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Jewishness. (Short Story).

November 24, 2018

cropped-12301412301.jpgEli was being patient with the guy; well what does one do with someone you know dislikes Jews like Eli and was in charge of the Church Planting Committee; that and a few other things was still talking.

He wasn’t smiling of course, “I’m simply saying you carry your Jewishness way too far, Eli.” Nathan studied the young man across from him in the Barnes-Noble cafe table, “Some people think you’re taking things too far…”

Eli spoke up at the comment, “Too far? How?” The large bookstore was not very bust at the moment for a Thursday morning thought Eli and he was grateful for it. They both sat at one of the larger cafe tables that they had agreed to meet at earlier that week; and even now Eli wasn’t sure why the thirty-something guy wanted the meeting. “In what way am I going too far” Though to be honest at least with himself he suspected where all this talking was going to go. He was glad though that for the most part the place was not very busy; but at least he now knew where a new bookstore was located in Roseville; ten miles from their church. That was another odd thing about the meeting thought Eli as he took note of the look of the guy sitting across from him in the casual clothes. Nathan Brentson also sat stiffly and as if it was with great effort to be polite. Eli was sure the guy dislike him and not just because his last name was Wiess. This was personal? He got that impression a while back when he made a comment about the biography Eli was reading on the life of Maimonides. It was a unpleasant comment about wasting Eli’s time on a dead burning in hell Jew. Eli waited for the guy to go away and let him read in peace and quiet. It was a war declared; it was stupid.

Nathan spoke up, “Look, Eli, It’s making people uncomfortable all this Jewish talk of the Torah and Israel…” He finally spoke his mind thought Eli on what was really personally bugging Nathan, “And you seem to forget you’re just the custodian, Eli, at the church. That’s what you were hired to do and only do…” The look said much about his attitude. “You’re the custodian, Eli, you seem to forget that little part of your employment…” The voice of authority that came from his sense that he had more to say and Eli better listen was always there; Eli and him never really got along from day one.

“I’m just the custodian…”

He cut him off, “We’ve been down this conversation before, Eli. More than once we’ve had to talk to you about your attitude at work…” He pushed his glasses back a little up his short stubby nose, “Your attitude…”

“My attitude at work? I do my job, Nathan…”

Again he cut Eli off, “Look, Eli, people are complaining that you’re not doing a very good job at cleaning the building…”

He so badly wanted to interrupt but thought he might learn something with his silence but as he thought about it he couldn’t, “I do my job…”

He folded his arms, “I am sure you think that, Eli, but some also think you are taking this Jewishness of yours too far.” He studied the guy he simply didn’t like, “There are some who feel and think you are taking your own Jewishness too far at church and around other people. It’s making people uncomfortable…”

“Uncomfortable?” He wasn’t that surprised by the statement. “My Jewishness?” He forced his normal impulse to talk quickly when annoyed, “You mean I take it seriously. I do take it seriously, Nathan, as it’s important to me…” The guy across from him hated being called Nate; call him Nathan or experience the anger of the man and his name.  “It’s important to me to keep that part of my life part of my life, Nathan. It’s still part of my life…” He could see the interruption coming, “I’m still a Jew, Nathan…”

“Not at church, Eli.” The response was sharp, “We are the church, not a synagogue. You keep treating the church as if its lost something by your attitude as well in your class you teach on Sunday mornings…”

Eli was also trying to take the rabbit trail of complaints in stride as it was true he had heard it before. “We are talking about the one I  teach, Nathan?”

Nathan’s expression simply didn’t change much, “I have heard from Mrs. Hanson in the class you teach that you’re teaching that Israel is still very important in God’s eternal plan, that prophecies about Israel’s future is still part of God’s plan…That the promises made to Israel are still in effect for Israel, that the Church has it’s own promises…”

Ah, yes, Mrs. Hanson, explains much. “Well, it does, Nathan, it just does.” The woman didn’t like his comments and it was obvious by the scowl she maintained in his class the entire time she sat in the front room with her hands tightly clasping her opened Bible; it looked well used he thought but apparently not well understood. “The God of Abraham hasn’t forgotten His promises to Israel…”

The face clenched under the short trimmed red beard, “You’re voicing your own personal interpretation, Eli, on Scripture and teaching it as Biblical fact, as church doctrine. That is what people are having a problem with…”

He knew he wouldn’t get far, “Well, Jeremiah thirty-one…”

The attitude was there, “Don’t quote Scripture at me, Eli…” The voice was of course annoyed and it slightly carried in the large store, “I will not be preached at by you or anyone else. I didn’t come here to be preached at by the custodian. I will not be told by an employee who cleans toilets and picks up trash outside anything about the Bible or what to believe…” Pointing a stubby finger at Eli to make his point, “What Bible college have you ever attended?”

Eli had an answer he knew wouldn’t go far with this guy, “I did take an interesting course called the Institute of Jewish-Christian Studies…”

He sharply interrupted, “Taking a few correspondence courses means nothing, Eli. Not a real class or college class of any kind…”

“I enjoyed those classes, Nathan. I learned much. I even took a few Moody Bible classes….”

The look of course said it all, “So, no real Bible education, Eli? None, because none of those count for a degree in anything in the church.” He said it with a good sense of pride, “I went to Dallas Theological Seminary and then transferred to Northwestern and I have a degree in theology and know what I am talking about with far more authority than you…”

Eli let the guy talk. He knew better to get into any real debate with the guy who didn’t need much of a push to go on these ranting comments. In fact he once got into an argument because Eli, who had an interest in cryptozoology, commented that their might be places where prehistoric creatures might still roam. The fellows reaction was priceless as he launched and even got up and towered over Eli to make his point how absurd Eli was; mentioning the Coelacanth was a waste of time. Nathan didn’t approve of being proven wrong about anything. He left the room in a huff. Nathan was still talking.

“…I have a degree in theology, Eli. I don’t teach personal views or opinions of the Scriptures as some divine truth that only I know about…”

Eli was beginning to wonder who’s idea this meeting really was from. Pastor Dahl maybe as he had only been in charge a year and of late his preaching seemed to be hinting at something that at first Eli took no notice of but of late he had noticed something unpleasant entering his sermons. There was a hint of Jewish criticism of history, heritage and even life in his sermons lately. At first he thought maybe he was just mistaking his point in the sermon but there was last weeks sermon? What did the guy say about Israel and the covenants being more for the church than Israel? What did he do to Pastor Dahl to make him have this guy bring him ten miles away from the church for this dressing down? He kept his thoughts to himself for a bit; he only told one person of his concerns. And apparently that one person was the wrong person to talk to. The church he was a member of the last seven years was splintering into factions and it was becoming apparent other families wanted to leave. He had already lost a few friends do to them leaving the church.

Nathan was still pontificating, “I am now going again to Northwestern to get my pastoral degree. I don’t see you doing that. I don’t see you going anywhere near a Christian college anytime soon…

Eli wasn’t really sure where all this ranting was coming from let alone where it was going because it seemed a long list of complaints to complain about Eli Wiess and his refusal to not be Jewish in the church his fellow Jews founded; let alone that Jesus was a Jew. He studied Nathan carefully before he interrupted. He wondered what books this guy read and if he actually learned anything useful or important. Probably not was his final opinion on that subject as he interrupted this time.

“Nathan, Israel is still part of God’s plan, I know my prophets and I know my Messiah has not forsaken the Jews because the Apostle Paul, a Jewish rabbi, certainly preached for the salvation of the Jews and the restoration of Israel under the kingship of the Messiah…” He liked the reaction of the guy every time he said Messiah instead of Christ; petty yes, oh yes very petty, but needful very much so. Would he continue, hell yes! “The Apostle Paul preached the salvation of the Jew first at every town and city he reached and stayed in, Nathan…God has not forsaken Israel let alone given the church the promises He gave Abraham…” He shouldn’t have told Dave Olsen anything but he thought he knew the guy better than he did. He voiced his concerns and it was apparent it was not kept between them. “…Nathan, The Prophet Jeremiah said God would never forsake Israel…” He could see the interruption coming again, “God said He would keep His word to Abraham and the covenant He made with Abraham was an everlasting one…” Well, apparently Pastor Dahl wasn’t going to confront Eli personally so he sent Nathan to do it for him? It was still confusing thought Eli on a few details but he was getting the general idea it was time to move on from this changing church.

“You can believe whatever you want, Eli, but you will stop teaching your own personal views or opinions as Biblical doctrine. This is not the first time we have had to correct your behavior and teaching in the church. You were allowed to teach a class because you promised to stay with the church teachings on the subject of the church and God’s plan for the church…”

“I did.” Well, he kept his promise as long as it didn’t violate what he knew was true. And he told them that was what he would do; they apparently were not listening.

“You did not, Eli!” His voice rose enough for one young lady to look over at them, frown a bit, and then turn back to her book she was reading. “You directly ignored our leading on this matter….”

Eli was getting the impression that Nathan was trying very hard to get everything out that he was told to say and doing it badly. It was a disjointed bunch of words he thought but he decided to let him continue. He was piecing together some of the puzzle he was being forced to put together. Pastor Dahl upon being informed by Dave of Eli’s comments about his sermon dispatched Nathan to deal with the problem instead of a one on one talk like a normal person would do; let alone a Biblical one. Okay, that made somewhat sense. As for Mrs. Hanson? Nathan was still going on.

“…This church doesn’t need someone sowing discord, Eli…”

Eli studied the man with a look that should have said enough. That was already a problem and apparently Pastor Dahl was choosing to ignore it as long as possible. A worse thought came to him, or was he doing it on purpose to get rid of those who disagreed with Pastor Dahl’s preaching? He knew that one family had confronted the man in his office and it was not a pleasant discussion ending up a shouting match where it was apparent to any Christian listening that no one won. It was ugly.

“You are sowing discord within the church and toward the leadership of the church by your what your teaching…” Nathan stared at him as if that alone should have changed Eli’s attitude. “You’re teaching your own opinion as the truth of the Bible and not making it clear you are giving your opinion…”

“I’m teaching from the Scriptures, Nathan. I am simply quoting from the books of the prophets, mostly Jeremiah. They preached a new covenant between the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel…” He could see the expression growing more annoyed, “I teach from the Scriptures, Nathan, I don’t preach from any other book for the final authority in matters of faith…” He wondered what Mrs. Hanson had added to her apparent report to the Jewish heretic known as Eli? He could see the interruption coming, “Nathan, I have been teaching on Israel in the End Times and Israel has a place and a eternal destiny in God’s plan…”

The voice broke in sharp, impatient, “Look, it’s been reported that you even quoted as scripture from the Book of Enoch and even defended it’s usefulness as even helping in understanding Scripture. That’s un-biblical doctrine you’re quoting as the real words of the Bible…”

He had to say something, “I quoted from Jude and he quoted from the Book of Enoch. The Book of Enoch had been around for a few hundred years before Jude and apparently Jude read it in the same home as his older brother, Jesus…” He saw the nerve he hit and felt oddly at peace with the comment, “Apparently Jude knew of the Book of Enoch, quoted from the same book, and it’s in the Bible as the Epistle of Jude.” He did notice the same look in Mrs. Hanson’s eyes as well; but then again she didn’t smile much anyway. “Do I think Enoch belongs in the Bible, I don’t know nor is it going to be added anytime soon. But it’s an interesting book none the less and Jude did quote from it.”

“Not your place to add anything to Scripture, Eli.” The arms folded across the chest again, he sat back a bit, and studied and stared at Eli, “And certainly not your place to use material in your class that we as the church leadership deem inappropriate for teaching in any of our classes…”

“Even when quoted by an epistle in the Bible?” He knew to say it was going to cause problems but at the moment he didn’t care, “There are quit a number of books mentioned in the Bible we don’t have in our canon of Scripture, Nathan. They are there to be at least studied and researched and see what they say about the actual canon of Scripture.” Could the man look any more uptight thought Eli, “It’s a Jewish thing to study, to research, to explore the many sides of Torah, of Scripture…”

“Not your place, Eli!” The fist wanted to so badly to hit the table, “It’s your place to simply teach what the leadership of this church has authorized everyone to teach and from what materials. It isn’t your job to add to our teaching materials…”

“Sounds awfully boring for those in the class, Nathan. People want more than a routine Bible Study. In fact I was told by a few they enjoy my teaching and the extra materials I use to teach with…”

“You will teach as you are told to teach, Eli.”

“As I am told to teach? You’re serious about that? Is Pastor Dahl also that serious?” He knew the guy was serious because he was always serious. In fact ever since the new Pastor James Dahl entered the picture of the church things had been changing and even some people had already left already. “I’m to simply follow the guidelines of the material and bore my class. I don’t know how to do that, Nathan. I like what I am teaching and so do others. They like me bringing up extra Biblical writings and discussing them in relationship to the actual canon of the Bible….” Adding knowing the outcome, “It’s a Jewish thing, it’s how the Apostle Paul taught when he was at Athens. He quoted and spoke of other writings than weren’t even part of Jewish tradition or literature…He quoted pagan authors, Nathan…”

“Comparing yourself to the Apostle Paul, Eli? He was a learned Rabbi and had a education you don’t have…” He studied the guy across from him with a look that said it all, “Pastor Dahl is a fine man of God and a great teacher of the Bible. He knows far more than you do about the prophets and their prophicies about the Church and the Israel in prophecy. You have your personal view and it should stay as your personal view and not taught in a class. You were allowed to teach another class because you said you would stay within the courses material…”

He had to say it, “The class was getting bored, I could see them getting bored because they had hear it all before and taught the same way before. So, I changed it a bit to make it interesting…”

“It’s not your problem is they get bored. Maybe the real issue is a sin issue with some of them….”

“A sin issue? The class was getting bored…” He knew the guy wasn’t really listening and was simply repeating what the was told to say; that was obvious by the way he was talking. It came across as rehearsed. “I don’t see it as a sin issue, Nathan, it was a keeping them awake issue. And once I abandoned the material and spoke about other writings and materials the class got interested again…” Adding with a smile, “It’s a Jewish way of learning, we take a look at everything and go from there. Which is why the old saying is true, two Jews-three opinions…” Not a smile crossed the man’s unsmiling cold features, “It’s a way we Jews have been studying the Torah and scripture and everything else…”

“If that were true why did the Jews miss Jesus as Messiah?” It was spoken cold, almost with hostility.

Eli suspected it was coming to this point, “It was mostly the religious leaders rejected Jesus as Messiah. At the day of Pentecost before the Apostle Peter preached his sermon there were already 120 believers in Messiah. At the end of his sermon their was three thousand saved; good start for the fledgling Church of the Messiah. Their should have been more but the entire nation of Israel did not reject Jesus as Messiah…there were converts…”

He didn’t like being preached at of course, “I will not have the history of the church used to justify your causing division in this church. It will stop or we will find someone else to reach the rest of the class, Eli. You will cease from teaching anything but what you are told and you will do a better job at being an employee of the church…” He lowered his tone, “Or we can find ourselves another custodian.”

He also knew that was coming, “Have you ever read the Book of Enoch, Nathan?” Nathan was growing weary of the conversation or lack of whatever he was told to say thought Eli. “I’ve spent my life studying, as it’s called in Hebrew, Doresh, to study. It’s a Jewish thing, Nathan. It’s called seeking the truth of things and to seek what truths can be found in other places. The Apostle Paul certainly studied other books to be able to preach the sermon he did at Athens and to quote from their own playwrights and philosophers which he did and they recognized what he was preaching and saying to them…”

“You also need to stop pushing this Jewish nonsense of yours, you’re a Christian and no longer a Jew…”

“I will always be a Jew, Nathan. That’s not going to change.” He smiled a bit at the annoyed guy, “We started the Church and the Church is as Jewish as the Torah is….” He leaned a bit forward, he lowered his voice as it was apparent more people had come into the bookstore, “The Apostle Paul was a Jew and preached as a Jew and used as you like to call it the Old Testament as his Bible. He had only the Torah and the history and prophets to preach from and he preached the Messiah just fine….” He knew he was talking to a blank wall, “I’m a Jew, going to stay a Jew, and will teach as a Jew, Nathan. I will teach Doresh as that is the Jewish way to studying, exploring, and reading the Bible…”

He stood up annoyed, “You Jews are a stubborn people…”

“Yes, it’s how we’ve survived so long and why you still have a Bible in the first place because we sat down and wrote it all down and studied it and researched it and cherished it to the point that we would die for it to keep it alive.” He looked up at the man who really did look like he was going to give himself a stroke, “Nathan, God has not forsaken Israel, He will never forsake Israel and no about of replacement theology is going to change that fact of Scripture…”

“We will find a replacement for your class, Eli, as it is apparent you are not going to listen to the church correct you…”

“I don’t need correcting, Nathan. I haven’t replaced the promises to Israel by God to the Church like you and apparently Pastor Dahl has in your replacement theology….” Standing up, “The church has not replaced Israel in the promises or covenants made by God to Abraham…” He wondered why the guy wasn’t simply walking away, so he continued, “God has a special place in His heart for us stubborn Jews who have survived the last two thousand years of Christian love and preaching and then we survived the nightmare called the Holocaust to forge a nation in 1948. We are not going anywhere because God said so…”

He looked at Eli with a disgusted look, “I really dislike Jews, so damn sure that their God hasn’t moved unto someone else far more worthy of His promises than them…” And walked away with another comment under his breath.

Eli watched him leave and sat back down with his private tired thoughts; maybe he really should go back to the synagogue? He got up, drained the last of his hot chocolate, and walked out into the cold late November day and wondered what his dad was doing for the upcoming Hanukkah and wondered if the old man would mind if his son came for a visit?  This moment was a long time in coming he thought as he entered his beat up truck. Maybe it was time to simply go back to being a synagogue Jew? The church was no place for a Jew his dad once told him upon hearing of his son’s conversion some years ago. Maybe the old rabbi was correct, time to go home. He started up the truck and heading in that direction. He sat there a bit thinking of the mess that the church he was a member of for seven or so years was turning into. Even the guy who helped him to see Jesus as the Messiah was long gone; one of the first to leave. He had moved off to Iowa of all places with his wife and four daughters and became a pastor at a small church in Tama, Iowa. He had not heard from the guy in a long time; he lost touch or forgot about Eli? He was thinking in no particular order and he knew it. He simply just didn’t want to deal with it head on because he still had friends at the church. He would of course have to leave and do what? Really go back to a synagogue Jewish life and walk away from the truth of the Messiah? Could he even do that with a clear or clean conscious? His last close friend had also just recently left the church and was attending a smaller one. He did miss the synagogue and his father probably wouldn’t mind a visit from his son the Messiah believer. It would be Hanukkah next Sunday and he was now unemployed apparently, so what was stopping him? He looked at his cell phone, thought about calling the old man and asking but certainly he wouldn’t say no to his son celebrating with the family? He started up the cold engine, it sputtered and coughed into life, and he still sat there with his jumbled thoughts that solved nothing, lead nowhere, and accomplished even less. He was thinking too much and it wasn’t helping. He should just call the old man and talk to him about what to do next. But he of course knew the man’s answer. Get! Out! The problem really was that he had friends still there but how long would that last under Pastor Dahl? You’re thinking too much, Eli, his thoughts told him and making no sense. Maybe it was a mistake going to church in the first place? Did he not believe in Jesus the Messiah as the Messiah? What changed that? Did he really lose his faith in the Messiah? The church? But of late he had been having doubts or questions of what he believed? He felt stupid thinking this way but to he had to agree that of late the church he had once been part of was changing under the leadership of Pastor Dahl and not for the good or better for those who still wonder why their last pastor had resigned in the first place. Pastor Jeremy Johnson simply resigned and was gone. No answers, no explanations, no reason given but one day he was there and the next Sunday he announced he was resigning and then Assistant Pastor James Dahl was the new head of the church. The inner voice came up again, you’re thinking too much and none of it is going to be answered anytime soon. Could he walk away so easily from the faith he had in Jesus the Messiah? He hated the answer. He could always call his father? Despite his belief in Jesus his father didn’t avoid speaking to his one and only son. They simply didn’t discuss the issue of Jesus or the church. And Hanukkah was coming up in a few days and the family would expect him to show up. He would show up.

He started down Snelling Ave toward his dad’s synagogue near the Mississippi River area of St. Paul; his cell phone buzzed.

“Hey, Dad, what’s up…”

To the point, “Son, you sound unhappy. What’s wrong?”

He smiled a bit, “I’m heading in your direction, Dad….” He removed the L. A. Dodger cap and straightened a bit the kippah that of late he had been wearing even at church which really annoyed some people. Some people like it and told him so but that was becoming less and less lately. Factions were getting worse and the wrong one was taking over?

“Good…” The voice said joyfully, “Don’t look forward to five females in the house on Hanukkah and just me….I love your sisters and mother, but again, I need an ally…” Joking, “I know how Teyve felt…”

“Okay, Dad, okay…you know I will be there.”

The laugh said much, the serious tone said much as well, “So, tell me, what is the matter?”

He wanted to laugh just out of frustration but didn’t. “Dad….I’m too Jewish for my own good…”

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