I’m so thankful for all of the interesting folks I get to meet through blogging, and Brandon is no exception. When soliciting guest posts, I like to ask people to write about unexpected relationships, and he offers a fantastic take on that prompt. Enjoy!
“Because you’re dating a Jew!” That was what my mom said after I finished complaining about the lack of Christmas decorations in my house.
“Mom…” I started to reply as I rolled my eyes. I wouldn’t have done that in person, but that’s one of the benefits of having conversations like this over the phone.
“I know, I can’t say ‘Jew,’” she said.
“It’s not that,” I shot back. “It’s just…” and I tried thinking about how I should continue the conversation. “I just want a tree,” I finally said. “A tree.”
I thought about it for a second. “And maybe some garland. But that’s all.”
I thought about it again. “And my nativity scene.” I have the best nativity scene ever, and I got it from a dollar store. At the moment, though, it was at my mom’s house on the opposite coast.
“Just go buy one!” she shouted into the phone. “You have dollar stores in Tacoma, don’t you?” she asked. The bargain apple didn’t fall far from that discount tree.
We do have dollar stores here in Tacoma and, ironically, my Jewish partner would love a reason to go shopping at one of them. But not for Christmas decorations. The only seasonal holiday decoration we had was the menorah on our kitchen table. My partner doesn’t really care for Christmas, and asked me not to decorate for my favorite holiday. When I told him I would honor his request, I felt like I was one of the characters from the “No Room in the Inn” story: “Sorry, Christmas, go take your red mirth and green merriment elsewhere. We’re all booked up here with Jews.”
Sometimes I wonder if I’m a bad Christian. Not only am I dating a guy – I’m dating a Jewish guy. And not some liberal, reformed one that sees Judaism as more of a tradition than a religion; but a God-fearing, phylactery-wearing, barukhattahadonai-chanting Jew. And I celebrated Chanukkah with him. I wonder if that’s the kind of thing that lands you in hell.
But it can’t be, can it? After all, Jesus celebrated Chanukkah, which is also called the Feast of Dedication. I wrote about the history and significance of Chanukkah in a different post. And, as I often do when I write something, I plastered the link all over my friends’ Facebook walls. One friend was not too happy with my writing, though.
“Did you read my latest blog?” I asked my (insert title of family member here).
“Um, no,” he/she/it answered through pursed lips. “I made it to the word ‘Chanukkah’ and then I stopped reading.”
“Why?” I asked, sincerely confused.
“Because you’re not freaking Jewish!”
I thought that was true enough. I’m not freaking Jewish.
“But still…” I started to reply, only to be cut off by a sermon I like to call Jews in the Hands of an Angry God.
I can’t really reprint the sermon here in its entirety because I don’t remember all of it. But I do remember the main point, which person X summed up in the following way: “Every time you celebrate something Jewish, you deny Jesus.”
That’s some leap of logic. Every time I light a candle on our menorah, or put on my kippa, or eat some hamantaschen, I actually deny Jesus – the guy who went around celebrating Jewish holidays? The guy who claimed to be sent from the One who instituted these holidays? I was confused.
I’ll admit it: my gay, interfaith relationship isn’t the easiest thing for my conservative Evangelical family to come to terms with. But on the flip side, I, too, have difficulty coming to terms with some of their rigid, inflexible positions. It doesn’t only take grace on the Christian’s part to sit down at the Communion table with God’s enemy; it also takes grace – enormous, excessive amounts of it – on the part of the gay person to sit down at this table with God’s friend. But they must, gay and straight, sit down together to the meal that has been prepared for all of them. For all of us.
And what is this meal? The Jews will call it Passover; the Christians will call it Communion or the Eucharist or the Mass. Different Christian denominations will even judge each other for calling the meal by a different name, forgetting that the point of the meal is not to disagree and segregate, but to quietly sit down, and eat together.
I don’t mean to trivialize what are huge theological disagreements between religions or religious individuals. There are deep differences between the Catholic understanding of the Mass, the Anglican understanding of the Eucharist, and the Evangelical understanding of Communion. The theological chasm is even wider between all of these and the Jewish understanding of the Passover meal. But that chasm isn’t so wide that it can’t be bridged by a table.
The concept of tolerance doesn’t deny there is a chasm, but invites us to bridge this gap in the name of our common humanity.
A few minutes after I was lectured by my family member for acting too “freaking Jewish,” we sat down together for Christmas dinner. How was that? It was great – there were laughter and jokes and stories and teasing and anecdotes and heart-to-hearts. Sitting down together to eat didn’t erase, or even make us forget our differences. But it did remind us that we belong to each other, like Mother Teresa used to say.
I belong to my gay, Jewish partner, who belongs to Christmasy me, and we both belong to my conservative, Evangelical family, who, along with the other gays and the Christians who don’t understand them, belong to the human race.
Who all belong to God – the God who belongs to all of us, and who has given us different holidays and meals to remind us of this beautiful mystery.
Brandon studied Literature and Philosophy at Liberty University. He currently lives between New York City and Seattle, WA, where he spends most of his time dancing and writing. He enjoys telling stories onstage and on paper. You can follow his blog here: http://brandonambrosino.blogspot.com/