A Baptist Among the Jews
by Cindy Crosby
A funny thing happened to Mary Blye Howe went looking for insights about her Christianity. She found a deeper Christian faith through the unlikeliest of venues: Jewish houses of worship. She describes her journey in A Baptist Among the Jews.
Growing up Southern Baptist, Howe says, "I pretty much accepted everything I was told." After joining a Cooperative Baptist congregation in her early 40s, she found a new way of looking at Scripture that was more imaginative and thoughtful. "Before, I just had pat answers," Howe says. "And then, God came out of God's box."
That process accelerated five years ago when Howe went to an interfaith service that included some Jewish participants. As a student of anthropology and philosophy at the University of Texas in Arlington (Howe returned to school in midlife, graduating in 2001), she was intrigued. She decided to drop in on a group studying Jewish philosophy, and that was an epiphany. "I fell madly in love with the Jewish faith," Howe says. "The more I heard, the more I wanted to know.
That passionate curiosity took her to Judaism's many-faceted communities: Reform temples, Jewish Renewal home study groups, Hasidic synagogues. Everywhere Howe went, she was welcomed with open arms. "I imagine they were leery of me at first – I mean, I was a Baptist!" she says. "But I had absolutely no intention of trying to convert them. My sole purpose in being there was to expand my experience and vision of God."
Howe's book is a compelling account of these experiences and how they revitalized her faith, especially her literal view of the Bible. "My new church helped change that, but the Jews transformed it," Howe says. "They look much deeper into Scripture, past the literal view and simple application. They have a wonder and an awe at all the intricacies. Now, when I approach the Bible, I see it as a book that's filled with mystery and this is the same book that held no mystery for me before."
Howe is not afraid to laugh at her faux pas, whether it's talking during ritual silences, mispronouncing yarmulke, or trying to buy a Coke on Shabbat. Despite her missteps, her Jewish friends' loving acceptance and encouragement helped her grow in understanding. "Looking back, I can't believe I used to think I could tell you everything about God," Howe says. "Getting involved with Judaism has expanded my vision. "
The book boasts an impressive and diverse list of endorsements. Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, the former president of the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, shares blurb space with Dr. Jimmy R. Allen, former president of the SouthernBaptist Convention. Christianity Today editor-at-large John Wilson wrote the foreword, and Lawrence Kushner, Rabbi-in-Residence at Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, the afterword. Kushner calls the book "a kind of Lewis and Clark report of a mission of exploration" for Christians, adding that Howe "has acquired a remarkably clear vision of Judaism."
The book will be officially launched at the Christian Booksellers Association's International Convention in Orlando, Fla., in July, and Jossey-Bass plans to advertise to both Christian and Jewish markets, according to publicist Sara Long. Howe will sign at the June Cooperative Baptist Fellowship conference, and Jossey-Bass also has nominated the book for inclusion in the Parable and Munce Marketing Group catalogues.
The book illustrates "the best impulse" of the Jossey-Bass Religion in Practice line, says editor Mark Kerr. "Our books tend to help nourish, sustain and direct those with spiritual hunger on their own journeys," Kerr says. "For Mary, it is a journey toward a deeper, more real understanding of God and the Bible through Judaism. I think we can all learn from Mary's hunger for God and from her honest spiritual quest."
Mary Blye Howe writes regularly for PRISM Magazine. Look for her article, "God of the Jews," in the July/August 2003 issue of PRISM. This review originally appeared in the 3.24.03 issue of Publishers Weekly Magazine. It is reproduced here by kind permission of the editors.