I can’t remember who first said it, or how often it was repeated, but I remember growing up with a conscientious conflict about reading anything that by an author with my religious background. And I remember having the feeling that if I did attempt such an unwise action, I should do so with suspicion and at the minimum be prepared to “eat the fish, but throw away the bones”.
I don’t carry the same conflict I grew up with, and I’ll admit, nowadays I may read authors within my faith with as much discernment as I do any author. God seemed to make it clear that His words were the standard by which we compare anything “new” that comes our way, and it’s infallibility over the centuries has been impressively consistent.
Recently, I picked up a book called “girl meets God”, by Lauren F. Winner.
If any book is completely out of my realm of experience or background, this one’s it. A memoir on her personal journey from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity, the brand of Christianity she enters into is almost as foreign to me as the Judaism is. I find myself reading chapters on liturgy, lent, the Eucharist, Sabbath, and Sukkot. (Words about which I had already made up my mind, while ironically knowing little about.) But what I love is that she gives flesh and bones, and a real humanity to some of the traditions I grew up being suspicious of -and meaning to some of my own convictions & traditions that I didn’t know existed.
I may not subscribe to every conclusion she has – but I’m learning the value of not throwing out her conviction as “bones” for she has, in fact, enlightened some parts of my own beliefs that for a lack of understanding had formed more skeleton-like in me than I myself had ever realized. She opens her mind & heart, good and bad, flattering and unflattering, to the reader, about her journey – and I find myself highlighting and cheering at the end of each chapter. I have about 93 pages to go – and anticipate it like meeting a refreshing, genuine and honest friend who is both like me, and challenges me, while being entirely different.
I’ve included a sample below – and encourage you, if your needing an amazingly simple yet profound and encouraging read… this ones worth it.
“Holy Communion is another name, and there are good reasons to speak of taking communion. Those words remind us that we are not only drawing near to God, but that we are doing that most basic and social thing, we are eating together, we are drawing near to one another. This has been a long, slow lesson for me. I am just starting to learn that the people I take Communion with are the people who count.
I didn’t like most of the people at Clare College chapel. I loved my priest. And I loved Becky, my godmother; Anna; the ordinand sent over by her seminary to be our priest in training; and Helen and Olivia, two short haired eighteen-year-olds with lively minds and brassy giggles. . Other than those few, the people at chapel weren’t people I would have chosen to socialize with. They weren’t up to my standards. I didn’t think them clever enough, entertaining enough, whole enough. Mostly, at the Clare Chapel, I met broken people, needy people, people who were in church for a reason.
In fact, some people of the chapel repelled me. They were pale and pasty and watery drips of people, inarticulate and shy and nerdy and downright tedious. I had nothing to talk about with any of them, though Lord knows I tried, not even theology, a concept that seemed foreign to these students, students for whom everything about Jesus was perfectly clear-cut. “These are not,” I sniffed to Jo, “people I would ever invite to a dinner party.”
Jo, in her wisdom, didn’t point out the obvious fact that I was, indeed, having a dinner party with them every Sunday morning. She pretended to sympathize. She pretended to be every bit the snob that I was. She said whole days elapsed where she had to speak, hour after pastoral hour, to people she did not like very much or find terrible interesting. “There aren’t too many people around here like you,” she admitted conspiratorially, as though it were just us two charming and sophisticated Christians pitted against the rest of the sorry, benighted church. Then she sighed and said, “But I realized awhile back that if I built a church filled with my friends, it would be a rather small and homogenous church.” I blinked. “Dull, really,” said Jo.
So much for sympathy.
The day before I left Cambridge for good, I saw Paul and Gillian, two of the most annoying of the annoying Christians, on Clare bridge, and I hugged them. I said I would miss them. I thought I was lying, to be polite. But I wasn’t. I have missed them. I do. No one else I ever meet will have pledged to support me in my life of Christ, which is exactly what Paul and Gillian pledged at my baptism. My friends at Columbia, the friends I meet for drinks at trendy bards in the Village, the friends with whom I chat about post-structuralism and Derrida- those people didn’t witness my baptism. They didn’t cheer at my confirmation , they didn’t pray with me every Sunday for two years, they didn’t hand me Kleenex when I burst into inexplicable tears in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. They aren’t my brothers and sisters in Christ. They are merely my friends.