Jewish people, at different levels of intensity, are in the middle of the High Holy Days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. So reporters are scouring the countryside looking for interesting articles to post about interesting Jews. Such people are not hard to find. The Inquirer discovered a group in South Jersey who are consciously working out what I think a lot of Christians are unconsciously working out. So they caught my attention too.
During the High Holy Days, Jews are religious. They can celebrate Passover, Hanukah and other feast days without being religious because those days are rooted in historical events (they are like the Fourth of July). But the High Holy Days are about repentance and God. So Arnold Barnett’s wife often went to the religious observances alone because Arnold wasn’t into God, even though he was into Judaism. Now they celebrate with members of the South Jersey Secular Jews – “a group of people who may or may not believe in God, but do believe in caring about the world and one another, respecting and understanding Jewish history, and celebrating a culture that has meaning and emotional pull.” (Inquirer, 9-6-10) People estimate that 40,000 of the 6 million Jews in the U.S. are “out” as secular (as compared to 44% in Israel – a figure some people say is, for most practical purposes, much higher). One might even expect the number to be even more, since traditional religions have been experiencing secularization since the Renaissance — once God got removed from the government, people went with secular norms instead of religious ones. Speaking for Jews who have secularized their religion, Cary Hillebrand, of Cherry Hill, says, “We are not in any way antireligious. We hold the belief that we are responsible for what happens to ourselves and to the world. And to us, that’s the essence of what religion is, and should be.”
I would not want to argue with Cary, since she was probably misinterpreted by the reporter, anyway. But I am reacting to Cary-like people almost every day. They are often listening to my speeches and quietly reading my blog, translating what I say into their God-less philosophical framework – and being very tolerant of me as they do. I was walking with the grandchildren the other day and a friend who used to be in covenant with me as Circle of Hope stopped the car (and held up the one behind him) to smile out the window and make a pleasant comment. As he sped off I wondered what to do about the loss I felt. I know, in his world view, I had no right to my loss, since he was just being responsible for what happens to himself. But I still felt it.
I have an increasing roster of friends (maybe because I keep collecting them on Facebook, that great illusion of community) who love me, who love the Circle of Hope community, who love that we are trying to be socially responsible but who don’t love Jesus. They don’t really even want to hear about Jesus because it makes them feel guilty and they are done with guilty. They don’t want to hear about meetings and why they should have attended because they are done with those obligations. They tried commitment to something but their own path and it didn’t work for them – and they don’t want any more convincing. But they still want the love and they still want the parts of the morality they like; they even want the holidays. They just don’t want to be subject to God.
It makes for awkward relationships. I still feel obligated to be nice while my supposed friends gut my faith. I get the cold shoulder when I talk about my soul, while they want the freedom to talk about their “freedom” as if it were not a submission to another god — since we aren’t allowed to talk about God, not a real one, anyway. They show up at parties, want to be included in the family, want to be included in the cause, but they don’t want to feel responsible for undermining the foundation of it all. Maybe I shouldn’t have called the relationships awkward and then immediately sounded kind of bitter. It is more than awkward. Being secularized by your loved one is a bitter pill to keep swallowing. I’ve been working at covenantal, selfless love. Being reduced down to “nice” is painful. And I usually don’t think my newly-merely-nice friends are really that nice, anyway. I miss the need for forgiveness.
What to do? Maybe we should advocate that former Circle of Hopers who have adopted unbelief should have some secular cells for themselves like the Jews in New Jersey. There are so many pre-believing people going the opposite direction of them who are in our cells and who are being welcomed into our community every day, it might be better if the pre-believers could identify people going the other way before they run into them at the bridal shower.
I almost hate to bring this up when Tea Party people are rallying on government steps all over the country, drawing lines, trying to “take the nation back for God” (and white people). But Jesus says, “[The one] who is not with me is against me, and [the one] who does not gather with me scatters (Matt 12:30). In the Message paraphrase, Petersen puts the contest for loyalty like this: “This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse.” I’m not trying to draw lines. But the fact is a lot of pre-believing people are actually helping Jesus. A lot of people who have lost the faith that did not save them are not. I am at least going to say that.
For the most part, even when the secularizing folks want to divide off and divide up, I am going to let it all play out and trust God to do his work however he can – even using me to help. When frustrated people have spoken to me about the dilemma of the formerly-committed continuing to dwell in the community, I have to offer something else Jesus says:
“Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)
I apologize to anyone who feels insulted by possibly being alluded to as a “tare.” But your lack of helping is making things worse – for me, anyway. I’ll be OK, since I am NOT, ultimately, responsible for what happens to myself and the world, God is – and I’m good with God. If I’m conscious enough when we meet, you won’t get burned by me, even if feel a bit singed myself.