Monday, April 1, 2013

A Jewish lady, a gay Mormon teen & Jesus have lunch

During which, a straight middle age Jewish lady learns something very cool from a gay Mormon teen.

Today on Facebook I posted a father-son article from the Washington Post about Matt Salmon Sr. and Jr.  Senior is a Congressman (R-AZ) against gay marriage equality, while Junior is an openly gay young man.  The article referenced Junior's personal blog, and I popped over to see what a gay Mormon son of a Congressman might blog about.  Before we pop, let me just say that the Post article, which contains videos of both father and son talking about Junior's coming out, is really rather touching.  The father is coming to grips with himself, and the son is very patient.  They are both loving.  But what I learned in the blog has nothing to do with that.

Getting to Matt, Jr's blog.  It is filled with awesome things.  If you want to read first hand his experience coming out as Mormon youth, you must read into his blog.  He is incredibly brave and articulate.  But what I want to share today has nothing to do with coming out.  This is the thing Junior blogged that struck me today:

While finding himself, he has become more or less agnostic.  He said he has come to see Jesus Christ as "merely a symbol for forgiveness."

In one fell swoop, this statement gave me an entirely new perspective on Christianity.  I hope I'm not offending any of my Christian friends (and if so, I apologize).  I know quite a bit about Christian theology, and of course know that Christians believe Jesus died for the sins of the rest of us.  But, as a Jewish person, it is hard to separate this idea out from the bundle of ideas I've been taught about Christianity.  A virgin birth, for one example.

For me personally - as a Jew - there is no use at all for a concept of a child born without a father, or, another way it's been explained to me, as the son of God and a mortal woman.  That is the stuff of Greek and Roman mythology.  And again, I apologize if I am offending.  I am simply stating what the Christianity story sounds like to a Jewish girl who has been taught that God does not manifest in mortal form, and therefore does not have the faith to overcome the teachings of science - that there is no such thing as a virgin birth.  And so, not buying the first part of the story, I didn't bother to spend much time thinking about the remainder.

But Junior stripped away the story and drove me straight into the heart of a teaching.  I can get my arms around the need for a concrete symbol of forgiveness.  I can think about that, work with it.  Of course Jews also have a focus on forgiveness, but the difference is that, seen from Junior's perspective, Christianity puts forgiveness smack dab in the middle of a Christian's relationship with God.  Jews put other things - the yoke of the commandments, the role of community - in the middle.  Forgiveness in Judaism is about recognizing when you've put down the yoke or turned away from your community or your responsibilities within it, and finding a way to turn back.  This turning is called teshuvah, and does involve forgiving and asking to be forgiven.

When I see forgiveness as being at the center of Christianity, it raises some big questions that do beg answers. The first few questions that come to mind:  why is it so important to put forgiveness front and center?  What does the act of forgiveness offer an individual?  A community?  Humanity generally?  What is the relationship between forgiveness and God?  A lot of good thoughts about those questions come up immediately.  And, as it happens, there is still some forgiveness I have left to achieve in my life.  Who doesn't have some of that, eh?  When I'm not dissertating (no, that's not a real word and yes, I made it up), I will definitely go back to think about this.

Geshe Michael Roach
Not long ago, I went to listen to Buddhist Geshe (master) Michael Roach.  Each thing he said - everything - is an idea already present and known to me through either traditional Jewish teachings or mystical Kabbalistic teachings.  But the Geshe put his tenets out there through an Eastern lens.  Judaism was once an Eastern religion, but it's been a very long time since it's Westernized.  When these tenets were presented through their original Eastern lens, a light went off.  They suddenly became useful to me.  I could see how to make applicable things that had simply been "ideas" to that point.  I could even see how my Western perspective acted as a barrier to grasping the implications of these teachings.  The same way I could suddenly see how a story about a virgin birth could obscure the value of other Christian teachings.

Interestingly, a piece of what the Geshe taught also had to do with teshuvah, and forgiveness.  Based in the concept of karma, he called it something else.  Something akin to mitigating the effect of the bad seeds you've sown.  Funny how things connect back to each other.

I love Judaism.  I'm in no danger of converting to either Buddhism or Christianity.  Whatever I learn from another tradition will be filtered back through my Jewish perspective anyway.  I will think about it "like a Jew" and not like a Christian or Buddhist.

But we can learn from each other.  After all, its so many roads up the same mountain.  A simple shift in focus may help us see our lives differently, to think outside the box about matters that have been sitting heavy on us.  To move forward in spiritual growth.

So, there wasn't really a joke.  A middle aged Jewish lady, a gay Mormon teenager and Jesus have lunch. I know you were waiting for it.  I looked around for it.  I wanted it to be there.  But I'm just not that funny.  Forgive me.



  1. I love it, thank you for sharing.

  2. It tickles me that you found it, Matt. We've spoken on the phone once, I believe. I called asking whether the Log Cabin Republicans would be willing to let a student get involved as part of an ASU project. I don't remember whether a student ever showed up, but I was impressed with you then, and again when I read your blog.