At David Brooks urging (not personally, mind you, I read his column) I ordered, received, and read amidst the High Holy days nuttiness, a very interesting and fun read called Radical, by David Platt, a young mega-church pastor from Birmingham, Alabama. It's the first time I ever read so much about someone's relationship to Jesus during this time period so I have to admit to it being a bit of an unusual experience, but nonetheless, it's been fun disagreeing with a writer who is passionate about his faith that he may even be blind to his own intolerance of other faiths. Nonetheless, one of his core critiques is on the money (as it were.)
Platt's main thesis, as expressed in the book's sub-title, "Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream," is an attempt to distill the radical nature of Jesus' gospels into a total re-orientation of spiritual life away from the materialism of the day to day (as exemplified by the beautiful mega-churches he leads) and back toward a true embrace of Jesus' message. Being a good Pharisee himself, Jesus understood quite well what the Sages were getting at when they themselves espoused a relationship to Torah and commandedness that it is truly radical and any study of Pirke Avot, the classical collection of early Rabbinic ethics, will shed light on their non-material sensibility and insistence that God is found in the devotion to words of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot.
Why, even that classically liberal Jewish way of translating the word mitzvah as "good deed" presumes that the point of its performance is to make us feel good about having done it, when in fact, the Sages themselves taught that the "reward for a mitzvah is the obligation to perform another mitzvah!" It ain't about us. So true!
He tells some really moving stories; occasionally misses the opportunity to embrace American religious pluralism (during one odd interlude he misreads Hindu ritual as too idolatrous and dangerously non-Christian while seemingly ignoring the relationship to sacrifice and denial that I would have thought he'd admire); and writes passionately about the hunger for learning basic texts in his community, inspired by praying with Christian communities under duress in foreign lands, that echos, to a degree, what I see among young Jews--a deep need to understand the basic stories of tradition and a willingness to be taught. He runs far afield of rational discourse in his harshly strict view of Jesus' uniquely salvific power and it's too bad--he has much to share in his zeal yet has not yet fully matured into grasping what unites so many faith traditions.
In our own community in Brooklyn, we're not a mega-synagogue though we have alot going on and we have a community whose material values are very much in order. It's a caring, socially conscious community. Nonetheless, his message of a raw relationship to God and the words and texts of Tradition is an inspiring one. We'll have to check this young man's travel schedule. Maybe it's time he gave a talk in a Shul in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, it's an enjoyable read and I recommend it.