Monday, February 27, 2012

The Protestant Church has much to learn...

... from her Jewish ancestors and modern-day Jewish neighbors. I say 'Protestant Church' because that is where the majority of my own experience lies and because my time with the Catholic & Orthodox traditions has typically involved richer experience, though I realize this is a subjective claim.

So: the Protestant Church has much to learn from her Jewish ancestors and neighbors. This I learned in a class entitled 'Modern Jewish Culture' at Gordon College, and I am forever indebted to the professor who opened my eyes and heart to embrace the Jewish roots of Christianity. I continue to learn and grow to love the Jewish people and traditions more deeply, and my time at JUC has reinforced that so far.

So what does the Church need to learn -- or, perhaps, re-learn? A lot of things, I think -- one of which is how to celebrate. This morning I was leaving the Old City with two friends, and as we approached Zion Gate -- our route out of the city -- we heard a great commotion of voices and clapping, and, as we drew nearer, saw a fantastic crowd of people shuffling along, holding up a cloth canopy and playing trumpets. When we saw the young boy sporting a yamaca under the canopy, we knew it was a bar mitzvah. They were probably headed to the Western Wall, a popular venue for bar mitzvahs. We moved to the side to let the procession through, and clapped along in time with their upbeat music. "Hevenu shalom aleichem, hevenu shalom aleichem, hevenu shalom aleichem, hevenu shalom, shalom, shalom aleichem!" they sang -- we bring you peace, we bring you peace... As they passed by, a woman tossed small wrapped candies into the air, and when she passed in front of us, she held out her bag for me to take one! I laughed and told her todah rabbah -- 'thanks very much' in modern Hebrew -- and felt honored to be included in a little part of their celebration. 

Now, I'm not suggesting that the Church needs to imitate this or that it should necessarily institute some sort of coming-of-age communal celebration for its youth. But I am suggesting that sometimes Christian thought and culture gets so caught up in looking toward the future that we forget how to -- or even to -- celebrate the sanctity of life here on earth. We casually throw around phrases like, "This world is not my home --  I'm just a-passing through," or talk so much of heaven that we are shy of discussing celebrating our lives here on earth. There is a teaching in rabbinic literature, I learned, which says that in the world to come (the Jewish way of referring to the afterlife in general), one will be punished not only for the things that he enjoyed that he shouldn't have (i.e. sin), but also the things that he didn't enjoy that he should have (i.e. the gifts of God)! God created our world and called it good, and since every bit of life is sacred because he created it, I suppose we had better celebrate our blessings in genuine gratitude. It's true that not all of life is pleasurable or beautiful -- the Jews will always be among the first to recognize that, I believe -- but I do believe there is much to celebrate.

Nor I am saying that we should let the pendulum swing to the other extreme and allow ourselves to become absorbed solely in our lives here on earth -- of course not. But I think that, as is the case in so many other areas of life, we need a balance, and the ideals of Judaism do a good job of reminding us of that. 


  1. Ironically, I think that the supposedly 'dry' high-church traditions are much better at actually doing this celebrating thing than a lot of other Protestant denominations. The cure I usually prescribe for looking down on traditional liturgy as 'irrelevant' or 'boring' is to attend an Anglican Easter vigil. I firmly believe that anyone who has ever been to one cannot honestly claim that traditional liturgy is boring or meaningless.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Andrew. I tend to agree and had a similar situation; the Bulgarian Orthodox Easter service I attended last year surpassed any other Easter service I've ever been to. The liturgy truly has so much to offer...

      You'll notice I modified my title and first couple sentences of my blog after reading your comment, in order to clarify what I initially meant but simply assumed people would know about me. Thanks and hope you are well!

  2. I loved reading this jelly! love your thoughts!

  3. Sos, there are some things I really miss about my past Catholic background. I think you have expressed it well here. There were more calendar events to "celebrate" some joyous and some very solemn but they made up a richer tapestry of life with more depth. I especially miss the solemn times leading up to Easter in the life of the Catholic church. My mother used to take us to services called "stations of the cross" where we would stop and pray in front of carvings of the events leading up to Christ's death on the cross. We "walked" with Jesus and it was very meaningful. There were many other "events" in the Catholic church that marked the year's passing in special ways that I miss. Take Care, love and prayers, me

  4. Mrs. T... thanks for your thoughts. A "richer tapestry of life with more depth" is such a good way to put it. Concerning the stations of the cross leading up to Easter, what a neat memory. Wow.