g Dikkon Eberhart
I hated that guy Clay.
He was thirteen. I was twelve. Each year, I was the youngest kid in the class. Not only was Clay thirteen, his two henchmen were thirteen.
It wasn’t just me who Clay bullied. He intimidated other seventh-graders. It was the sneering, that’s what it was. And it was the humiliation of his henchmen tormenting me, too.
There wasn’t any theme to Clay’s torment. It wasn’t that he was after my lunch money. It was that he was after me. Didn’t matter what it was about me he hated. Whatever he hated, he made me cringe.
I hated to cringe.
Dad had taken me aside one time, and he had explained about bullies. What you do about bullies is you fight them back. And you fight to win. At the time Dad explained about bullies, I thought, “Okay for you. You’re bigger than Clay.”
What was I to do? I just wanted to be left alone.
The humiliating thing about cringing at Clay is that Clay made me feel that I had done something wrong. He made me feel like I deserved the hatred he handed out.
His henchmen thought I deserved it, too. Some others in the class thought so, and they were supposed to be my friends. Semi-friends.
The problem got worse and worse. I was running out of different ways to walk home from school.
What I needed was someone to back me up.
What I needed was someone standing behind me who was bigger and stronger than me. Someone who understood what I was going through.
I knew Dad understood what I was going through, but also I knew he wanted me to fix my Clay problem myself because he had told me how. Late at night I would lie in bed and know I was scared to try and fix it myself. I didn’t want to confess I was scared to Dad. He wasn’t scared of anything, Dad wasn’t. But it would be good if someone who was really important understood that I was scared.
Not that I wouldn’t try to fix it. I’d try almost anything if I knew that I could count on that kind of someone to understand what I was going through and to help me by letting me know that whatever happened, I was safe.
I don’t mean safe from being beaten up by Clay, which is what Clay always told me he would do. No, I mean safe in the way I knew I was safe when I was younger and Dad and I were out in the boat and the waves were really big on the ocean and the spray was coming over and we were getting wet and the water was cold and my stomach hurt (just a little) and Dad was grinning and his eyes were dancing at me and I knew—I just knew—that everything in the whole wide world was absolutely perfect and, whatever happened, it was just exactly what was supposed to happen…and so I was safe.
If I could feel safe that way, I wouldn’t care if Clay beat me up. And anyway maybe I could beat him up instead. Dad said that when you are in the right—that’s what he said—when you are in the right, then you have strength like a knight in armor.
It would take a big thing for me to feel safe that way but even knowing that I could feel safe that way, and that I had felt safe that way, made me feel safe that way right now.
Right now – with CLAY COMING AT ME WITH HIS MEN!
A minute later, I didn’t really remember what happened. I could feel how strong my muscles were—like a knight’s. I could feel blood surging through me. I could feel my knuckles smart with pain.
I had I won.
Clay was the one with the bloody nose. His men led him away. He never came near me again.
Fifty-eight years passed. My fists, arms, and shoulders can feel that moment still.
During my adult years, there have been many times when I longed for that sense of utter safety, no matter what the outcome, just as I longed for it when I was twelve.
Now, at seventy, I have mastered many things since I was twelve, things that I would not even have dreamed of trying to master back then. My strength has gained elegant language with which I can describe it. That said, my weaknesses, too, are enhanced. They are more subtle than they were back then. The pain I sometimes inflict on others whom I love penetrates to their hearts and to mine also.
On the other hand, my love of the heavenly sacrifice that produces my strength is profound. My belief in Divine, personal, and sacrificial love, as it is directed toward me, is that it has the power to make my strength purer and my weaknesses shy.
Because it gave of Itself to save.
To all Christian brothers and sisters, may you enjoy a blessed Easter.
I said to her, “But if he asks you how, you can tell him that I told you, it’s the Lord.”
“He thinks it’s coincidence.”
“What we call coincidence is just another way for God to remain anonymous.”
We two sat on a bench beside the church parking lot. People were coming and going. It was midweek, but there were church programs going on.
The woman’s husband had just been hired for the job he needed—really needed and really wanted—against stiff competition and at the last moment.
I knew he was tolerant of his wife’s Christian commitment, this woman with whom I was sitting, but they were unevenly yoked, the two of them, and that was troublesome for her.
Perhaps it was troublesome for him, too, as I thought of it. I wondered whether he realized the uneven yoke was galling him, too. They were eight years into their marriage. I suspected that the glow was wearing off. They had the two daughters, and not much money. Yesterday, when she had called and asked to speak with me, she had a clutch in her voice when she confessed that she might be pregnant. This new job was a god-send.
But did he understand that the uneven yoke was the reason for their trouble, as I suspected that it was? Or did he attribute the trouble to the glow wearing off?
Her former prettiness had a scrim across it nowadays of doubt.
“What am I going to tell him about the job miracle?” she asked. “I can’t tell him I know it's that.”
“It won’t make any sense to him.”
It was early in my deaconate. I was unsure of myself. I wished it were the pastor who was sitting next to her, and not me. But it was me—she was one of our congregants who had been assigned to my spiritual care.
“He’s a good worker,” I said, not knowing what to say but desiring to probe her feelings.
She nodded. “He’s a good man. Good with our girls, I never worry about him fooling around.”
“Yet you sound sad.”
She smiled a little. “Not about that. He is a good man.”
She looked away. It was warm in the parking lot, this early spring. “I feel lonely.” She glanced at me shyly. She looked away. “Oh, maybe I should just grow up.”
A line from a hymn came into my head. When sorrows like sea billows roll….
“I think you should tell him that, for your heart. Tell him that the job—coming as it did, right now, just when you need it most, with maybe a new baby—that the job actually is a miracle, from the Lord.”
“He’ll laugh at me.”
“Tell him I think it’s from the Lord.”
She looked straightly at me. “He’s not going to want to hear that coming from you.”
“He knows you’re talking to me?”
She shook her head. Looked away.
“That’s not a good idea.”
She shrugged. I was glad that people were going in and out of the church. I identified a few of them who might see us, out in the open, just to remember.
“Look, he needs to know what you think about this. You need to press on past his laughing at you.”
“Draw him in.”
“He doesn’t want to come in.”
“Does he want to keep a barrier between you?”
Again, she shrugged. “He’s a guy.”
“He’s in charge. He’ll work it out. It’s okay. We’ll be fine.”
“But you’re not fine.”
“Maybe I should just grow up.”
She sat back with her hands crossed in her lap, looking elsewhere. I sat back also and looked elsewhere, too. Then I looked back at her. “You know, the Holy Spirit knows your situation. The Holy Spirit intercedes with Jesus. Anything might happen, and whatever does happen is for the purposes of the Lord.”
“I recognize that it’s a hard concept for those who don’t know the Lord.”
“What you said about coincidence?”
“He’ll say, why should your God desire to remain anonymous? How do I answer that?”
“God’s purpose is to save us, to have us with Him. His purpose is for us to be able to glorify Him. But He didn’t create us as slaves. It only counts when we come to Him by our free will. That’s why He desires to be anonymous. Miracles are His intervention, but we need to figure that out—that they are His, and that they are for us—by ourselves.”
She thought a minute and then touched my arm lightly. “That might intrigue him. He likes figuring things out, how things work.” Then she smiled, brightly this time. “He is, after all, a guy.”
I smiled back at her. “Keep pressing.”
Then she startled me. “No,” she said, “enticing.”
“That’s the spirit.”
Then we prayed together, beside the church parking lot in the early spring. I was early in my deaconate. I was unsure of myself. But I liked that she had said enticing.
Really—at least I knew this much, even that early in my deaconate—really enticement is the way of the Holy Spirit.
[Circumstance changed to protect the still seeking.]
I’m reading TOUCHING HEAVEN, by cardiologist Dr. Chauncey Crandall, which chronicles his discovery of Christian faith over many years, particularly focusing on the fact that all of our lives are accessible to Heaven’s touching us and therefore, in return, that we have an avenue open to us along which we may travel to touch Heaven.
Dr. Crandall is a man of medical science who might be understood, for that reason, to be unlikely to believe in the existence of a two-way thoroughfare between earth and Heaven. Yet, as his book attests, he has experienced many medical healings and demonic exorcisms that are inexplicable by mere medical science.
His book is engaging; I recommend it.
But the reason I write about Dr. Crandall’s book is that I was struck by a quote he includes, on page 68. The quote hit me in the head. The quote hit me in the head because of a struggle I encountered recently. The struggle relates to the struggle my wife Channa and I grappled with during 2016—a profound change of life and of denominational orientation.
Within the past year, we moved not only 860 miles from the Maine coast to the Blue Ridge of SW Virginia, not only from a community we had known for almost 20 years to one we had known only for 6 weeks, but also—and most importantly—from the Baptist Christianity through which we became Christians, after our many years as Jews, to orthodox Lutheran Christianity.
Consequently, our daily Christian experience changed. Among other changes, the theology by which our new belief system interprets Jesus’ earthly existence differs. Baptist theology arises from the Reform movement, whereas Lutheran theology arises from Luther.
The presentation by which our new belief system offers Jesus’ earthly function differs as well—non-liturgical to liturgical.
There are other areas of difference which are circumstantial--small church to large church, tiny staff who do everything, to large, departmental staff each responsible for a single thing, leadership in a deaconate by which I was assigned as deacon to my pastor and therefore had exhortatory authority in his regard, to friendly relations with my Lutheran pastor without any formal responsibility concerning his own Christian witness.
Channa’s and my fundamental faith as Christians
remains the same as it was when we came to Christ eleven years ago. However, the changes we have recently experienced make a significant difference regarding our Christian daily walks.
To accustom myself with grace and humility to this new reality has been my struggle in 2016. Here’s Dr. Crandall’s head-hitting quote.
The quote is used in a paragraph when the doctor is recounting his and his wife’s experience of suffering through the death, from leukemia, of one of their twin sons, aged nine. What was at that time Dr. Crandall’s relatively new and enthusiastically evangelical Christian faith sustained him both as a father and as a husband during this family crisis. In earlier pages of his book, he has demonstrated how, in both his professional and his family life, his Christianity has become for him a rewarding faith system.
The head-hitting quote is used to nuance his term “faith system.”
Dr. Crandall quotes evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, who states that faith is “always the instrument of new resources. Christianity is the release of the Holy Spirit into the world. Faith itself is not power, but the link to power.”
Christianity is the release of the Holy Spirit into the world.
What an assertion!
What a comfort for me!
Christianity is the gateway. It’s not the destination.
Grappling as I have been between the form of Baptist Christianity and the form of Lutheran Christianity, I have been confused. Which form seems right to me, and why? Which should I adopt? And, more pointedly, who am I even to believe that I have the right to make such a choice? Am I blasphemous to think so?
Here’s my basic prayer: I desire the Holy Spirit to empower the world.
In order to cause this to happen, which cloak of Christianity shall I wrap myself in, Baptist or Lutheran—or in any of the others, for that matter? I want my vote to count toward the victory I pray for. Which cloak shall I wear?
Bonnke’s quote does not say “Christianity allows for the release of the Holy Spirit into the world.”
If it said that, then one or another of the denominations within Christianity would need to be judged by a Christian as the right one, and then my struggle to ally myself with one or the other would be worth my time. Also, having aligned myself with one or the other, I would be membering-up with one of the teams, as though my assignment of my faith conviction might give my team new power.
No. Bonnke’s line says “Christianity is the release of the Holy Spirit into the world.”
This means something different. It means that the very existence of Christianity at all, in the first place—as it stands now, including its various factions, including their fractious relations—is the thing in itself that releases the Holy Spirit into the world.
I want the Holy Spirit to empower the world.
My requirement therefore is to strengthen my faith commitment to Christianity, first. It's the gateway.
Intellectually, there are fascinating differences between Reform theology and Lutheran theology. Experientially, there are deliberate differences in terms of gorgeousness between non-liturgical and liturgical presentations of the Gospel. Each of these areas of difference are to be explored for their value.
But Christianity comes first.
Do you agree?
Click on the comment button and tell me what you think. I’d like to know.
We have enjoyed bright days in early spring here on the coast of Maine. The sun delivers a punch for the first time in six months. But the wind has its power, too.
Yesterday, a cold, cold wind blew fiercely in from the northeast. My daffodils bent sideways and whipped back and forth, as though they were buffeted by a very Euroclydon from our antique past, by the levanter that shipwrecked St. Paul.
I took yesterday off from writing my book about my past, about my poet father and how his lyricism contributed to Channa’s and my conversions from Judaism to Christianity, and I drove the three miles to Popham Beach.
Popham Beach is a swath of sand, miles long in both directions, rare for rocky-beach Maine. Far out, rock ledges caused the wind-whipped seas to blast up in white furies. Two-and-a-half miles out from the beach is Sequin Island, topped by Maine’s tallest and second commissioned lighthouse, commissioned by George Washington back in the past, in 1795.
For beach-goers, at least when the tide is dead low, there is a rocky islet, called Fox Island, which one can reach by foot, but you had better watch the tide carefully for it comes in fast, and people have been arrested by its sweep and then have been trapped on Fox Island.
You had better watch your own past carefully, too, otherwise you may be arrested in the past and trapped by a crime you wish to deny.
As I drove to the beach, I put into the CD player the original cast disk of The Fantastiks, which my college had done the year before I arrived as a freshman actor, and which Dad and I had seen there together several nights in a row. I opened my roof for the first time since winter, and I cranked up the music very loud. I sang along with Try to Remember—I am not a skillful singer—and when we got to It Depends on What You Pay, sung by Jerry Orbach as El Gallo, I sang that, too.
At the last note of that clever song, there is a rousing cheer by the two fathers and by El Gallo, who has sold the fathers on the idea of the abduction, for which he uses the word rape…"It’s short and businesslike.” Stirred, like El Gallo and the two fathers, I punched the air and cheered. Yes!
In that instant, suddenly, I was my father.
That song had tickled my father’s fancy, and he had punched the air and cheered, too, with exactly the gesture and the intonation I used.
My cheer was so much his, I was him.
When I arrived at the beach, I shut down the music and sat quivering in my car. Far from getting a break from Dad, I was still at least half him. This thought blasted through me. I had just been my father, because of a gesture…and he, long dead.
Then another thought blasted in. Perhaps Dad had used that gesture and intonation because he had seen his father use it, too, back in his father’s day. And I wondered—had Dad’s father used that same gesture and intonation because he had seen his father use it, too, in the even farther-back day?
Then I was slammed by a really big thought-blast.
If a gesture can be so evocative as to take me, in an instant, back a generation, or even back several generations, then might a gesture take me back even farther than that? Might a gesture take me back to my deepest known ancestor?
Could I trace that same gesture all the way back to Eberhart the Noble in 1281?
Might Eberhart the Noble have gestured in that same way when he rose from his knees before the Holy Roman Emperor, and stepped backwards away from the throne and then through the throne room door? Then might he have looked at the new ducal seal in his hand, which had just been granted to him by the Emperor and which had made him the first Duke of Württemberg, at his age of fifteen? Might he have pumped his fist in the air in the same way as I had pumped mine, and used that same expression…Yes!
As I sat in my car before walking out onto the beach, my emotional inhabitation of my father diminished, and so my mind came more into play than my heart. Here’s what I pondered: if a mere gesture can do this, then what about sin? Can sin, too, do a snap-back?
I sin today. I sin in a way that copies my father’s sin. Did my father sin in a way that copied his father’s sin…and so on backwards in time?
Forefather Adam lied to God, and he accused Eve, thereby disrespecting his wife. I disrespect my wife sometimes, accusing her of faults which—truly—are my own, not hers. I duck my responsibility to love and to touch her, as I am enjoined by God to do, with a chrism of sacramental grace. When I disrespect her this way, I do not honor her need for true, straight-forward, and timely communication, along with direction, during our spiritual passage.
Does this--my sin--snap me back, in an instant, all the way to Adam, and to his hiding in the Garden, and to his lie?
Could I be responsible for the Fall?
My defense attorney stands up and places himself before the judge. “No, no,” is what he says. His strategy has been to use the SODDI defense.
“Some Other Dude Did It.”
That’s his strategy.
“No, no. Not he.”
[“The SODDI Defense” was originally posted in April 2013.]
I encountered a sentence this morning that made me stop reading and think.
I’m reading Francine du Plessix Gray’s memoir of her life with her Russian émigré parents, Them.
Francine’s mother was an icon of fashion in New York in the middle years of the 20th century—and before that, famously she was the Paris muse of the intense Russian poet Mayakovsky. Francine’s step-father was the inspiration and the controlling authority behind the Conde Nast magazine publishing empire.
Channa and I met the cordial Francine through New York art-and-academic friends, and it has been informative to learn more about her in her book.
At one point in Francine’s book (page 352), she refers to a certain woman in the 1950s as “one of those British dilettante expatriates to whom lightly learned wanderings—be it in Afghanistan, Tibet, or North Africa—was an essential part of their identities.”
“Lightly learned.” Juxtaposed with “essential part of their identities.”
That’s what got me thinking…and not happily.
Correctly, Francine cites the existence of a sophisticated mannerism which serves the dilettantish in place of wisdom. Remembering my youth and dinner table conversations at our houses, I recall their swell talk. They didn’t know much about Afghanistan, Tibet, or North Africa, but they had trekked on through.
This provided them with conversational self-satisfaction, with offhand stories to tell, and with an air of world-weariness to adopt when their point was, “Oh, yes, everything is just the same.”
Even as a youth, I preferred world-enthusiasm and not world-weariness.
As I say, I read Francine’s sentence, and stopped reading, to think. Channa and I do know the sort of person Francine describes, however from a different world than hers. Our world is the world of religious faith.
One can display world-weariness within the world of religious faith just as well as within other worlds.
Formerly, when we were Jews, Channa and I knew that sort of person. Latterly, now that we are Christians, probably we know that sort of person again.
That sort of person is lightly learned about the religious landscapes through which he or she treks. He or she is content with wandering. The more sophisticated of them may even impute to their wanderlust the existence of an aesthetic. They may say of themselves, while traipsing among religions, that theirs is a higher, a wiser perspective.
Now, to be fair, let it be admitted that Channa and I are recent converts to Christianity from Judaism (ten years in), and converts are sometimes over-intense. If Channa and I suffer from over-intensity ourselves it is due to the conviction that we have been led to truth, and that orthodox Christian truth calls out to us to be studied with passionate urgency.
That being said, what puts my teeth on edge is the notion that light learning might be accepted by any religious wanderer as essential to identity.
Be convicted at least of the existence of truth; not a dismissive wanderer be.
You are free to wander lightly, of course.
You are free that such wandering should be essential to your own identity, of course.
Despite today’s popular stance that human interactions must be based merely on niceness, and not on anything more demanding than that, nevertheless there is a hard, cutting, uncongenial, and implacable wall which stands between skepticism which is light learning and piety which is not.
That is because the powerful interaction to which we should turn our attention is not the interaction of human to human but the interaction of human to God.
Those lightly-learned wanderer’s souls are at stake.
A lightly-learned wanderer in the religious landscape might come right back at me with the statement that he doesn’t believe he has a soul, so what difference does any of this make?
Well, he might be right. Perhaps we don’t have souls.
He’s free to believe that we don’t have souls, despite the thousands of years of evidence that we do.
But what if he’s wrong, and we do?
What then, oh, wise one?
Well, alas, indeed.
How in the world did my wife Channa and I migrate from our youthful mixture of atheism (Channa) and agnosticism (Dikkon), through a quarter century of children-rearing in Reform Judaism, into middle-aged flirtation with Orthodox Judaism, and then--
Yes…and then what?
Up-staking and putting all that history behind, we trudged, like Abram, off into the wilderness.
Where were we going? Like Abram, we did not know.
God told Abram that He would make a great people of Abram and his family. God did not tell us anything like that.
But God did promise that truth was to be discovered out there.
If you are a Jew, then God bless you.
I welcome you as a Jew to my website and to this blog post. Neither the website nor the blog post should trouble your faith. We supported your faith for many years and continue to love it dearly today.
But many Jewish friends and relatives are curious about our conversions to Christianity. Why did they happen?
We were asked, “Oughtn’t Judaism to have been enough?”
Theologically no, but not, in our estimation, for our on-going worldview either.
If you are a Christian, then God bless you, too. Christians are curious as well.
Christians are not curious about why—they already know why. Their question is how? How were we called? What did we experience that prompted so dramatic a change?
And last—totally weird!—why did we even contemplate a religious change in our late 50s and early 60s? By then, most people have had enough change in their lives.
The children have grown up and gone away. The career is at its height and is easier to manage. The house is paid for, or mostly so.
Why on earth would anyone set out to cross a dry desert of religious discontent at that age? Looking for what?
But Abram did it, we remembered, and he was eighty. If Abram could do it, we could, too—young sixty-somethings as we were.
We were looking for truth. That’s what it was.
For us it was this—it was being restless, eager, unwilling to settle…it was searching; that’s what it was.
And it was this, too--
It was a miracle.
We trudged across that parched religious desert. When we reached its other side, we found a religious river barring our way. We needed to take just one more step forward, or—alternatively—just one more step back.
The miracle was Jesus--Jesus!—saying softly in my ear, “If you’ll take one step, I’ll take two.”
There’s a song about that. Maybe you know the song and can hear that line as part of the refrain in your head. Even if you don’t know the song, I’m sure you can believe that Jesus would have said something like that, if Jesus were a Christian country music song writer.
What He actually said was, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt 4:18, NASB.)
Well, not to Channa and me precisely. We don’t fish. But suddenly we did feel His urgency that we should follow.
Next: Chapter Two
After my wife’s and my conversions were all over, I wrote a book. My book is entitled The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told.
My book (it’s our book, really) explains to Jews and to Christians what happened—the why and how—but it’s addressed to one other group as well.
Perhaps it’s addressed to you.
Perhaps you are a seeker, religiously unaffiliated, or, if affiliated, unconvinced. To you, our tale may be of interest. We were like you, particularly when we stumped wearily across our desert of discontent.
Here’s what happened to us. At the far end of the desert, we came upon a religious river, and now we are on its other side. Over here, it is a green and pleasant land.
It is satisfying over here; difficult, painful, too.
As a seeker, perhaps you are hiking a long, dry road, and you are caked with dust and sweat. Perhaps you are low on water and sore of knee. Me, in the desert, I could scarcely imagine where our next drink should come from, we were so parched.
If you believe there’s a reason for your journey, and that you have been called to set out into the unknown, then, I say, stick with it, sore and dry as you may be. Up ahead—just around the next bend—you may find that same religious river we found flowing past.
…if you believe there’s a reason for your journey.
If you do encounter the river, then turn aside. Walk down to its shore. Slip off your pack. Crick your back. Walk a step or two. Feel that breeze?
It’s good, isn’t it, to strip off your boots and your hot socks. Dip your soles into the river. Then roll up your pants above your knees and wade deeper out. Go out until the water is above your knees—get your pants wet. Go to where the river’s current presses against you, and its coldness shortens your breath, and the sand melts away under your feet.
Go until you need to make swimming motions in the air with your arms in order to keep yourself in balance.
What next, pilgrim?
Shall you relax into the flow?
My wife Channa and I stood just exactly where you stand right now.
We—we, all of us—we stand right there—just wondering—do we not?
We can always go back, we reassure ourselves. The shore, our packs, our histories are…just there. See them? Right back there.
But perhaps we should relax into the flow.
The water’s cold. You know it’ll shock your skin if you let it take you into its flow. It’s powerful. It will sweep you along.
If you take just one more step….
If you relax into its flow….
Back there on the shore is everything that keeps you dry. Out here in the middle, you’re half wet already.
Here’s what you’ll need, if you relax into the flow.
You’ll need more than thinking to make it to the other side. Brain power won’t cut it.
You’ve got the best brain God could give you, and you use it a lot, so you know for sure that it’s a good one. Yes, you’ve got intractable troubles, of course—bad times, empty times, locked times—but doesn’t everybody?
Right here, right now, for example. Somehow you don’t feel that you can argue yourself into relaxing into the flow. But what a relief it would be, just to let go.
For once, how ecstatic to say yes with your heart and your soul. Not always the--no, no, no.
You’ll need to go beyond that marvelous brain of yours, which keeps you safe with its no, no, nos. You’ll need to do what you read about in that Book one time.
The enslaved people had hollered “Yes!” and had escaped into the desert, and they’d run, run, run until they’d come right up against an entire ocean barring their way. And they were being pursued to be slaughtered, and they’d--
Well, what had they done?
Had they engaged their brains to engineer a defensive strategy, thrown up earthworks for protection, sharpened their eyes? No. They had stopped. They had waited. They had believed.
And there are you, just like them. You’re standing in the middle of a religious river, half wet, half wet enough
You will need to dare.
Most especially, you will need to dare.
Most especially, you will need to dare and to succumb.
You have the ability to succumb. I know you do. Just look at you—out there in the middle of the river, balanced precariously between no and yes, wet all the way up to your chest by now, almost to your neck.
Wanting it to be OK to say yes.
And if you do succumb and relax into the flow, will it be startling?
Will it be frightening?
Will others understand it?
Some, but not all.
Will you be shunned?
Maybe, by some.
Will that matter?
…Will that matter???
You must pray…
…that it will not matter.
For what may matter to you by then is that there will be Someone waiting on the other shore who will leap to bring you in.
More: Chapter Three
Family and friends were curious when Channa and I crossed to the other side of the river.
We did our best to answer their questions, and, satisfied, some of them cast speculative glances at the river themselves, thinking long thoughts.
Some among them seemed alarmed for us because of our incomprehensible dare. From those who seemed alarmed for us we experienced genuine kindness and open curiosity about our conversions. We are grateful. Our dare was something over which we had little control.
When the dare came upon us, instead of struggling against it, we gave in to it.
As a result, we experienced relief.
We were relieved of wandering. We were relieved of contemporary anxiety. We were relieved of our culture’s famous isolation and narcissism. We were relieved, not of sin, but of our compulsion to sin. We were relieved of our need tightly to defend the sins we had chosen.
In all, we were relieved of loneliness for something inchoate we felt was inside of us from birth, but which had been hidden away from our hearts.
Most deeply, though, we were relieved of the horrid and fearsome burden that it might be only we ourselves—only we negligent and stumbling humans—who are in control of it all.
Suppose that were so!
How sad that the fixed, intellectual and self-justifying belief in our world, among many, is that there is nothing in the universe that proves a perspective exists—or even can exist—that is inherently different than our own.
Things exist. They came from nothing. They have no purpose or glory in and of themselves. They cease. That’s all.
This condition applies to us. We exist. We came from nothing. We have no purpose or glory in and of ourselves. We cease. That’s all.
Especially, nothing exists—or even can exist—that exhibits conscious purpose regarding itself. Nothing consciously offers the gift of redemption to us and rewards glorification of itself with salvation.
That’s just the way things are, people. Get over it.
But once, Channa and I stood up to our shoulders in water, braced against the current of a religious river.
We had waded deeper and deeper out into that river for months now. “Honey, I’m tempted to let go,” I might have said…and did say, in not quite those words.
“Do you think it’s true?”
“Almost certain. My head struggles but my heart says let go.”
“I’m still struggling.”
“I know. I want us to be together.”
“So do I.”
“If it’s not true, then they’re right, the scoffers. Nothing matters.”
“If it’s not true, then….”
Well, then, it is very cold out here.
The stars are very strange.
Guttural grunts tiger the night.
And the powerless will continue always to be devoured by the powerful…crunch, crunch, yum, yum.
Is that really all there is to it?
Then why do I stand in the middle of this river wishing I could dare to succumb? Something is pulling at me.
And we did succumb. I, first, and then Channa after.
Here’s what the Holy Spirit gave us to know.
THE UNIVERSE IS NOT ABOUT US.
More: Chapter Four
This thing that happened to my wife and to me is an actual, real, true thing.
Relief, is what we gained, as the consequence of our letting ourselves be swept along by the religious river.
It happened right here, in our world, right now, in our time. What happened is not a metaphor. It is not an intellectual caprice. It arose neither from a crochet nor from a mood.
Though I felt it was poetical, it is not poetry; it is prose.
We didn’t control it. When it came upon us, instead we gave in to it.
The thing that happened to us is a thing that has happened to legions of humans, down the ages. It having happened to us, it changed us as it changed them.
The thing we live now was there for us, in potential, before we encountered the religious river and gave ourselves up to its flow. It is there for everyone. For example, it is there for the Jews. The back story of the Jews is stuffed full of predictions of its arrival just as an eggshell is stuffed full of egg.
It is there, in potential, for believers in the religion of atheism, and for agnostics, and for seekers, and for followers of other religious traditions in the east and the west.
Had it convinced Channa and me only intellectually, we would have enjoyed our study about it—which had lasted during an interesting year—but we would have waded back to where we left our backpacks on the former shore. We would have shouldered our packs, smiled at one another, said “That was fun,” and returned to our trudge.
However, we are different now. As I have said, we inhabit the other shore.
We live a thing we did not live before--
Furthermore—thank you very much—the Almighty’s very gloriousness, His creation and purpose, has existed in a world of skeptical skepticism since His glory, itself, began.
Skeptics today have invented nothing new.
The skeptics are the emperor-worshippers of Rome long ago. They recite the requisite party line. Nevertheless, they are astounded (although they are offended, too) by Christianity’s bent to succor those insignificant disposable ones—the poor, the downtrodden, the ill, the widows, the slaves, the children.
They’re the go-along-to-get-along, Roman emperor-worshippers of old. But when they bring themselves to notice it, they are baffled (but only in private, of course) by the lyricism with which the martyrs meet the lions.
They’re the Roman emperor-worshippers of old. Thinking themselves wise, they congratulate themselves about their superiority (neglecting to remember that the emperor rarely forgives, and he keeps his knives very sharp).
Still, when the skeptics encounter this new Christian concept of a transcendent, a universal, and a forgiving redemptive God, they feel compelled to climb up into His lap, and to…
…to punch Him in the nose.
“You are not the boss of me!” they shout at Him.
Goodness, what a tantrum.
I’m sorry, but God’s purpose is.
Be our time A.D. 100 or A.D. 2000, it can’t be gotten rid of.
End of story.
By Dikkon Eberhart
“Hi, you two little munchkins, Shabbat shalom.”
“Hi, Grandpa! Hi, Gramma! Mommy made challah.”
“It smells so good in here. And what a lovely table.”
Our youngest daughter beamed to see us. This was our first visit to her home to enjoy one of her frequent Shabbat dinners. Pregnant, and with an almost four-year-old and an almost three-year old, she moved slowly, while her husband managed the quick stuff.
On Fridays, when the sun sets, the Jewish Sabbath begins. The next twenty-four hours comprise the day sacred to the Lord because that is the day when He rested.
I myself had “rested” about thirty years before. I had rested from the stringency of my agnosticism. The exactitude of my agnosticism had been fueled by self-regard and by academic doubt. My agnosticism was a burden for me to bear, but I soldiered on. At the same time, I sensed that my agnosticism had clay feet. I wanted to kick its feet into smithereens, but I didn’t know how.
The Lord helped me to find the way. Thirty years before, our other daughter—our older daughter, then five—had questioned my wife and me about our family’s religious identity. What she observed was this: Mommy was sort of Jewish; Daddy was sort of Christian.
What was she?
We did not know how, honestly, to answer her question, which was dispiriting for her father who had a PhD in religion and art. Thank goodness that our daughter’s question was pointed enough that it forced a decision upon my wife and me, and that the force of our decision precipitated action.
My wife was Jewish. Therefore, formally, our children were already Jewish, too. I loved the Hebrew Scriptures (otherwise, the Old Testament), though I thought that story about Jesus, in the New Testament, was just too, too odd.
We made our decision and could then answer our older daughter’s question.
All four of our children—two boys and two girls—received their Hebrew names. For a while, we attended a small havarah—a gathering of Jews for prayer and learning, generally not led by a rabbi—and then later we attended our city’s largest Reform synagogue. My wife was energetic to find social and educational groups within the synagogue with which we could align. I—no Jew—was a stander apart although I was a helpful husband and an informative father when questioned about their Judaism by our children.
Despite my distance, as a family we commenced what was to be our two-and-a-half decades of Shabbat dinners. We dressed the table, we lit the candles, we blessed the wine, we tore the challah and ate it, and we performed these ceremonies while we chanted their accompanying Hebrew prayers. We were grateful, even fervent, to praise the Lord.
Our Judaism was of the Reform tradition. Reform Judaism arose in the 1860s in Germany as a way for Jews to honor their biblical heritage but, at the same time, to fit more neatly and less threateningly into European, Christian society.
Then something happened to me.
The Lord has a curious way about Him, does He not? First, He had our five-year-old daughter ask us a question we could not answer. Then, several years after we began practicing Shabbat, He whispered another invitation to me.
During a High Holy Day service, while we sat in synagogue and delighted to hear Kol Nidre on Erev Yom Kippur (the exquisite chant on the evening which commences Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement), I heard His quiet voice. He stated that His doorway was open to me, should I desire to step through.
Of course, He knew that by then I was fervent to be with Him, and that I hated my position as a stander off, while my wife and our children stood in.
The Lord offered me a doorway. I assumed I knew which doorway he meant. After all, my Jewish wife and my Jewish children were beside me that evening, and I was lonely for complete companionship with them. So I converted—to Judaism. The process occupied several intense years—Judaism does not proselytize—and thus I became the Jewish father of my Jewish household, and, satisfyingly, the Master of our Seder, too.
But that is not the end of our story. The Lord knew there was to be more to come.
Here’s a puzzle. At the moment of my conversion, the Lord may have experienced one of two things. He may have known that, me being me, it was not yet time for Him to introduce me to His Son. Or else He may have shaken His head in sorrow that I had not understood which doorway He had meant for me to choose to step through.
So our family continued to rest from doubt in the comfortable ease of Reform Judaism, positioned theologically—as I interpreted it for a while—at the very beginning of monotheism, not a bad place to be. Like our distant monotheistic ancestors, our family’s minds, hearts, and souls were informed and were shaped by theophany within Torah.
And twenty-five years passed away. The children grew and went out on their own into the world, to strive along their own pathways.
My wife and I became disenchanted by what we perceived as the wearisome cherry-picking of Torah by our Reform mentors and friends. Some formal statements by the four rabbis whom we followed through our three successive synagogues did not seem true. When we studied Torah closely in regard to those statements, our study often left the rabbis’ statements as untrue and unsupported by Scripture. Over time, my wife and I even questioned whether some of our rabbis and Jewish friends, in their hearts, truly believed the worldview which is implicit in the five Books of Moses.
Once again, our spirits wandered in a desert, parched by doubt. Our doubt was not about the puissance of the Lord, nor was it about the righteousness of the Bible’s witness concerning the Lord and His intentionality. Our doubt was whether the religious community within which we had devoted twenty-five years of child rearing was committed to the truth.
The Lord knew that, for us, there was to be more.