Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

Girl Meets God: a memoir (Lauren F. Winner)

sk8eeyore read this, and i'm fairly acquiescent to "I'd kind of love to hear your reactions."

sk8eeyore: And there were, of course, other parts that roughed me up, like where she discusses community and the lies we tell ourselves about prayer being our individual vertical line to God.
hermionesviolin: So would the "If pressed, I could probably think of a reason that almost every person on my flist should read this book" item for me be "because it will make you want to kick things?" ;)
sk8eeyore: Basically, yes. Exactly :) I almost noted that in the post, even, but I figured it kinda went without saying.
sk8eeyore: Actually, there were certain bits I thought you might enjoy, or at least find intriguing -- she does some interesting exegetical stuff with biblical and other Jewish texts, talking about how she reconciled Old and New Testament texts following her conversion from Orthodox Judaism, stuff that made me go, "Ooh. Text. Elizabeth." And admittedly I'd kind of love to hear your reactions to the book as a whole :)

I read Amazon reviews and suspected i wouldn’t be a fan. I gave it a shot anyhow, though.

On the whole, i think its big problem is that it’s a memoir about a spiritual journey, which means it has two very different things to talk about and both of them get short-changed because she’s not a good enough writer to pull it off. The anecdotes about her life and the trajectory of her life feel scattered. She doesn’t give me great faith that she could even pull off a straight memoir. Additionally, for someone who is so intellectually oriented, her discussions of religion feel very superficial. She talks about ruptures, and i wholly validate the fact that most people’s lives cannot be told as cleanly as fictional characters’ can, but i had some difficulty following the trajectory of her life, and a lot of the anecdotes felt random.

[page numbers are from the 2003 Random House Trade Paperback edition]

     Achor shows up in Joshua, and then again in Hosea 2:15, where God promises to turn the Valley of Achor into a door of hope. “And what does God mean,” the rabbi at Brit Hadasha now asks, “when he speaks of transforming this valley of Acor, this Valley of Trouble, into a door of Hope? He tells us in John 10:9, when Jesus declares, ‘I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved.’ The door promised in Hosea, a promise that in turn looked back to Joshua, was Jesus, the only door that could undo the trouble of Achor.”
     His reading is spectacular. I am dazzled. I have not heard anyone read Scripture in this particular rabbinic way since I became a Christian. The rabbi has done just what the rabbis of the Talmud did when they squeezed out the Sabbath prohibitions from the world melacha. There is something Jewish about this place, I think, the most important Jewish thing of all. They read like Jews.
I read that first paragraph and thought, “Gee, that’s neat; i wonder what Joel would say about that,” recalling our class on “the virgin will be with child,” “voice of one calling in the desert,” etc. I like when Winner tells me the reader interesting things about the Bible.

I was also frustrated, because i felt like, “Of course that’s how Christian church services should be -- examining Scripture in context, both Testaments, sometimes relating the two,” and it made me sad that this was such a rare experience for her.

So I church-hopped, sometimes visiting as many as three churches on a single Sunday. I manufactured good reasons never to return to any of them, but the real reason was probably that it was easier to stay anonymous and aloof than to do the hard, intimate work of actually becoming part of a church.
I empathize with Winner on this point, though i would point out that it’s easy to stay relatively “anonymous and aloof ” even when one attends the same church regularly, that one still has to do “the hard, intimate work of actually becoming part of a church.”

     Christmastime may be the hardest season for churches. We are inured not only to the Christmas story itself, but also to our pastors’ attempts annual rants against consumerism. Every creative attempt to make the season meaningful, to steal it back inside the church, away from the shopping malls and cheesy radio stations, has been tried, and most of those creative attempts have proved wanting. Perhaps the problem is that we don’t know the meaning of the holiday, of Jesus’ pushing into the world, is. If we did, we wouldn’t have to worry about consumerism; if we knew what the Incarnation meant, we’d be so preoccupied with awe that we wouldn’t notice all the shopping.
Is there anyone here who hasn’t heard me gripe about the consumerism of the Christmas season including within the church community? (Though i can’t actually find good rants in my memories.) Jonah and i were talking about the weather the other day, and he asked if the cold bothered me as much as the heat did, and i laughed and told him how much i love the bitter cold of the winter, and he mentioned January with the post-Christmas deflation and the grey dead ground. I conceded that bitterly cold winter that can’t even be bothered to snow can be depressing, but i said the Christmas season puts me in such a foul mood that January is something of a relief. (Though of course that month includes my mother’s and her mother’s birthdays, so i’m not free from the Must Buy Useless Crap world just yet. Clarification for those who are new: My mother neither gifts nor desires useless crap. Her mother, however, is of the quantity>quality school of gift-giving, which drives my family, and me most particularly, up a wall.)

     Jo Bailey Wells has an Advent rule. She doesn’t go to Christmas parties held before Christmas. She says Advent is about anticipation, not about celebrating weeks before His birth. The waiting, she says, is meant to be a little anxious. I picture Jane Austen heroines. They never are quite sure if their intended will come. We Christians can be sure, we can rest easy in the promises of Scripture. But we are meant to feel a touch of that anxious, handkerchief-wringing expectation all the same.
I actually thought Advent was supposed to be about preparing your heart for Christ to enter into rather than anxiety. We know Jesus came, and Advent is not about the promised Second Coming, and Mary was anxious just because she was gonna have a baby.
     The calendar tells us that this all culminates on December 25, but really the whole season slouches toward Easter. Jesus became incarnate now, in that manger in Bethlehem, but if His incarnateness is meant to make Him more relatable to us, if we are meant to have better access to God because God has a body like we have, if we relate to him better because He knows what it is like to weep and throw up and be tempted and suffer, then the Incarnation that starts on Christmas isn’t over until Good Friday. And the miracles that start in the strange, inexplicable Virgin Birth aren’t finished until the Resurrection. As Reverend Barbara Cawthorne Crafton wrote of the Virgin Birth, “hard as it is to swallow, it is nothing compared with what we’ll have to deal with come Easter morning, a few short months from now. Look on it as a little something by way of a warm-up.” Even his birthplace takes us to the Last Supper: Jesus, the Bread of Life, is born in Bethlehem, bet lechem, “house bread.” and at the Last Supper He will break bread for us, and then on the cross He will break His body. Nothing in Scripture, even the names of birthplace towns, is coincidence.
Dude, co-opting Yeat’s “The Second Coming” language? Creepy. Plus, hi, “slouching towards Bethlehem” is about a possible Second Coming, not about the First Coming. I know she’s a history major not a literature major, but still.

As expected, the Bethlehem note made my geeky heart happy.

I liked her talking about Easter, because Christmas and even Good Friday would have meant nothing without Easter. I mean, people might still have remembered some of the radical things Jesus taught, but no one would have accepted him as the Messiah had he not risen from the dead. (I really need to figure out what exactly Jesus’ own claims about his divinity/resurrection were.)

At Christmas Service Midnight Mass we always take Communion, and i’m always surprised and taken aback, because i always forget that we do it. For me, it rivals Good Friday for dark meaning in a church service, and i find it in some ways more powerful than Good Friday because Holy Week you’re expecting the darkness, whereas the Christmas Season is all garish brightness.

Look at me having Incarnation issues. “if His incarnateness is meant to make Him more relatable to us, if we are meant to have better access to God because God has a body like we have, if we relate to him better because He knows what it is like to weep and throw up and be tempted and suffer...” Dude, that had better not be the point of the Incarnation. The Incarnation, as i once told sk8eeyore (though sadly i can’t find the exact quote), is because people kept getting it wrong and God needed to come down Godself and straighten things out. My God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. God knows what we are feeling.

Gradually, the summer away and the weekends in Washington added up to my wanting to live an Orthodox life. No other way to parse Judaism made much sense. If the Torah was true, than [sic] we should spend all our time reading it, and all our life standing by it. I remember asking Lisa, a woman from Congregation Beth Israel for whom I baby-sat, how it was that she observed the Sabbath laws, but not the dietary laws. All the laws came from the same book; why did she feel bound by one clump and not the other? She said something about tradition. “If you think people should keep Shabbat because of the authority of the Talmud,” Lisa said, “then I’m just inconsistent. But I don’t observe the Sabbath because I feel bound by Jewish law. I do it because I want to participate in Judiasm, and this is one way I can do it that’s meaningful for me. I don’t find keeping kosher particularly meaningful.”
     I have grown to love theology, but I have always had a pretty theologically unsophisticated mind. Lisa’s thinking about law as meaningful, and not as binding, didn’t make much sense to me. Either these laws were true or they were not true. Either God revealed all this stuff to Moses on Mount Sinai or He didn’t. If He did, then we’re bound by all of it, every last word, every syllable, every letter. Or else God had nothing to do with it, maybe there was no God, Moses was a megalomaniac or the product of a good fiction writer’s imagination. Either there was no Judaism or there was Orthodox Judaism.
I definitely empathize with this. There’s a lot from the Bible i would like to get rid of, but if it really is all from God, then i don’t have that option. (Of course the question of whether it really is all from God is one i want to engage with -- researching how texts were selected for Scripture, plus with my whole Jesus issue researching texts about Jesus that didn’t get the Imprimatur.) And Jesus was a Jew, so much though i’d at times like to ignore the Old Testament, if i accept Jesus as Divine, i have to deal with the tradition he came out of. Yes he argued some of it, but it is that tradition that gives him legitimacy, and in the grand Jewish tradition he constantly refers back to it.

I can sympathize with Lisa, but i couldn’t do it. It would feel dishonest. I would appropriate pieces from traditions and call them my own path to the Divine. I would use them as a way to feel part of the community of the Divine. I think i would feel uncomfortable calling myself part of a community if i only kept part of the laws (yes we’re all sinners, but that’s different from declaring some of the laws to not apply; i do the latter all the time, but for me it’s a reason why i don’t consider myself part of a community).

     Before actually baptizing me, Jo would ask me a series of questions. The answers were printed out, right there in front of me, in my prayer book. Sitting in her rooms, drinking tea, Jo and I practiced aloud. Jo’s role was to ask questions like, “Do you turn to Christ?” and I was to say, “I turn to Christ.” “Do you renounce evil?” she would ask, and I would say, “I renounce evil.” And so on.
     We got to the third exchange and finally I said, “This is ridiculous. I can’t promise these things. Half the time I don’t trust God one iota. I can’t stand up there and promise that I will trust Him forever and ever. Who on earth makes these promises?”
     Jo got up and went to the bookshelf. She found an American Book of Common Prayer, which is slightly different from the Church of England’s prayer book. “Here, maybe this will make you feel better,” she said, flipping to the baptismal service. “In the American prayer book, you don’t just answer all these questions in the affirmative. You say, ‘I will, with God’s help.’ ”
     I usually think the Church of England is much more together, insightful, and generally sane the Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. But in this case, I think we Americans got it right. I will, with God’s help.
I like that.

     There are a few people out there with whom you fit just so, and, amazingly, you keep fitting just so even after you have growth spurts or lose weight or stop wearing high heels. You keep fitting after you have children or change religions or stop dyeing your hair or quit your job at Goldman Sachs and take up farming. Somehow, God is gracious enough to give us a few of those people, people you can stretch into, people who don’t go away, and whom you wouldn’t want to go away, even if they offered to.
And yet....

On page 168 she writes:
Once, I was sitting in the living room reading a novel and Joan pulled m into the kitchen and she said, “I want to talk to you about something you said the other night when you were here.” She sounded urgent and serious and hushed. “You were leaving, after Shabbess. Aaron was trying to convince you to stay and go to the movies with him and Leah. You said, ‘No, I have to go home.’ ” Joan paused. I narrowed my eyes and waiter for her to get to the part where I’d said something that offended her or upset her or something. “It makes me sad to think of you thinking of your dorm room up at Columbia as home.”
     “But it is my home,” I said. “It’s where I live.”
     “I want you to think of this as your home,” she said. She gestured around the kitchen. There were boxes of Entemman’s doughnuts on the top of the refrigerator and a stack of plates in the sink.
And facing it, on page 169, she writes:
I do remember that she loved the seder, and that she sat on my narrow twin bed in her cherry-red pajamas and said, “Are you really going to give all that up?” To become an Episcopalian, she meant.
     I thought she meant giving up the seders. I thought she meant the singing and the Haggadah and the ritual and even the joy, and I looked at her and, haltingly, answered, “Yes; yes, I am going to give all those things up.” But I am not sure I understood what all the losses would be. I’m not sure I knew that I would have to number the five people who lived in 3B among them. I have not seen them, with the exception of Aaron, in four years.
I boggled at this part. There are a lot of people whose friendship i valued and whom i miss, but i have made attempts to reconnect with them, and the reciprocation has been minimal, so i try to let go, and they are still in my heart and in my thoughts and i suspect that i will again attempt to reconnect with them. I can’t fathom just letting people with whom you shared such a deep love just fall out of your life.

In this book, she talks a lot about her break from Judaism as a divorce, and i find myself thinking, “But lots of divorcees manage to remain friends with people they met through their spouse.” Sure it’s hard, since the ex-spouse is still so much a part of their lives, but she even talks about wanting to bring parts of Judaism back into her life, so it’s not even like she and the ex-spouse have a hostile relationship.

Yes, all my friends are people i met outside of any religious context so of course i expect we would remain friends even if our spiritual journeys took us to different places (especially since all of us are already in such different places, including those Protestants i know), but people i know from United and First Churches i think would still love me and wish me well and want to be a part of my life even if they disagreed with where my spiritual journey had taken me. How could she could just let these people fall out of her life for four years (okay, that part i understand) and then just accept that as final, not making any attempt to reconnect?

On page 290, she writes: I can’t remake all these relationships, but I can rebuild my library. I expect she’s right that she can’t remake “all” the relationships, but probably more than a few can be repaired, restarted, whatever word you want.

I expected Christianity to be different from Orthodox Judaism: I expected that what I disliked abut Orthodox Judaism was somehow confined to Orthodox Judaism, not endemic to religious life, or a side effect of consumer capitalism, or just part of human nature.
     I expected that, in Christendom, I would find an endless supply of, well, people just like me: devoted and hard-working intellectuals nobly spurning lucrative careers in law and medicine to hunch over desks in unheated, cramped garrets, furthering the pursuit of human knowledge and thinking rigorously about everything all the time. I was, of course, disappointed, in the church and in myself; Christians are just as anti-intellectual and materialistic as Orthodox Jews, and I’m no nobler than the rest.
     Even once I figured that out, that the religious community I was entering was not going to be more or less to my liking than the one I was leaving, I still held on to the illusion that my relationship with God could be separate from the body of people I prayed with. That it could be separate from the community. That it is a vertical line, a silver puppeteer’s string, keeping my head up straight and connecting me, straight up through the heavens, with God Himself. What draws me to a religion is the beliefs, the theologies, the books, the incantations, the recipes to get to God, and I like to imagine that they work in the abstract, that they are enough, that they exist, somewhere, pure and distinct from the people who enact them.
     I learned, praying with the Orthodox Jews at Columbia, that I was wrong. I learned that Torah truths are shaped, for good and ill, by the people who live Torah with you. But when I entered the church, I entered under the same illusion, that it was new theologies and new incantations and a new God and i was going to climb up to Him on a new ladder, shimmy up a new rope, I would go out to the desert like Simon Stylite and stand on a pole and reach up to God alone.
     I had imbibed centuries of stereotypes about Judaism being a religion about community, and Christianity, by implication, being a religion about God, about the individual believer sweating it out in solitude, like Jesus for forty days in the wilderness tempted by the devil. But when I stepped into Christianity, I entered a religion premised on community no less than the religion I was leaving. Judaism speaks straightforwardly about community. “When the community is suffering, one may not say, ‘I will go to my house, eat and drink, and I will be fine,’ ” the Talmud tells us. “Do not separate from the community,” Rabbi Hillel says elsewhere.
     Christianity reaches for metaphor. The church, the community of faithful, is the very Body of God.
Obviously, i sympathize with the whole “why does everyone suck?” feeling, but she never explains why community is necessary (just says unhelpful things like “Jewish experience Q taught/proved/showed me that community is necessary”). I am all about the vertical rope mode, and she never in the whole book makes anything resembling even an actual argument (nevermind an argument i can understand/respect/buy) as to why that doesn’t work. Bad intellectual! sk8eeyore has talked a lot about community, so he’s heard me on this a lot. I think community can be useful, but i am all about a one-on-one relationship with God, and find community useful in teaching me things but it’s like how you would ask for advice on your relationship and you often spend time with your beloved in public but it’s not like you need an audience every time you’re together.

It hits me, looking at Jim, that Jesus is the only person big enough to do this kind of forgiveness, that we can forgive only because He shows us how. I remember that He forgave my own sins, too, that when He hung on the Cross before slipping into death and said, “It is finished,” He meant Hannah’s adultery, and all my own sins, and Jim’s and the Latin American literature guy’s sins, and my parents’, and my priests’, and everyone else’s, permanently, thoroughly, forgiven.
Like we didn’t already know God could forgive? I am confused. The Jews knew lots about God’s forgiveness, right? I mean, they’re forever messing up and getting second chances. Plus, say, Jonah who yells at the people of Nineveh, which causes them to repent, and God forgives them (upsetting Jonah, whose reputation and sense of moral outrage are both wounded).

Jesus barely even spends much time forgiving. And one of the climactic ones (when he’s dying) he asks God to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (I have problems with the Incarnation, with exceed the scope of this particular rant.) I mean yes, one of his big blasphemies is to forgive sin, but mostly he preaches/demonstrates how to be a good person, plus saying some seriously radical things.

The horseradish recalls the bitterness of slavery in Egypt; the unleavened bread helps you remember the Israelites who, in their haste to flee, did not have time to let bread rise. But the rabbis teach us that there is a more general reason for all these curious culinary gestures. They are intended to stimulate the interest of children. Kids at the table will notice that something out of the ordinary is going on — they don’t partake of bitter herbs and flat bread every night — they will ask why their family isn’t eating the usual dinner rolls or pumpernickel loaves. Then their parents will have an opening to tell them the story of what God did for the Jews in Egypt.
     The cross on our foreheads is meant to be a dramatic reminder to ourselves—and it is that. When Milind looks at me and says, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” I know what God did for me. He not only created me, He then poured out His grace upon me in the blood of His son. Me, a bunch of dust!
     But the cross also stimulates other people’s questions. It provides an unmistakable opportunity—even obligation—to witness.
Paragraph 1: That’s an interesting idea i hadn’t heard before–about the strangeness being openings for explanations.

Paragraph 2: But we are not just dust. God breathed life into all of us. The Crucifixion is not to redeem all of Creation (some traditions posit a New Earth after the End Times, but it’s a debated point) but to redeem humanity. We were elevated above dirt when God gave us the Breath of Life. Yes humility is important, but we were given dominion over all the Earth; we are not just dust.

Paragraph 3: Hello main reasons i won’t wear crosses :) I refuse to publically claim a belief i can’t honestly say is mine.

Sven Birkets once wrote, “To read, when one does so of one’s own free will is to make a volitional statement, to cast a vote; it is to posit an elsewhere and set off toward it. And like any traveling, reading is at once a movement and a comment of sorts about the place one has left. To open a book voluntarily is at some level to remark the insufficiency either of one’s life or of one’s own orientation toward it.”
What about non-fiction reading? What if i am unsatisfied with my position of knowledge-lacking? I do think the statement is truthful and thought-provoking, but i also think it is in some ways misleading.

Aquinas wrote, “Prayer is profitable because it makes us familiars of God.” I like that language. It conjures up God as a witch with a broomstick and a pointy hat, and me His little black cat, everywhere underfoot. Then Aquinas quoted Psalm 140: “Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight.”
*cough*His Dark Materials*cough*

That explanation does make sense, reminds me of the argument that prayer gets you in the habit of talking with God.

The incense bit reminded me of Joel talking about how spoken prayer replaced sacrifice: words rather than smoke reaching up to God.

Being always in communication with God, huh? Like no intermediary. Like no need for Confession. Sorry; this is one of my hot-button issues. Pages 206-215 is the section titled Confession, and in those 10 pages she talks a lot and raises at least one of the concerns i have (if you already confessed and asked forgiveness on your own time, why do you need to do it again with a priest?) and then proceeds to thoroughly fail to convince me why Confession to a priest is something worth doing. I get that not everything is explainable, and i sort of get why she finds Confession valuable, but since i have many of the same reservations (for lack of a better word) about it as she did, i was disappointed that she didn’t marshal anything even resembling a convincing argument for the value of Confession in her book. (There are lots of things i don’t believe or disagree with or view as pointless or whatever, but if you can put together a solid argument for something’s value/merit/etc. i will be forced to engage with it and may even change my mind or at least have a much better understanding of -- and respect for -- why people choose/do/think/whatever this thing.)

     The prayers, the three-times-a-day prayers, are longer, and harder to learn and require more discipline. I don’t say them anymore, but I remember the lessons they taught me, which were two. One, it is important to pray with other people, in a group, a lesson that gives the lie to the lie I like to believe, which is that prayer is just about this vertical conversation between me and God and God and me. And two, liturgy is dull, and habitual, and rote, and you memorize it, and don’t think about what you’re saying, and it is, regardless, the most important thing on the planet. It is the place you start, and the place you come back to. I find liturgy, even Thomas Cranmer’s beautiful poetry, as bland as macaroni and cheese, but I would have no prayer without it.
I of course am a touch offended at the mac&cheese slight :)

Seriously, though, “vertical conversation” is the core of my Protestantism. I will never ever be Catholic. I am all about it being me and God, with possibly a sacred text. She keeps talking about the importance of community, how it isn’t just a vertical line, and the importance of community as in “it is important to have people who love and support you” comes through in her book, but in terms of needing a spiritual community in order to commune with God? She just says it’s important. Bad bad intellectual.

     Jewish tradition teaches that at Mount Sinai God revealed not just the written Torah, the Torah shebachtav, the first five books of Moses, but also the oral Torah, the Torah she baal peh, the Torah of the mouth, literally—the Talmud and all the other rabbinic commentaries. All of these elaborations, those readings, those interpretations, the cheese bread and the meaty lasagna, Moses received all that at Sinai. They are just as binding as anything in Leviticus, even though they didn’t get written down until later. Jews who dare to read the Torah shebachtav, the written Torah, without the Torah she baal peh, are heretics of the first order, Karaites. These are the Jews who take literally the 613 commandments in the Old Testament, but disregard completely the teachings of the rabbis.
     Anglicans, and other Catholic churches—that is, the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox—read the Bible like Orthodox Jews. Anglicans look at Scripture through the scrim of the church fathers, they balance the Bible with the weight of centuries of church teaching and tradition. This sets the Catholic churches apart from Protestants, who place less emphasis on, vest less authority in, tradition. Martin Luthur, inaugurating the Protestant Reformation, called for sola scriptura, Scripture alone, and he translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the common tongue so that layfolk could read it and interpret it for themselves, guided not primarily by centuries of church tradition, but directly by the Holy Spirit. If I had to do that, just secret myself away in a room, just me, King James, and the Holy Spirit, I won’t think I’d ever open a Bible again. The task would be too awesome. I am much happier, much more comfortable, much more trusting, and much less terrified when I know that, instead, it’s me, the Holy Spirit, and two thousand years or the church reading, arguing, teasing out, all together. This kind of reading is what I was used to. It’s just the same as reading Genesis alongside a commentary by Rashi or the Vilna Gaon. Reading the New Testament without Jerome and Augustine and the Venerable Bede makes about as much sense to me as reading Hebrew Scripture without Rashi. So that is one of the things that drew me to Episcopalianism: reading with the church.
Paragraph 1: I’m such a Christian Karaite.

Paragraph 2: She calls Anglicans Catholics! I’m sorry; this is one of my petty glee moments. I am forever calling Anglicanism/Episcopalianism “Catholicism Lite.” (You get divorce and no papal authority, and the other differences are...?)

“If I had to do that, just secret myself away in a room, just me, King James, and the Holy Spirit, I...” would feel compelled to bash him over the head with a ceramic vase. Pretty language obscuring actual meaning = gah! And dude, later she even writes the following:
[She buys an assortment of books including a New Jerusalem Bible and “the diary of Mary Chesnut, a Confederate congressman’s wife who chronicled the Civil War from her parlor in South Carolina.”]
That afternoon, riding around town with my mother, I read aloud, first from Chesnut and then from Romans. My mother laughed. “That can’t be the Bible,” she said. No thees, thous, or begats. It didn’t sound anything like the King James of her growing up. “The language is so simple,” she joked, “that you might imagine they want us to understand it.” The Reformation had come to Charlottesville.
Anyway, how do you decide whose interpretations are Torah? Which commentators do you listen to? Who gets to decide which writings about Jesus are Scripture? I find the selection of Holy Writ problematic enough, nevermind bringing in commentary as inspired as well.

And since when has it ever been about comfort? People keep insisting to me it’s not about personal comfort.

And Luther was a scholar. Being informed by others isn’t a bad thing. It can be just you, God, and the Book, but there’s nothing wrong with reading/listening to what other people have had to say. They just don’t get to dictate your beliefs without your say-so. And it’s not like Luther said people should lock themselves in their studies. People still went to church and listened to sermons. You could just accept the hierarchy’s say-so if you were so inclined. But this gave you the ability to question that if you so chose. It gives the individual a lot more power. And okay, that diminishes the power of the community, but it also mitigates against the power of a single individual (rabbi, priest, Pope, whatever) to seriously damage a community, because there are so many individuals discoursing.

     Habit and obligation have become bad words. That prayer becomes a habit must mean that it is impersonal, unfeeling, something of a rouse [sic]. If you do something because you are obligated to, it doesn’t count, at least not as much as if you’d done it of your own free will; like the child who says thank you because his parents tell him to, it doesn’t count. Sometimes, often, prayer feels that way to me, impersonal and unfeeling and not something I’ve chosen to do. I wish it felt inspired and on fire and like a real, love-conversation all the time, or even just most of the time. But what I am learning the more I sit with liturgy is that what I feel happening bears little relation to what is actually happening. It is a great gift when God gives me a stirring, a feeling, a something-at-all in prayer. But work is being done whether I feel it or not. Sediment is being laid. Words of praise to God are becoming the most basic words in my head. They are becoming the fallback words, drowning out advertising jingles and professors; lectures and sometimes even my own interior monologue.
     Maybe Paul was talking about liturgy when he encouraged us to pray without ceasing.
Incidentally, what is the deal with telling kids to say sorry when they don’t mean it? I’ve always been conflicted about that. I mean, you want to teach kids to say “I’m sorry” and “Thank you” when appropriate, but are you teaching them to lie -- speaking sentiments they don’t feel? I’m not sure how to navigate that. Yes you should try to instill in children a sense of being sorry, explaining why what they’ve done is wrong and how it hurt someone, and you can punish them, but if they maintain that they are not sorry, aren’t you fostering dishonesty if you tell them to say it anyway? (And personally i would rather hear genuine sentiment than empty words. This goes for thank you notes, too.)

My mom has said you go to church because then you are already there when you need it, and this makes sense to me. I can’t won’t say words i don’t mean, though. I’m silent through a lot of songs -- and songs i’ll at least grant as lifting joyful noise up to the Lord, but it feels too dishonest for me to do -- and responsive readings.

The “fallback words” explanation makes a lot of sense to me, though i had never thought of it before.

In the sixteenth century, pilgrims to the shrine of Loreto in Italy got tattoos, often of the Virgin Mary or St, Francis. to commemorate their trip. Around the same time, European visitors to Palestine came home with tattoos of the Jerusalem cross. George Sandys, an Englishman traveling around Europe in the second decade of the seventeenth century observed, “They ...mark the Arms of Pilgrims, with the names of Jesus, Maria, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Jerusalem Cross, and sundry other characters.” Christians not only associated tattoos with Christ’s stigmata, but with two verses in the New Testament—Paul’s words in Galatians 6 about carrying “the marks of Jesus tattooed on my body,” and the prophetic vision in Revelation 19 about the writing on Christ’s thigh.

I looked up Galatians 6, and NIV gives me "Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." for Galatians 6:17. This immediately makes me think of the mark on Cain, and neither of those are necessarily marks visible to the human eye.

And given that this comes after the circumcision passage
12Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which[b] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. 16Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.
     b Galatians 6:14 Or whom
i would be inclined to think that context argues against it meaning physical marks.

As for Revelation 19...
11I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter."[a] He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

a Revelation 19:15 Psalm 2:9
This is more ambiguous. I imagine you don’t wear boxers under a robe, but since we’re talking Messiah here “written on the body” doesn’t necessarily have to mean physical markings. I’m honestly more curious about the whole “He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself” being followed by “on his thigh he has this name written”

     My friend Meredith will be confirmed next week. She is terrified. She thinks she may run away. She says she would be less scared if she were getting married or being crowned the queen of England.
     She says she is not having new doubts, just the same ones she has every Sunday, only magnified. “Every time I stand up to say the Creed, I wonder if I say I can believe these things,” she says.
     I tell her what I told her two years ago when she told me she wasn’t enough of a Christian to go to church. I told her, “Go to church for a while and one day you may look down and discover you’ve become a Christian.”
     I tell her there is a Hasidic story. A student goes to his teacher and says, “Rabbi, how can I say, ‘I believe’ when I pray, if I am not sure that I believe?”
     His rabbi has an answer: “ ‘I believe’ is a prayer meaning, ‘Oh, that I may believe!’ ”

The senior warden at All Angels’ writes poetry. He is just a beginner. He says he is forty-six writing poems college sophomores might write. “I feel encouraged about my potential,” he tells me, “but painfully aware of my ignorance.”
     I tell him that is how I feel about being a Christian.
     Oh, that I may believe!
Of course, i would then say, “Oh that I may believe,” not say “I believe” figuring “Well, it really means....” Say the words you mean.

Also, one wonders why Winner didn’t at least think of the Hasidic story when she was worrying about her own baptism. (Yes, i know the words are different, but the sentiment is similar. This is also related to my larger gripe about how thematically similar anecdotes are scattered throughout the book -- rarely in way that feels like “lo, a recurring theme” but rather in a “look, I don’t know how to organize, and no one helped me edit” way.)

And that’s it. Feel free to chime in whether you’ve read the book or not, since there are lots of places one can chime in about Judaism, Christianity, spiritual community, or other issues. And of course if you have read the book, or have read other writings by Winner (this was my introduction to her) you can certainly comment in that vein as well.
Tags: books: read, lauren winner, religion: christianity

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