I’ve been asked to write about myself in several different contexts lately, and I’m posting my responses on this blog. Here’s one that I did for a church I recently jointed, with much of the identifying information removed.
In March 2018, I was fortunate enough to go on a tour of Israel. The tour was co-hosted by this church and a synagogue where my family are members. My wife and children are Jewish, while I am… well, it’s complicated.
Here’s the short version: I was raised in rural Maine, where my family attended a Congregational church in which I was baptized. Never placing much emphasis on religion, my family stopped active participation in that church around the time I started school. I considered myself a proud atheist until I attended college, at Northwestern. I was a small-town boy in Chicago, half a continent away from home, and in that era before mobile phones and social media, completely isolated from family and friends. That is the best explanation I can give for joining a fundamentalist evangelical student organization at the start of my sophomore year.
I will most likely marvel at my five years as an evangelical Christian the rest of my life. My intellect was never comfortable with the movement – many people I met at that time believed Earth was 3000 years old, for crying out loud – and I now recognize much of the spiritual comfort I believed I felt from the group was actually little more than companionship. I don’t regret my time as an evangelical, and have started to use my experience from that time in my fiction. But when I finally did muster the courage to leave, I felt a relief that has lasted to this day.
Years after making that break, and still living in Chicago, I met the woman whom I would eventually marry. She had been raised in a conservative temple in Cleveland Heights, and since were were from very different religious backgrounds, we talked at length on this topic as our relationship advanced. She was committed to Judaism, and while I was still a believer at heart, I had grown too cynical about institutional Christianity to impose my belief on anyone. By the time we were engaged, we had reached a mutual decision: our wedding would be officiated by both a rabbi and a minister, and were we to have children, we would raise them Jewish.
When the youngest of our two children was still a toddler, we moved to Cleveland to be closer to Debbie’s family. After a brief membership at a large temple in the area, we became one of the founding families at a small synagogue in our town. When they folded after a decade, we joined the synagogue where where our children knew many of the temple youth. And when we heard about the interfaith trip to Israel last year, we signed up with enthusiasm.
I still had no interest in joining any church, and my motivation for visiting the nation of Israel was more historical than spiritual. Yet when you spend nine days on a bus with a small group of people in a foreign land, you almost have no choice but to get to know your fellow travelers pretty well. And while I was hardly surprised that the church members I met were not anything like the evangelicals I had known in college, I found it reassuring to know there were Christians who believed in science, intellectual honesty and curiosity, and a productive engagement with society that included the belief that people were born perfect the first time.
Upon returning from Israel, I began attending services and social gatherings at this church, which I found to be very similar to the Congregational church my parents had been loosely associated with in my youth. Unlike my earlier experience with evangelicalism, I asked a lot of questions, and only after arriving at some very good answers did I choose to become a member, a decision wholeheartedly supported by my wife, who by the way has just been hired as the interim musical director at another temple. I had to travel half-way around the world to find this church, but now that I’m here, I feel like I could stay a while.