In Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian, he tells a fictional story that reflects his own journey in examining the faith he'd always known and realizing that what he'd always believed was actually blocking him from feeling the presence of God. It is a difficult journey and at one point, he is walking along a river with his friend and mentor who acts as a Socratic guide, asking leading questions and being a solid comfort to the grief the main character feels as he watches the life he knew slip away as he confronted things that used to be "needs" for being a good Christian as simply cultural requirements. While walking, the internal pressure he feels to discard his old life feels so unbearable that he picks up a giant tree branch and starts swinging it as he shouts out a catharsis.
Jacob and I have been getting pressure from a couple of different sources that we shouldn't be having a religious ceremony or that we should call our ketubah something else since ours it not really a Jewish wedding and its not really a Jewish document. These are serious requests from people we love and I will not belittle them with an angry rant. Actually, the time for that has mostly passed for me. Early in the engagement, I was much more sensitive, especially at the idea that we might have to look really hard to even find a rabbi that would be willing to perform the ceremony. I cried quite a bit because being rejected by an entire faith community brought up all sorts of other rejections that I had tucked down deep, like my own feelings of rejection from Christianity when friends and extended family alike told me that I wasn't really Christian if I believed that God lets everyone spent eternity with her, or if I believed that God was bigger than than gender, or if I believed that Bible was not a set of rules to be strictly adhered to.
The first rabbi that we talked to - who was a close acquaintance - said that he would consider officiating but that he wouldn't use the language of the traditional ring ceremony: "Behold you are consecrated unto me, with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and Israel." Again, the argument was that since it wasn't really a Jewish marriage, the traditional words shouldn't be used. Anita Diamant writes, "If one of the parties is not bound 'by the laws of Moses and Israel,' the contract is not binding; it is void."
Wow. That really hurts. Our wedding is not binding? It is void?
For a woman whose first husband believed that their marriage vows weren't binding even though it was a "Christian" marriage, I was really hoping for more this time.
I wrote in my journal at the time in protest over all of the Jewish people who do not follow the laws of Moses and Israel. They don't keep kosher. They don't go to services. They honor money and television before God. Some don't even believe in God. Yet they still get to be considered Jewish and their marriage commitment is binding and not void. I pointed out to anyone who would listen that I keep a kosher home. I go to Jewish services. I follow God as best as I can.
These are the same protests that I made to my friends and extended family when they told me that I couldn't be part of their Christian club. But as I searched, I found Christians who believed that I belonged.
Their definitions of who was really Christian were generous because they believed that humans are inherently broken and so shouldn't try to second-guess God. They believed that as humankind grows and changes, so does humanity's understanding of God, so each generation will practice their faith differently than the generation before. The important thing is to be in community, struggling together to figure out God's will, as Walt Whitman says, "re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem." This means using traditions that may have been discarded and discarding traditions that others say are necessary.
Which brings me back to Brian McLaren. I never had that moment of birthing pangs to discover that everything I had believed needed to be re-thought. I had a moment of relief when I found folks who thought the same way that I always had and who were willing to push me to think more. I've had a similar experience with Judaism.
We found another rabbi who had no problem with our interfaith plans and who invited us into their faith community that had a large population of interfaith families. We also found the Reconstructionist congregation nearby where we starting participating that explicitly states that the Judaism their children practice will be different than the Judaism that they practice. We have found online support groups and resources like Interfaith Family and the Dovetail Institute. I can make this journey to acceptance again.
However, Jacob's walking style is a little different. He is more like Brian McLaren. Although he has long had niggling doubts about aspects of his faith and began the journey long before he met me, it is much harder for him to overturn what he has always believed in favor of a new truth that is trying to push its way out of him. I love him for the work that he is doing so that we can have a life together. If he married a Jewish woman, this new truth would still push its way out of him; it might just have a little longer to do it. Marrying me speeds the whole process up and - like inducing labor with Pitocin - it becomes much more intense and painful.
So, what do I say to the people who are telling us to have a civil service? Us, who say the shabbat blessings every Friday night, who keep kosher, who go to services on Saturday and church on Sunday, a civil service? To one or two, I explain that although the group that they identify with believes in a very narrow definition of Judaism, there are other groups that widen the definition. Once you acknowledge a continuum of belief, it's not hard to fathom that Jacob and I belong on that continuum somewhere as a Jewish family, even if our children go to church camp some summers. Thus we are, in fact, really Jewish and our wedding should reflect our spirituality. For other people that I am not as close to, I let Jacob do the talking. His journey is harder than mine and it would be disrespectful if I tried to speak on his behalf. It would be saying that I don't trust him to make the right arguments, which is not true. Jacob is working hard to suss out his identity as a Jewish man. This earns him the right to speak for himself.
And I love to hear him talk.
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