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An Interview with Caren Goldman
co-author (with William Dols) of
Finding Jesus, Discovering Self:
Passages to Healing and Wholeness

Finding Jesus, Discovering SelfIn their new book Finding Jesus, Discovering Self, co-authors Caren Goldman and William Dols suggest a new way to read the Gospel stories. It is a method, they readily admit, that would be considered heresy by those convinced that human experience plays no part in divining sacred truth.

In contrast, their book is all about living into the stories of Jesus, using them as templates to which we apply our own experiences and, in so doing, discover the connections between his story and our own.

To find the “eternal truths hidden in each of our psyches and souls,” the authors ask that we move “the question ‘What does this text mean?’ to one side of your plate to make room for new questions that ask: ‘How do I experience this story in my life, in this time, in this place? How is this story an event in my family, my community, in the world around me?'”

This book was not written just for Christians. It is for those wishing to learn new ways of looking at the world around them, and inside them, using the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In the following interview, Caren Goldman talks about her own experience with these stories both as a Jewish woman and as someone who has written about spirituality and healing for more than 30 years.

Read an excerpt

Why do you, a Jewish woman who was both raised Jewish and actively practices her faith, choose to write about Jesus?

The most direct answer is that Jesus of Nazareth Caren Goldman was a Jew. He was born a Jew, he lived his life as a Jew, and he died a Jew. From what careful readings of ancient texts can tell me about him today, I have come to believe that he had an extraordinary and intimate relationship with his God and an authoritative sense of self. Yet, today most Jews know almost nothing about Jesus despite the fact that Jewish biblical scholars and authors such as Amy-Jill Levine, Joseph Klausner, Samuel Sandmel, Geza Vermes, Paula Fredriksen, and others have written about him.

Part of the problem in the Jewish community with the “J” word or “that man” exists because many Holocaust survivors and those born in the post Holocaust era were brought up not to ever—under any circumstances—mention Jesus’ name. In fact, it’s because of this mindset among many Orthodox Jews and a significant number of Jews of all the other denominations, I discuss my experience of the forbidden “J” word in an Endpaper in my book.

I will say that my self-disclosure in Finding Jesus ends with comments about my marriage to an Episcopal priest—someone who has always encouraged me to live my questions about Jesus and come to my own conclusions about who he was. Without such self-differentiation I don’t think I would feel as comfortable as I do attending services and functions at his church.

How do you approach biblical stories to make them relevant to our lives today?

I think a few comments about my book may help to answer your question. First, this book was written for “people of all faiths” or “no faith,” and it really is very different from other books about Jesus. That said, the way we approach biblical texts and make them relevant to our lives today will feel familiar to Jewish readers, because Jews have historically been very intrigued by the multiple layers of meaning in every bible story.

The reason that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans as well as agnostics and atheists find this book about Jesus a fascinating resource for their lives today is that Bill and I approach the stories in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke differently. Our goal is to let the text speak to each reader individually instead of layering and possibly smothering it with biblical scholarship, theology, and hackneyed answers about what it means.

In other words, we do not focus on telling readers what the text says. Instead, we allow each reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the text as well as the unspoken and unwritten words that might be hidden between the lines. Moreover, we also invite readers to engage the text in imaginative ways by using quotes and contemporary poetry and prose in order to help them to discover new paths leading to healing and wholeness in their lives.

After all, we lose something vital if we limit these stories to being 2000-year-old records of a man named Jesus of Nazareth, instead of seeing them as events not only happening in the world, our country, our communities and in our relationships to friends, co-workers, families, but also within us—in our hearts, our guts, our psyches, and our souls.

What is one of your favorite stories about Jesus and what does it mean to you?

That’s a hard question. Fifteen of my favorite stories about Jesus are in Finding Jesus, Discovering Self and 15 more favorite stories follow in a second volume that Bill and I are writing now. Since you are asking me that question today, I’ll respond that the story that pops up first is about the woman with the flow of blood. Tomorrow I might respond with the stories about the paralytic or the Samaritan.

The second part of your question, which asks what does it mean to me, is complex. Although the story is approximately 2000 years old and it remains the same each time I encounter it, I’m not the same each time. What the stories may or may not mean to me changes according to what informs and drives my inner and outer worldviews and the questions generated by the lens I use to filter or magnify what I see and feel. In this story, two words—“whole truth”—always arrest my attention, raise new questions, and call me to ponder over and over again what it means for me to uncover, discover, recover, and even attempt to acknowledge my “whole truth.”

Do you also approach the Hebrew scriptures, what Christians call the Old Testament, as you have the Gospel stories in Finding Jesus, Discovering Self?

This book only focuses on stories that appear in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, which are known as the synoptic gospels. However, Bill is the editor of Bible Workbench and I am a senior editor. It’s a life-based biblical resource designed for individuals, small groups and to aid preachers. A lectionary text is chosen for each Sunday and many of these are from the Jewish Bible.

As Bible Workbench editors and writers, we approach these texts in ways that are similar to the book. In other words, when groups meet to discuss the questions and other readings, participants do not have to explain or justify their responses and there is no need for consensus. It’s about living the questions and coming to one’s own conclusion. For obvious reasons, I love probing and diving into passages about Moses, Ruth, the creation and other stories from the Old Testament for Bible Workbench.

Were you surprised by the Jesus you found in the Gospels?

No past tense here. I am always surprised by the Jesus I find in the gospels.

What advice do you have for those who have a hard time connecting to scripture?

Put your old tapes and the layers of other people’s answers to what the text means on a shelf. It’s your shelf, so you can take what is yours off of it any time you want to. But before you do that, read some of these stories again and perhaps again, as though you are reading them for the very first time. Read them again with fresh eyes, open ears, and a curious heart and mind. Read them silently and aloud and see where they resonate with the world around and within.

For example, when Katrina struck and sucked the life out of New Orleans, who amongst us didn’t think literally and metaphorically about Noah and the great flood? Who amongst us didn’t wonder about such tragedies as Katrina in our own lives—those devastating events that flood those we love as well as us with questions that won’t go away. With questions that no one but us can live.

Read an excerpt

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Finding Jesus
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