Posts tagged American
Review of Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life. By Lauren F. Winner. Chapel Hill, NC.: Algonquin, 2002. 320 pp.
As we’ve started this series on the Nicene Creed, some of you may be thinking about your own church background (or lack thereof). In particular, if you come from a less liturgical tradition, you may wonder how less familiar things like the Nicene Creed fit in with your own spiritual life. And if I’m lucky some of my blog posts have inspired at least a few of you to ponder the Jewish origins of the Christian faith and feel frustrated by the church’s lack of familiarity with its own background! Well, if any of the above applies to you, how about an author that helps you explore both of these at once?
Lauren Winner is one of my favorite people ever. She is hard not to like: young, funny, intelligent, and the author of some fabulous books. One of those books, Girl Meets God, tells her unique story as a Reform Jew who converted to Orthodox Judaism, only to later convert to Christianity. As an evangelical Episcopalian from a Jewish background, as well a scholar of American religion (who now teaches at Duke Divinity School), Winner possesses unique insights into both religions.
I would say Winner played a formative role in my life in college, as well as the lives of several friends). Especially for us coming out of conservative evangelical Protestant backgrounds, Winner was a fantastic introduction to many aspects of Judaism, as well as to a more liturgical Christian tradition.
While admittedly, the book is a memoir rather than a systematic explanation of either Jewish-Christian relations or the Anglican tradition, it is still a useful starting point for the curious. Additionally, it is a fascinating and uplifting book, plain and simple. Anyone with an interest in young adult journeys in religion should appreciate Winner’s story, and many may even find in her a kindred spirit or a hero of sorts. I know for me, Winner has become one of my “smart Christian” role models and an example of how one can successfully integrate various spiritual influences into a more robust Christian faith.
It’s in the title, but I’ll say it again: Jesus was Jewish.
For those of you who have grown up in church, I’m not sure if this has been emphasized, but it sure wasn’t for me. I don’t think I ever heard anyone seriously talk about Jesus as a first-century Jew until I got to college. Jesus was always a nice guy, a prophet, maybe even God incarnate… but Jewish? Not in my church, at least.
If you grew up with a Bible storybook, you probably remember Swedish Jesus. I’m not sure why anyone would ever think Jesus had blue eyes, but apparently many American illustrators have been convinced. And if Jesus wasn’t Swedish, he still wasn’t Jewish. Though Sunday School portrayals of Jesus probably reflected more of my white American culture than I knew, Jesus was, in theory, supposed to be somehow removed from the messiness of life. He probably didn’t throw up, definitely didn’t poop, and was also very “cultural neutral.” Otherwise how could Jesus be relevant to our Gentile lives? To China and Guatemala and South Africa and 98% of my elementary school?
I’ll save questions of relevance for another day and focus on the simple fact that this isn’t true: We were wrong.
Jesus wasn’t a person devoid of everything that makes humans human. Even if it’s hard to believe, he not only threw up and pooped, but he had to learn to walk as a baby, he probably had a favorite food, and he enjoyed laughing with his friends. And he lived at a specific time in a specific place. In fact, Jesus lived as part of a specific people, speaking their language, keeping their customs, and otherwise surprising us by how very little he is like most of those who follow him today. But even in his difference, he was like us—like us, Jesus had a culture.
So the next time you think of Jesus, remember that he kept the Sabbath (albeit, not always how the Pharisees preferred), ate kosher, and went to synagogue. He was circumcised as a baby, visited the temple with his family for holy days, and grew up hearing stories about Abraham, Moses, and David. He referred to Jewish texts in his teaching and declared the arrival of the kingdom of the Jewish God YHWH, eventually convincing his followers that he was the Jewish Messiah (for which the Greek translation is “Christ”).
While I will never be able to fully understand first-century Judaism, the bit I have been able to learn as a 21st-century white American Gentile (relying on the scholarship of others, I might add), has been very meaningful to me. As I get to know Jesus’s culture better, I can better understand Jesus himself and better understand the message he was trying to communicate to his friends. The story may be good by itself, but it all makes more sense—and feels more colorful and textured and delightfully complex—when we begin to understand where Jesus fits in context.