Ten Things I Love About Christianity

Rio de Janeiro, 1996, photo Susan Katz millerRecently, someone asked me what I get out of Christianity: why not stick to calling myself Jewish? It is sometimes hard for Jews to understand, after a long history of oppression and conflict, why Christianity holds any appeal for interfaith children. Above and beyond our own Christian parents (Mom, you are of course the number one thing I love about Christianity!), here are ten random Christian things I appreciate:

Soup Kitchens. The life of Jesus, the way he tended to the poor and the sick, inspires hands-on grappling with poverty. From the international aid agencies run by Christians, to the urban clinics and shelters, these “ministries” may have begun as missionary work, but most aid workers have no such ulterior motives. For me, cooking a meal and serving it to the women at Luther Place involves a kind of border-crossing that does not occur when I simply send off a check.

The Gospels. My rabbi tells me that Jews believed in physical resurrection, even before the time of Jesus. But this story—complete with politics, betrayal, murder—was perfected by the Gospel writers. Whether it’s refracted through the Wizard of Oz, the tales of Narnia, ET, Godspell  or Kazantzakis, the story of Jesus moves me. And it’s not important to me whether it “really happened” or not.

Bishop John Shelby Spong. The former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, Jack Spong, came to speak to our interfaith families group—he’s probably the most senior Protestant theologian willing to be seen with us. He rejects the literal interpretation of Virgin birth and physical resurrection, he ordained openly gay priests. Spong is radically amazing.

The Music. Imagine a world without Gregorian chants, the liturgical music of Bach and Handel, Gospel, bluegrass and Johnny Cash. My Jewish dad and I both love to sit down and pound out Protestant hymns on the piano.

The Renaissance. I love  Cathedrals, embroidered vestments, illuminated manuscripts, religious paintings, oh, just about everything in Italy I guess…

Nuns and Priests. Many of the nuns and priests I have known working in the developing world (some of them giving out condoms on the frontlines of the AIDS epidemic) have been champions of local languages and culture, lovely souls, peace-builders. I also have a thing for Jesuit intellectuals who question in a way I recognize as “Jewish.”

Liberation Theology. In Latin America, the Catholic church often provided the only counterweight to oppressive military regimes. The current Pope continues to try to dismantle the remnants of liberation theology. But many who fought for justice drew on Catholic social teaching: among them Dorothy Day, Paolo Freire, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero.

The Abolitionists. The abolitionists represent a high point in the Protestant influence on US history: the Bible inspired Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet Tubman.

Simplicity. The Quakers were instrumental in the anti-slavery movement. And while I love the ornate ritual of a Cathedral mass, as a New Englander I also love the simplicity of the Puritan, Shaker and Quaker esthetic: the white steeples, the wood furniture, the closeness to the land and farm, the quiet, the simplicity.

Christmas in New England. Singing carols on the town green, the snow piling deep and soft, a brass quintet, and yes, yes, the tree. My parents, the only interfaith couple on the street, hosted a Christmas party for the neighborhood every year of my childhood, with my Jewish dad at the piano leading carols fueled by a killer punch made of sauterne and champagne. My friend Ian Spatz, father of interfaith children, has a tongue-in-cheek theory that Jews actually intermarry because of Christmas envy. There may be something to it.

 

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

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11 Comments on “Ten Things I Love About Christianity”

  1. Amy Butler Says:

    I love this post. Thank you, Sue.

  2. bethany Says:

    Bless you my child ;-D

  3. Surabhi Says:

    I like these things too — and probably have 10 similar things I like about most other religions I have had the opportunity to experience : )
    Music, kindness, ritual, public service, ornate edifices, intellectual thought, and some inspirational people …. what is there not to like.


  4. Surabhi–You’re right, I could certainly list 10 things I love about Islam, after living in a Muslim country for three years. I think I will! So liking those ten things about Christianity does not explain why I insist on educating my children about Christianity. We could be Unitarians, and study all religions. In the end, it does go back to the fact that Christianity is part of their heritage, our family culture, and so I feel they have the right to (and necessity for) deeper understanding of our two family religions.

  5. anne stewart Says:

    Susan, We read these together, with Catherine, and realize that for us you are missing spirituality. And for me, prayer. Sharing prayers is particularly helpful in times of sadness–having everyone say the same words together can be a powerful feeling. Just a thought . . .


  6. Anne–
    Prayer and spirituality are both powerfully important, but they are found in all religions of the world. I think in these lists, I was looking for the unique specifics that attract me to Christianity (and Judaism in the other post).

    But many of the items on the list (the music, community service, cathedrals) are exactly the things that create spirituality for me. More so than prayer, in my case. But that is probably because I did not grow up saying Christian prayers (in spite of having a Christian mother). For me, by raising my children with both Jewish and Christian prayers I hope to give them access to more “spiritual tools,” exactly because setting down those neuronal connections in childhood creates a resonant pathway to spirituality that can last into adulthood.

  7. rev julia Says:

    Sue Prays! She prays when she sings, belly dances, cooks! She prays all the time.

  8. Mandy Katz Says:

    Sue, as a Jew — intermarried but distinctly not interfaith — I wasn’t sure what to expect from your list of things to like about Christianity and then found I agreed with almost all of it. And, while I would have married my husband, anyway, the Christmas tree (that I insisted on, not he) definitely sweetened the deal.
    At the end of the list, though, I had to agree with Anne Stewart about the absence from your list of prayer and spirituality, but with the opposite conclusion from Anne: Prayer and spirituality are what I DON’T share with Christians nor, to be honest, with devout Jews, either.
    Within my native, half-hearted Judaism, I can somehow overlook my absence of faith, however, perhaps due as much to personal habit as to doctrinal tolerance. So, while I see no route to Christianity that travels through atheism, I can still consider myself more than just ethnically “Jewish” without literal devotion, just by living up to some facsimile of what I perceive to be Jewish ethics.
    And, yes, Anne, sometimes losing myself in familiar communal prayer, even if I don’t believe in it.


  9. Mandy says…
    “Prayer and spirituality are what I DON’T share with Christians nor, to be honest, with devout Jews, either.”

    I tend to agree, I think that’s another reason they weren’t on the list (see compatibility-with-atheism in my Jewish Top 10 list). Though I have a broader definition of spirituality (see post on Interfaith Spirituality) and so most of the things on the list create sensory spirituality for me (which for me, does not depend on a God concept).

    Sue

  10. Cynthia Says:

    I’ve just read both of your lists of ‘top 10’ (Jewish & Christian), and I come to the same conclusions as you do, Sue. I’m not interfaith, but I sure am confused!!
    I was brought up Christian (background of Mennonite preacher grandpa), so the doctrine could have been quite strict. My mom decided to give us all the freedom she could to allow us to decide what we wanted to believe.
    I have done the same with my two boys.
    It seems to me that the ‘basics’ are the same with lots of religions. Spirituality is to me, ‘how you feel’ with it all. I can’t buy lots of all the religions’ dictums.
    So–my mind has created its own mix of all of them together.
    I continue to study all religions, to see what I can add to my ‘mix’.
    Cynthia

  11. 4854derrida Says:

    Hello

    I’ve just uploaded two rare interviews with the Catholic activist Dorothy Day. One was made for the Christophers [1971]–i.e., Christopher Closeup– and the other for WCVB-TV Boston [1974].

    Day had begun her service to the poor in New York City during the Depression with Peter Maurin, and it continued until her death in 1980. Their dedication to administering to the homeless, elderly, and disenfranchised continues with Catholic Worker homes in many parts of the world.

    Please post or announce the availability of these videos for those who may be interested in hearing this remarkable lay minister.

    They may be located here:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/4854derrida

    Thank you

    Dean Taylor


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