In the early stages of conversion, I thought I was exchanging Judaism – a set of rigid, outdated rules and regulations – for a faith that only required the humility of routine repentance. But I quickly found I had another big bone to pick with Christianity as a Jew: evangelism.
Oh, how evangelists bothered me. I resented not being able to walk to class at times without having some visiting preacher (they came frequently to my liberal party school) thrusting a pamphlet in my face, with bright red letters screaming “TURN OR BURN!” The audacity of some evangelists I’ve seen over the years just appalled me. And now that I, too, was Christian, evangelism suddenly became my responsibility. I just knew there was a catch somewhere. With Judaism, there were kosher laws. With Christianity, evangelism.
I would have rather given up cheeseburgers.
Weekly Cru meetings didn’t turn me into a sign-carrying preacher with a bullhorn on a sidewalk corner. In the staff’s defense, this is what they had to say about it: if you talked about Jesus to bolster your own superiority complex, you were doing it wrong. Evangelism – or as they called it, “sharing your faith”– is supposed to be an act of love. Christians should talk about Jesus the way most people talk about their significant others. I was supposed to gush about Jesus the same way I raved about The Hunger Games and Jane Austen.
Okay, I guess I could get on board with that.
In my experience, evangelism is done best when it is lived, not just preached. The gospel is supposed to transform one’s life in such a way that others can’t help but notice. At the same time, if I’m seen helping an elderly woman cross the street, or donating large sums of money to charity, no one will immediately assume it’s because I have Jesus in my heart.
But even after the gospel was condensed into bite-sized pieces so I could (kinda sorta) understand it, putting the message into action was another challenge. I can’t lie here – I was terrified of rejection, especially from the people my Cru friends thought needed to hear it most: my parents.
The older girls who took me under their wing told me gently, albeit sternly, that I needed to tell my unbelieving parents about Jesus – sooner rather than later. My dad apparently needed to hear it more, being a rebound cancer patient and all. “You just never know when the Lord might call him home, you know,” they would tell me, as casually as “Can you pass the chips?”
I broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of saying to my Jewish parents, “Hey Mom and Dad, do you mind sitting down so I can share the gospel with you?” Yeah, that would go over real well.
I don’t know why I wasn’t furious with those girls for being so insensitive. I guess I really thought they were only trying to help me.
“Just pray that the Holy Spirit will give you courage,” they said. “God will protect you!” they said.
Maybe they meant well, but they had no damn clue about reality. What they ended up doing was nearly scaring all the Jesus out of me, because if I wasn’t brave enough to confess my belief before my parents, how would I survive the Tribulation?
Truth be told, I felt more Jewish surrounded by gentiles than I ever did around other Jews.
My friend Bethany was convinced she had a foolproof method of breaking “the news” to my unsuspecting parents. “Just tell them that you’re pregnant,” she advised. “But before they can fall over in shock, that’s when you say ‘Just kidding! I’m not pregnant, I’m just a Christian.’” Ideally, they’d be so relieved that I wasn’t pregnant, believing in Jesus wouldn’t seem so bad.
I wish it were only an out-of-wedlock pregnancy I had to tell them about. That would have made my life much easier.
I started to have this reoccurring dream, clearly foreshadowing my “coming out” to the world as a Christian. In the dream, I was wearing a cross necklace I kept tucking under my shirt every time I passed a Jewish friend or family member. Just like Pinocchio’s nose every time he told a lie, the cross grew bigger every time I became self-conscious of it, to a point where I just couldn’t hide it anymore…and eventually everyone saw me for what I really was.
The only problem with that dream (actually, it’s quite a big problem) is that Jesus famously said anyone who denied him in life would be denied access to heaven. As intriguing a figure as he was to me, those words were haunting. They still haunt me to this day, and it baffles me that a religion with teachings as beautiful as redemption – that is, making broken things new again – and being “fearfully and wonderfully made” in God’s image also teaches a doctrine as frightening as eternal torture. Couldn’t God change the whole “system” if he didn’t want any of his children to go there? Or at least make his presence more obvious to skeptics? Is he not powerful enough to do something about that?
Some days my faith feels beautiful, and other times it feels like nonsensical madness. But even in my relationships with other people, there are qualities I love, and others I can’t begin to understand…and possibly never will. I wonder if God is any different, though it’s fascinating to me how that mystery factor draws some people in, and chases others away. “A God that’s small enough to understand isn’t big enough for my worship,” I’ve heard. But at what point is too much mystery a dealbreaker?
Excerpted from Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter