Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review: My Jesus Year

One of my favorite expressions is “on the outside looking in.” I love this expression because it has so many different things it can mean. One meaning is that of exclusion carrying the idea of one having been ostracized and is now looking in at a situation from the outside. The other idea this euphemism holds is that of being able to get an outside perspective on one’s self. The latter is what I found in “My Jesus Year” by Benyamin Cohen.

Cohen is an Orthodox Jew who began to feel very complacent and uninspired in his faith journey of Judaism. After years of rituals, recitations, and rhetoric he felt his faith had become stagnant. The son of a rabbi with brothers who were rabbis themselves, Cohen felt like the black sheep of the family. This caused him to wrestle with his Jewish faith in a very raw, and authentic way. This led him to the journey which became the premise of the book.

In a quest to get more out of his own faith, Cohen spends one year exploring another faith—Christianity. This book is his memoir. He is up front that he had no intention of converting to Christianity or of turning his back on Judaism. But rather, he wants to find what elements of Christianity could be applied to his Jewish faith and how he could learn from the way others worship and experience God. He attends an Easter service put on by an African-American mega-church at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. He goes to a performance of the UCW (Ultimate Christian Wrestling) where Christians cheer for various heroes and villains then listen to an altar call from the founder and president of the UCW. He goes to confession at a Roman Catholic church and conquers his lifelong fears by attending services at the Cokesbury Methodist Church which was across the street from his home growing up and where he was forbidden to go. He even goes so far as to celebrate Christmas with his in-laws (his wife is the daughter of a Methodist minister but converted to Judaism in her adulthood), keeping kosher, of course.

The result is a delightful and even hilarious read of an outsider’s journey through the channels of Christianity that will challenge and inspire. There was a time when I would have been bothered by the thought of a Christian book written by a non-Christian. But I’ve learned that there is a lot to be learned from people who don’t share my views. And there are some things that Christians have done so long they are just “normal” but to an outsider, these things were so strange, and sometimes even absurd. So here’s what you can take from My Jesus Year.

  1. You can see just how odd some things we do in the church look to someone who is not a Christian.
  2. You get a good glimpse at the Jewish roots of Christianity and a better understanding of where we’ve come from as Christians.
  3. You get to see what value there is to a lot of the things we do in the Christian faith that have just become habitual.

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