Yeshua Ha’Mashiach

In drafting my last post, “Orthodox Films Fill the Void,” I intended to end the piece with a story that would serve as a thematic button: the day after seeing Fill the Void (a remarkable film released this summer about an ultra-Orthodox family in contemporary Tel Aviv) I finally made good on a long-standing wish to visit a Messianic synagogue.

For the latter experience filled an even deeper void in its own right than the former—or filled the same void to a deeper degree.

But no less thematic was the fact that my cup had nearly runneth over the word count by the time I was done singing the praises of Fill the Void (and My Father, My Lord before it). As it is wont to runneth over here, looking back on that steamy Saturday morning last month at Congregation Beth El in Manhattan, where I first witnessed Messianic Jews sing the praises of Yeshua Ha’Mashiach, Jesus the Messiah.


More on that shortly. First, whence this desire on my part to go there, both literally and figuratively speaking? Good question. I’m glad I asked.

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Belief and Belonging

Last week I went and watched my son graduate from Virginia Boys State. After the ceremony, I waited through waves of boys in identical white shirts and blue shorts for him to emerge, and when he did, his shoulders were slouched and his eyes tired.

In the car I asked him, “How’d it go?”

He shrugged.

“Did you have a good time?”


“Did you learn anything?”


“Nothing at all?”

He said no, he hadn’t learned anything.

I kept pressing him, and eventually said, “If you had to give someone your takeaway from this past week in one sentence, what would it be?”

Without pause, he said, “[People of a certain philosophical/political stripe] are assholes.” [Read more...]

Holy Water

One must have faith and pray; the water will have no virtue without faith.”
–St. Bernadette

My daughter just finished a week at our local Catholic school’s day camp. She came home with a crèche she made from a shoebox, a St. Brigid’s cross of pipe cleaners, and a plastic bottle of holy water, blessed by the deacon.

“It’s not from Lourdes,” the catechist told us, apologetically. For Catholics, the spring at Lourdes—dug by the bare hands of St. Bernadette at the urging of Our Lady— is the champagne of holy water. I think the batch my daughter brought home actually came from the water fountain in the school hallway. I was sitting out there with my toddler when the volunteers filled the plastic basin.

My own elementary school was named for Our Lady of Lourdes, and Mary was our patron and mascot to the point of insanity. My memories of religious education consist almost entirely of stories of Marian apparitions and miracles. Even slumber party games of Bloody Mary conjured images of a glowing lady in a cave, whispering secrets. One of my best friends had an actual glow-in-the-dark Mary I made her hide in a drawer when I slept over. [Read more...]

Wild-Eyed Youth Pastor

I recently found an unexpected e-mail in my in-box. It was from Joe, my youth pastor from over twenty-five years ago. I haven’t spoken to him in as many years. He was reaching out to apologize for any spiritual harm he had done me all those years ago. The e-mail got me reminiscing.

Joe was one of those youth pastors who seemed to have a sure calling, the kind of guy people called on fire for the Lord. He preached fearlessly, with the zeal of a prophet; unlike others I’d encountered who believed they had the gift of prophecy, Joe did not see it as an excuse to be a loud and judgmental ass. He was open and honest, transparent about his struggles. It drew kids to him. He and his wife opened their home to us, were endlessly patient with the teenage noise, hormones, strife. [Read more...]

The New Improved Golden Rule

Our neighbor Jack is a retired widower. He goes to a mainline Baptist church. It’s a massive structure on the edge of what some here call the ghetto. Years ago this big church saw the majority of its members take flight to suburban churches with coffee shops and rocking praise bands.

But there is, in that magisterial building, a haggard group of diehards trying to continue on, trying to fulfill the calling to love their neighbors. Jack is one of them.

He once invited my daughter to be in their Christmas musical. They were trying to fill a children’s choir from their neighborhood but couldn’t find enough kids willing to join, so they resorted to casting their net a little wider. He and my wife, who does much of her work in one of the poorest city neighborhoods, talked about what his church was trying to accomplish.

Jack described the things they were doing, and he himself made the observation, after describing some programs, that their mostly African-American neighbors are not the least bit responsive to their attempts at doing good in the area. [Read more...]