Stranger in a Strange Land…….A Pilgrim’s Progress
Throughout my life my feet touched on many spiritual paths such as Catholicism, Eastern Religions, Spiritualism, Astral Projection and Biblical Christianity. In 1981 I defined myself as a “born again Christian”, a label I enthusiastically applied to myself. True, my spirit was “born again” into a way deeper commitment to God. Along that path I spoke “Christianese” salting my speech with “Hallelujahs” and “Praise the Lord”. Was that wrong? No but not when you say it every other word. If some church lady referred to the Lord “tarrying” before His return, I would envision her in a bonnet and long skirt, sitting and stirring a butter churn because of that archaic word. I was a stranger in a strange land. I wanted to belong, and fell into lockstep with the others. It took years to get out of lockstep and feel OK to believe and worship as I wanted to, as long as it was Biblical, which it was. I rejected cookie cutter Christianity. I thought for myself but not in rebellion against Biblical truths. I later abandoned the “born again” title as too many of my brethren said/did things they should not have and didn’t want others judging me because of them. They were not perfect, and I do still love my Christian brothers and sisters.
A Jewish descendant, I was thrilled to learn there were Jews that believed in Yeshua and found a little local fellowship of Messianic Jews. I visited a few times but never felt led to stop going to a Christian church. All that changed in 1985. My nephew Adam was being bar mitzvahed. My sister married a Jewish man and the kids were raised in the usual traditions. In an orthodox synagogue I perched in the women’s balcony (men were on the ground level). I tried to follow along with the siddur (prayer book), wrestling with the Hebrew transliterations with help from Wendy, my sister’s niece while listening to the Cantor belt out the Sh’ma (Jewish confession of faith). Once again, I was a stranger in a strange land….I was lost in a sea of Hebrew words, prayers and songs. I needed a “Judaism for Dummies” book. I thought how could I be Jewish yet feel so disconnected from my ethnic/religious family. I learned some things about Judaism from my mom (she converted to marry dad) but there was so much more I didn’t know. An aching hunger to know more began to grow within me. When I returned to our home in Ithaca, I called a lady from the fellowship. We met many times so I could learn more. We later resurrected the little fellowship B’rit Olam meeting for several years. I also visited with a friend who was studying Hebrew with an orthodox rabbi. She invited me to join. Rabbi Silberstein thought I should have a Jewish name and together we came up with Tovah. For awhile my Judaism felt like I was putting on a “jewish” coat and did not feel it on an internal level. That sense of Jewish identity evolved over time.
In 2000 me and another lady started a new fellowship Ahavat Yahshua. I was there for 5 years before moving to Vegas (big mistake there). From that point, I never again was a member of a church. Here in Florida I go to a similar congregation and feel a great peace in my inner being. I also learned some Hebrew and can read and write it.
When I am asked “what faith are you?”. I often respond, “I am a disciple of Yeshua (aka Jesus) and emulate Him in every way I can, with a desire to obey the commandments of the Holy Bible.” They respond, “Oh I see, then you are a Christian right?” Whoa Nellie, not exactly. “I do not subscribe to many things that Christians do. Most Christians don’t believe in obeying the Torah and have their own special holidays, Christmas and Easter. For my husband’s sake I get a little involved in Christmas (reluctantly) but not Easter at all. I happily observe the Biblical feasts like Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), and Tabernacles.” “Oh”, they respond, “then you are Jewish, right?” Again there are issues with this. My DNA test revealed I am 46.9% Ashkanazi Jew..my mom, grandparents and great grandparents were Jews, so I already knew that. Most Jews do not believe Yeshua is the Messiah so I am at odds with most Jews, except for those Jews that DO believe. They are called Messianic Jews and many outsiders feel these folks are confused about their identities. Check out my post “No Respect” where I liken being a Messianic Jew to Rodney Dangerfield who “gets no respect”. Thing is in the early congregations, Jews dominated this branch of Judaism known as The Way. It had a very Jewish flavor until the gentiles flooded in and radically changed things.
Mom, Buttons and Me circa 1960
I purposely avoid these labels as they set off bells and whistles in the minds of others. Their minds work like steel traps as they conjure up their pet beliefs about what those labels mean to them. We are all WAY MORE complex than simple labels. Labels are short cuts that requires little thinking so people can comfortably jump to conclusions without digging any deeper. They found the correct pigeon-hole to shove you into. It may take a bit longer to explain to others how I walk out my faith and I really appreciate those who take the time to listen. My desire is to be light and salt in a world that is dark and flavorless. …to follow the much admired Christ-like prayer of St. Francis..
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, unity; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” But wasn’t he a Catholic you ask??? Yes but there are many gems to be mined from those well spoken words, Amen? OK we be in church now.
If we live our lives as He did, people will be attracted to that and inquire of you. How you live your life will speak way more volumes to others, than your quoting the Scriptures (although the Scriptures are very important). Yeshua said in the Gospels “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me”. This is my heart’s desire no matter what I call myself.