I seem to have found a new hobby in middle age, listening to smart people talk and hoping it rubs off on me, but hey, I figure it beats slipping into watching daytime television. Maybe my new found preoccupation was always there though, in the sense that I was always reflective. I always had a love of learning, at least about things that interested me, and the wonderful thing is that with the Internet I've realized that I can now look into some of those questions and subject areas almost effortlessly. Isn't it wonderful, this new age of information and association, where one can listen to people ask big questions and answer big questions, argue about big questions and dismiss other people's answers to the same big questions, all in a day? I like it!
So, I do this ideological blender bender thing quite a bit these days, challenging my own and other people's assumptions, and doing dishes has never been the same since. With this said I think it was a comment that I heard online recently from Jews for Judaism calling someone from Jews for Jesus a "nazi" (in person I might add haha), and laying bare a deep reservoir of outrage (it was obvious) that he was not fond of Christian exclusivism and our "eternal barbecue" for unrepentant Jews as he put it. I don't want to wake up my family looking for the clip, but you don't have to go far on the Internet to find similar comments. Confused as I was in listening to the rabbi speak, I will attempt to address his comment. Hopefully I won't confuse you too, but firstly I would never say who's going where eternally, because I don't know, not being God and all, but here's the thing. If the issue for some is Christian exclusivism, then it makes me wonder (in this case) when Jews stopped believing in "sheol" themselves or in just one God, as opposed to the many different worldview options that are out there. I mean, haven't the Jews gone through the pain of separation from the broader culture themselves for centuries? Why then, if it doesn't matter what you believe, would anyone put themselves through that: special diet, special rituals, circumcision if you had to name just one, what's the point? Or, is his issue really that Christians speak publicly about their exclusive beliefs, as opposed to not sharing your exclusive beliefs, seen largely with Judaism?
But that again points me to the same question, well, if it doesn't matter what you believe that's one thing, but if it does, then why wouldn't you be inclined to talk about it? Hey, why bother getting yourself dinged with tomatoes while preaching on a street corner if it's all the same shtick? But if truth matters...bring it on I say. Let's have a good ol' discussion (hopefully without the tomatoes haha). What I'm trying to say is, the reason Christians proselytize and believe in a final judgement is akin to the reason Jews keep the commandments and also believe in divine judgement. It is precisely because Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and preach the good news, the coming kingdom of God, and it was also Jesus who said I am the way, the truth and the life; I'm just trying to understand and live out his teachings. But in summary, both Judaism and Christianity are exclusive, and both faiths have a long history of being counter-cultural precisely because we believe that it matters what we believe and how we live as people. It puts us both in a real bind sometimes, being commanded to live differently, as I'm sure many Jews must understand.
But something tells me that much of the emotion that I observe so often, has little to do with the thing that's being called to question, and much more to do with history. I reserve the right to be wrong, but I sense a lot of pain underneath the anger that I see in our culture as a whole. A lot of people are angry with Christianity or Christians these days. I've been engaged in debates online from time to time, and let me tell you, there's a lot of anger out there. And I wish I could change history. I really do. I wish I could go back with a great big eraser, but that doesn't change history does it, it just makes for bad history and bad historians. But maybe the next best thing is to acknowledge history, to learn from it, to admit that we have made mistakes, we've messed up. And that's why it saddens me, that so often people are not open to the message of Christianity, and it has little to do with Jesus, and a whole lot more to do with bad experiences of one sort or another.
If I was to start with the church's treatment of Jews historically, (sigh) where do you begin? A people that should have been held in such high esteem by the church were so mercilessly abused and forsaken. Where was the respect? Where was the humility? How could we as Christians so easily forget our indebtedness to the Jewish people? I don't know, but when you look at the last 2000 years of suffering and indecency, it is any wonder that any attempt at dialogue is seen as an affront to a people who have so often been abused and mistreated by people who should have known better, who should have held God's people in high regard, who should have shown humility and grace and respect, to the very people who have given us our messiah and much of our spiritual tradition? The promised land means something to me. Wandering around in the desert for 40 years trying to get there means something to me. The commandments of God written into stone means something to me. Heaven and hell and eternity and justice and mercy and time and the progression of history mean something to me. How could we so easily forget? I don't know, but please consider that the attempts of Jews for Jesus I believe are just that, an attempt to remember the things that have been too long forgotten. A common history. A common purpose. A common heritage.
But there's no escaping difference, I'm convinced of that. Even inclusivists have their preferences on who they do lunch with, on who they agree with and who they don't. But I say that with a heavy heart, and I went to bed that night as I do many nights with the arguments ringing in my ears and sighing deeply within my own thoughts. See, it's not just Jews for Judaism is it? It's the lingering remembrances of the sting of African colonialism and the pain of Indian colonialism and then there was South American colonialism and don't forget North American colonialism, and then there were the crusades and then there were the witch hunts and the Inquisitions...and on and on it goes. The sun never set on Queen Victoria's empire, and that was just Queen Victoria. There were those that competed with Victoria, and those before her that competed for loot and bounty, or was that God and country, and many who didn't think to separate their theology from their economic advances from their successes or was that excesses?
No it wasn't all bad, I agree (with myself if no one else haha) that often the good is overlooked in these sorts of discussions, health care, education, communications, technology, and I don't know how you go back. How do you go back? How do aboriginal people go back? How does Africa go back? From modern complexities, modern conveniences, off the grid, off the globe, off the scale? I don't know. It's ironic though isn't it, that the pinnacle of human progress may also be the dawn of our demise. I just hope there's a middle ground somewhere, between respecting many cultures, self-government, sensitive dialogue, consumer moderation and economic sustainability. But while I was thinking that night, my emotional state levelled in realizing the impact of western history, it reminded me of a poem I learned a long time ago about an albatross. The image came to my mind, the thought of seeing something beautiful from a distance flying overhead, near, too close, and someone reaching for an arrow and pulling it back and in a moment having to wear that thing of beauty now dead around our necks like a cross, like an albatross. Something so beautiful, selfless, loving, relational God, the height of altruism, to give your life, poured out for all of humanity, now distorted and twisted, disfigured to unrecognition.
I've said it before, but that was the reason that drove me to start writing about this kind of stuff, when I realized that many of the reasons that I was seeing from people all around me, who wanted nothing to do with Christianity, had nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with history, and the historic culture war that's now being made. And yet it's funny isn't it, because the part of the world that has had the greatest Judeo-Christian influence historically, is the same part of the world that people flock to, that has arguably the greatest commitment to the principles of equality and human rights, possibly in the world. It got me thinking.
What if rights were our starting point? How would that affect the advance of the Gospel? How would somebody coming from another part of the world, who's never had the freedom to choose what they believe, to even question what they believe, respond to a culture that told them that they have the right to believe what they want, to dress how they want, to speak what they believe. What if we focused on the rights of the individual, as a way of honouring the whole person, the ability of the human person to make choices, even as we plead with them to make the right choice? Where we can have a discussion, but no one feels threatened because we know that at the end of the day, our dignity and choices will be respected. The potential of the human life that is in front of us, the potential of human relationships even as we disagree, the dignity of the human person, a post stamp of something greater.
I don't know, I worry about myself sometimes, am I wrong, have I gotten myself off on a tangent, this emphasis on rights as a starting point? I don't believe that societies survive for long without ethics. I really don't. Am I kidding myself? Is there a limit to the amount of freedom that human beings can have? Yeah, I think so. I think ultimately rights come from within a community's shared ethical standard. I think a good chunk of our ability to have freedom has come from our traditional shared beliefs. But then again, that thought leads me to another dose of theology because human empires were never meant to be eternal, but human beings have potential for something far greater, even as empires are collapsing. I'm sure there are people out there who would have me in an argument, but fortunately I'm not trying to win an argument. Or maybe I am, but more through persuasion. I'm tired of arguments, I'm tired of losing, but as a committed Christian and an amateur student of history, I do know that there's only one execution I want to wear.
Thanks for listening,
Margaret A. E. Harvey
Poem: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Reading: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner