Growing up Jewish in a conservative small town wasn’t always easy, especially around the holidays. It was even more difficult because my dad’s side of the family, who I grew up with, was Catholic.
I was an outsider in my own family. Sure, I was never treated that way. I was always loved and accepted for who I was. But I couldn’t help but feel like I was different because I was invested in my Jewish faith.
Every year around Christmas (or whenever one of my millions of cousins got christened or baptized), I would go to church. It was a strange and uncomfortable feeling.
It was nothing like going to the temple. At the temple, they had cushioned seats, old Jewish people adoring me and most importantly, the after party (or the oneg, as it's actually called).
Church was different. It had cold hard pews, a lot of kneeling, creepy, looming stained-glass art and the most dreaded part: getting communion. This was never an issue when I was younger.
But once I reached communion age, I started to feel the stares of the churchgoers, as they were wondering why I wasn’t getting my cracker. Due to this isolated feeling, any and all things Christian gave me that twinge in my stomach that I didn’t belong.
Then, in college, my good friend was writing a paper on the depiction of Jesus in films and TV. She didn’t want to suffer through "The Passion Of The Christ" alone, so I watched it with her. It wasn't the best way to ease me on to Team Jesus.
If anything, it only confirmed my fears and worries. So, we decided to watch "The Passion Of The Jew" episode of "South Park" as a palate cleanser.
But I didn’t give up. There was still "Jesus Christ Superstar," and the sing-along promised that it would be a much more down-to -earth movie. It was.
We ended up spending hours, days, weeks and even months discussing Jesus as a person. He was just a super chill dude, spreading messages of peace and love. What’s not to like? Plus, he was a nice Jewish boy.
Because he was a nice Jewish boy, we have a lot of the same values and beliefs. Jesus believed in personal faith, rather than forcing your faith upon others. He believed in paying taxes, and the separation of church and state.
He believed in feeding, clothing and helping the needy. He had friends of all races and statuses. You could even say Jesus was the first social justice warrior.
But it seems his message has gotten a little out of hand. The reason I feel uncomfortable in overly conservative Christian environments is not because of faith in Jesus, but rather because of faith in the version of Jesus the Christians have created.
Listening to the Republican debates confuses me on a visceral level. Talk of deportation, lowering taxes, islamophobia and shutting down women’s health care facilities doesn’t sound like the type of world Jesus would have supported. Yet, all this is done in his name. Jesus has become the white-washed symbol for American political privilege.
I’m not saying all conservative Christians are like this. Not by a long shot.
My father’s family members are incredibly caring and loving people. They are my go-to when it comes to what it means to be Catholic. But when every story on the news talks about what Donald Trump’s favorite bible passage is or Ben Carson's belief that Muslims can’t be president, it’s hard to see where the line is between president and the new American pope.
Religion has no place in politics: It’s as plain as that. This country was founded on the separation of church and state. Yet, somehow, Jesus’ name keeps getting dragged through the mud.
I am here to say that I genuinely love Jesus for who he was: a Jew spreading love and acceptance. He will never be my Lord and Savior, and he will never be my messiah. I’m an Old Testament kind of girl. But, I can still love Jesus as a cultural icon, in the way others love Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.
Jesus just wanted the world to be a better place. So, let’s all take a lesson from Jesus and take the time to think about others, instead of always thinking about ourselves.
Let’s take the ego trip down a notch (or 12). Let’s take Jesus out of politics.
I love the guy, but I know he would agree. After all, Jesus is my homeboy.