Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why can't we all just get along?

My aunt and uncle sent me this video. It's cheesy, but sweet. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fast Fast

Ending my Lenten fast always feels a little awkward. For the past few years, I followed the trend of technology fasting. This year, I again gave up listening to the radio in the car and general background noise at home and work. I do this so that I am forced to have moments of silence and peace in my day in an effort to hear God better. The first week is always the hardest, especially in the car. Every few minutes I reach for the radio's on button, usually push it, then quickly shut it off. I notice everything, too. I notice window shutter colors on the houses I pass, people picking their noses at stop lights, and how much I want to be distracted from my own thoughts by listening to music or the soothing NPR voices. Sometimes I end up singing to myself the hymns I memorized in fourth grade choir. Other times, I pray out loud "please help me listen!" By the end of Lent, however, I have acclimated to spending that time in silence and inviting God's presence into my four door sedan. So, when Lent is over, do I kick God out by turning on my radio? How do I end the fast? It felt like a fast from fasting when I started introducing sound back into my routine. It never felt quite right until I start fasting for Lent like a Jew.

Jews know how to fast and they know how to end a fast. One of my favorite meals is the break fast on Yom Kippor. I am filled with a sense of accomplishment and solidarity with my family. For Jewish fasts, there is always a clear objective, instructions, and an exit strategy. For instance, the Passover fast goes as follows:
Objective: Don't eat bread. Eat matzoh and remember it is the bread of affliction. Trust in God because we trusted God when he liberated us from Egypt. Remember there are still enslaved persons in the world. Help them. Refrain from eating bread because it will help motivate you to help those who have no bread.
Instructions: Refrain from eating chometz.
Exit strategy: Eight days have passed. You did it! Eat bread with abandon and celebrate that Jews are not slaves in Egypt anymore. Just as there was an end to the wandering in the desert, there is an end to the fast.

Here's how it goes at my church:
Objective: Work on your relationship with God. Go into the wilderness of your soul, figure out what keeps you from God, and get rid of those things in a methodical way of your choosing so you can be closer to God.
Instructions: Decide what you want to refrain from eating, doing, thinking, or being. OR, add something to your diet, routine, prayer list, or habits. Don't use these forty days to kick start a diet, because that is selfish and don't complain about not eating chocolate because then you'll be like the Pharisees that Jesus said not to be like. But, whatever you choose is fine because it is all about your personal relationship with God. By the way, there is a rumor that you can cheat on Sundays, if you want.
Exit strategy: Whenever the Spirit moves you, stop fasting. But if you've added something, keep at it! Or, whatever.

This year, I've decided to do two Jewish things to help me end Lent with more satisfaction and in an effort to continue all the good things that have come from my fast. First, I am continuing my radio fast one day a week. Fridays seem appropriate as it will be a Sabbath time of silent reflection, prayer and communing with God. Second, I had a Lenten break fast. I listened to my favorite music and sang from top of my lungs. It was a celebration and it felt right.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What do you call a Jewish Protestant?

When my spouse and I began talking about launching this blog, we realized how many different interfaith couples we know. We know Metho-Jews like us, but also Mu-Jews, Chris-dus, Catho-Prots, Jew-olics, Agno-tians, Metho-Baps, Bacon/No Bacon Jews, and Jew-ddhists. It is not something we discuss frequently, but I wonder, how do they make it work? So, I went on a google hunt for evidence of the conversations people are having about interfaith relationships. The results, at first, were thin. After about an hour, this is what I found:

Blogs:
  • A blog written by a Seventh Day Adventist about the diversity of interfaith and other "offbeat" marriages. She interviews couples about a broad spectrum of issues that include race, religion, age, and romance.
  • A blog written by a Jewish woman married to an atheist and raising Jewish children
Articles:
  • An optimistic article written by a Congregationalist minister
  • A ridiculously insufficient article that states you should talk about being in an interfaith relationship before you decide to have children.
  • An article about a couple in Brooklyn that focuses on sorting out religious differences before the children are born. My least favorite quote from this article is:
“Who wins this argument — because it will be an argument,” needs to be resolved, added Steve McSwain, an interfaith activist and former minister in Louisville, Ky. “You’ve got to iron these things out.”

Websites:
  • www.interfaithfamily.com a website of resources and articles for Jews marrying outside of their faith
  • A Canadian website promoting religious tolerance about the nitty gritty theological rules of interfaith marriage written from a Christian/Buddhist/Agnostic/Wiccan/Atheist perspective.
Finally, I found this. It is an article written for Psych Central about the emotional challenges many Jewish-Christian couples and their families face when starting a relationship. In the evolution of our relationship, we definitely went through the guilt phase discussed in the article. But, Allan Schwartz ends on a positive note. He says, "It is less the presence of a single religious identity in the home and more the parental style of discipline and involvement with the children and with each other that produces well-adjusted children. Research shows that children whose parents were firm, consistent, involved and affectionate did best in school and in their relationships later in life. The particular religious affiliation of one or both parents is less important to good adjustment than the fact that the parents love and support their children." I am relieved to find someone who has put into words what I have believed as an educator for so long.

Then, I found this article. Again, the writer presents an optimistic view for couples who want to maintain their individual identities and have children who speak two religious languages.

This is where I end my search for now. J. Dana Trent is the first writer I have found who is writing about interfaith marriage from a Protestant perspective here. I'm pleased to find a lively online conversation about interfaith relationships.

What have you found lately?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter

There are two worship services a year that my spouse and I always attend for the other. I go to his temple for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He comes to my church for Christmas and Easter. It is a fair trade, but Easter is particularly challenging. Theologically and spiritually, Easter is where we diverge.

For my spouse, Easter marks the historical moment Christians use to justify persecuting and excluding others. In his mind and heart, today is inextricably linked to two thousand years of vile atrocities done in the name of the resurrected Christ. He thinks about the council of Nicaea and how contrived the divinity of Jesus seems in that context. The message of Jesus' life and the aftermath of Jesus' death are too incongruous for him to reconcile. As he says, "this is where you [Christians] lose me." I can't help but empathize as I ponder the same thoughts. Despite this, I still feel overwhelming joy each Easter morning.

For me, celebrating Easter is celebrating love. Big love. World changing, sacrificial, radical love Jesus showed us how to share. Easter is also about hope, especially hope for humanity because Jesus was human. Maya Angelou sums up my feelings about hope at Easter in her talk on Oprah's Master Class when she said, "I would like everybody to think of a statement by Terance. The statement is 'I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.' If you can internalize the least portion of that you will never be able to say of an act, a criminal act, 'I couldn’t do that.' No matter how heinous the crime, if a human being did it, you have to say 'I have all of the components that are in her or in him. I intend to use my energies constructively rather than destructively.' If you can do that about the negative…just think about what you can do about the positive.” I take away two things from this statement. First, I am as capable of persecuting others as those who persecuted Jesus, tortured him and hung him on a cross. It also means that I can aspire to be great. If Jesus could love those who persecuted him, love lepers and prostitutes and thieves, then I can love anyone. Like the hymn says, "Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart." Easter reminds me there's hope.

My spouse and I see and experience this holiday in diametrically opposed ways and yet, this morning, he came to church and stood by me while I shouted, "Hallelujah!" I listen to why this holiday is hard for him. He listens to why it inspires me. His sorrow is my sorrow and my joy is his joy. We allow the feelings to coexist on this day. We listen, we share, and we show up. For us, this is how we make it work.

Of course, bunny cake, jelly beans, and ham biscuits help, too.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Interactive Blogging

I hope this blog will be a forum for discussion about interfaith topics. To aid the conversation, I have added two elements to the blog: a survey question (to the right) and religious terminology (at the bottom of the page). I was reminded by a sweet friend that, while I have had fourteen years to learn about the Jewish faith, she has not. I hope these terms will let you in on what I have learned and researched over the years. Please, always ask the clarifying question by leaving a comment. I hope the survey questions will be informative and fun. My guess is that we will discover that we have more in common than not.

Before the sabbath begins, I want to say thank you to my friends and family who are reading this blog. I appreciate your encouragement and thoughtful feedback. I love you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Keeping Kosher for Passover

I keep kosher for Passover.* I'm not a Jew, but this week I feel most passionate about being married to a Jewish person. One way I show this is by keeping kosher for passover with him. It is an act of solidarity and support of him and the Jewish side of our family. It is my way of saying to the world that our family is half Jewish, I like that they are Jewish, I support their Jewishness, and I take part in this tradition because my family does. And, well, Jesus was Jewish and he kept kosher for passover. While I'm not interested in Messianic Judaism I enjoy exploring the Jewish context of Jesus' life. It helps me connect my life today to the story of the crucifixion because it started at a seder. The main event of my religion is set in a Jewish context. I have found that the practice of keeping kosher for passover supports me in Jewish and Christian ways.

This week, I sit at the lunch table with my baggie of matzoh and a distinct lack of bread products on my plate. For me, eating matzoh is like receiving the imposition of ashes on my forehead each Ash Wednesday.** It is an obvious and public way of sharing my beliefs. Putting your beliefs on your body or on your plate is also an open invitation for questions. People around me say things like, "What are you eating? Why are you eating matzoh? I thought you were Christian!" I tease my family during Passover saying I am the Jewish Lorax: "I am The Goyax, I speak for the Jews!" But in reality, I have been part of communities where there are no Jews and knowing me is as close as they get. This was the case at the school where I did my student teaching. I was the only person there whose families celebrated Jewish holidays and traditions so I shared with them. Through sharing, I have discovered that many people genuinely want to know about Judaism, they want myths dispelled, and they find learning about it enriching.

While I am humbled by this role, it makes me sad that there persists a lack of diversity in my city. I take being an ambassador seriously. Especially during Passover, I enjoy the opportunity this week to inform and open minds. I try to answer the questions to the best of my ability. I try to promote peace and I feel honored to do so.



*Here is a really good article on keeping kosher for Passover: click here.
**Here is an article from the United Methodist website about imposition of ashes: click here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Real Questions?

My husband found this article in the New Yorker today about a more realistic version of the four questions asked at the Passover seder. We thought it was hilarious and wanted to share. Enjoy!

Preparations continued

I hate cleaning. It is the most redundant task I can think of next to bathing and brushing my teeth. Some of my friends love to clean. They are the neat people and they are organized and tidy. They seem to always find time to put things in their place. I wish I could be one of these people. I must admit that I resent these people a little because they make it painfully obvious that I am not one of those people. Currently, every surface in my house is covered with clutter. Everywhere I turn, there are stacks of paper, coffee rimmed mugs, laundry (clean and dirty), dishes, yarn or shoes. I can't escape the mess even at work because my classroom is messy, too! In this regard, my husband and I are two peas in a pod. Cleaning just always gets put on the back burner and, well, we don't really mind. At least I don't mind so long as no one else sees my mess. We have a high mess tolerance, but we are sensitive to those who do not.

I talked to my mother-in-law today about cleaning (she is one of the neat people) and she told me that one way she prepares for the the high holidays is deep cleaning. This seems like a good practice and one to which I aspire. Like biur chametz, physical cleaning becomes sanctified when through the chore, we make room for God. It also makes room for the uninvited guest, the surprise visitor. As it stands now, like my full fridge, there is a lot stuff cluttering my way to God. There is nowhere to rest my eyes in my home and no space for the mini sabbath rests needed to re-energize me on a daily basis. If a neighbor stopped by to borrow a cup of sugar, I would be mortified. So, not only do the physical items get in my way, but the guilt about not being a better housekeeper, a better wife, or a more with-it, organized person obstructs my spiritual path. Plus, I'm tired. How can I fit it all in? There's work, playing with the dogs, watching a little TV, making dinner, doing the dishes, going to boot camp, knitting projects, magazines and books to read, and a new house to decorate to name a few preferred activities and some obligations. I wonder a lot about how I can have the energy to get it all done. We don't even have kids yet! Learning about biur chametz, however, is helping me look at cleaning differently.

Biur chametz is an extreme practice for some Jews (as seen in this article here) and I'm not interested in anything extreme. I like the middle of things: oreos, political parties, and religious practices. But the take away for me is that cleaning can be a spiritual practice just like fasting. I fast for Lent and for Passover in different ways and I think my fasts serve a similar purpose. By fasting, I am creating a vacuum for God to fill. For Lent, I fast from listening to the radio in my car. Even with a shorter commute than ever this year, it is still a difficult practice. At the beginning of the forty days, I dread the silence. I fidget and hum, fiddle with my dashboard and talk to myself. I invite God to be present with me during my rides. I pray for the ability to listen and be still. I also hope I'm a better driver during Lent and that I pay better attention to the road. Four days out from Easter, I still reached for the radio's on button when I was driving home from work, but I followed the action with prayer. I was quiet. I listened and it felt good.

Cleaning my house can help me make room for God, too. I talk to my students about cleaning up after themselves. I tell them it is a sign of respect. It honors the work that went into making our classroom tools. It shows kindness to those who take care of vacuuming our rug and taking out our trash by making their job a little easier. It helps them show self-respect because they say to themselves by cleaning that they are worth a nice spot to work and play. And, it just makes the day go smoother when we know where things are and we're not tripping over the rogue lego or glue stick. I need to practice what I preach.

I am determined to clean and I've started with my car. What if some one asks for a ride home from work and my car is too full of junk? What if that person starts a conversation that leads to inspiration or empathy or the beginning of a new friendship? How can I not make room for that? Cleaning makes room for surprises and surprises are important during Lent and Passover. Opening the door for Elijah at the seder, finding the golden egg at an Easter egg hunt, and looking for signs of spring are surprises that fill me with hope. According to Sarah Parsons' guide, A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent, inviting God to surprise you is also an act of trust. She says, "spiritual growth means learning to expect and welcome surprise of any kind. The hard part of this growth process comes in accepting that we are not in control. This season, as we clear space, we allow new things to happen, things we do not entirely plan or control" (p. 62). I'm going to keep working at asking God for surprises. Cleaning will help me prepare to ask.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Passover recipe

Last night, for our seder, I made matzoh toffee. My friends at Sweet 16th bakery gave me the idea and then I found this recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, the Noble Pig. You really do have to watch so that it won't burn. I would know since I burned my first batch. Enjoy!

Preparing the kitchen: biur chametz

I just got back from the grocery store and I am unloading our Passover-friendly foods (and some Easter candy) when I notice something. My refrigerator is full. Shamefully full. Sauteed zucchini, an unopened tub of cottage cheese from two months ago, three nearly full tubs of sour cream, take out, deli meat, pizza, peas in mint butter sauce, molded cheese, soured milk, and bowl after bowl of leftovers stare at me under florescent lights. As I toss this food in the trash and down the disposal I feel overwhelming sorrow, guilt, and frustration. I feel like the mom from A Christmas Story who chides her son for not eating his dinner while there are starving children in Africa. How could we be so thoughtless? I feel guilty that I have been so wasteful of our resources: the effort I put into making this food, the gas I used to drive to the store, the time I spent choosing the ingredients, and the monetary value of our waste. How could I be so careless?

To me, Lent and Passover are about three things: food, sacrifice, and remembering important stories. As I stood there watching all that once good food literally going down the drain, I couldn't help but think of how absent-minded I've been about Lent and Passover this year. I'm going through the motions of fasting without setting my intention. If God was trying to get my attention, then God's got it.

Yesterday, I learned about the Passover tradition called biur chametz. It's the tradition of preparing your kitchen for Passover by removing all the chametz (the five forbidden grains) and all the dishes and utensils you use to prepare those foods from your kitchen before Passover. It reminds me of Fat Tuesday. Tonight was my way of preparing the kitchen and my heart. Now that I have cleaned, I can set my intentions without distraction. I set my intention now to be more attuned to the needs of others because I have plenty, I set my intention to talk to God when I feel spiritual hunger, and I set my intention to let the stories of freedom and redemption inspire me to work towards freeing others.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Introductions & Intentions

Technically speaking, I'm a shiksa: the dreaded gentile woman who has trapped a nice Jewish man. But really, I'm just a goy who met a boy, fell in love, and got married. We happen to be of different faiths and cultures, but together, we have woven a beautiful bond. We have made our own traditions that have strengthened and enriched our relationships with each other and our families. It's not been an easy road; we still face the looming question of how to raise our unborn children, but I love the challenge of finding God in the jumble of traditions we bring to our marriage. Along the way, I've discovered that we have more in common than not: we may have different faiths, but our values are the same. While our traditions have formed and grounded us, exploring and participating in the other's religious practices has opened our hearts and minds to a broader sense of community, the universality of loving kindness, and an appreciation for the validity of many different paths to God.

Our marriage presents a challenge to our faith communities. To be Christian, we are told, you must believe in the Messiah; to be Jewish, you're still waiting for one. It is understandable that our religious institutions would discourage the kind of relationships that challenge the boundaries of their seemingly irreconcilable tenets. As marriages like ours become more common, however, congregations must ask themselves: How can we become more inclusive and widen our appeal, but maintain our identity? We ask ourselves a similar question in our marriage. I'm a United Methodist and my husband is a reform Jew. Neither of us wants to change who we are and conversion has not been a part of our conversations. Instead, through trial and error, patience and courage, we have started to figure out how we can have different faiths in the same marriage. Each year, we explore ways to celebrate holidays, worship, and pray in ways that are inclusive, informative, and inspiring to the other. We're making it work for us.

On the eve of the most trying time of year for our Christian-Jewish family, I launch this blog. In the past, this is the time of year when we have deeply felt the chasm of differences between our religions. Tomorrow is the first night of Passover, marked with a seder at my mother and father-in-law's house. It is a ceremony that ties my husband to his family, to his heritage, and to his community; its the time of year that makes him think about being Jewish. Later this week, I will attend Holy Week services and meditate on the love God shows me through the life and death of Jesus. I will dye Easter eggs and decorate our house with bunnies. This is the time of year when I think about being Christian. Yet even with these differences, I have come to see common ground. Both our families will gather around a table to feast on our faith traditions. Both families will celebrate this season of hope. And we will be at both tables. For me, it's the perfect season to share my hope for interfaith marriage. Through this blog, I want to tell our story. Also, I want to know how other couples are figuring out how to share their faiths in respectful and inclusive ways. Through sharing memories, recipes, reflections, liturgy, articles, books, and conversations I hope this blog will be a vehicle for interfaith dialogue that will help couples like us discover new ways to grow in our relationship with God and each other.