RECENTLY, I RECEIVED SOME SPAM from Chosen People Ministries (one flavor of the Jews-for-Jesus-ers). When their website’s response-form asked why I wanted to unsubscribe from future mailings, I wrote, “Exodus 20:3; 1 Kings 18:21. Go play with someone else.”
They shouldn’t take it personally. Although I am in love with my own religion, I have a soft spot for other kindly faiths and their faithful. Jewish tradition itself avers that “the righteous of all nations have a place in the World to Come,” which I interpret to mean that deep truths are to be found everywhere humans of goodwill congregate.
However, it should be noted that the specific game rules of Judaism and Christianity are very different, and largely incompatible. Mashing them together, as the J4Js do, robs each of its own unique beauty; the result is akin to playing baseball on a soccer field.
Some people, lacking a specific tradition of their own, like to mix-and-match when it comes to religious practice. For example: Every winter may find them burning a Yule log (a Wiccan tradition), adorning a Christmas tree, lighting a Kwanzaa candlestick and kindling a Chanukah menorah (among other things). I do admire this sense of soulful inclusion, though not so much the cultural appropriation: Yes, every Northern Hemisphere culture has a light festival on or near the shortest day of the year (just ask James Frazer). But not all of them celebrate in the same way or for the same reasons, and I can’t help but feel it’s a bit of a cheat to assume otherwise.
True, faith traditions adapt as they pass through the hands and hearts of their living adherents. But they also each have a spark of authenticity that’s unique, essential, unchangeable, unmixable. Let’s honor those holy lights, each in their own special way, in their own special contexts, and with great gusto and respect for having gotten us to this present moment. After all, that’s what they’re there for; as well as for lending a richness to life that only mindful, devoted practice can bring. As Rabbi Yakov Nagen writes in his excellent Be, Become, Bless, we don’t find water by digging a bunch of shallow holes — but by digging one deep one.