Babe Ruth’s autobiography begins with the sentence: “I was a bad kid.” When I think about how I can explain joining the Men’s Bible Group at St. Gertrude’s Roman Catholic Church, I might just say, “I was a bad Jew.”
But that’s too simplistic. And probably not true. Maybe I’m a good Jew after all. Jesus was surrounded by Jews who had trouble believing in him. And I’m not just talking about Pharisees and Sadducees. I mean, even among his own apostles. For many, real belief didn’t come until after his death.
The fact is, I once was a very good Jew. I did all the things I was supposed to do. Everything my parents wanted me to do. I went to Hebrew School. I studied the Hebrew language. I was bar mitzvah’d in front of family and friends and read from the Torah. And I always just mouthed the words, “Christ our Lord,” at the end of the “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful.” I did this when I was 12 years old because I just couldn’t get the words, “Christ the Lord” out of my mouth. It felt like a betrayal.
But at some point I rebelled.
A Good Jew
The Passover “Hagada” –– the story we read around the Seder Table when I was young –– always described “four sons” with the “four questions” that were part of the Passover ritual. There was the wise son, who accepted the teachings of the faith without question. And then, there were the wicked, stupid and foolish sons … characterized thus because they did not. I began to feel like one of the latter. I was criticized for asking questions, and began to feel that “spirituality” seemed a lot less important than “tradition,” and being a young American, free-thinking individualist, that didn’t do it for me.
Being Jewish, I have always felt a tangential relationship with Jesus. My father’s name was David Aronson so both Jesus and I came out of the House of David. And my last name, Aronson, means the son of Aaron, the brother of Moses. This has to give me some kind of credentials. I also have to confess that when I was an adolescent and admittedly, shallow in my thinking, I was torn between wanting to be Jesus and wanting to be Superman, both of whom had powers I really admired. But when I try to be more specific about who I am, I’m just another one of those run-of-the-mill American Jewish Agnostic Existentialist Secular Humanists. The world is full of them.
The Men’s Bible Group
I joined the men’s Bible group, really, because I wanted to know more about the bible, which is such an essential part of our culture. I get up at 5:30 every Friday morning, and don’t miss a meeting because I find there men surrounded by the desire to do good, if not better . . . and the things we discuss resonate with me and help me stay focused for the rest of the day.
One of the things I like about the men’s group is the range of believers who come to the table.
There is one, who couldn’t be with us today, who you feel is always reflective of the Holy Spirit, whose every action seems to sincerely live out the loving message of Jesus. There is another one who was angry with himself because “God” was not sufficiently in the center of all his thoughts. He stopped coming because he transferred that anger and resentment to us when we weren’t sufficiently disturbed by how frustrated he was. And another who denies God, saying God didn’t create us. We created Him. His favorite line about God comes from a James Cagney movie: “It’s all an inside job!”
Some here say they don’t know for sure about God, but they do know for sure that when they try to live according to the teachings of Jesus they feel much better about themselves and others and more fulfilled in their lives.
The Ongoing Conversation
One of the things that keeps drawing me back is expressed beautifully at the end of a book titled “Jesus,” by Marcus Borg. Under the heading, “An Unending Conversation,” he writes:
“Being born is like entering a parlor where there’s already a conversation going on. The conversation began long before we were born, and it will continue long after we’ve gone. The conversation is about life itself – about what is real, what’s worth paying attention to, how we should live, and what ‘this’ is all about. When we have listened long enough to have some idea of what the conversation is about, we join it ourselves. Then the hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”
This pretty much describes the general conversation virtually all human beings engage in. But Borg ends it by bringing the discussion into an even sharper focus for us:
“Indeed, for Christians, the unending conversation about Jesus is the most important conversation there is. He is, for us, the decisive revelation of God, of what can be seen of God’s character and passion in a human life. There are other important conversations. But for followers of Jesus, the unending conversation about Jesus is the conversation that matters most.”
And that’s why I participate in St. Gertrude’s Bible group. And why I’m here today. I love this conversation, and the people who engage in it. It all makes me feel more human … and less alone.
Editor’s Note: Excerpted from remarks delivered to an archdiocesan conference at Maria High School to men from other parishes interested in starting their own bible discussion groups.