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Fear and Trembling

25 January 2007

Tonight I went down to my parents’ house obstensively to pick up some money that my father owed me, and to have dinner, but in reality I had an ulterior motive — to tell my parents about my decision to convert to Judaism. I wasn’t really sure how my parents were going to take it, but I had a few fears and ideas of how they might be freaked out, disappointed, pained or confused by what may seem to them as an odd and incomprehensible decision on my part. So, we went out to dinner, had pleasant conversation, and it was amusing and ironic to me how we kept seeming to come upon the topic of religion in our conversation, as if the universe were guiding us towards the inevitable conversation. I know my mom has a touch of psychic in her, and my ears pricked up during Christmas Eve dinner when she came over with my dad and my sister and Quinn were here, and she suggested we say grace before the meal. Anyone who knows my mother, knows she never thinks in that dimension and I’ve never ever seen her suggest grace before in my entire life.

In any case, after dinner we went back to my parents house and I told them I had something to share with them. I sat them down, and had the talk. I started off with a question of them if they had noticed that I had pretty much left the Christian faith years ago because I didn’t find a home there, and that I had been on a journey or a search for meaning and for connection with divinity for a long time since. I told them how I took on many different ideas and philosophies, exploring everything from paganism to buddhism to atheism to Rosicrucianism, but nothing worked perfectly. I told them how I’ve been around Judaism for years, and no one — not Julie or any of her family — ever expected me to take on their beliefs or make any sort of conversion, but just participating in the cultural and ritual exchange over the years had been an influence on me in subtle ways. I talked about how for the past few years, I’ve been recognizing similarities in the beliefs and thoughts of those around me to myself, and how I have been digging deeper into Judaism, and finding a place that feels like home there. I told them that I was planning on converting to Judaism. I reminded my parents that the one thing they taught me was to always think for myself, and that’s exactly what I’ve done my entire life, this included. I assured them that in taking on this identity, I’m not looking to cash out my old identities, and that I’m still their son and part of their family, and all the things I’ve always been. This is not about changing who I am, but affording a deepening of who I am. That I’m committed to the journey, now that I’ve found a path that I’m comfortable with. There’s more that I shared, but it’s all blurring together now, due to the late hour, my being sick, and the aftermath of an emotional conversation. I did identify one of the reasons I am drawn to Judaism is the focus on scholarship, understanding, deliberation, and debate. Also the idea that the skeptic has a home in Judaism and no belief or catechism are required for membership, only commitment and participation. My father and I had a very interesting discussion about action versus desire, and how creed follows deed, as deed follows creed. It’s the most I’ve discussed about religion with my parents since I was a teenager. It was extremely liberating.

In general, I have to say their reaction was open and accepting. My dad felt perhaps that he never fully represented Christianity to me, that perhaps he failed in his mission. Of course, I assured him that was not the case, but this was a result of my own undertaking and my own self-education. My mom of course asked if I’d/we’d still celebrate Christmas (it’s funny what becomes important to a person). I could tell it was a little confusing, but they were willing to accept my decision, and if anything I see an opening here for dialog between my father and myself (and even my mother and myself) to share with them this spiritual dimension of my life that I’ve for so long hidden from them, to save them confusion or pain, or to alleviate their worries. Not once did the subject of salvation or damnation come up, and that made me feel very good. I do have this feeling, however, that my dad holds the door open for my return to Christianity, and hopes for me to do so. He stated that it’s a positive step for me to engage with religion and that being Jewish is better than being an atheist. The unsaid part is that he probably sees my decision as a way-point back to the true faith of Christianity, but again that was unsaid.

In any case, it’s out there now — no more secrets, everyone knows what I’m up to, whether or not they understand it. I lent my parents a book, ‘God Was Not In The Fire’, to give them a beginning point to understand my decision. I’m looking forward to future conversations with my dad and my mom, and I hope that I can impart just a little understanding to them. I’m just so happy that they’ve pleasantly surprised me with their acceptance. Part of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop, and perhaps there will be backlash emotions on their part. I’m prepared for it. I feel like I presented my situation to them in the easiest and simplest way that I could, and things have gone as well as I could have hoped.

I still don’t know exactly what all of this means, and my relationship to God is as convoluted and intricate, confused and contradictory as ever. As I told my parents, I believe in God until you ask me to articulate it. Once I put it in words, it’s gone. I can’t describe it, I just experience it. I don’t believe in miracles or a God that intercedes against the laws of physics, but I do pray and I have a certain sense of providence that mandates the lessons we need to learn are always provided to us in the appropriate moments. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, I’m uncertain of the existence of the soul, but I feel that I am more than my body. I don’t believe in original sin or in salvation, but I do know that I am part of something bigger than me, and I from time to time get a glimpse of it in the strangest and most mundane of situations. I am straddling the fence between Judaic faith and Greek rationalism, but that’s a problem of anyone in our conflicted western world. Just ask Kierkegaard.

My parents and I share values, we just don’t share stories. Our myths are different, but our meaning is similar. I’m looking forward to this new opening, and what conversations I might start to have with my own father and mother again. Everything happens for a reason, right?

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