The Question

Among the Jews of West Los Angeles, I am cautious about mentioning my husband for an entirely different reason: guilt. Judaism is transmitted to children via mothers and even though Phil and I have no children, the notion that if we did my non-Jewish status would rob them of a vital birthright is enough to make many Jews, even those on the less traditional side of the spectrum, uneasy.

According to some orthodox strands of thought, the question exists as to whether my marriage is even valid.

The only thing that could potentially rectify the situation is if I convert. It doesn’t matter that Phil considers himself a None: the onus is on me as the potential vessel of life. When I do mention Phil, I can tell the question is on people’s minds—do I intend to convert?—though they are too polite to ask. I have a feeling that how they perceive me hinges on the answer. Even if I am the one within the marriage who is interested in Judaism, most eager to understand, and the only person who may eventually soften Phil’s heart toward a religion that currently makes him bristle; in my current state, I am an agent of harm to the Jewish people.

Non-Jews who wish to officially convert must receive formal education under the guidance of religious leaders. By contrast, it’s far easier to become a Christian. I just have to accept Jesus as “my savior”—though, frankly, I still don’t know exactly what that means. I suppose it has something to do with recognizing that Jesus sacrificed his life to absolve my sins, but the details of the transaction remain hazy. Luckily, I am about to get a tutorial on this exact subject.

I arrive at Saddleback on the perfect day. The church has constructed a replica of the original biblical tabernacle, which is temporarily being displayed on its grounds.

That the ancient Jewish tabernacle has been constructed at a church is not too shocking, as the Torah has been adopted by Christians as the “Old Testament,” making all the stories and characters it contains vital to their history as well. That the tabernacle is at the Saddleback Church is a bonus as far as I’m concerned since visiting a “mega-church” headed by a celebrity preacher is a gaping hole in my Christian experience.

I had to dig around on the website to find out that officially Saddleback is Baptist, as the denomination is overshadowed by the star power of Pastor Rick Warren, author of New York Time best seller Purpose Driven Life (a book that has apparently sold more copies than any other nonfiction book ever), and frequent Christian commentator on various cable news programs. Online, I find I can choose between three times for Sunday services, given at two hour intervals to accommodate the estimated 20,000 people who attend in person (or via video streaming) from all over the region, country, and world. Apparently, it’s become something of a tourist destination—the Sunday plans for families visiting other hot spots like Disneyland and Sea World. From my dad’s house, it’s about a 45 minute drive south on freeways blissfully free of traffic.

35 thoughts on “The Question

  1. It’s really what keeps None’s and Atheists being Nones and Atheists, isn’t it. The idea that one cannot simply appear and become part of a spiritual group of one’s choice without the accoutrements of rules of membership. It’s akin to the churches you visited who told you you weren’t really welcome to receive communion unless you became a “communing” member. The Unitarians and we at Centers for Spiritual Living probably are the most liberal churches around and still if you look closely you can find jargon that identifies some form of membership even though requirements are far less than most. It pains me to know that there is a part of you, Corinna, that feels very comfortable with Judaism but know that you cannot embrace it. It’s like a gay couple wanting to become Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons or Amish but know they’ll be looked down upon and disfellowshipped unless they part company and no longer engage in same sex intimate relationships. Parts of your journey are painful.

    • Of course there is membership in the Unitarian Universalist Church, too, but as Frank alluded, it is pretty easy to join the ranks. A person is encouraged to take a “class” which explains what membership entails… the very least, I guess, a financial contribution. But in the UU churches that I have been associated with, and perhaps in most across the U.S., all you have to do to declare your commitment is to sign the membership book. And if you don’t choose to be member? True, you can’t vote at our meetings which are democratic in nature. But all else in the church is open to you. Our principles are welcoming rather than restricting……it is, as Frank noted, one reason that I do throw in with the UU’s……and with the atheists!

      I much appreciate that many people want–perhaps, need– to be a part of a religious organization…..a faith based community which helps them by structuring what I call the over-arching principles in a way that makes them more accessible….. bringing people together into a community, strengthening the pursuit of these principles through traditions and spiritual practices. I respect this.

      Although I have not personally been to Saddleback, I have read about another author’s experience in attending a service there (Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking). She was there for a different purpose than Corinna’s visit, but one of the things that came out of that read for me, was the importance of that charismatic leadership which seemed to over-balance the message. Warren came across more like a sales person than a spiritual leader. And it seemed somewhat like a religious Disneyland! So I am interested in what Corinna discovered….how her experiences there compared. Looking forward to the next installment, Corinna!

      • Hi Merrill, Yes, this brings up an interesting issue: how to form a group or group identity without being closed-off from non-group members (or possible group members). I can see the importance of having a group identity but I am also now very aware of the courage it takes to approach a group–even one as “loose” as the UUs–as an outsider. It’s surprisingly intimidating! On another note, I have the Susan Cain book on hold at my local library (it’s very popular and I had to get in line).

        • Corinna, I really meant to be speaking more generally about inclusivity…..actually visiting a new church is not easy, I think. I have considered moving out of the Valley here onto the other side of the Cascades. I want to be near a UU church if I move, but the thought of making my way into a new congregation is daunting! And I would not really be an outsider. But still!! It is intimidating.

          I was motivated to buy my own copy of the Cain book….I am a veteran introvert, and have known that about myself for a long many years. It is validating to read abut our strengths……what we can bring to the table. I think that you will find it interesting whether you are an introvert….or you live with an introvert! Or whatever!! I believe that much of my need for the spiritual comes from my introversion. We are such inner processors and we value our solitude. Gives us time to consider the big questions…..and the big answers. MET

          • Being an introvert myself, I have to buy that book! I suppose what we’re talking about is true of any group–social, political, or spiritual. The reason most of join a particular group is because we want to associate with others who share common ideas and interests. Even in groups where debate is the object, the members still share an interest in the issues being discussed. Of course, there are varying levels of personal investment. If I joined a model train group, nobody would call me a heretic for preferring N gauge over HO (I don’t think they would anyway). Membership in a religious group carries a little more weight–when people think their souls are on the line, they tend to take things a little more seriously.

            • Each place has a “consciousness” that it has created and I think it is much easier if the way of life we have created for ourselves can unify with it it is much easier to “join” in. I know that the first Sunday I walked into a Center for Spiritual Living I thought to myself, “OMG….I’m home.” At the time I knew very little about it but there was a sense of personal and nonjudgmental freedom and at the time it was something that I was evolving to. It felt very different from being raised as a Catholic or being reformed into fundamentalism. Suddenly I was free to be and finding out that God is too. It felt so freeing not to have to judge anyone and that in so doing no one was judging me. Of course as time went on I found things I didn’t totally agree with and that was o.k. too. I doubt that Merrill would feel out of place in another UU church. Sometimes we just find ourselves where we’re supposed to be and our experience leads to a sense of fulfillment and joy. I believe that in that moment we begin to live in grace.

              • Frank, I think that you are right, in that I would be very comfortable with the principles and beliefs in any UU church. With me, it would be all those new people to contend with! It is the introvert part of me that would hate stepping into a new congregation……..but I would do it, and I don’t think it would be long before I felt “at home.” MET

    • Hi Frank, I agree–it’s painful when who you are just naturally is not acceptable to a certain group. It seems to beg the question whether we should try to change/belong/fit in or whether we should move on to a situation where we are acceptable as we are (and create one if one doesn’t exist). I guess it really depends on how fundamental the changes–more superficial behaviors or our authentic character or identity.

  2. Corinna, if you’re an agent of harm, its self-inflicted on their part. The Roman Catholic Church is the same way; adult converts have to go through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) as if the Church owns the copyright on the word “Christian”. When we were Catholic, the people going through the process would be escorted out of the church during Mass, just before the communion prayers started for “special instruction”, as if they were unfit to be with those of us who were already in the club. I would find that tremendously offensive–I don’t recall Jesus using a bouncer at His gatherings.

    It’ll be interesting to hear the spin Warren puts on Jesus as our Savior. I find most mega-churches to be more feel-good glitz and less substance; they don’t want to make their well-off congregants too uncomfortable with all that chatter about feeding the poor. I read the Purpose Driven Life and found most of it pretty palatable if not particularly challenging. He recently gave his first TV interview after his son committed suicide after suffering depression for years. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. He was roundly excoriated in the blogosphere for seeking publicity by capitalizing on his son’s death, but I didn’t see that in the excerpts I read. He seems like a decent enough person given his chosen method of ministry. He’s certainly more low-key than the circus freaks at TBN up the 405 in Costa Mesa!

      • Hi

        Trinity Broadcasting Network. They broadcast some very stereotypical hyper-evangelical preachers right out of the 1970’s. It’d be funny if so many people didn’t donate to them. Their headquarters is right across the freeway from South Coast Plaza; its kind of an amalgam of a Roman temple, a Vegas hotel, and a brothel.

              • The Rabbi’s Gift

                The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of waves of anti-monastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.

                In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. “The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again ” they would whisper to each other. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

                The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years, “the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?”

                “No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

                When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well what did the rabbi say?” “He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered. “We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving –it was something cryptic– was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.”

                In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?

                As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

                Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

                Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.


                This story came from The Different Drum, by Dr. M. Scott Peck, M.D.

  3. Biblically, all those “begats” indicate that Judaism and lineage came through the father. Everything is “son of”…….Etc. Why the rabbis decided to trace membership in the community to the woman is beyond the scriptures. It is doctrinal rather than scriptural.

    • Hi Cheri, Biologically speaking, the matrilineal aspect to Judaism makes sense–as women actually do the bearing of children. Even though, theoretically it puts me in a tricky spot, I really appreciate that religious identity is passed through women in Judaism.

  4. Good morning friends! I am finally checking my email after almost a week, and of course enjoyed reading your blog, Corinna. So many thoughts entered my mind as I read all your comments that I hardly know where to begin. And I may be a bit chaotic, but what the hey…that’s not new, lol.

    First thought….the matrilineal aspect of Judaism….. David, my husband, always comments about the begats in the Bible, especially the ones promoting Jesus’ lineage, that they are begats of men. There seems to be a complete ignoring of the fact that proving Jesus’ lineage through men would carry no weight in a culture which assigns itself through the female line. Perhaps this is one of the things Rabbi Aaron talked about when he answered my question about why Jews deny Jesus as Messiah. Because, if you look at the begats, the Bible seems to be proving Jesus’ lineage through men, not women.

    Second thought…Tim, I am still rolling at the mental image of Jesus applying a bouncer (though you are so right that he didn’t!) Wonderful image. We won’t even go into your analysis of TBN. It was so apt and accurate that both of us need to do penance for it! As to Rick Warren, I too feel compassion for him, although I really found “The Purpose Driven Life” to be “Bible Lite”….and not particularly inspiring. I feel for his loss, and he has handled it well and in public; no easy thing to do.

    Third thought….I cannot stand crowds. So even the thought of a mega church is unpalatable to me and attending one would be somewhat in the nature of voluntarily entering a lower rung of Purgatory.

    Final thought ( I’m on my friend’s computer and need to get back to my visiting)… I agree with Frank on that feeling of “Ah…here is home.” And yet I disagree with a lot I find in my church and have openly gone hand to hand with my priest. YET…it is home. I hope you find that, Corinna. Be aware that, even if you do, there will still be a part of not fitting. Just like there will be a part of you that, no matter how much you love him, won’t fit with your husband. It is simply the nature and the ultimate aloneness of being human. I think, personally, it is why the relationship we have with God is so important, because it is the only one that can transcend the boundaries of that aloneness. And it is not to be found within institutions, but within ourselves. I guess it’s that old Lutheran streak in me that says “Every priest a Believer. Every Believer a PRIEST.” You will have your AhHa moment, as Frank did, either within a place or within yourself of both. Meantime, we are all there with you.

    Merrill…..I do understand. It’s hard top walk into a place and everyone knows and can pinpoint your newness and you are faced with a sea of faces and names and can barely remember your own (at least I have that problem, lol.) I have been thinking of Ben. And you. June is doing exceptionally well and is due for her first skin graft on Tuesday, thanks be to God. I thank you all for your thoughts for her.

    Got to go. I will try to get back on line next week. With love to you all.

    Yours in Christ,

  5. “do I intend to convert?—though they are too polite to ask. I have a feeling that how they perceive me hinges on the answer.” My late father-in-law posed that same question 12 yeasr ago to my then-fiance. My fiance said, “No.” Second question: “what about children?” Answer, “we’d raise the children Jewish.” Late father-in-law’s answer: “Good.” What drove my father-in-law? Faith? Culture? Ego?
    I’m struck by the concept of “harm.” People seem to want to last, they want their beliefs, their culture, their system, to have staying power. Whatever it is. Why is that? Or, why is it that so many believe that it is a structure, an organization, that gives their beliefs, their culture, their system, value and longevity? My husband? He is a Good Jew, who does not attend services, who does not observe the High Holidays, who does not keep kosher… He is a Good Jew and I challenge anybody to say otherwise. Why? Because he married a good, though non-Jewish, person, is raising a good family, is a skeptic at heart, and is always wondering, thinking. He is always making an informed choice to be good and do right in the world. The idea that anybody would think that his wife, a non-converted Hindu, is harming his people… his children… it saddens me.

  6. What a wonderful post, corporatewife! My mother-in-law lives next to a Hindu temple, and Friday as we were driving by, people were arriving for what I assume was a service. (My knowledge if Hinduism is woefully inadequate). I was thinking to myself, how can those of us who are Christian assume all of these faithful people are somehow less deserving of Heaven than we are? For that matter, who set us up as arbiter’s of God’s will? To me, in all likelihood, God looks more kindly on a good person of a different faith (or no faith) than He does on a rigid, stringent Christian who uses his faith like a blunt weapon. Last week, I read a quote from the Congressional record about a GOP Senator who quoted (or mis-quoted) Thessalonians to justify reductions in the food stamp program for poor families. I think someone like that will have much more to answer for than you, your husband, or anyone else who tries to get through life treating others as decently as possible.

    • I continue to believe that God is a personal adventure around self exploration. We have access to some masterful self explorers like Jesus, Moses, Buddha and many philosophical thinkers as well as our own intuitive knowing.

      On Mon, Sep 30, 2013 at 7:43 AM, One None Gets Some wrote:

      > ** > Tim C commented: “What a wonderful post, corporatewife! My > mother-in-law lives next to a Hindu temple, and Friday as we were driving > by, people were arriving for what I assume was a service. (My knowledge if > Hinduism is woefully inadequate). I was thinking to myself, how ” >

    • Thank you, Tim C. We raise our children to know that God wants us to do the right thing. God knows we know how, knows we can, and knows we will, given the right support, always do the right thing. Faith (is religion a synonym for faith?). It’s funny. People talk about it, they talk about their beliefs and their rules… but I’m always more interested in what people do. Actions reflect faith. Never just talk alone. Faith is like, or is, love. It’s an active verb. It’s not a noun.

      • You are so right! In his epistle, James said faith without works is dead. What we do–what we leave behind for better or worse, is so much more important than the brand of religion/faith we ascribe to.

      • Thanks, acorporatewife, for your comments. And Tim, I agree with you about how God looks upon a “Christian” who uses his “faith” like a blunt weapon. I was just reading in Romans this a.m. where Paul is rebuking the Jews, who assumed that their physical birth and circumcision made them part of the covenant, but the true Jew is one who is of the heart and true circumcision is of the heart. The Buddhist who keeps the “moral law” (written in all our consciences) I think will receive more commendation from God than those who parade their doctrine as a substitute for true faith/reliance upon God and desire to follow his will.

        • Walt, along those lines, I think I’ve mentioned before how aggravating it is when people tell me what I have to belibe just because I’m Christian or Episcopalian (usually in a negative tone). I figure I owe God the same courtesy–I shouldn’t try to guess how He thinks or how He views people of good will of any faith. We’ll all find soon enough…

  7. one of the reasons rick warrens book outsold so many, was because churches were jumping on the purpose driven life bandwagon and were having sunday school and bible studies series on this topic. In order to do so, churches ordered rick’s book by the dozens, along with the workbook. I know, because the church I went to at the time requested it of its followers. I didnt follow.

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