Passing a billboard saying, “Return of Christ May 21st, 2011” in Los Angeles is very different than passing a billboard for the Red Bull Soapbox Race, also this past May 21st. The motto “Red Bull gives you wings” adds a practical dimension to the rapture. Alas, since the 21st was the Sabbath, and as an observant Jew, I did not attend either event. As a rabbi, the billboards sponsored by Harold Camping, owner the Christian Family Radio Network were troubling. While I honestly celebrated their strong connection to God, I lament the distancing between those Christians who believe that that particular day was the rapture and the other 92% of Americans, including myself, who believe in God. I have Christian friends, and even Christian family. I am glad to have been invited to Christmas dinners, though I am told that they are even better if you eat the ham. The pork hurdle may soon be remedied as scientists at Holland’s Eindhoven University are growing pig organs from cells cultured in a Petri dish – I keep meaning to contact them with an eye toward winning the contract for Kashrut certification.
Christmas ham aside, the basic ethos of Judaism and Christianity are so similar that we in America are comfortable with the term “Judeo-Christian values”. We get along wonderfully, lately anyhow, and especially in this country, it feels odd to be suddenly left out.
To be blunt, Jews and Christians differ on the matter of Jesus, and among some Christians, the issue of the rapture. To be sure, these are not small things, but as long as the rapture was some far off idea it was easy to ignore, but all of a sudden it’s upon us. When my Christian friends remind me that Jesus was Jewish, I swell with pride. Spielberg, Madoff, Bernanke, part of the trinity; we’re everywhere! Even though in my circles Mel Gibson is dismissed as an anti-Semite, I found
The Passion of the Christ
compelling, though I was conscious of being the only one in the theater wearing a yalmaka and likely the only one at my particular screening who understood the entirely Aramaic script (it’s true, Mel did make some words up!). In fact, I appreciate trying to be saved. As we say in this town, it’s an honor just to be considered. My attitude resembles a story I was once told about the German sociologist-theologian Martain Buber. He was speaking to a group of Jewish and Christian scholars. He said to one group, “You think the Messiah has come before and will return.” And to the other group he said, “And you believe that the Messiah has not yet come, but will arrive soon.” Addressing the whole crowd he said, “Let’s not argue. When the Messiah arrives, we’ll simply ask him if anything looks familiar.” Whether he really said that or if it’s an apocryphal story I cannot say, but Buber’s wait and see attitude works for me. Maybe that is the issue with the billboards: Some of us don’t like to be rushed. Could I have a couple of thousand more years, please?