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I was probably about 7 years old when I started camping out for hours at a time by the record player in our den, listening to the original Broadway soundtrack of “Fiddler on the Roof,” starring Zero Mostel. As a tiny little Texas girl in the 70’s, you might correctly assume that I had never actually seen the original Broadway cast perform “Fiddler on the Roof.”
You might also correctly assume that I had no real expertise with Judaism. Nevertheless, I loved “Fiddler.” The record liner notes explained enough of the play’s plot line that the songs took on significant meaning to me. More than anything else in my childhood, “Fiddler” gave me an affinity for Jewishness that to this day informs my view of Jesus and what it means to be a follower of His. I sang along, gustily, with “To Life” (I can only imagine my parents’ amusement as I tried to scratch out “L’Chaim” in a Texan-faux-Jewish accent), “Matchmaker,” and most of all, “Tradition.”
The mamas’ verse explained the role of women: “Who must know the way to make a proper home, a quiet home, a cultured home? Who must raise a family and run the home so Papa’s free to read the Holy Book? The Mama. the Mama! Tradition!”
Lately, the tradition is continuing with my kids. For some reason, we’ve been on a “Fiddler on the Roof” kick around here. Einstein was shocked when he found out I’ve never seen the movie after all these years.
(I’m a very loyal person. To me, Zero Mostel was Tevye, and I could not bring myself to watch Topol as Tevye. This seemed like more logical reasoning before Einstein pointed out that I’d never actually met either actor and that the movie had been made when I was two years old. Topol was hardly the “new” Tevye I had made him out to be, Einstein said.)
So we watched the movie all together. It went fine. My loyalty to Zero Mostel aside, I was not nearly as disillusioned as I’d feared I would be. However, that does not mean the film did not shock me, because it did.
Now, we’ve all heard funny instances of misheard lyrics to songs. Some are quite famous. My favorite that I have read about is a woman who misheard Culture Club’s “I’ll Tumble For Ya” as, “I’ll tell Bill Moyers.” My favorite one in my family is that Honey used to think Phil Collins was singing, “She seems to have an invisible tough shit,” instead of the more tame “invisible touch (yeah).”
But I, well, I just spent the last thirty-five years assuming that Jewish women valued a cultured home above everything except propriety and quiet, when in fact the song clearly stresses that they want to make a kosher home.
Suddenly, the song made a lot more sense. I thought it was nice that these women wanted to make cultured homes, but within the context of a poor Russian village barely eking out a living, it seemed a smidge ambitious, not to mention unrealistic. But a kosher home? That was admirable, realistic, and entirely understandable.
It’s no secret that I’ve been in the middle of a faith crisis most of the fall. I’ve written here about my discontent, my questions, my disappointment in the American Christian status quo. I’ve left even more unwritten.
But mercy has helped tremendously in this time. When you have written about mercy as a word meaning “womb,” when you have reminded me that mercy isn’t silent, when you have told us about people who actively practice mercy, you have reminded me over and over again that I don’t see it all.
In John 4, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, and they start talking about living water. Jesus tells her to go bring her husband back, and she tells Him she isn’t married. No, He tells her, you’re not. You’ve been married five times and now you’re with a man who is not your husband.
And her response? She runs into town, telling everyone that Jesus knew everything she’d ever done. She brought them back to see Him! Why? Mercy. Mercy in the face of what must have been scandalous to everyone else.
No, I don’t see it all, and I may even be misunderstanding some of what I do see and hear. I may “know” things that sound almost exactly like the truth, and may not even be objectionable, but they’re not really the truth.
It’s the difference between hearing “cultured” and “kosher.” It’s ignorance, and it’s not mean-spirited, but it sure is going to clear things up when I know better.
Mercy comes along and takes me by surprise. It opens my eyes. It makes room for more and more people to enter the presence of Christ. It challenges the status quo, but the mercy of God is never harsh. Jesus was a straightforward speaker to all, but His abruptness was reserved for religious legalists and money changers. For everyone else, everyone who walked around less sure of themselves, He had healing. Kindness. Friendship. Mercy. Forgiveness. A call to holiness.
I can keep on singing the wrong words, but eventually, when I find out I’ve been mistaken, I’ll feel embarrassed. Silly. Foolish. Ignorant, maybe even stupid.
How could I have missed it for so long?
Lord, give me ears to hear. Give me a heart willing to offer grace. Help me let go of what I think I know, so that I can learn more of who You really are. Let me be willing to be caught off-guard, ready to be taken by surprise again by Your mercy.