In, but not of

Imbolc                                                                    Valentine Moon

“Solitude” by Marc Chagall, 1933
“Solitude” by Marc Chagall, 1933

In, but not of. Yesterday at mussar, a spiritual/ethical system within the Jewish tradition, I had a complex moment. We were discussing truth and mercy, the relationship between them. To compare mercy and truth I defined mercy as suspension of judgment. Truth though is a sword and a judgment. If that’s correct, then not all truth is merciful. Rabbi Jamie started to dispute that, but had to leave for his daughter’s wisdom teeth extraction.


In the conversation that followed afterward my use of the sword metaphor was identified as a Christian trope, “I come to not bring peace, but a sword.” I’ve been working very hard over the last year to bracket my mode of theological thinking while absorbing a Jewish style of thinking. This requires effort because though I abandoned Christianity over 30 years ago, my seminary education and professional life as a clergyman reinforced my already strong Judaeo/Christian enculturation. Christianity does still define much of how I think and feel about matters religious and secular.

While that’s obvious, I still felt a flush of embarrassment at being identified with a New Testament informed concept. That flush, as mussar teaches, is an important signal about where growth is necessary.

On the way back up to Shadow Mountain I described my situation to Kate as similar to traveling. “I love to go where the culture is very different from mine, where I’m a stranger. It helps me know my self.” Kate’s journey is one of a Jew deepening her own understanding, her own identity as part of a religious world. My journey is closer to travel, “It feels like I’m traveling on the inside.” In this case no geographic change is necessary for me to be a stranger.


This inner travel exhilarates me, but it also confuses and, in a mild sense, scares me. I’m trying to gain wisdom and personal growth from Beth Evergreen while maintaining my own identity as a pagan. But, not only that. My life as a pagan is not divorced from my enculturation as a Christian. I’m a cultural Christian in many ways. That means I encounter many shocks to my inner world, shocks that wake me up, like a Zen koan, but that also and in the same instance disorient me.


It’s like being on Yaowarat Road in Bangkok on a weekend night. On Friday and Saturday night the sidewalks of Bangkok’s Chinatown, of which Yaowarat is the main street, fill up with small restaurants, often two tables, some chairs and a street vendor style kitchen with a wok, propane tank, utensils and a stack of plates and soup bowls. What food are they serving? I don’t know. I speak neither Thai nor Mandarin. Many people are there who do understand the food offerings, how to eat them, but I’m not one of them. I’m in, but not of the street life. Observing, yes, eager to learn, yes, but even after sampling some food and gaining some insight, I will go back to my hotel, a stranger traveling through.

I’m grateful to the folks at Beth Evergreen and Kate for putting up with my being present as a stranger and an inner traveler. A long journey, barely begun.

This entry was posted in Commentary on Religion, Faith and Spirituality, Family, Jefferson County, Judaism, Reimagine. Reconstruct. Reenchant., Shadow Mountain, Third Phase, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

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