When Tradition Conflicts With Gifting {Book Club}

From the start of My Name is Asher Lev (by Chaim Potok) Asher jumps right into today’s theme of staying firmly rooted in a religion yet experiencing giftings and/or beliefs that might be in conflict with either the tradition or others within the tradition.

The book starts:

I am an observant Jew. Yes, of course, observant Jews do not paint crucifixions. As a matter of fact, observant Jews do not paint at all — in the way that I am painting. So strong words are begin written and spoken about me, myths are being generated: I am a traitor, an apostate, a self-hater, an inflicter of shame upon my family, my friends, my people; also, I am a mocker of ideas sacred to Christians, a blasphemous manipulator of modes and forms revered by Gentiles for two thousand years.

Well, I am none of those things. And yet, in all honesty, I confess that my accusers are not altogether wrong; I am indeed, in some ways, all of those things.

The fact is that gossip, rumors, myth making, and news stories are not appropriate vehicles for the communication of nuances of truth, those subtle tonalities that are often the truly crucial elements in a casual chain. So it is time for the defense, for a long session in demythology. But I will not apologize. It is absurd to apologize for a mystery.

(Side note, isn’t his writing stunning?)

Early in the book, we see Asher’s gift –a calling–to be an artist. Yet his father is vehemently opposed, at first thinking it is just the foolishness of childhood, later an active participation with darkness. His mom, sensing that if they force Asher to choose, he will choose art, tries to find ways to encourage him to use his talents to “make the world pretty.” Later, we’ll meet an artist who chose to relieve the tension between his calling as an artist and his faith by choosing art over observant faith.

Yet Asher never wants to turn his back on either. He sees himself as a Jew, a Jewish son, a member of the Rebbe’s flock who, at a young age is compelled to draw and paint.

What are your thoughts on the ways the various characters –Asher, Rivkeh (Mom), Aryeh (Father), his uncle, Yudel Krinsky, and the Rebbe– approach the traditions of their faith in light of giftings that may be in tension with tradition.

The Rebbe seems to be a sensible man, by this I mean not someone who is spiritually abusive (as we sadly know cannot be said of everyone with authority within religious systems) and is trying to help all three members of the family: Asher, his mom, and his dad. There is need for our lives of faith to be open to change and growth, but that doesn’t mean “anything goes.” How do you know when to hold firm and when to be open to change? How do we help those we love navigate the waters of a living faith that honors tradition when they might be in tension with an aspect you hold dear?

I have a feeling these themes are near and dear to many of us as we have friends and family members who are walking paths that might involve decisions different to the one Asher made to stay within his faith. What have been some of the biggest challenges for you and your family? What changes have you personally experienced? I look forward to the discussions!

Next week, August 19, we will explore themes of calling/ gifting and being misunderstood (roughly have finished Part 2).

And on August 26 we will explore themes of tensions that may exist between art and religion and the ways the characters changed over the book (have finished the book).

See you in the comments!



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  1. Julia August 12, 2014

    I would guess many of us who have served abroad have “giftings and/or beliefs that might be in conflict with either the tradition or others within the tradition.”

    There is a divide between what evangelicals value (close family ties) and what we more theoretically affirm as true and necessary (going forth to make disciples).  Letting go of a family member who has a call and gifting to serve in another cultural context often causes tension because of these two conflicting ideals.

    There is a strong cultural pressure for children to stay near their families, to show that they have a close relationship and to be able to help one another at practical levels.  Asher Lev and his family experienced similar strains.  How could his parents allow him to go off and do his own thing?  Both Asher and his parents risked guilt and shame from the religious community.  Yet his mother recognized that he would only be fulfilled as a person when he was free to develop and use his unusual gift.

    In my case, I think it was hard for my mother to let me go abroad because of the questioning she got from her peers.  How could she let her daughter go so far away?  At the same time she realized that I was compelled to go and wanted to be supportive.  Yet she was not always supported by those around her, which made it difficult for her.

    You also asked “how do we help those we love navigate the waters of a living faith that honors tradition when they might be in tension with an aspect you hold dear?”.

    In our current situation where we are involved with young people who are exploring possibilities for future service abroad, it is frustrating where parents and local faith communities stand as a barrier.  It seems they want to keep the next generation close, in order to serve their desires for their family and faith community rather than looking beyond their comfort zone.  It seems that we are cheering these young adults one way, while their families are pulling them in another.  I guess mostly we need to pray that His will be done in their hearts and that they will work out their calling and accept the costs involved.

    1. Amy Young August 15, 2014


      So many thoughts in response to this :)! My first one is, I’m grateful that young people have folks like you to help them navigate these complex waters — where home culture, foreign culture, and biblical culture may seem in tension (and certainly CAN be in tension!). But I’m thankful for those, like you, who have lived with the tension and can now pour into “the next generation.”

      I was wondering if you (or others) wondered about roles that may be denied in one context due to tradition, but are allowed, even valued, in another (in case I’m being vague, I’ve noticed that women in my org could have certain roles that the church in their home countries might not have allowed or even had avenues for). This is a part of tradition and gifting I’ve wrestled with.

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