I have an interesting history when it comes to religion (heck, what don’t I have an interesting history in?) Growing up I went to St. Joe – a public school that also happened to be a Catholic school. By that, I mean I had to attend church services in the mornings, and take Catechism classes. That’s really not that abnormal, except the part where it was a public school. Oh, yeah, and the part where I wasn’t Catholic. Nor, even in first grade, did I have any desire to become Catholic.
I, in fact, went to one of the many flavors of protestant churches, and was protestant. As you can imagine, this causes a problem – the nuns and students at the Catholic public school were telling me I was going to Hell for not being Catholic, or at very minimum, I wasn’t going to Heaven (there’s always that nice ‘catch all’ in between of Purgatory.) And of course, the protestants saying the Catholics were going to Hell for not being protestants.
Having a foot in both groups had the side effect of making me question religion. Often we’re brought up in a religion. and that’s that. We have it beaten into us, an indoctrination. We go without questioning our faith until later in life – we are what are parents are, or what we’ve been instructed we should be. Well, except my parents weren’t either religion – my mom was ‘spiritual’ and my dad wasn’t. My grandmother was the one who drug me to services and ‘made’ me protestant.
But it made me question the whole religion thing – here’s two groups who claim to follow the same thing: God, and Jesus as our savior, and both get slightly different information from the same basic book, the Bible.
That stuck with me for the rest of my life – how can two different groups feel the other has gotten things so wrong that the other could be condemned to eternal damnation, or at very minimum lack the ability to receive salvation. Eventually I came to a conclusion: Christians, taken as a whole, can be loons sometimes.
I also questioned things further than that – reading the Bible, I got different results entirely than they did! I was taught there were 10 commandments… but if you start reading, there were all these other things we were supposed to do. Worse, people who did claim to be Believers were often hypocrites, failing to follow quite a few of the things they were told. Not all of them, but quite a few I knew.
So towards the end of high school began a slow quest – learning about religions. Not just the one I had been taught in school, but often wandering off the beaten path, then wandering back towards Christian portion of the path. This continued for years – until I met (and married) someone who followed a more pagan path, and I dove into every religion I could find, and studied more magikal systems than you could shake a stick at (oddly, some of them were Old Testament in basis.)
I became a “religion of one” (the one being a bit of a problem, when you think about it, because it’s not possible – there’s always a follower, and always a higher power.) I checked out quite a bit of new-age stuff, but there’s no two ways about it – I always seemed to home back in on my Christian roots. Something always felt right and wrong about it at the same time. I made a staff, for instance, that had engravings on it. The top engraving was in Hebrew – “Yahweh”, followed by one of the symbiological signs for Jesus. I didn’t pray to other gods – any prayers, and askance for power to my God. However, there were moments of addressing ‘the spirits’, for instance, in some magical routines. My studies always brought me back to God being my god, even if there were times where I would wander off for a bit.
Then Gamer Zone fell, and I got a divorce. I didn’t just distance myself from my study of religion – I distanced myself from God. No more prayers, no nothing for about three years.
Then this redhead walks in my life – we start chatting, and eventually the question of religion came up, and she explains she follows “Messianic Judaism.” My head kind of tilted when she said that – see, I could parse the words: Messianic, following of the Messiah (Christ). Judaism, followers of the Old Testament, and most certainly NOT followers of Christ. I think a little of my brains leaked out trying to figure that one out at first, and she explained a bit: there’s the Old Testament, and the New Testament. Both are valid, and both are followed, and throw in some Jewish traditions to boot. Eventually she invited me to synagogue to see what it was all about.
Typically, I turn down invitations to church. I’ve found myself in a few of them, and well… I found them lacking. Sometimes the whole experience was dower, so solemn it’s no wonder people ended up sleeping. Yet, the Bible tells us to be joyous in God’s word. To sing, to dance, to raise our hands in prayer… and there they sit, quietly. Nope, that’s not for me. On the other end of the spectrum are the ones who get that part right, but seem to be pretty lax on the rest of it – that whole Old Testament thing. Hrm.
But this one… well, I went the first time and they sang and danced and raised their voices to God and all that good stuff. However, they also didn’t go nuts with it – we’re not talking dancing in the isles uncontrollably, but a structured dance in a circle (which, btw, is only a bonfire from looking like a dead ringer for certain pagan dances. However, there’s reasons for that.) But on the other side of things, they also seemed to address the existence of the ENTIRE Bible. Wait… what? Plus, they had some strange traditions – people were wearing shawls of some sort, and part of the prayers were in Hebrew.
OK, I’m going to say that last part again: part of the prayers were in Hebrew. You know, Hebrew, that language the Old Testament was written in? Like, original source material sort of stuff, closer to what was originally written? One of the early epiphanies in my quest for understanding religion was that the Bible wasn’t written in English, but instead, Hebrew and Greek, and that different flavors of the Bible used different words. I was really young at the time, so that was nearly mind-blowing. Later in life I had decided “someday” I’d learn Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin to continue studying religion better – though, someday never seemed to come around.
And the people were friendly – I had never been there before, but people came up, shook my hand, said “Shabbat Shalom” (Shabbat is the Sabbath, which they celebrate from Friday night when the first stars come out to Saturday when the first three stars are visible, rather than Sunday. Shalom can be translated a few ways – it can be a greeting, like hello or good bye. However, at it’s core it’s a blessing, a wishing of spiritual fulfillment with God.) I wasn’t particularly pleased with that – I’m in a strange place, and strange people are trying to be friendly. But, they won points for it at the same time – instead of giving me the harry eyeball, they were open and wanted new people to feel accepted. Beats the heck out of some churches!
I was fascinated. I decided if I was ever invited again, I’d probably go. And added bonus, the redhead I was interested in would have to ask me. And well, she did 🙂 The second time I went was “Torah service.” For those not familiar with the Torah – it’s the 5 books of Moses, which are the 5 books we’re used to seeing in the Bible at the very beginning. The pulled out the Torah, and it was like a gateway to the past – their copy is somewhere between 300 and 450 years old (I’ve heard varying numbers, though everyone says they don’t know for sure how old it is) and it’s written on deerskin in this huge scroll, hand written Hebrew. It’s pretty impressive.
However, things with the redhead took an odd turn, and we went different directions (for a while.) After a long conversation with a friend (well, actually, more than one friend) I found myself at an odd juncture – I wanted to go again, but it was “someone else’s church.” I looked around, and discovered Remnant of Israel was the only one of it’s flavor nearby (there was, however, a Southern Baptist Messianic Congregation that met on Saturday mornings. The idea of merging Southern Baptists and Judaism still makes vital brain cells scream and run out my ears, so I passed.) One of the friends I talked to pointed out how important this apparently was to me (she had never heard me so enthused by a religious gathering place), and finally talked me into going back.
So, I went – and oddly, the redhead had taken a bit of a hiatus from synagogue. Each week, I went. Each week after services were over, I decided “Well, I’ll go one more time. I’m sure there’s something here I’m going to find objectionable.” But I listened to the Rabbi – he spoke words of temperance of other religions. They might be doing it different, and even wrong based on the whole Messianic Judaism view of things, but that doesn’t mean they were condemned to eternity in Hell, or that they should be shunned. Most people weren’t extremist either, in a religion I would have assumed would easily breed extremism, to be quite honest. Most – there’s been a few I’ve ran into, but it seems to be the exception, not the rule.
The people were diverse – there was no single walk of life represented there. There was no single race – I’m rather used to the idea that walking into a church I’m probably gonna only see white folk in there. This, though, had a little of everyone in it: white, black, jewish, hispanic.
The cantor (the guy who delivers the liturgy, greets people at the beginning of services, things like that) always seemed sincere in his desire to be there. People, in general, seemed to really WANT to be there – this wasn’t a burden, this was a joy for them! How amazing!
Slowly, I found myself going weekly – and the redhead also returned back to synagogue – for quite a while, still thinking “I’ll decide next week.” Finally, it happened – I’m not sure what the final straw was, but a realization occurred: I had found a spiritual home. A place to be that actually fit me. Somehow figures that it’s a sort of “underdog” religion – not viewed well by some Christians, and not viewed well by some Jewish.
Eventually I event went to a convention centered around this religious choice – and discovered the synagogue I go to is rather unique in it’s outlook on things at times. It’s not just that I attend a congregation of Messianic Believers, it’s that I attend Remnant of Israel.
I find myself there every Friday night, and nearly every Saturday (for Torah study and New Testament Bible study). Slowly I’m picking up Hebrew, but not as quickly as I’d like – that’s a time resource issue on my part, not a lack of ability. I can already speak English, some Chinese, and if I concentrate real hard, I can even understand some Spanish. Eventually I’ll get to the point I can do Hebrew, and move on to the next language, biblical Greek. (Keep in mind, the Hebrew I speak of is biblical Hebrew, which has about as much in common with modern Hebrew as old English has with modern American English.)
So in December when the announced a membership class I took a few weeks to think it over, and signed up. That basically boiled down to reading a (poorly written) book on Messianic Judaism, and setting in a room full of people for a couple of hours chatting about it. As of last week, I’m an official member of the synagogue.
Now, there is some downsides. First thing to understand is, well, I’m a heretic in some aspects of the religion. I’m not a literalist about the beginning of Genesis – in my belief, the world is not just under 6,000 years old. The writing is divine – God just chose to pass down words people could understand and related to. The concept of 34 billion years is not comprehensible in our modern era of electronics and science, it almost sounds like a made up number – we just can’t grasp it in reality. Now, go back 3,500 year or so, and try and put yourself into the mindset of the people. It’s not only incomprehensible, it would raise more questions that would detract from the rest of the message contained in the Torah.
That’s just one example. There’s a whole list of ’em – the redhead mentioned, for instance, has absolutely no desire to get into a conversation with me about certain biblical beliefs I have 🙂
But one fundamental thing I learned, the one that will make me a heretic no matter what religion I am in, still remains: it’s not that one should be what I am, it’s that one should believe in something greater than themselves – God, and they should honestly sit down and explore it. And God, well… my belief is God is more complex, multifaceted, and available in more religious choices than we might expect, even if there’s a different name for Him at times. The only wrong path is the path that you fail to follow, the path that doesn’t bring you joy, the path that doesn’t bring you a sense of spiritual enlightenment. And I don’t say it because I disbelieve the Bible – I say it because I deeply believe in the Bible, and the things I’ve read and learned about all those religions I studied is there’s a lot more here than us humans will ever fully understand, even if we had ten lifetimes to study and analyze it all.
But even if that piece isn’t compatible with a specific religion, Remnant is still the place for me. I smiled during the members class – the Rabbi commented that some people had joined before, thinking they could change Remnant to be what they wanted it to be, rather than taking it for what it is. I had to smile – even with my bit of heresy, I wouldn’t change Remnant, heck I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to change it – joy, dancing, singing, fellowship, all of those things rolled into a group that gets along well as a spiritual family!
Has Remnant changed my life? Yes – though very few of the rules in my life have changed. Probably the only big one that changed was observing Shabbat (the Sabbath) – the rest of the rules I live by fit pretty well with the Biblical rules. OK, actually, there was a second – I curse less. Otherwise, I live the same life – but I THINK about how I live more often. Because I can be a rules lawyer to start with (including, well, what rules of society I wish to break), having a set of rules that I can pick up and look at gives me something to gage myself against.
And for the most part, I do pretty well – the one I’m in violation of, for instance, is addiction – I still smoke, but that’s on my to-do list at least. And, most importantly, I have my relationship with God back – and because now I have the deep feeling that I found a path I could walk, it’s become a strong relationship, stronger than I’ve ever had in my life before. And I’m happier for it!