“How Can You Be Both? What About Jesus?”

I didn’t grow up with Jesus. My parents raised us as Jews, and the topic never came up at our dinner table. So no, I don’t believe Jesus is my personal savior. So you could call me a Jew who is particularly knowledgeable about Christianity. Or you could call me a Unitarian I guess. But go and ask ten of your Christian-born friends if they believe that Jesus is their personal savior. If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to make an educated guess that most of you born or raised Christian think of Jesus as a role model, an important historical figure, a revolutionary rabbi, an inexplicable mystery, or even an inspiring myth. Or as the son of God, in the sense that we are all sons and daughters of God. All of which works for me just fine. It is rare that I find I actually disagree on theological grounds with the Christians in my circle of family and friends.

It wasn’t until I came of age, and got safely through my Bat Mitzvah, that I began to tentatively probe at my Christian roots. As a teenager in the 1970s, I would privately indulge in Jesus Christ Superstar or Godspell and feel like I was gobbling forbidden fruit. Jewish composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz apparently understood the primal appeal of the Jesus story. I’m glad that he, and so many other Jewish writers and artists throughout history, felt free to infuse the story with such passion (so to speak). And I’m glad that my children can feel swept away by these stories, without feeling a lot of Jewish guilt. The head rush I know as spirituality is almost always the direct result of great art, music, or community action. Ideology, not so much.

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover, paperback and eBook from Beacon Press.

One Reply to ““How Can You Be Both? What About Jesus?””

  1. As a born and raised (ardent) Catholic and now a Jew-by-choice, I very much appreciate this posting. I claim Jesus on both counts, and have never had an argument to pick with him. Even as we articulate our own attitudes toward him and his teachings, though, I do think it’s important to remember there are millions outside our insulated circle of “Christian-born family and friends” for whom Jesus is God and the be-all and end-all of everlasting life. They might understandably find the concept of “interfaith” to be a contradiction in terms. But one more comment about Jesus. I’ve always been grated by Jews using the term “Christ” (as I heard Ted Koppel do recently). “Christ” implies redeemer and I couldn’t understand why a Jew would use that name. When I asked a good friend, she explained that it made her uncomfortable to say “Jesus” — because it felt too familiar to be on a “first name” basis with him. So she used “Christ” almost as a surname. Funny, and I get it, but it’s still wrong!

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