30 Oct 2018
On Saturday it happened again.
I was sailing across the bay in front of Playa Contreband when I picked up the phone to switch the streaming radio station blasting beach music from the portable speaker hanging from the boom.
And there in my Apple News feed, another mass shooting. This time in Pittsburgh. This time a Synagogue. 11 dead. Some were Holocaust survivors….Apparently the deranged man screamed antisemitic epithets and distorted political views garnered from right wing media while he went about his acts of evil.
I turned off the music and said a prayer for the victims and their families.
Through an odd convergence of events lately I realize that I am experiencing a development of Faith (yes, the capital F kind–as in Faith in God). Admittedly, my journey with a higher power has been ill-defined in my life. I am the kid who was kicked out of CCD (the Catholic version of Sunday School) for asking about evolution on the first day. And though I consider myself a Christian, and I am the son of a theologian, I have difficulty reconciling the dogma of the various versions of Christianity.
Ironically, my exposure to Judaism over the last 15 years has played a large part in this evolution of Faith. I have been fortunate to be part of a Jewish extended family of Shapiros’, Glassmans,’ and Greenbergs’ and have been to weddings, Bat Mitzvahs, and Shivas over the years. I have experienced the Jewish faith at it’s happiest and at its saddest. I have eaten the food, drank the (sacrificial) wine, and worn a Yarmulke.
Here’s what I’ve discovered: Yes, we’re different. No, it doesn’t matter.
Christians and Jews ARE different. We experience different events in our formative years and our religious holidays are celebrated very differently. The Jewish faith is one of TRADITION! (See, Fiddler on the Roof…) and instills in its younger generations a deep appreciation of the struggles of the race. The high holidays–Passover, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah–remember these struggles in elaborate ceremony whether it be a multi-course meal, a fast, or a day long religious service. The somber observance of these holidays respects the sacrifices of these past generations.
To me, the Christian faith is one of CELEBRATION! As Christians, our high holidays–Christmas and Easter–celebrate the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We revel in His death and resurrection as atonement for our human sins in the expectation that our piety and observance will be realized and rewarded with an eternity of Peace. There is, in these observances, an understanding that it is OK to take Joy in the gifts of Jesus’s sacrifice. And that as long as we realize that we are born sinners and seek forgiveness we can be secure in our Faith that we will walk at His side in our death.
I think these are very different views of Faith. The Jewish religion looks to its long history in a positive, but realistic, realization that the community has been built on the sacrifices of others. Those who are part of the culture must take action to preserve and pass on the traditions. Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, takes a more dogmatic approach that focuses on the individual’s relationship with God. By being “Christian” and performing “Christian” acts we earn our individual place in Heaven.
But, as is always the case, we have more in common than not. Jews and Christians both believe in the basic human responsibility to love and care for one another. Both faiths show us that the way to become closest to God is to serve each other. Both faiths teach us that we must instill in our children respect for our loved ones and our community. And both religions teach tolerance and acceptance of those whose version of God may be different than our own.
So then, as I look to process the evil in Pittsburgh, I can’t help but focus on what unites us:
Love and Faith in God.
And as I look at my own personal journey to Faith, I realize that I’m a bi-product of these dual windows into different beliefs. I am perhaps more somber and appreciative of the Jewish struggle and the impact it has had on the community. I’m also inspired by the selflessness of those in my life who serve others as part of their personal Christian faith.
As I face today’s challenges–the dog at the vet, the last hurdle in my facial reconstruction, the house in Phoenix, the boat in the Caribbean, the stress of the holidays, aging parents, love and partnership–I think I feel a greater connection to God and I think I’m starting to see some of His guidance.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not devout and I haven’t downloaded the Bible or the Torah on my Kindle. And I still have a lot of unresolved questions. But I see something greater than me and this flawed human condition. And that’s something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. It seems hopeful and peaceful.
I can’t define it and I can’t explain it. But I think that’s the definition of faith–belief in the absence of proof.