Imagine that you were born in Hollywood, California. Your divinely ordained ancestry is Russian Jewish. The worldview you’re weaned on is secular and passionately idealistic about the ability of men to affect social change. You’re taught that bigotry and racism is wrong. You’re exposed to both familial love and volatile outbursts.
Imagine that on a nondescript Sunday afternoon your parents take you to a historic Downtown Los Angeles locale called Olivera Street. Surrounded by colorful Latino cultural paraphernalia, they tell you you can pick out a toy for yourself. You’re 5 years old and overwhelmed by the possibilities. Your attention is drawn to a striking picture of a Scandinavian looking man with long hair and piercing blue eyes; eyes that seem to follow you wherever you go. This pocket-sized picture is attached to a tiny plastic stand. The whole thing sells for 25 cents. You instinctively conclude that whoever this man is he must be very important because there are literally hundreds of pictures of him displayed throughout the nooks and crannies of Olivera Street. You tell your mother you want that picture, and even though it represents something that produces no small amount of anxiety within her, she buys it for you. Imagine on the way home you ask your mom who the man in the picture is. She replies, “His name is Jesus.” You ask, “Who are his parents?” She responds, ” Joseph and Mary.” Then she quickly adds, “Some people believe he is the son of God, we believe he was a great teacher.” The tension surrounding this exchange is palpable.
Imagine that primarily from your grandparents you begin to learn what this thing called “Jewish” is about. It’s mostly described as a painful difficult history of persecution. However, no one explains why this hatred exists. You recall a boy innocently asking his mother if he can play with you. His mother strangely says, “You know you can’t do that.” You wonder if this has something to do with what your grandparents have told you concerning the way Jewish people have been treated.
Imagine that you long to somehow connect with God. Your well-meaning mother buys you a book that could have been subtitled: A Children’s Guide to Religious Pluralism. In the middle of your backyard, with all the sincere intensity you can muster, you talk to God. You believe He is there and He is listening.
Imagine that as your relatively care free childhood gives way to the inevitable growing pains of adolescence, you begin to get exposed to more overt expressions of anti-Semitism. You’re told that the Jews killed Christ, which you find confusing because you’ve always been told that Jesus is Jewish. Plus, in your gut you know that there’s something true about both Judaism and Christianity, that somehow they’re linked together. Yet there’s no one around you to connect the biblical/theological dots so you can begin to make sense of this thing and put the package together. You become frustrated because you’re unable articulate what you’re convinced is true. And so your lineage and heritage becomes a heavy weight of embarrassment because you don’t know how to properly respond to this lightning rod of controversy you were born into.
Imagine finding and picking up a booklet off the ground that consists of bible verses. You devour the words. The truth of what you’re reading resonates with the deepest part of your being. You’re captivated by God’s love. And even though you’re only remotely familiar with the concept of a messiah, you begin to pray for God to show you whether or not Jesus is the Messiah.
Imagine somehow getting your hands on a book about bible prophecy and not understanding most of it, but being filled with hope by what you do understand. And then as you’re watching a TV preacher trying to explain bible prophecy you’re still mostly confused. Yet at the conclusion of his message he encourages his listeners to “receive Jesus.” At that point, as a culmination of all your reading and prayers, you’re convinced that Jesus is who He said He is and that you desperately need Him. You trust in His unparalleled person and work for forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Miraculously you have come to believe even though nobody talked to you about the gospel, and even though you didn’t have anyone to talk to about the gospel.
Imagine that eventually you start going to church. And that becomes quite an education! Much of what you encounter there is neither healthy nor honoring to God. In addition to blatant hypocrisy, under the guise of self-righteous religiosity, anti-Semitism persists in a more subtle yet equally toxic form. You’re told that you’re really not Jewish anymore, as if this God-given component of your personhood was eradicated by trusting in the hope of Israel. And sadly the few Jewish believers you meet are drinking the kool-aid of this pseudo theological self-hate mantra.
Imagine at the tail end of a season of dissipation fueled by willful disobedience, you begin to discover biblical teaching and spiritual fellowship that actually encourages authentic God-honoring Jewish identity. With respect to your lineage and heritage, this enables you to move from embarrassment to enlightenment. Now you self-identify with the believing Jewish remnant as a testimony to God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise of saving some of His covenant people in each and every generation. And to a greater extent than before, you recognize the centrality of Israel in the prophetic plan of God.
Imagine now, that in addition to your Jewish identity having this biblical component of enlightenment, it also has a holistic dimension of embracement. In the way that you perceive yourself, your Jewishness feels more like an intrinsic part of who you are and what you feel a part of in terms of the Jewish historical experience and the unique brand of culture and worldview that comes out of that experience. After all these years, you’re finally comfortable in your own skin. You say to yourself, “I AM that I AM, made me who I am.” And that in turn enables you to truly appreciate the gifts of others without feeling jealousy, resentment, or the need to have an über critical spirit. It frees you up to be an encourager and a mentor.
Imagine all this and you can imagine why I think a certain Jewish carpenter is all that! And hopefully when you reflect on your own not so unimaginable journey through a theocentric lens, your life script won’t seem ridiculously random but providentially and ultimately redemptive.
And finally, imagine that even if your not so unimaginable journey is significantly different from mine in certain respects, you’ll still get the gist of where I’m coming from; because what I’ve described rings true to real life in real time in a somewhat universal way which ultimately transcends any specific ethnicity and culture. And standing on that common ground you’re able to say, “Baruch Ha Shem. Blessed be the Name. He gets all the glory.” Imagine that!