I went to Lübeck, Germany, this summer to explore my recently discovered Jewish roots. My grandfather built a successful ironworks plant in Lübeck and lived there until he and my grandmother were sent to the concentration camp where he died. I wanted to visit St. Mary’s Church, where my grandparents brought my father to be baptized as a toddler.
Changes of mind aren’t superficial or easy things. Mine have usually come as forced exits from the comfort of myself to somewhere more painful. I have had to learn to be beside myself.Looking back three decades, I see that the reception of the sacrament began gradually to set me aside, to place me beside myself, and, equally slowly, to make of my studies less an instrument for self-gratification and the domination of others and more an ecstasy of response to God.
"What causes you to become discouraged?” I asked a visitor from eastern Congo who started a university in that country a few years ago. He told me that the school had grown from 200 to 500 to 800 students, and that it was adding new areas of study. I was impressed as he described the intersections of pastoral training, agriculture and health.
One day in the early 1990s when the news was filled with the story of the Menendez brothers, my wife, Jane, was driving with our three-year-old daughter, Callie. A reporter said something about the Menendez brothers killing their parents and Callie asked, “Did they say ‘kill their parents’?” to which Jane quickly replied, “Yes, they were bad boys, weren’t they? We don’t kill our parents.”
Oliver Sacks, neurologist and writer about the quirks of the brain, grew up in a strictly observant Orthodox Jewish family. When he was 18 his mother found out he was gay and told him she wished he had never been born. As an adult he chose not to follow the religion and rituals of his parents. But eventually Sacks came to see the value of sabbath observance. As he lay dying, he found his “thoughts drifting to the sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.” Sacks died in August (New York Times, August 14).