Wednesday, October 26, 2005

My Gentile-ism Shines Through

While at Eden, we occasionally had opportunities to participate in rituals important to other faith traditions. It was part of interfaith relations with a heavy dose of romanticism mixed in. I can recall an entire week of chapel services devoted to Eastern religious customs. The amount of incense that was burned that week would have stunned a charging bull.

Tonight, my Bible study participated in a mock Seder meal, and if it had been videotaped could have been passed along as the reason why Christians should just stick to Christianity.

If you are not familiar with the elements involved in a Jewish Seder meal, click here.

~The food elements were stored in containers that had a good chance of touching non-Kosher items in their liftetime.

~Our study is done in a room next to my office. When it was time to welcome Elijah, I stood to find that I had left it locked. Don't worry E, let me just get my keys here...

~'These bitter herbs (horseradish) are to remind us of our bitter time of slavery in Egypt'...[crunch]...Hey, this isn't so bad. I thought it would be OH MY GOD!!!

Those were the lowlights of the evening as we observed it. Granted, it was a version of the meal to highlight what goes on and was not meant as a tried-and-true celebration of the Passover (if it was, there would be so many other things that should be added to this list). Nevertheless, such a night caused me to appreciate two things:

1. My own faith and its traditions and rituals. I know them. I'm familiar with them. I've been participating in them since my mind could create memory. They create meaning for me because of that familiarity and help mark those moments in my life when I feel close to God. As a Christian, these are MY rituals. They are signs and seals of God With Us for a particular people who feel a call to follow Jesus. As one who feels such a call, I can see such signs and seals as meaningful.

2. I could not--in an evening, in a week, even in a few years or even a lifetime as a non-Jew--understand the Seder. I can go through the motions even if I follow everything correctly. But I'll never 'get' it. In order for me to 'get' it, I need to see the candles through Jewish eyes, hear the blessings through Jewish ears, taste those bitter herbs with a Jewish tongue. I need to be in Jewish skin to 'get' the Seder, and I'm not, so I can't. I can't appreciate the hope that is behind 'Next year in Jerusalem!' I am only a voyeur into this faith community and it's BS for me or any other Christian to say they 'know.'

Other presentations of the Seder by Christians can be and are much more polished and formal. All the right words and actions are said and done at the right time. But we're still Christians, outsiders looking into a world that no matter how hard we concentrate can we become a part of. We have no claim on this ritual other than as a guest from another land where we dump water on babies' heads and talk about eating some guy's body, where a cross is said to be redemptive and a man--a Jew, no less--is said to have risen again.

Ever tried to explain any of that to a Jew?

Ever become frustrated when 'they just don't understand?'

That's as close as we as Christians can come to 'getting it:' when we realize that we can't. So why then expect someone else to 'get' our faith?