The fear is mostly internal, but it’s been authorized before:
“You’re not a real Christian.”
I’ve heard it out loud in Bible studies; I’ve received it in my mentions on Twitter, and in comments on this blog.
Conversely, I also heard this a few times in my life:
“You’re not really Jewish.”
I heard that gem from friends at the Hillel Jewish Student Center in college who felt betrayed when they learned I converted. It was a sentiment I felt when I first visited Israel, because I was not Orthodox.
Over time these comments have lost their sting, because they are generally said by people who aren’t interested in taking the time to really know me and understand my life. Most of the time, the phrase “You’re not a real [blank]” is said by people who are only invested in winning some sort of argument.
Still, I have wondered: who is the arbiter of “true Christian” or “true Jew”? Who decides if I am legitimately one thing, but not the other?
At some point, there is no other option but to choose confidence: to fight for it, if necessary. And to look to God for assurance, because even if I’m legitimate in the eyes of someone I respect, there will always be someone out there who will disagree.
Our confidence must not be found in other people.
I didn’t start feeling confident in my faith when I committed to reading my Bible more regularly. I didn’t find assurance that my Jewish background is legit by asking a rabbi. I had to look outside myself for those things, and this is what I learned:
Just be humble
Part of being a legit anything is being open to the possibility that you don’t know everything. You can’t learn everything in one lifetime, and you can’t out-Bible every scholar or theological know-it-all. You can only trust God for the things you don’t know, which outnumbers everything you do know.
Don’t get hung up on labels
I need to get better at taking this advice, because my OCD demands I fit neatly into a certain box. That’s not always possible especially when it comes to faith — for some people, it’s always in flux. Only God knows “what” you are, but I doubt he’s as invested in labels as our society is.
Accept your uniqueness
Another piece of advice that is easier said than done. I can’t change my background; I can’t fit in perfectly with other Christians who don’t remember being anything else but Christian. I can’t pretend I grew up decorating a Christmas tree and going to church or Vacation Bible School. I can acknowledge that I grew up celebrating Hanukkah, studying Hebrew for my Bat Mitzvah, and feeling threatened by cross jewelry because I falsely assumed that the people wearing it would accuse me of killing their savior.
Being Jewish, I eventually reasoned, isn’t so much about who your parents are, but about experiences. And my Jewish experiences definitely shaped the person I am today, even if my beliefs have shifted elsewhere. I can’t change any of that. I can only accept that I’ll never be a perfect representation of any label. I’m just a child of God.
And if God made me this way, and put me in my specific family, he must have had a good reason.