Many people have scratched their heads upon finding out about my intention to convert to Judaism, wondering why I would do such a thing. The puzzled looks come from former Christian friends and family, new non-Christian friends, as well as Jews themselves. I usually give the short answers—because I connect with G-d that way, or because I believe in the G-d of Abraham, or even because it is my destiny—but these brief responses satisfy few. The real answer takes much longer to give, so here I hope to delineate precisely my reasoning and the meanderings of
my heart and soul that led me to declare my intention to identify with a people and a religion that is not usually chosen by one who comes from my background.
To answer the question about why I am choosing Judaism, you first have to understand something of my religious upbringing—you need to know why I was a Christian. Both of my parents were raised Catholic to various degrees, and they got married in the Catholic Church and sent me to a Catholic school. I don’t remember too much religion in my house in the early years before grade four. We didn’t regularly go to church, but we would go more often than just Christmas or Easter. I did my first communion, and then confirmation, and when I was married in my twenties I got married in the Catholic Church.
At some point when I was in elementary school my mother became a born again Christian, and thereafter my religious upbringing became a mix of Catholic and Christian Fundamentalist belief. My dad never talked about religion, having very little use for it, so most of the instruction came from my mother, who attended bible studies in various people’s homes, and who read voraciously. I remember wanting to use my rosary and mom telling
me that was okay—however, I should skip the prayers to Mary, substituting instead my own prayers; in short, she encouraged talking to G-d personally. There were no Fundamentalist churches in the small town where we lived, so we’d still occasionally go to the Catholic church, with my mother reminding us what beliefs were acceptable
Christian ones and which ones—the well-known Catholic ones—were suspect. We did not grow up seeing the Catholic Church as detrimental to having a relationship with Jesus Christ, as some Fundamentalist children do; rather, we were taught that Christ was there too, but that some people, and some traditions, were not conducive to connecting with him.
This made sense to me as a child, and I don’t recall having any religious angst about this mix of Catholic/Fundamentalist doctrine. In grade five, when the Gideon people came to my class to distribute their little red New Testaments, I dutifully, and solemnly, filled out the page at the back where you agree with the Sinner’s
Prayer and pledge to follow Jesus. Throughout junior high, this pledge was something that was still very much a part of me. I was one of the early adopters of Christian rock music—with my mom’s encouragement and selective purchases—listening to such bands as Petra, Rez Band, Servant, Degarmo and Key, Whiteheart, and artists like Amy Grant, Steve Green, and Connie Scott, before this branch of the music industry became acceptable and almost cool. I wrote my own Christian songs and encouraged my friends to listen to this music as well.
In high school, my interest in religion waned somewhat, and I became less interested in Fundamentalist Christianity, although G-d was still a big part of my life. I still wrote my Christian songs, still tried more so than some of my peers to follow Jesus, and nightly prayers were still a part of my regular routine. In grade 12 I got involved with a Catholic
youth organization heavily influenced by the Charismatic movement, which I found exciting, and very spiritually invigorating. My mother continued to deepen her involvement in Fundamentalist Christianity as did several cousins, aunts and my one grandmother. I was regularly exposed to full-gospel services, talking in tongues, laying on of hands, and Spirit-filled ministries. These things usually frightened me, or at the very least made me feel uncomfortable, and I never was able to feel in the core of my being a connection to G-d through these services and spiritual practices.
When I began university though, and then soon found myself living with my eventual partner, G-d gradually faded in my list of priorities. Occasionally, we would attend mass, finding comfort in the universality of the rituals, in the
shared nostalgia and mystical associations of the local parish, but it was a diminishing part of our lives.
When marital crisis hit in my mid-twenties, and my marriage (and other) problems seemed to be too big for a mere human like myself to deal with, I found myself sitting in the office of a Fundamentalist pastor my cousin had
recommended, being encouraged to “turn back to Christ” and “accept him as Lord and Saviour”. Despite my built-in reservations about an involvement in Fundamentalist Christianity beyond Christian music, I found myself taking his lead, praying the Sinner’s Prayer, and inviting Jesus into my heart. Here was someone promising a way out of the mess that I found myself in, and I thought I had nothing to lose. I had what is known in those circles as a “born-again” experience.
I have to say that I did feel a sense of peace, a connection to G-d, and a tremendous weight lifting off my back. Things were in His hands now. I had done what He wanted. I was made pure, set right with G-d, and starting over after having made a mess of my life. It was a kind of euphoria that I was taught came from the Spirit of G-d entering me and Jesus forgiving me my sins. Of course, I see this experience differently now. There is amazing psychological power in believing that you have done the one major thing G-d requires of you, in seeing the world in black and white terms with a religious system there to reinforce it, and in relinquishing control of one's life to an external force. There is also much transforming power in realizing how much G-d loves you.
Thereafter followed six years of involvement in a Fundamentalist church, much of that spent as a drummer on the
music (“worship”) team. I saw some truly beautiful things in my time along with some pretty terrible things. Our humanity, both the grandness and baseness of it, still reveals itself in a place of worship. Over the years, I had the opportunity to play with Christian recording artists and even with a "miracle healing ministry". I was bothered by a seemingly staged spirituality and rarely connected to ecstatic so-called Spirit-filled patterns of worship. It just seemed so forced, and so easily faked; or, when it was good, it seemed that it was more the music than anything particularly G-dly that was behind it. People would think, for example, that the musicians were being led by the Holy Spirit, but often we were just noodling on our instruments until an appropriate length of time went by. I've experienced the same thing in secular bands.
After about a year I found that I wasn't even getting anything out of the sermons—I had heard them all before. Bible study seemed to require a relinquishing of the intellect that I had difficulty forfeiting. Try as I might, I could
never fully accept a strict literal reading of the bible and the kind of theology that produced. Eventually it became clear that Fundamentalist Christianity was not for me, the realization of which coincided with my move to a new home outside the city where commuting to my old church became too difficult.
At that time I was living in a small town where there were limited choices as far as church options. After checking out the United church, the Alliance church, a local non-denominational church, I began attending a tiny Anglican congregation. The pastor was someone I could relate to who had a desire for outreach but an intellect that was not excommunicated from his sermons nor his theology. Plus, the congregation was friendly and non-judgmental. That was my beloved church home for almost two years, but then another change of residence prompted my search for a
new place of worship.
I was back in the city again. In looking for another church it was important for me to get as far back to the roots of Christianity as I could. Fundamentalism had claimed to be bible-based, to be the closest to the way the early Christians had operated, but my own reading in history led me to conclude that this was not so. The early Christians were Jews who followed this Jew, Jesus, who claimed to be the Messiah. They observed the Sabbath, worshiped at the Temple, kept the Law, none of which modern Christians do, let alone the Fundamentalists. I considered the Catholic Church based on its claims to be linked directly to St Peter, supposedly the first pope, and one of the first Christians. The claim had weight for me, but there were serious problems with it too. Any student of the history of the church will quickly see that there were a lot of changes introduced in the “received faith” of this institution. These changes took it away from the pure, early Christianity I was looking for.
Continued in Part 2...