The process of accepting and sharing my intentions to convert to another faith mirrored my experiences in coming out as a bisexual woman. To “come out” is to allow your inner self to match your outer self. To make sure that others view you in the same light that you view yourself. It’s a proclamation that not only do I know who I am, but that I’ve accepted that version of me as valid and ideal for my soul.
The Long Sense of Feeling Unsure
My journey toward just getting to the part where I asked a Rabbi about conversion took me over fifteen years. As a child, I wanted to convert. I longed to be like Ruth and follow my faith in the “old G-d”, as I called Him. My heart would skip a few beats at the sound of Hebrew. I’d see G-d in the stories in the Old Testament, but not in the New. I appreciated Jesus, of course, but not the overall feeling I got from my birth faith. I didn’t think conversion was possible, though, so I just pursued different branches of Christianity. I even tried other religions, thinking that I’d be satisfied with them. I thought that perhaps it was just the church I went to or the denomination I belonged to. I thought that I could be satisfied with it, like something that was just good enough. But it never fit, despite my trying very hard to make Christian faith work out for me.
Pinpointing the Problem
It’s pretty hard to unknow something once you’ve logically come to a point. It is for me, anyway. Once I logically deduced a few things about Christianity, such as Jesus’s Messiah-ship not matching up, or the illogicality of a virgin birth, I couldn’t really go back and undo it. The part about Jesus not meeting basic Jewish ideas of what the Messiah will do and bring was enough to screech my faith it to a halt. If the premises are false, then the conclusion is too. If I wanted a faith in G-d, it’d have to be without Jesus.
It doesn’t help that I never felt at home with my fundamental Christian upbringing. I’m a pretty liberal person politically, and that has clashed with the conservative mindset in every area.
I can remember a few instances of bucking the system when young:
The first was me telling someone in leadership that I wanted to be a Pastor when I grew up. I was delicately told that women couldn’t do that. Logically, I was perplexed. Why would a G-d give me such desires, just to deny me the right to follow? Weren’t we supposed to yearn for Him, male or female? Apparently not. Many circles of Evangelical Christianity still frown on women holding major positions of leadership.
The second was during my teenage years. During that time, the decision-makers of the time were contemplating adding other instruments to the worship music, namely drums and a guitar. The prevailing view in some circles at the time (and likely still now), is that those instruments are associated with rock music/pop culture/demonic forces and thus shouldn’t be used. I had two problems with this. The first is that instruments are inanimate objects; they can be used for anything, including worship. The second was even more important for me at the time: the Bible actually listed David using such “evil instruments,” namely the drum. The Psalm also mentioned David dancing! And this was OK for worship!
I don’t remember anyone taking me seriously, although the church I attended did eventually break from the Southern Baptists and added drums and guitars like a lot of the other mainstream churches did at the time.
In more recent years, I have found it difficult to reconcile with a faith that excluded large numbers of people…including myself. The Church, as a whole, has been pretty adamant that LGBT individuals are fine as they are as long as they don’t accept or partake in the part of themselves that is at the core of most people’s identity: their relationships with other people. We all identify ourselves based on where we fit with others, and being told that you are defective because you happen to want to form lasting, loving relationships with the same gender is a bit off-putting. Who wants that kind of G-d? The Chick-Fil-A brouhaha over anti-gay funding, and the Christian response to it, further pushed me away from Christianity.
[Note: it’s easy to find reasons to leave something when you already clash with it and I’m fully aware that aversion should not be the only reason to run. Rather, the new thing must be appropriate independent of any other factors. ]
I did not know before I began this journey that LGBT individuals are not only accepted in most Jewish communities, but can marry and be ordained as well. Women, too, can become Rabbis and have long been Cantors and key members in many congregations. I frequently point out to my fundamental Christian friends using verses from Deuteronomy and Leviticus that the Jews use the same verses and come to the polar conclusion about inclusiveness. So far, no one has really explored that bit in any conversation I’ve had.
After a few years and a couple of kids, I finally accepted that maybe I should pursue Judaism. I had already made other decisions based on what I wanted: pursuing writing, pursuing information technology, that I was geeky, that I was bisexual. Finally, it was time to address my faith. Pursuing Judaism was something I longed for in the pit of my soul, but kept denying myself. It’s like being gay. You think, “Well, it’s easier to just be straight.” Or in the case of religion, “It’s easier to remain in my birth religion, or do nothing at all, than to learn a new faith and try to fit into a new community.” And then there was the fear of backlash. “What if my parents freak out?” or “What if I lose my friends?” I’ve heard the same sort of thing from Atheists, who held atheistic beliefs for years before “coming out” to people, so to speak.
And people react the same way to both. That is, they act as if the moment of coming out is the first time you ever had the thought. They ignore that you’ve literally spent years, if not decades, thinking about, struggling with, and accepting that part of yourself. They react as if you don’t know yourself as well as they know you. “Are you sure?” or “Have you thought about this?” are common rebuttals. “It’s a phase” rebuttals are also hurtful, although they indicate more about what the other party thinks of you than about you. Fortunately, most of the responses I got when I came out, both as bisexual and as someone wanting to convert to Judaism, have been ambivalent at worst. A few people have questioned me openly, but it’s mostly been the big elephant in the room that everyone kind of squishes themselves around rather than address directly.
Making the decision was only the beginning. After that, I began to read every website, blog, and book I could find. I also asked a few Jewish friends I knew what their thoughts were about conversion and what I should do. As far as religions went, it made sense to me, and still does. After a few months I finally got up the courage to visit a few synagogues. (I’m still visiting synagogues, actually.) I was lucky to have found a Progressive Jewish rabbi that I adore and who agreed to assist me with the slow process of converting to Judaism.
And it is slow. When people ask me how long it takes to convert, I shrug. “Years? Decades?” They look at me incredulously. “No, seriously,” I say, “as long as it takes.”
Which is fine by me; I’m already home.
Note: The original closet image is by deovolenti .