Sunday, March 23, 2008

Jewish...but not

On Easter, I always find it most confusing to be half-Jewish. It is the least believable of all the Christ tales, and of course the most significant to being able to call oneself, "Christian". I really love that TV movie, "Jesus of Nazareth." I believe it totally, as much as I believe in Mary Poppins and the Wicked Witch of the West and the love of Rhett and Scarlet. I love the music of "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar." These depictions move me to utter belief in that reality.

As I've matured though, and explored the deeply held faiths of other cultures, and even delved haphazardly in the Jewish faith of my own family, I slam into the inner skeptic. I find myself making excuses for a belief held in Christianity that seems really now much more like a flimsy remake of some good original material. I read of Mithra, and Serapes Bay, and even of Amenhotep, and I have to wonder. I read of the Goddesses Ishtar, Inana, and Ashara and wonder how Eostar, the birth of the star, the fertility rights of Spring Equinox got so confused.

It begins to feel like Christianity is no more than a crazy game of "grapevine," where we've whispered secrets so long that the original message is lost and garbled into a funny story that should make us all laugh. That we've crusaded, crushed kingdoms, burned women over it, of course, removes the laughter quite completely.

Still I love the music, "Oh happy day! Oh Haaaappy Daaa-ay! When Jesus washed my sins away! Oh Happy Day!"

The simple beauty of a man, revealed as the true nature of God, dying in a terrible injustice and rising from this death to declare his eternal love for humanity humbles the storyteller in me. I really love that this man's story tells us that he's Jewish, deeply enmeshed in the lineage of his Jewishness, the sons of David, a Prince and Ruler in Israel.

I can relate to that "Jewish, but not..." aspect so personally. I come from a proud disenfranchised, barely-believing Jewish family. Lately, I've become aware of how much I missed out on because I was never taught much about my Jewishness other than the food, a few words in Yiddish, and some local glory in Denver's past. I have found myself wondering and wondering about why my grandparents walked away, why they never taught me anything. Was it because they no longer believed, really? That's the claim. I wonder though if they didn't teach me because to them I wasn't really Jewish, since my mother is a Christian.

My grandmother, who I called, "Mamaw" used to say to me, "I'm sure that Jesus was a very nice man." That phrase probably has influenced my faith more than any other statement that was ever uttered to me. Did she know? Did she know that I would never ever be able to invest myself in the "Godliness" of Jesus the man? She, the girl who never missed a Sunday school Hebrew lesson growing up? She was no dummy.

Neither was my "Papaw" who took us for a picnic on the holiest day of the Jewish year -- Yom Kippur. I find myself wondering, Why that day? Why a picnic? Why always a painting and a walk in the woods? Was it really about irreverence? Thumbing his nose at the Rabbi's, who'd demanded he, the son of the Temple's founders, come up with the money for a pew, for the High Holidays, or not come at all during the height of the Depression? Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, of at-one-ment, my only Jewish holiday, expressed in such a backwards, strange way. Yet, no day of the year was more important to me during my childhood, not Christmas, not Easter. There was no day that felt MORE reverent than the day I got out of school to spend time with my family in the woods.

I mourn my confusion only because I have done such a piss poor job at creating moments of quiet reverence, or phrases of truth for my children. They are materialistic and hate anything that smacks of ritual. My daughter's skeptic is huge, much huger than mine, and I can see she rejects my wonder and hopes that she see through the easy explanations, and my son just doubts a lot. I have given them too much information, if anything, instead of too little.

What happened to Christ the Jew? It wasn't until 300 years after his death that Christianity was anything other than a sect of Judaism. Was he God? No, not to to me, anymore at least than I am God. That's another blog. He was a Jew. He was an adept, highly studied and educated, perhaps beyond the bounds of his Jewishness. Perhaps, he traveled and learned of the Hindi, the Zoroastrians, the Buddhists and brought new ideas into Judaism. Perhaps, he did die and live again, but all in all, I'm sure what it boils down to is this, "I'm sure he was a very nice man." That is as far as I can go. Happy Spring Equinox!

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