It is hard to believe that another year in the Jewish calendar is almost here.
It is big milestone for me, as it was five years ago that our family first observed Rosh Hashanah (my wife wrote a very eloquent and powerful essay about this which was later published by Kveller.com), and not long after that we plunged head first into observing Jewish spiritual practices in a family context, especially Shabbat and many of the holidays.
In the years that have passed, religious identity has been pretty murky for me. I’ve been immersed (quite literally when it comes to baptism!) into Christianity for all of my life. I’ve spent big chunks of my life in several Christian traditions (the acapella-Churches of Christ, evangelical/charismatic churches, unprogrammed Quakerism, and the liberal Mennonite tradition) and have also spent much of my life vocationally and educationally in church contexts — in fact two of my degrees are in theology.
And yet, I’ve known for some time that I don’t fit well in the Christian theological box any more. I still love and am inspired by Jesus, but I see him as a flesh-and-blood human being who lived and ministered in the context of First Century Judaism. I don’t see him as a “savior” in the ways that Christians commonly teach, as a substitute blood sacrifice to avenge an angry God. I just don’t.
As for God — I can say a lot more about what I don’t believe about God, than what I do believe about God… I don’t think that God is the petulant tyrannical deity depicted in many parts of the Bible (i.e. the story of the flood in Genesis, the story of the bet with the Devil in Job, etc.). I don’t think that God’s blood lust is satiated by the blood of animals, and certainly not of people. I just don’t.
And so in many ways the liberal forms of Judaism have greatly appealed to me, as these traditions provide ritual (something that I yearn for) and ethical teachings without the need for intellectual agreement with a set of suppositions about God. And of course there are the emotional ties, our family’s story (as discussed in the links above) and how we found such peace and joy around the Shabbat table.
But I also don’t have any deep connections with Jewish community beyond online connections. Oklahoma City has two very good Jewish synagogues (one Reform and one Conservative), but neither is a good fit. And I love my quirky non-conventional Mennonite church, which has provided me a platform for ministry and activism for many years now.
And then life got busy and hectic. We’ve still tried to keep our Jewish family life (lived mostly at home) while being still connected to our…
Note added later by JMB on August 5, 2020: For whatever reason, I never finished this blog post and it sat in the “drafts” section of this website for a long time, but I decided to go ahead and publish the post as is, as it helps me to remember my spiritual journey over the years (FYI, in 2020 I identify as a Jewish Humanist. I will always treasure my days in the progressive Mennonite world, but it was not the right place for me or our family in the long-run).