Saturday, February 20, 2010

Minority Report

As a middle class, white, Christian, heterosexual male living in America, I live a life of incredible privilege. There are few scenarios in which my culture is not the dominant culture being expressed. However, because of my small singing career, I get the opportunity to be a “minority” a few times a month when I sing Shabbat services at Park Synagogue.

This morning, the rabbi’s sermon was “Why Jews do not build Cathedrals.” He proceeded to accurately describe that the architecture of the middle ages reflected a Christian theology of honoring the omnipotence and other worldliness of God. When a human enters a great Cathedral, they are in many ways reduced to ants in the midst of an all-powerful God. He indicated that in building the Temple, the Jewish people had once held a similar theology. However, now they believed in a much more personal God who can be negotiated with. Furthermore, rather than Holy being an “otherworldly” concept, Jews sing the Kadosh (Holy) when they are gathered together in fellowship and when remembering the lives of their ancestors to whom they are still connected.

After the service, I overheard the cantor remarking about how different the Jewish and Christian ideas of God were. While the rabbi had made it clear he was talking about Middle Age Christian theology, the canter had automatically transferred this onto the belief system of modern Christians. Whether this is appropriate is deserves its own post, but I’d rather focus on the curious experience of hearing someone from another faith tradition make assumptions about my theology based on sermons talking in general about some distant Christian ancestors. I wanted to protest to say- that really doesn’t represent my faith. Please don’t make assumptions about me and my theology by simply listening to someone describe it from the outside.

As I reflected further, I wished that every Christian, or at least every pastor, could experience that at least once. As we enter the Lenten season, we come to a time when our liturgy and scripture readings tell of increasing conflict between Jesus and (depending on the passage used) the scribes, Pharisees, or just “the Jews.” We contrast Jesus’ loving character with people who are said to be incredibly legalistic and who have lost sight of their God. This builds to Holy Week in which, all too often, a major dramatic point is when the congregation shouts “Crucify him, crucify him”- supposedly imitating the crowd of Jews who gathered to hear Jesus’ fate.

So having heard all this, what do those who hear our sermons, scripture readings and liturgies think when they come face to face with contemporary Jews? Do they hear our careful distinctions between Jewish leadership and the Jewish people? Do they recognize that the reactions recorded in scripture may not reflect the attitudes of the majority of Jews at the time of Jesus? Do they realize that contemporary Jewish theology may be very different than the theology that was recorded in the New Testament two millennia before? I’m afraid too few, pastors and congregants alike, make these crucial distinctions. As we go through this Lenten season, may we all take time in our prayer and study to consider how we might approach these texts without projecting judgment on our Jewish brothers and sisters.

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