To my middle school son on attending his first Bar Mitzvah,
How exciting! Do you feel grown up? You should. Being raised Christian, you may not know that Bar & Bat Mitzvah means son and daughter of the covenant. Judaism can claim a long and rich religious and cultural heritage, and this is the time Jewish girls and boys assume the obligation to observe the commandments.
No, you cannot just attend the party, and skip the service, as some of your friends are doing. It’s the service that gives the party its meaning. Your friend will read a portion of the Torah. Be attentive – he has worked on this for months.
This is a good opportunity for you to be reminded that there are many ways of honoring God and trying to abide by His/Her teachings in our own lives. Unfortunately we human beings are perpetually tempted to think of our way of doing things as the best or only way. This has been called an “I’m okay, you’re not okay” way of looking at life. Or, “I’m saved, so you’re probably not”.
This conviction of superiority is actually a symptom of spiritual immaturity. And it is not benign. It is a slippery slope to bias, to bigotry, to exclusiveness, and to violence. Actually most Indigenous Peoples around the world have it right: there are many paths up the mountain. Disrespect for the Jewish path up the mountain is called Anti-Semitism.
The practice of religious faith runs the gamut from an inclusive, communal best to an exclusive, rigid worst. A narrow-minded, fearful, judgmental Christian has much more in common with a narrow-minded, fearful, judgmental Muslim or Jew than he or she has with a Christian guided by compassion and called to justice. Again, there really is such a thing as religious and spiritual maturity. It takes a grown-up to truly love our neighbors, especially the unsavory ones.
At some point you will hear some people claim the inerrancy of scripture – their particular scripture of course, with their particular interpretation. Actually all scripture and sacred books are enormously complex, and must often be read and interpreted more like a poem or allegory than a how-to or a history. If we take scripture literally, it is hard to take it seriously.
What is truly inerrant is the astonishing diversity of all creation.