Celebrating The Chutzpah of Crazy Jewish Moms

Confession: following Crazy Jewish Mom on Instagram is one of my social media guilty pleasures.

Kate Seigel created the account just a few months ago, and already has nearly half a million followers. On it, Kate shares “daily posts of actual texts with my neurotic, Jewish mother,” screen shots of her Mom’s hysterical (in both senses of the word) concerns about Kate’s safety (she lives in Brooklyn), her weight (hit the gym already), and most frequently, about Kate’s PROSPECTS.

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Despite the fact that Kate has a job (she works as an associate producer at Conde Naste) and has a boyfriend (Superjew), her Crazy Jewish Mom is relentless in her zeal to see Kate married to a Jewish guy with Money Prospects; preferably a doctor. So she can have babies. Stat. Because, at 25, Kate’s eggs are catapulting towards their expiry date and She. Wants. Grandchildren.

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My husband caught me wheezing with laughter late one night, and asked what was going on. I showed him the Crazy Jewish Mom account, which he immediately ruled out as being a fake. Surely no-one could be that crazy? But Spiegel insists that the texts are legit, and Heavy recently ran an expose on the mother’s identity.

I’ll admit that Crazy Jewish Mom’s texts seem alarmingly Over The Top: I can’t imagine my own Mom ever sending me anything in the same vein, but as I’ve been thinking over Crazy Jewish Mom, I’m reminded that what this Crazy Mama wants is remarkably recognizable: she wants her child to marry well and have children. She wants her to be safe. And if she has to call up her Crazy Side to make it happen, she’s willing to do it.

Crazy Jewish Mom may be a one of a kind Instagram sensation, but she is one in a very long line of sensational Jewish moms whose behavior may have seemed crazy at the time, but was borne out of love. One of the first Jewish moms in history, Rebekah, pioneered the path of crazy mama-bearness as she orchestrated for her favored son Jacob to receive his father’s deathbed blessing rather than his brother. The deception involved tricking a hearty stew and dressing smooth-skinned Jacob in goat’s fleece, so that their near-blind father would mistake him for his significantly hairier sibling. “Obey me,” hustled Rebekah, “so that he may bless you before his death,” (v10), and when Jacob protests she accepts full responsibility: “your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go.” (v13)

Anything, anything, to secure a blessed future for her darling boy.

Just a few generations later, Tamar worked up a highly sketchy plan when her Father-in-law, Judah, reneged on his promise to give her, a widow twice over, a third son by whom she could bear children and continue the family line. Knowing that Judah had no intention of giving her a Sperminator, she took matters into her own hands and stationed herself dressed as a prostitute along one of Judah’s trade routes. (She may as well have been following CJM’s advice: No ring on finger? Do not linger!)

Not recognizing her, Tamar’s Father-in-law propositioned her, and she secured his signet ring and staff as a downpayment for the fee which he promised later. Months went by, and Judah heard that his widowed daughter-in-law was pregnant (SCANDAL!), and sent for her to be stoned to death for her infidelity. Instead, she sent a note. With a signet ring and staff. “Remember these?” was the message.

Judah’s verdict on the situation is stunning: “She is more righteous than I,” he concludes (v26). He knew he owed her a family, and had failed to do so. And so, Tamar too, joined the ranks of famous Crazy Jewish Mamas, giving birth to twins by Judah.

I don’t think a discussion of Crazy Jewish Moms would be respectable unless we also made mention of Naomi, the Crazy Jewish Mother-in-Law, who herself showed something of a flare for the dramatic: “Don’t call me Naomi (which means pleasant)!” she cries in her grief. “Call me Mara (which means bitter), because the Almighty has made me bitter.” I’m so sad I’m changing my name.

However, her screaming soon gives way to scheming, and when Ruth providentially finds herself scouring a neighbors field for left-over food, Naomi is quick to point out that this neighbor is in a position to be more than a little neighborly towards them, as he is in fact Boaz: a relative who can bail them out of their situation. This, then, is the plan she suggests to guileless Ruth: take a bath, dress up fancy, put on perfume, and then wait until after the work party when Boaz is sleepy and full of wine and passes out on a pile of wheat on the threshing floor. Then sneak up to him in the dark, and uncover his feet (and here, read Jewish for “feet”, which means “nether regions”). When he wakes up, coaches Naomi, he’ll tell you what to do.

I’ll bet.

Crazy. Jewish. Mom.

Each of them careful, clever, and risking all to secure the best future for their children. Each of them wanting their children to receive the full blessings of Abraham’s promises.

Jesus had some crazy Jewish grandmothers: Rebekah, Tamar and Naomi’s schemes all gave them featured spots in the Messiah’s genealogy. And so it seems to me that there’s something innately blessed about that heritage of Crazy Jewish Moms: seeking the best for their children, and God being able to redeem the crazy in surprisingly wonderful ways.

Of course, not all ambitious moms were so honored. Samuel and Kings tell of a host of crazy Jewish moms who hatched EVIL plots to bump off contesters for the throne so that their sons might be king (I suppose these days, if you substitute “Cornell Plastic Surgeon” for “King” you might see some parallels), and Jesus himself had that famous conversation with James and John’s mom who came over to quietly negotiate a “spot in glory on his right and his left” for her two boys.

Maternal ambition doesn’t get a free pass on the crazy.

But I do think God knows that Moms have a soft spot for doing what we can to see that our children have every opportunity, and miss no blessing. And I am mindful that, on this side of history where the blessings of Abraham have been fulfilled in Jesus and are passed down to all those who are of his “seed” by faith, that wheedling to make sure our kids are best positioned for a full life remains part of my job as a Mom.

Of course, that has nothing to do with introducing them to a man with an Ivy League education, and everything to do with introducing them to Jesus. Even if that means crazy things like reading them the same book at bedtime year after year after year, being nosy about who they date, and insisting that they go to church.

Because I want them to have the very best prospects for the future, I’m embracing a little Crazy Jewish Mom in me, too.

 

The Verse I’d Never Seen Before

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Sometime in my 20’s, I started to cry. The transformation was astonishing: from being the Kid Who Didn’t Cry, I became the One Guaranteed To Blub. I cried during commercials, during Oprah, during weddings, and every-time-without-fail : I cried at baptisms. The beauty of seeing a believer washed new; brave and bold and dripping with the passion of one reborn undid me every time.

And so it was, a few months back, that I sat crying as I witnessed a baptism one Sunday morning: wiping tears as I corralled the toddler with one arm and a bribing snack, shushed the preschooler who was pretending to be a fighter pilot, and snuggled my 6-year old close. My tears dripped off my chin and onto her hair, and I wondered how bad the crying would be on the day when it was my own children in the baptismal font. If a stranger’s baptism undid me so, I would for sure be bawling when my own children’s day came. I wallowed in dramatic thought a moment longer: “do you know what would make me really ugly cry?” I thought. “If their dad were to baptize them.” I had seen some pastor friends baptize their kids. The mental image was exquisitely poignant.

Later that night, I broached the topic with my husband. “When the time comes, “ I asked, “do you think you would like to baptize our kids?” He mulled it over for a moment and shrugged: “not really.” I nodded, a little disappointed. Maybe he would be more excited about the idea in the future.

A few weeks later, I found myself sitting huddled at my dining table in the early morning dark, scrambling to finish reading Matthew’s gospel before my BSF small group. Even though I was in a hurry, something pulled me to a stop. Jesus’s words in Matthew 28:18-20 leapt off the page:

“(18) All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (20) And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I read it again, and again. And I cried.

How was it that I had never seen verse 19b? As a woman – how had I never seen that?

I knew that the promises belonged to me: the One who has all authority in heaven and on earth (v18) is the one who is always with me, even to the end of the age (v20b).

I knew too that the Great Commission applied to me: I, too, was called to go and make disciples of all nations (v19a), and to teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded (v20). Surely this was my overarching goal as a Mom: to disciple my children as disciples of Christ.

And yet, I had never seen the permission – no, the mandate – to be one who baptized too (v19). For years I had lived, loved and served in a church where men did the preaching and the officiating of communion and all the baptizing (for these were pastoral, and therefore male, functions). And since I had never, ever seen a woman baptize, I had never, ever seen verse 19 commissioning me, as a woman, to one who is enjoined in the calling, reaching, baptizing and discipling work of the Great Commission.

Later that night, I settled down next to my husband on the couch. “Honey, remember I asked you whether you wanted to baptize our kids? Well, this morning I was reading in Matthew, and it occurred to me that if Jesus has called me in the Great Commission to disciple our kids and to teach our kids… don’t you think I should be able to do the middle bit too – and baptize them? Because I’d love to. I mean, if they wanted it, and it was okay with you. But I’d love to – and I just never even thought it was a possibility.”

He looked up and paused. “I don’t see why not,” he said, “if you want to.”

I do want to.

I do. And as it turns out, Matthew 28 says it is allowed: not just as a concession, but in fact as a command. For I, as a woman, am one of the beloved disciples he has called and commissioned.

And so, when the time comes, I would love to be able to baptize our children in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Even if I cry the whole way through. They would be tears of joy.

 

Photo credit: Rishi Bandopadhay (The Water Pours Freely), licensed with Flickr Creative Commons (edits by Bronwyn Lea)

The Case for Excommunication

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This was meant to be a no-blogging week, but I have a story to tell and now is the time to tell it.

Why now?

Well, last week Leadership Journal published an article written by a former youth pastor and convicted sexual predator entitled “My Easy Trip From Youth Minister to Felon“. I do not want to detail the ins and outs of the article, and to their credit – Leadership Journal took the article down and issued an apology.

(If you do want some quick background, though, I would refer you to the hashtags #takedownthatpost and #howoldwereyou on Twitter if you would like to read up on the outcry for justice that erupted after this post. Also, I would commend to you Karen Swallow Prior’s #HowOldWereYou: Origins of a Heartbreaking Hashtag and Halee Gray Scott’s To Publish a Predator. If you read nothing else on this topic, read those two.)

This is not a post about sexual predators in the church, though. This is a post to say that at times like this, I want to make a case for us to take the Bible’s words about church discipline, or excommunication, to heart.

In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus spoke about how we were to deal with situations where a Christian sins against another – calling for an increasing number of witnesses and publicity if the person does not repent. If the person did not fully repent, Jesus said to treat them as “a Gentile or a tax collector” (in other words, outside of the worshiping community). Such a public “binding” would be reflective of a heavenly binding, said Jesus: the words we speak corporately against egregious deeds echo in the heavens.

In 1 Corinthians 5:1-12, Paul wrote to a church where some had been caught in terrible sexual sin – and the community had done nothing about it. Paul had strong words for this church, who had “become arrogant and had not mourned instead, so that the one who did this would be removed from your midst.” Rather than turn a blind eye, they should have spoken up and dealt with the couple – excluding them from fellowship to show them the grievous nature of what they had done. This expulsion, or “handing over to Satan”, was hoped to show the offender the seriousness of what they had done, in the hopes that the “wake up call” would bring them to repentance (v5).

Furthermore, Paul says, to fail to exclude them from fellowship would mean that the church was keeping a breeding evil in its midst: it would be keeping “leaven in a lump of dough” – a combination which could only lead to further spiritual and moral fermentation (v6-7).

Waste no time: said the Apostle. Deal with this kind of stuff swiftly.

I am not unaware of some of the incredible difficulties that might come from putting this into practice. Abusive and cult-like churches can quickly turn these passages into licenses for witch-hunts and a paranoid control of others’ lives. In addition to the problems of the abuse of this practice, there is also the problem of discerning when it should be applied: should all young couples who are known to be engaging in pre-marital sex be called out? What about those who download pirated movies? Or use their cellphones while driving?

We are always in danger of hypocrisy here: none of us are without sin; none of us qualified to throw the first stone. The threats of being piecemeal, hypocritical and partisan are tremendous, not to mention the damage we fear it would do to the church’s reputation as a place of grace and welcome. How would we communicate grace if our community knew we were people who sometimes singled out unrepentant sinners?

These considerations are enough to stymie almost every church I know into a position of passivity in the face of gross sin. But when I read this last week’s articles – I was reminded of a story I want to tell.

I once attended a church where someone was excommunicated. The situation was this: an elder in our church had decided to abandon his wife. I knew the couple well, and his behavior tore our community apart. Those who served with him and under him in church were angry and felt betrayed. Those who loved them both were hurt and bewildered. Those who watched his young wife respond with an almost impossible amount of grace and strength were heartbroken. We all felt so helpless. Our pastor spoke with him: he would not change his mind. A few more elders went to see him a second time: he would still not change his mind. And finally, after much prayer and consideration, a closed meeting of church members only was called after one Sunday morning service – and in it, our leaders announced that he was officially being removed from our church community as a response to his behavior.

Granted: the man was not there and did not hear what was said (he received a letter informing him of the decision after the fact). Granted: he could easily have attended the church around the corner who would have been none the wiser about what had happened behind our closed doors. BUT those 10 minutes of church discipline (the only I have ever seen enacted in my 30+ years of church attendance) made a significant etch on my soul – for in that moment, our community named what he did as unacceptable. We called it sin. We took a side. Doing so brought a clarity and a relief to our hurting community who had felt so helpless in the face of someone who had been causing hurt. We said “that’s not okay, and God says it’s not okay,” and just the saying of it made a difference.

I am reminded of this one incident, more than a dozen years ago, when I read of pastors committing sexual offenses against parishioners in their churches.

Yes, they should be prosecuted by law. Yes, they should be fired.

But for the health of our communities – they should also be excommunicated. There is healing in a hurting community standing together and saying “that is NOT right, and we will not have it here.” It is an extreme thing to do- but it occurs to me that in these extreme cases which cause extreme pain, it is appropriate. The hurting church is not without remedy to call out evil.

And more than that: I believe the Gospel demands it.