My faith background is a little out of the ordinary: I grew up in a Reform Jewish home, in a conservative Christian town outside of Cleveland, Ohio. I didn’t have much of a religious upbringing, since there weren’t any Jewish youth groups or schools nearby. Consequently, God, as I understood him, just wasn’t personal enough to me.
From a young age, I had an interest in saints (Joan of Arc in particular) and church history. In time, I became attracted to the idea of God in the flesh; an all-powerful king who chose to be born into poverty (to a woman stigmatized by out-of-wedlock pregnancy, no less), and somehow managed to turn the world’s concept of justice upside down. The weak become strong; the powerful, weak.
It wasn’t until sophomore year of college that I “officially” became a Christian. Following graduation, I attended a conservative seminary in Denver, Colorado for a master’s in divinity, which later got changed to biblical counseling. A subsequent faith crisis caused me to drop out after a year. That crisis only worsened when my father learned he was dying of cancer, and some of my Christian friends pressured me into making sure he was “saved” before he died. As you can expect, this caused a great deal of anxiety.
I started dealing with hard questions I never let myself contemplate before: what kind of God punishes people forever? How can that God still be considered “loving”? Is having “correct” theology more important than how you live your life?
The evangelical church groups I was involved in at the time did not respond well to these questions and doubts. I didn’t need answers so much as a safe place to ask these questions, without judgment or condemnation.
At the same time, my Jewish identity would come up in unexpected situations, such as at the doctor’s office filling out new patient forms, which asked if I had any Ashkenazi heritage. I started wondering, what is Judaism, anyway — religion, ethnicity…or both? More specifically, what is Judaism to me? It may not be my chosen faith, yet it’s still part of me…somehow.
In the summer of 2014, I moved back to Ohio to help care for my father during his final months with us. During that time, I sporadically attended synagogue with my mother, and realized that Judaism still had much to offer me – particularly when it comes to wrestling with doubt. The branch of Judaism I was raised in actually encourages questions, and wrestling with challenging biblical texts. It was this method of study that ended up saving my faith.
After our wedding in December 2014, Josh and I permanently resided in northern Colorado, which is where I discovered the Episcopal church: a denomination that calls itself “a church for thinking people” because it does not tell you what to believe about politics, social issues, or anything outside of the Nicene Creed (so long as one uses biblical wisdom). Episcopalians not only mirror the Jewish tradition of asking hard questions, but the liturgical patterns are similar to what I experienced in synagogue. I knew after a few Sunday visits that this was my new spiritual home.
You can read more about this journey in my memoir, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter.