was at a football game or something. Man he got those people revved up, too.

Then somehow he started making this impassioned speech about freaking Haiti, and it was great because even I felt a little guilty. Luckily, I absolutely hate when people tell me what I need to donate my money to, so I didn’t feel that guilty. “Look in your seats; you’ll see an envelope. I don’t want anyone leaving here without an envelope!” He called out some teenage girl, going “Now if you lived in Haiti as a teenage girl, you wouldn’t be texting all over the place, you’d be getting water out of the well!”

So that went on for a good half hour, and I was like “Tony, good gracious. You’re way too intense. And how did you get into priest school like this anyway?” You wouldn’t believe it, but when he was done, he got this big wave of applause.

Applause! At Catholic mass! Tony!

Then it was time for communion and he was totally intense about that too. He was like “YOU DIED FOR US AND TOLD US TO BREAK THIS BREAD” or whatever they say during that part, and he was gesticulating violently at the matzah and wine like he was trying to get Jesus to REALLY GET IN THAT WINE! And when he lifted the stuff up, apparently that’s when it gets transubstantiated because that seems about right, he stared intensely at it for like five seconds.

(I wonder what priests are thinking while they’re transubstantiating…)

Anyway, he was intense. Later on, he called out to some lady. “Sister Catherine. Where is she? GO GET HER!!! This lady has done SO MUCH at this church, give her a hand!”

And he got applause. For the second time! Tony!

But now that I’ve experienced Tony, I don’t think I really want to go back to Catholic mass for a while. I mean, they’re all the time talking about those evil Pharisees and how Jesus coined the Shema and all those other things Christians think. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure the people sitting near us can totally hear me every time I whisper “This sounds better in Hebrew” every ten seconds.

Urgh! CHRISTIANS

I just can’t talk to Christians anymore. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but they’ve just got to stop it. So far, in eight months, I’ve been either missionized or otherwise disparaged by Christians five times (one “mission” is actually ongoing), heard a story about some jerkface who asked my Jewish friend if she picks up coins she finds on the ground, laughed at in class for wanting to go to seminary, and stared at incredulously by a friend I brought to shul (who, to be fair, also screamed “EW GROSS!” when we went to the Catholic church together and all the people drank Jesus from the same cup). I’ve also heard “Jewish church” and “The Jewish god Yahweh” more times than I can count, and in my “Joke of the Day” crap Gmail tries to show me, the joke once was “So-and-so was ruthless and cold, just like the Old Testament gods”.

I’ve been asked why I can’t just believe in Jesus, asked if I have “Jewish blood”, asked if I was a missionary on my way to Jerusalem (that one was strange), told that I should break the Sabbath “just this once” (two or three times, same person), told that “Jews for Jesus are the real Jews”, and told more than once that Judaism is really “just ethnic”, “just tradition”, and that kashrut was instituted for health purposes. My sister also makes fun of me in little ways and my mom once told me she “secretly wishes I’d been baptized at birth”. This was after she asked me whether I “believe in God and Jesus”.

Also, just in case you don’t believe it, it also happens on my own blog (I’m still wondering whether it would be funny to publish these):

But today—today! I knew it wouldn’t end well when one lady suddenly asked me, “So what do YOU think happened to the Ark of the Covenant?” And I was like, “What, the movie?” And she was like “HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW THAT IT’S IN ‘YOUR BOOKS’!” Then she started asking me why I didn’t think Jesus was the messiah, being that he “fulfilled all the prophecies” and everything.

Gah—I don’t care about Jesus; I don’t spend all my time thinking about him!

I ended up going off on her when she was like “The prophecies are in your books, you people believe that there’s going to be a messiah, obviously it was him! It’s all throughout ‘your books’!” And I so don’t feel like going over every single verse that Christians have twisted out of context. That’s just not what I want to do with my time. So after at least ten minutes of this, I said “There’s NO Jesus in the Torah! He’s not in it at ALL! NO JESUS THERE’S NO JESUS IN IT WE DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING ABOUT JESUS!!!!!”

She asked me what I thought of the story about Jesus being crucified “tore the Temple ark apart”, and I was like what are you talking about? Fortunately, the more moderate of the two saved me a few times and explained to me that she was talking about how the story of the curtain of the Ark being torn apart when Jesus was crucified.

And finally I just said, “WHY would you think I believe that?!?!” The crazy one was like WHY WHY CAN’T YOU ANSWER MY SIMPLE QUESTIONS? She pointed at me saying “They should know about their own religion!!” She turned back to me and told me I ought to ask my rabbi about that one. “See what he has to say about that!”

The not-crazy one had to save me again by saying maybe she should take that question to a religion professor. (Of course she replied “A religion professor would just agree with me; ‘they’ [the Jews] should know how to answer these questions.” At that point I knew I shouldn’t have stuck around in that conversation—I don’t know why I do this to myself—but I should have known by the way they were both going “They think…The Jews think…” right in front of me the whole time. I ended the conversation by saying quite calmly “You don’t know everything about Judaism; why do I have to know everything about Christianity?”

I don’t know if I should have built-in answers for these people or if I should just walk away.

Of course it occurred to me that this happened the day after my rabbi threw the old “You won’t be Jewish here” thing at me. I don’t get the perks of being legally Jewish, but I still have to defend it.

I’m becoming extremely certain that Christians not only think that Jesus is actually in the Torah, but that Jews also think Jesus is in the Torah, but just rebelliously don’t “accept it”. (I learned a new one today—apparently they think that the Passover lamb is like “foreshadowing Jesus”—yeah, Jews believe that; they just don’t want to admit it.)

Common sense, guys.

Decidedly, Christianity is more impossible.

1. The premise was that since the Torah’s laws are so hard, Jesus had to come along and take that big impossible ball and chain out of our lives so we could get on with what is real and true. That’s fine for them and everything, since I think that Christianity is probably better than witchcraftery, but alas—one rebuttal. Christianity, by its very premise, is impossible. There is a theory that Christianity formed the way it did precisely because everyone was fearing the End of Days at that particular point. (I read this in The Judeao-Christian Tradition by J.H. Hexter.) Turn the other cheek? Done! This world will only last a little while longer, after all—what’s the point of fighting? Give all your money to the poor? Simple! Lifelong servitude? All others before yourself? Love humanity all equally, without preferencing your own community? Nothing to it!

No wonder you hear so often “I know I’m supposed to do this [insert ethical precept], but realistically…?”

This happened in Religion class yesterday. I gave my presentation on Jews For Jesus and why you can’t mix Christianity and Judaism. “Even the basic ethics are different!” I said, and later when I thought about it, I was struck with a situation in which we are presented with a very obvious difference. If you and a friend are out wandering in the desert, and your canteen is full, but his just happened to have sprung a leak, leaving it empty, what do you do? Neither one of you can live on only half a canteen. Either you give it all or keep it all, or you both die. What do you do?

I kind of love this scenario, because it bravely illustrates what I like so much about Judaism. It’s realistic! I asked my Religion teacher, a United Methodist pastor, what she would do in such a situation. She said that “she knows that she should give it to the other guy” but “realistically she would keep it for herself, probably.” See the disconnect? I said that in Judaism, you should keep it for yourself, because you’re not supposed to sacrifice one life in order to save another—i.e., the canteen was yours originally. Judaism was meant for the long-term, and it’s not impossible like the rather vague precepts of Christianity.

The Torah is not in heaven!

2. Speaking of which, I’d decided that I need to start learning the whole Birkat Hamazon, which is going to be a long-term task. I tried looking for a simple Hebrew-and-English version online, but to no avail. Either it had the tetragrammaton and “God” written all over it, and it was a PDF and thus non-modifiable; OR—worse—it was an “inclusive” version, which uses the matriarchs where they weren’t originally, and this version also refuses to use “Father”, “King”, or “He” for God. You know what that means. “God, our Parent, opens God’s hand and satisfies all God’s creatures.” I find this a little more disconcerting than the traditional text, even more so that the Hebrew itself is altered to accommodate this agenda. I am a woman. And I don’t want the matriarchs in my stuff. There are bigger problems out there—I mind more when the female grammatical form isn’t offered than I mind that women aren’t getting enough representation in the Amidah or the Birkat Hamazon. I don’t care. They made it that way for a reason.

What I mean is this. I’m listening to this Yeshivat Hadar lecture about the Amidah, and apparently every line has a purpose. Even, believe it or not, “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” As someone astutely noticed, The first verse of the Amidah was missing an important hero, Moses! Why not include Moses? Why just the three? He was important too! But then the guy said that “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” is a line found in the Torah someplace (I think it was Moses that said it in the form that was actually used in the Amidah). The point is that it’s not arbitrary. And putting matriarchs in would be adding something rather anachronistic, and that is really my problem with it.

And honestly, “Parent” just doesn’t sound as good as “Father”. I don’t need to be thinking about feminism during prayer. I don’t need to be reminded of how some editor thought we all ought to remove “He” from our theological thoughts. And the whole thing seems to draw attention away from where it’s due.

Just my opinion.

And as for my search, after transferring a PDF to TIFF, then using Paint to erase every single “God” (which is hard when, remember, this was a translation that refused to use PRONOUNS), then erasing every “Adonai”, then getting angry when I noticed what was happening and defiantly replacing all the “God”‘s with “He” and “His”; and “Parent” with “Father”; and “our ancestors” with “our fathers”, I realized it probably wasn’t worth it so much because half my text was gone at that point. It looks like I’m going to have to copy the whole Birkat Hamazon by hand.

You just can’t get a good translation. It’s really annoying.

3. I’m making Buddy Bands.

I have lots of useful jewelry now. Beads I found on the street during the Chicago Halloween Parade not pictured.

Catholicism (and tzitzit)

“I remember the ‘O'” -A lady I was teaching Hebrew, on how she tried to memorize the Shema but by morning only remembered the ‘O’ of ‘O Israel’.

“It’s feasible” -The rabbi, who was then shocked by his own vocabulary

I think my rabbi gets wiser as time goes on. We were talking about whether you can use electricity on Shabbat, and sometimes I wish that there wasn’t a language barrier because I’m not sure the point was made very well. He’d brought in a responsum from the 50’s on why turning on lights was permitted because it was a “shvus” (weirdly, the paper was all Ashkenasic transliteration) and we can circumvent a shvus for the sake of a mitzvah “but not all of them,” as the rabbi said, and also that we can circumvent a shvus “if it’s causing discomfort”, according to Vilna Gaon. So basically that was the paper’s logic, and it wasn’t a good logic, because it didn’t even argue why electricity is a shvus.

I used my philosophical training to say, “Rabbi, this logic isn’t very good because it’s resting on a supposition that it hasn’t properly defended,” but my objection was not actually countered due to—as you know—the language barrier.

Anyway, about Catholicism. I went to the Catholic church with my mom on Sunday. I wrote a beautiful paper for my Religion class with the information I gained. All in all, it reminded me a little of Judaism, just because I sensed a great respect for the Bible and their rituals and so on. Of course, the service also started with a reading of Deuteronomy 6—the Shema, none less!—and ended with the psalm that I know best, “kol haneshama tehallelya hallelujah”. The Catholic version was a lot slower, I found.

My mom pressured me to go take Confession with her because “I’m half-Catholic, after all,” and I said I don’t think it actually works like that.

I feel like I keep getting my best theological ideas and inspiration from Catholicism, not Judaism. Maybe because it’s more foreign to me, so when there’s a connection there’s a big connection. But I do remember the priest (who, by the way, was very ebullient yet otherworldly and may have once been a Broadway actor) saying “This is the beauty of our Confession”, that it’s important to let God in to our darkest corners so he can help us sweep them up. Believe me, I like reading about how repeating the building of the mishkan in two adjacent parashot reflects our intention and our actual actions, and whether electricity is shvus—but when you want a simple sermon, a less academic sermon, the Catholic church is down the street.

It was very brotherly. We held hands at one point. And during a prayer for sick people, the speaker would say the person’s name—”Maria Blackbeard”—and everyone would respond, “Maria.” Strange!

There was also a baby’s baptism, and the priest actually asked the baby herself if she accepted Jesus and the Catholic church! It was marvelous. I feel like that is the sort of thing that could potentially happen in Judaism.

I noticed two things. One, I really liked being at the Catholic church. I was aglow for a while afterward. It was like watching a play, frankly. Two, I couldn’t help but compare my first visit to a Catholic church to my first visit to the Conservative synagogue. At the synagogue, there is more room for improvisation. If you need to move around, basically, you can. I’m too fidgety to be Catholic. You’ve got to be on key. It’s very methodical. At the church, you just go home afterward. At the synagogue, you stay for Kiddush, which contrasts the decorum of the beginning of the Birchot Hashachar with banging on the tables throughout the Birkat Hamazon. As—I’ll never forget—my friend once commented, “They’re really excited about God.” At the Catholic church, there was a looming peacefulness, that was for certain. But at the synagogue, God could be approached ceremonially and reverently but with energetic joy and restless vitality!

I’m finding it really hard, though, not to order that free rosary from Rosary Army. I love the idea of the rosary. I just—in seeing the knotted rosary rather than the beaded one—made the connection with tzitzit. In trying to figure out just how heretical it might be to order that rosary, I found that we have a parallel. One I can’t wear until I convert.

I don’t know why I have been paying so much attention lately, but I can’t wait to wear tzitzit—a free acceptance of the 613 commandments. The rosary can’t claim such a thing.

 

Did you know that ‘the home is women’s tefillin’?

I learned some things today. First, I learned that aluminum foil can be un-kosher. I didn’t believe it at first. It has something to do with the oils used to make it. But I looked, and lo and behold, there was the little U on my aluminum foil box. Look for it the next time you go to the store…if you want to have fun, that is.

I also learned that soon I am going to have to give up Panera’s chicken soup. I love this soup. But, as you know, it has chicken in it. I’m not sure where I am on the kashrut ladder, so I don’t really know if I have to eliminate it quite yet. Maybe I should just eat as much Panera soup as possible until I definitely-for-sure have to give it up. That’s my strategy so far. Luckily, I looked at the ingredients for their Broccoli Cheddar soup before buying that one, and good thing I did because it uses chicken fat. First of all, ew. Second of all, having that in a cheese soup is much worse than just chicken soup.

Anyway. I might have to eat their bagels instead. I’m still deciding whether I have to give up that soup just yet.

Next, I learned that JTS has rolling admissions, and apparently I won’t have to wait until May for their decision after all! But I also learned that their applicants have much better stats than I do—an average of 2100 SAT compared to my 1940, and a 3.85 GPA compared to my 3.72. Well, hopefully the fact that I’ve been pestering them since APRIL makes a difference.

I learned also that I really hate when musicians try to fit themselves talking about their own song into the song itself. John Cale does this. So does Pere Ubu, I think. And then they set it to music, like that’s so original. I can’t find an example right now (CRAP) but now I have to think about it.

Other things that happened today: My friend Nathaniel carries around his Bible. Somehow, he started showing me how “Jesus came to fulfill the law, not replace it.” Then he said he fulfilled all the prophecies and I gently reminded him that prophecies are not the same as the laws of the Torah. Also, I had a vision either yesterday or a few days ago, while reading that Jesus once said the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, etc.” I imagined myself saying, “I can read that whole thing in Hebrew, you know.” Today, Nathaniel opened his Bible to that very section, and guess what I said?

It was weird. He also says a prayer before eating, I learned. It’s good to have religious friends.

We have “good Christians” here where I live, I think. I never witness any of that “Christians are SO HORRIBLE and want to CONVERT you [and even when they do it's just because I think they have to....I think it's part of the contract...] and they HATE ATHEISTS!” stuff. I think people like to hype that part up. Maybe I just live in a good section of the South. But it’s really not that bad. Christianity is everywhere, but it’s all blended up into the background. Jesus stickers on bumpers (sometimes religious-themed vanity plates…), nativity scenes on Christmas, the League of Christian Athletes Club and the daily Moment of Silence at my high school, casual mentions of youth groups, occasional “Have You Been Saved?” booklets left on Starbucks counters. Actually, in high school, I was a little disappointed that no one really noticed that I was such an outspoken atheist. I wore a shirt to school once on which I wrote with marker: “Atheism Isn’t Evil!” No one noticed.

Being in World Religions class is going to be interesting. I’m finding that a lot of religions are quite similar. Judaism and Islam, for instance. I just learned that during the five times a day prayer, there is a part where one turns to the right and the left, like in the Amidah. There are a lot of little things like this. (Also: “Salaam alaikum”—can you say “Shalom aleichem”?) Anyway, I constantly think about what makes all other religions “not right” (and I refuse to say all religions are equally right, so yes, I am saying that some religions are “wrong”). What do I make of Christians who really think that Jesus, a person, is listening to them? It is one thing to say that they are fundamentally condemned for believing differently (which I’m not, obviously), and another to say that I would like to know if my religion was leading me somewhere way, way off. If Christians, for example, are as equally committed to their belief system as I am to mine, and for the same reasons (“Because the Bible says so! We just can’t know for certain!”)—who’s to say I’m not way, way off? Who’s to say that Shinto isn’t the “right one”? Or some esoteric African religion? I can’t say that. There’s a lot of uncertainty here. I have a theory that Christianity developed because some people really need something tangible to worship, such as a person. But that comes rather close to saying that Christianity is true because people needed it.

Nathaniel asked me why God wanted to bind the people of Israel together. (I know that Christians think it’s to herald in the messiah but) I couldn’t answer. He asked me what the purpose of the mitzvot is. I couldn’t answer that, either.

It’s good (but uncomfortable) to be outside of your own belief system. It’s important, I think. If I end up going to JTS or Yeshiva, I’m probably going to make a point of making Christian (and Muslim…and Shinto…) friends just to make sure I don’t concede to a Jewish vacuum.

You know, happily I’m not looking at women’s participation with such a critical eye as I had been. I clearly recall last night, clicking on links entitled “Women’s Section!” going, “Hey, women’s stuff! Interesting! Let’s learn!” instead of “Oh, it’s probably about how ‘the home is women’s tefillin‘”. In fact, I felt a little disappointed to find any space devoted to feminism and stuff, as if it’s totally passé and can we just get over this already, stop talking about what we can’t do and start enjoying what we can do? OK, I still hate apologetics. And I will never accept the “Women are closer to God” line. But as Chaviva says,

[A]s with all things, you view your religion through your own, unique lenses and if those lenses are dirty or chipped, then you’ll see everything you don’t agree with as a stumbling block and not a building block.

I was looking at it through my annoying “I just know what they’re going to say, I hate these Orthodox jokers” filter. And now, hopefully, that filter is slowly fading. I’m not going to stay up all night in a cold sweat because someone on the internet said that he feels uncomfortable when a woman wears tefillin.

I hope, anyway. I’m very fickle. In reading different commentary on the Yitro parashat, I came across the commandment Do Not Covet. That could certainly include others’ mitzvot, I think.

The same might go for other things I don’t really feel so good about, like all the “Resurrect the Temple NOW! We want animal sacrifices again!” parts in the different prayers. “If we have difficulty relating to some concepts within the prayer book,” David Ariel writes in What Do Jews Believe?, “the prayer service itself can provide an occasion for reflection.” And I definitely don’t advocate changing the Hebrew itself to fit ideology. I’ve become unfamiliar with the Sim Shalom, even though I like to think I agree with Conservative principles. It’s interesting. I’m so used to my Koren siddur now, that any other wording seems like a radical shift. I mean, you can shift too much from the original intent, and I’ve totally seen it.

Shabbat shalom!

Oh, you and your Christmas music, Mark Levin.

Announcer: “Each one states: ‘I’m proud to be an American’. Chia Obama—available at any K-mart!”

There’s one thing I don’t understand about Christianity. And that’s Jesus. Who was he? God? His son? Why did he allegedly say on the cross, “God, why have you forsaken me?” Why would God say this to himself? Furthermore, I don’t understand why Christians specifically direct their prayers to Jesus instead of just forgetting about him and saying, “Hey God, thanks for coming down here as a man and helping us to be more like you that one time, let’s get back to you now”.

I have this theory that Christianity developed because there are lots of people who are really ready to believe in God but can’t handle having nothing to direct themselves toward. Some people need things you can see, you know, like a historical person.

So, it’s strange that I actually get most help from Christians. My philosophy teacher, the first rational religious person I’d ever known; that lady at the Christian Bible study, who in her uncomfortable prodding actually led me to finally be able to answer the question why I’m converting; a commenter on one of my favorite blogs who told me that the point of the afterlife wasn’t about hedonistic eternal life but to, at long last, fill the pocket of emptiness we feel since we can’t experience God totally and completely, and made me realize the importance of this in my life as well….

…I wonder how Christians would feel if I told them that they really helped me…but not in a Christian way. I kind of wonder a little bit why Christians aren’t just satisfied that you’ve become religious…they want you to be Christian. Anyway, I’m sure not all Christians are like this, but I know that being a Christian is obviously a pretty important thing in Christianity. It’s just strange to me because this doesn’t exist in Judaism. Like, at all.

Anyway, I got into reading that book, A Letter in the Scroll by Jonathan Sacks. It wasn’t like I thought. Well, maybe it was what I thought, but I reacted to it differently than I thought I would have. He started out by saying he was a philosophy major at Cambridge reading  A. J. Ayer, so I felt an immediate connection, obviously. It’s not really about how we have to start wearing tefillin at all, yet. It’s about why we should be Jewish in this secular world with all its flashy stuff. He says the best reason is to continue a good tradition, which I agree with. And it made me think: I don’t have to be “legally Jewish” to appreciate that. My forefathers were Jewish—I have to continue a good tradition. So I have to convert so I can fully practice it; so what? It’s just one more step than others have. But if not me, who? If not now, when?

“A value, a moral ideal or a social institution needs to be practiced constantly or it ceases to be,” he writes. And then things like “Faith is born not in the answer but in the question, not in harmony but in dissonance” and “To be a Jew is to have the courage to refuse easy answers” and “Judaism is a uniquely restless faith”, which are really easy to read different things into depending on your perspective, but anyway it was helpful to me. I thought: “Hey! So I don’t have to accept that midrash?” He says that like it or not, we are a product of our history and there’s no denying it. And Judaism is in my history. (So is Lithuania…and if they ever fix their dual citizenship law, I can do something about that too…) It actually helped me a lot.

I mentioned my favorite blog. It’s my favorite because the lady who writes it pretty much says what’s in my soul. For example, she writes:

When I think back on my spiritual journey, I am sometimes surprised that I ever got to where I am today. Even just reading through the archives of this blog makes me recall how little faith I had[...]Why did I stay on this path when prayer after prayer seemed to go unanswered, when I had no great visions or signs, no big religious experiences?

The biggest part of the answer, of course, is that Church teaching smacked of truth[...]But, as I found out, reason will only get you so far when it comes to knowing God. Your heart has to be involved as well — and that was the big sticking point for me. Without having that “personal relationship” with Jesus that so many people talk about, many times I came close to throwing in the towel and simply deciding that having faith must not be for me.

But one thing kept my search moving forward through all the ups and downs: the relief that hit me like a waterfall when I finally acknowledged my soul. All my life I had denied its existence, and I was suffocating.

(See what I mean about the Jesus thing? Would someone explain this to me?) When I read this today, it reminded me of how improbable it was that I would reach that impetus on Simchat Torah…like she said, I was good to go as far as the facts were concerned. But you can’t just live off of cold facts. Now, I don’t remember what I was feeling…but I guess I wasn’t really feeling it. You can’t make your heart be in it. And I was starting to feel like I wanted to give up. Nothing was going my way. But then for the first time I prayed with sincerity for the first time in my long life. And just like she wrote, as soon as I stopped “denying my soul”, everything came into place. Just like that. And I know that it was not on my part at all—finally, after weeks of feeling like I was going to just give up, God blessed me with this catalyst, and I felt this for a good two days. Now, I’ve had fleeting thoughts of quitting and doubt since then, but not seriously like before. In fact, these thoughts of doubt are laughable. I told the rabbi I wanted to convert eleven days later. I finally didn’t just think this was right; I knew.

Do you ever just wake up and say, “Wow, I really love my own blog”?

Speaking of the ethics triangle, it was expanded upon last week. It seems that it has Protestant undertones, although it works just as well for me anyway.

So there you have it. I really do like this triangle, though.

I’m on page 22 of my paper. I spent five hours at Starbucks today working on footnotes. Yes, it has to be done in about four weeks. I’m still trying to decide if I should write another next semester. I don’t really know what I’m going to be doing next semester. I can either take New Testament, do another thesis for World Religions, or take History of Russia Part II. And, as my mom says, “Your ancestors were Russian, you know.”

I mean, it would be an interesting change. But I did already write stealthily in one of my application essays that I like to write Honors theses every semester. Either I’ll have to take that part out or get even more stealthy. In about four hours, I will sign up for classes, so I’d better figure it out.

I’m going to try to talk to the rabbi tomorrow. Because, seriously, this is getting ridiculous. It’s been over a month! I’m worried that this process will take more than a year, and it will be weird because I’ll have to come back from college and then do whatever conversion ceremony I will have to do, and so on, and furthermore I’ll be twenty-freaking-one if I have to wait more than a year.

I don’t want to be twenty-freaking-one when I convert.

That’s crazy.

It’s bad enough that in two days, I’ll never be a teenager again.

Even though that type of classification only began during World War II (before that, all kids up to about 25 were just called “whippersnappers”), and even though I don’t really like most kids my age anyway, this worries me.

I just realized that last Shabbat was so amazing because 1.) The rabbi’s monster kids weren’t running around screaming this time, unlike usual, and 2.) I just got over mad, angry PMS and went into “The world is a beautiful piece of pie” syndrome. And if you don’t know what this is, you’re obviously not a woman. Basically, what happens is that to make up for the horror that is PMS, you skyrocket right back up again and even more so, suddenly, and for a day or two the world is all flowers and merriment. I didn’t even notice this until someone had to mention it…and I have to admit, it’s not a bad consolation.

I’ve soured.

Well, just like what happened in seventh grade, I got into a voluntary conversation with a Christian and consequently became less friendly toward its belief system as a result. In seventh grade, though, it was a little less harsh in that I simply went out on my own, read on the internet about atheism, and became an atheist for seven years. On Thursday, however, it went a little differently. I did, as I previously wrote, get into this Bible study with a known Christian voluntarily. I knew he was going to bring someone else with him, and I knew that he was glad I’ve become less agnostic—but I also knew he’d be more glad if I just took that leap of faith and go over to his side. Anyway, I knew all of these things walking into Starbucks that night. But I wasn’t prepared for the ceaseless intensity with which this other lady would press down upon me until I was totally weary of Christianity and exhausted. We were talking about some passage in Matthew or something (Christians, I’ve noticed, really like to read one passage, really slowly, explain every line, and not really put it in context and not really do much with it except apply it to our lives today. Correct me if I’m wrong; this just happened at the Baptist Youthclub too), when I related something to Judaism, and they started asking me all these questions on what Judaism has to say about the messiah and whatnot. Then the lady asked the tough question: What’s it all for? What’s it all about? And you know, that’s a hard question to answer. Because, as you may or may not already know, Judaism doesn’t really proselytize. There’s not really any reason to formulate arguments that would influence a gentile to come over.

I mean, I know why I personally am converting, though I have to admit I only know it in the abstract and probably couldn’t explain it to the rabbi if I tried, but I always just remember Pirkei Avot 1:3, “Do not be like servants who serve their master on condition of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve their master not on condition of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you,” and what Heschel said: “This is one of the goals of the Jewish way of living: to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things.” Or what Rabbi Nathaniel Bushwick said: “The substance of what one has studied may later be forgotten, but the process of studying [Torah] is itself purifying.” My first reasoning for wanting to convert was that I studied Judaism, it sounded like the most reasonable thing I’d ever heard, and later on to align myself with God as well. Never did it cross my mind even once that I should expect some kind of reward in the end, especially not some kind of an afterlife. So when the lady asked me what it’s all for, I couldn’t really answer. I said something along the lines of “making life holier”, and she said that’s all well and good, but when you’re on your deathbed, what good will holiness do you? I said it’s like learning—not always do you do it in order just to gain something practical in the end. She said her point still stood. “It’s just something to think about,” she said.

Honestly, I was neutral toward Christianity before, but I am so soured on it right now I will never have another Bible study again. And then my friend showed me passages from Isaiah 53 and told me that “the chance that Jesus could have fulfilled all these prophecies is just so low!” After I mentioned that he didn’t really fulfill the most important requirements a messiah must have, and by the way the messiah really is supposed to be a human as well, he said that he was human (?) and that he did achieve world peace (being that when he’s at church, he feels peace etc.) And if you have to stretch messianic requirements this far, in my book what you have is decidedly not the messiah.

But anyway, it was really that lady’s insistence that I needed a reason—her reason—for converting that pushed me even further towards Judaism. Not to mention the conversation with my philosophy/religion teacher on “why Jesus just had to be the messiah”, and the guy giving out New Testaments on Friday, too. My sister said that she was surprised I didn’t jump at the chance to knock down those Christians with what I know about the origins of Christianity. But, like I said before, (and not to sound elitist; anyone can read a few books and come to the same conclusion) I feel like I have this dangerous knowledge that I don’t really want to talk about. There’s no point. I don’t want to convert Christians into Jews; I don’t want to drive them away from their religion at all. There’s just no point. But they were on a totally different plane Thursday night: I wanted to talk about God; they wanted to convert me (“making sure I knew what I was doing, converting to Judaism” was how they put it).

I’ve been asking God for help a lot lately—especially after Yom Kippur when I need it most—and I received it when I needed it most. But I haven’t been getting any shields around me lately—Shabbat was definitely not peaceful…and I didn’t really have much patience, either—but I think (and this is just my current conjecture only) that God is taking my training wheels off and letting me be for a while. Even though I think I need training wheels, apparently He Does Not.

This is my hypothesis. Of course, it ran through my mind that this is a perfect case of God’s non-falsifiability, because either things could go brilliantly every day for me and I’d say it’s because I asked for it. Or things could go wrong every day, and I could say it’s because I was too hasty in assuming I’d have things handed to me upon request. I did recognize this. But it’s been a whole year this month when I first decided that maybe I “didn’t have to be an atheist after all”, and I spent a long time rationally deducing my position. I don’t need proof anymore; I just sometimes want it.