Sunday, May 20, 2012

Discovering my Jewish Soul



My faith journey has taken quite a few twists and turns. I was raised Roman Catholic . . . became born again at the age of ten . . . survived six years of Christian School education and four years of Bible College (earning a degree in Biblical Studies). I was squarely in the fundamentalist camp for many years – and by the “fundamentalist camp”, I mean I adhered to the theological fundamentals – the deity of Jesus, the veracity of the virgin birth, the reality of the resurrection. I was not a fan of the strict legalistic side of the religion: no pants for women, no movies, no rock music, no holding hands, etc., etc.

Coming out changed all that and necessitated a restructuring of my faith. How could I believe anything I’d been taught before in light of the fact that everything I’d been told about gay people was wrong? A long period of wrestling with God over my sexual orientation and the fundamentalist viewpoint ensued, and after a decade of being a part of the “un-churched”, I found a new church home in a welcoming and affirming congregation. For much of the time it was like spiritual triage. I couldn’t sing the old hymns because of the painful memories, I couldn’t pick up a Bible since had been used as “blunt instrument”, and I had not  yet acquired enough distance from dispensational premillennial eschatology to look at scripture as it was meant to be read.

Slowly, the gentle caring of a wonderful body of Christian believers created a safe space for me. I began to sing again, to read scripture again, and believe that God had a plan that included full participation in a faith family. As I began to study scripture anew, after enough time had elapsed from the old fundamentalist dogma, I began to see new beauty and new possibilities in the old familiar books. But I also began to see something else . . .  that the early believers did not necessarily see Jesus as God. In fact, since they were Jewish, it is more than likely that Jesus was seen as a prophet and a rabbi rather than as God himself. But I also began to see the Jesus movement in context – the context of first century apocalyptic movements that included a host of would-be Messiahs and groups like the Zealots, the Essenes and the Sicarii. The Jesus movement, however, had something the others didn’t – and that was Paul, who re-vamped the mostly Jewish Jesus movement, and made it palatable for gentiles.

But I also stumbled across a statement by Thomas Jefferson in the correspondence between Jefferson and John Adams dated August 22, 1813:

“I remember to have heard Dr. Priestly say that if all England would candidly examine themselves, and confess, they would find that Unitarianism was really the religion of all: and I observe a bill is now depending in parliament for the relief of Anti-Trinitarians. It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three: and yet the one is not three, and the three are not one . . .”

I can recall reading these words in 2009 because they shot through me like a trumpet blast. That’s it! I thought. Jefferson is right! In other places he would state that “No historical fact is better established, than that the doctrine of one God, pure and uncompounded, was that of the early ages of Christianity” (letter to theologian James Smith -- December 8, 1822). But Jefferson’s words – reaching across the centuries crystallized the truth for me in an instant.

The net effect of the historical context of Christianity’s apocalyptic birth, the words of Jefferson, and a subsequent study of the book of Revelation (in preparation for teaching an adult Bible Study)– which borrows lavishly from the Jewish pseudepigraphal book of Enoch led me to a place I had never dreamed . . . acknowledging the truth of the Shema “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one . . .” There was nothing left for me to do but  to find my Jewish soul and begin a journey that will one day lead to my complete conversion to Reform Judaism.

There will be many, both Jews and Christians who will question my decision to convert. And I am not naïve in thinking that my conversion will satisfy Orthodox authorities for what they consider a “proper” conversion. But, like coming out of the closet, I have found that acknowledging my lifelong interest in Judaism, and the overwhelming sense of “coming home” spiritually as I stutter and stumble my way through Lecha Dodi and Shalom Rav has, in itself, affirmed the truth of Judaism to me.

I may not always get each ritual perfect, but I keep trying. With each Shabbat that I’m able to light the candles, or each holiday I imperfectly celebrate, I hope that it brings me one step closer to the mikveh. Each Shabbat that I’m able to attend synagogue and with each song I’m able to sing without looking at the words, I feel myself becoming more and more a part of the great sweeping history of Jewish religious tradition and belief. A tradition that creates a wholeness and a centeredness I had not anticipated.


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