A Transformative Word

I’m reading an excellent book right now, Benyamin Cohen’s My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith. It’s about an orthodox Jew who grows tired of Judaism and decides to sample the evangelical sub-culture. In the end, he becomes a better Jew.

In the chapter, “Getting High on the High Holidays,” Cohen talks about how he always considered the high holidays to be a big chore. He also had problems with Abraham, who got up early to offer his son. Sure, the offering his son part was pretty offensive, but Cohen didn’t identify with Abraham getting up early. Abraham was such a religious overachiever, who was eager to do the commands of God. Cohen, by contrast, dragged his feet when it came to the rituals of Judaism.

One Rosh Hoshanah, however, he hears a sermon that transforms his mindset. It asked why Genesis 22 specifically mentions that the ram was caught in the thicket by his horns. The lesson was that Abraham grabbed his faith by the horns: he didn’t wait for everything to come to him, but he proactively sought out an experience with God.

This led Cohen to think about his wife’s grandmother. His wife is a convert to Judaism from evangelical Christianity, and her mom is quite evangelical (and Pentecostal, at that). She’s deeply interested in the spiritual side of life, and she tries to read everything she can about Judaism. She also stumps Benyamin with tons of questions.

Cohen concludes that this is the type of person who experiences God: not the one who passively waits for God to lay a revelation on his lap, but the person who grabs faith by the horns–who is proactive in his or her spiritual search. Cohen then says that he’s sad Rosh Hoshanah only comes once a year, since he really got something spiritual out of that particular service. And this was a guy who previously dragged his feet at celebrating the high holidays!

I like it when the word of God is transformative–when it changes one’s perspective, which leads to obedience out of love rather than mere obligation. I remember reading on Bryan’s blog a while back that Bryan usually has to have his thinking transformed before he can even think about changing his actions. And that’s the way I am: I can go through the motions of changing my actions, but that makes what I’m doing a burden. I need a different mindset and attitude to make the obedience more natural. Unfortunately, sermons mostly focus on “do this and don’t do that.”

For my daily quiet time right now, I’m reading the Shepherd of Hermas, a second century book that was considered Scripture in some Christian circles, but not in others. Hermas encounters an old woman who becomes middle-aged the next time he sees her, and a hot young babe the next time she appears to him. Essentially, she was a mirror of his own spiritual life. Hermas was tired and worn out with Christianity, but God gave him a transformative message that encouraged and strengthened him to do the right thing.

We all need these kinds of messages, since they can keep us going. Personally, I get them from the Bible, books, and television.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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