Thinking a whole lot these days about Christian identity. No, no. Not the racist group calling itself Christian Identity… that sort of illustrates the problem… but the problem of having one. A Christian identity, that is. It seems to me that we’re getting whacked right now as Christians with a whole lot culturally. Much of it we barely understand, and the stuff we do understand is often deeply disturbing to our faith.
So I could quote Richard Rorty or President Obama or Bob Dylan…. or Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. See, Fiddler is one of those movies that just keeps on giving and giving truth. A movie about poor Jews in early 20th Century Russia during the pogroms, yes.
Yet could it be, at least in part, about where we are right now? “We” in this case meaning Christians, many of whom feel set upon by all sorts of cultural pressures and who (if wise like Tevye) have conversations with God that begin with recitations of tradition and are bridged with the telling phrase, “On the other hand…”. Once the phrase gets uttered, we know the old is attempting a dance with the new. (If somehow, fantastically, you haven’t seen Fiddler, I herein issue the obligatory spoiler alert.)
In this early scene one of Tevye’s three daughters and a poor tailor have done an end-run around the village match-maker (and around the match-maker’s choice for her, the butcher) to create their own match. Tevye and God have a talk:
That seemed to go well.
Much later in the movie, Tevye is again confronted with the choice of a daughter, his youngest. Only this time, her choice takes her from not just his traditions but his faith itself, or so it must seem to him. She has fallen in love with a young Christian from the very group of people who viciously persecute Tevye and his neighbors for their Jewishness. Once again, Tevye tries to talk with God, to find a solution [sound track only]:
That didn’t go well.
The scene always leaves me with tears in my eyes, and I don’t think that reaction is one I alone experience! But why? Perhaps because all of us are on the rack regarding our own self-perception (and life choices made in the light of that perception) set over against the self-perception and choices made by others.
A parent deeply treasures his Judaic faith, a faith so deep that it touches everything about Tevye’s life (and here Fiddler on the Roof depicts this reality brilliantly). Yet his youngest daughter, for her love of a boy, is willing to (depending upon one’s interpretation) either abandon her self-identity for a new one she’ll forge with the boy or enlarge her self-identity to maintain her own Jewishness yet also embrace a beloved who does not share that Jewishness. The movie is not absolutely clear how she defines herself, and that makes the set of issues it grapples with all the more poignant.
Here we are in America, a land increasingly changing in every religious and ethnic way. How do we continue to talk with God, always considering “On the other hand” yet doing so from within a self centered in faith? How do we love our Lord and love our (very different from us!) neighbor? This stuff all looks so good on paper or a web page. But doing it, even more being it, is not a color by numbers proposition. Stuff we never thought about will come up. And at some point, we may have the urge to scream along with Tevye “NO! There IS no other hand!”
I wish I could tell you exactly how to know when the line really must be drawn. There are, for me, some non-negotiables both faith-wise and life-wise. Though on the other hand…