Beliefnet

The prayer, a reminder to God not of our merit but of his capacity to overlook our sin, is sung to a particularly haunting melody, my favorite from the entire cantorial literature. It is minor, and repetitive, and dirge-like, and some people say that Jews wailed its tune as they walked to the gas chambers in Treblinka and Sobibor.

At Brit Hadasha, we sing a mostly-English-but-laced-with-Hebrew song also based on that slichot prayer, but this tune is zippy, full of rhyme and vim and pep. In the middle of the song, I slip out of the sanctuary and make my way, through the circle of dancing women, to the ladies' room, where I stare in the mirror and think. I wish for this service to be organic and seamless, but the seams show everywhere. Whatever part of me had come to Brit Hadasha hoping to find the key to marrying Judaism with the cross is disappointed. I am not going to find any answers in a church that thinks clapping and tambourining its way through Adonai, el rachum v'chanun is a good idea. "This must be why I hate them," I say out loud to the mirror. "I must hate them because I want them to give me a formula for how to be a Christian Jew and I know their formula will never be my formula."

After I've spent more time than is respectable in the bathroom, I return to my seat next to Steven, settling in for more praise music, a Torah reading and the homily. Across the aisle, a redheaded little girl in a white straw hat smiles at me and dances a little dance.

The rabbi is in the middle of a sermon series on the Book of Joshua. "Well, that's refreshing," I whisper. "A whole sermon series on something from the Old Testament. You would never hear that in a regular church." Steven shushes me before I can climb onto one of my favorite soapboxes, the Christians-think-the-Bible-starts-with-Matthew soapbox.

This week's sermon is on chapter 7. In chapter 7, Achan, from the tribe of Judah, steals some silver and gold and a beautiful robe; Joshua takes Achan to a valley and he is stoned to death. Ever after, the Book of Joshua tell us, that valley is known as the Valley of Achor, which means "trouble."

The rabbi proceeds to read this chapter just like rabbis read in the Talmud, the fifth-century compilation of Jewish oral tradition. "Where else is the Valley of Achor mentioned in the Bible?" he asks. This was a favorite rabbinic strategy-if a word appears only two or three times in the Bible, then God is telling us that when we come across one mention, we should think of the other passages that use the same word. This, for example, is how the rabbis figured out what activities were forbidden on the Sabbath. There are two words in Hebrew for "work," avodah and malacha. In the Torah, we find avodah a lot, but God used melacha only twice-in the list of 39 activities that went into building the tabernacle, and in the verses, like Exodus 31:15, that forbid working on the Sabbath: "For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord." The rabbis reasoned that He used melacha in those two places so that we would make a connection: the tabernacle activities must be the activities that are forbidden on the Shabbat.

Achor shows up in Joshua, and then again in Hosea 2:15, where God promises to turn the Valley of Achor into a door of hope. "And what does God mean," the rabbi at Brit Hadasha now asks, when He speaks of transforming this valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble, into a door of hope? He tells us in John 10:9, when Jesus declares, 'I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved.' The door promised in Hosea, a promise that in turn looked back to Joshua, was Jesus, the only door that could undo the trouble of Achor."

His reading is dazzling. I am dazzled. I have not heard anyone read Scripture in this particular rabbinic way since I became a Christian. The rabbi has done just what the rabbis of the Talmud did when they squeezed out the Sabbath prohibitions from the word melacha. There is something Jewish about this place, I think, the most important Jewish thing of all. They read like Jews.

The rabbi's marriage of Old Testament with the New is so striking that I hardly notice what comes next-an altar call. "If anyone here does not know the Lord," the rabbi says, "I invite you to come forward. I invite you to come up here and pray with me to ask our Savior into your life." We might be at a Billy Graham crusade. During the altar call Steven weeps, hunched over in his chair, crying like he's just been told the saddest news in the world-when, in fact, he's been told something very wonderful, which is that Jesus died to purge his sins. He weeps, and I sit next to him with my hand on the small of his back and my cheek pressed into his shoulder blade; I am both praying for the Spirit to set up shop in his heart, and wondering at all the work the Spirit has already done.

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