How in the world did my wife Channa and I migrate from our youthful mixture of atheism (Channa) and agnosticism (Dikkon), through a quarter century of children-rearing in Reform Judaism, into middle-aged flirtation with Orthodox Judaism, and then--
Yes…and then what?
Up-staking and putting all that history behind, we trudged, like Abram, off into the wilderness.
Where were we going? Like Abram, we did not know.
God told Abram that He would make a great people of Abram and his family. God did not tell us anything like that.
But God did promise that truth was to be discovered out there.
If you are a Jew, then God bless you.
I welcome you as a Jew to my website and to this blog post. Neither the website nor the blog post should trouble your faith. We supported your faith for many years and continue to love it dearly today.
But many Jewish friends and relatives are curious about our conversions to Christianity. Why did they happen?
We were asked, “Oughtn’t Judaism to have been enough?”
Theologically no, but not, in our estimation, for our on-going worldview either.
If you are a Christian, then God bless you, too. Christians are curious as well.
Christians are not curious about why—they already know why. Their question is how? How were we called? What did we experience that prompted so dramatic a change?
And last—totally weird!—why did we even contemplate a religious change in our late 50s and early 60s? By then, most people have had enough change in their lives.
The children have grown up and gone away. The career is at its height and is easier to manage. The house is paid for, or mostly so.
Why on earth would anyone set out to cross a dry desert of religious discontent at that age? Looking for what?
But Abram did it, we remembered, and he was eighty. If Abram could do it, we could, too—young sixty-somethings as we were.
We were looking for truth. That’s what it was.
For us it was this—it was being restless, eager, unwilling to settle…it was searching; that’s what it was.
And it was this, too--
It was a miracle.
We trudged across that parched religious desert. When we reached its other side, we found a religious river barring our way. We needed to take just one more step forward, or—alternatively—just one more step back.
The miracle was Jesus--Jesus!—saying softly in my ear, “If you’ll take one step, I’ll take two.”
There’s a song about that. Maybe you know the song and can hear that line as part of the refrain in your head. Even if you don’t know the song, I’m sure you can believe that Jesus would have said something like that, if Jesus were a Christian country music song writer.
What He actually said was, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt 4:18, NASB.)
Well, not to Channa and me precisely. We don’t fish. But suddenly we did feel His urgency that we should follow.
Next: Chapter Two
After my wife’s and my conversions were all over, I wrote a book. My book is entitled The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told.
My book (it’s our book, really) explains to Jews and to Christians what happened—the why and how—but it’s addressed to one other group as well.
Perhaps it’s addressed to you.
Perhaps you are a seeker, religiously unaffiliated, or, if affiliated, unconvinced. To you, our tale may be of interest. We were like you, particularly when we stumped wearily across our desert of discontent.
Here’s what happened to us. At the far end of the desert, we came upon a religious river, and now we are on its other side. Over here, it is a green and pleasant land.
It is satisfying over here; difficult, painful, too.
As a seeker, perhaps you are hiking a long, dry road, and you are caked with dust and sweat. Perhaps you are low on water and sore of knee. Me, in the desert, I could scarcely imagine where our next drink should come from, we were so parched.
If you believe there’s a reason for your journey, and that you have been called to set out into the unknown, then, I say, stick with it, sore and dry as you may be. Up ahead—just around the next bend—you may find that same religious river we found flowing past.
…if you believe there’s a reason for your journey.
If you do encounter the river, then turn aside. Walk down to its shore. Slip off your pack. Crick your back. Walk a step or two. Feel that breeze?
It’s good, isn’t it, to strip off your boots and your hot socks. Dip your soles into the river. Then roll up your pants above your knees and wade deeper out. Go out until the water is above your knees—get your pants wet. Go to where the river’s current presses against you, and its coldness shortens your breath, and the sand melts away under your feet.
Go until you need to make swimming motions in the air with your arms in order to keep yourself in balance.
What next, pilgrim?
Shall you relax into the flow?
My wife Channa and I stood just exactly where you stand right now.
We—we, all of us—we stand right there—just wondering—do we not?
We can always go back, we reassure ourselves. The shore, our packs, our histories are…just there. See them? Right back there.
But perhaps we should relax into the flow.
The water’s cold. You know it’ll shock your skin if you let it take you into its flow. It’s powerful. It will sweep you along.
If you take just one more step….
If you relax into its flow….
Back there on the shore is everything that keeps you dry. Out here in the middle, you’re half wet already.
Here’s what you’ll need, if you relax into the flow.
You’ll need more than thinking to make it to the other side. Brain power won’t cut it.
You’ve got the best brain God could give you, and you use it a lot, so you know for sure that it’s a good one. Yes, you’ve got intractable troubles, of course—bad times, empty times, locked times—but doesn’t everybody?
Right here, right now, for example. Somehow you don’t feel that you can argue yourself into relaxing into the flow. But what a relief it would be, just to let go.
For once, how ecstatic to say yes with your heart and your soul. Not always the--no, no, no.
You’ll need to go beyond that marvelous brain of yours, which keeps you safe with its no, no, nos. You’ll need to do what you read about in that Book one time.
The enslaved people had hollered “Yes!” and had escaped into the desert, and they’d run, run, run until they’d come right up against an entire ocean barring their way. And they were being pursued to be slaughtered, and they’d--
Well, what had they done?
Had they engaged their brains to engineer a defensive strategy, thrown up earthworks for protection, sharpened their eyes? No. They had stopped. They had waited. They had believed.
And there are you, just like them. You’re standing in the middle of a religious river, half wet, half wet enough
You will need to dare.
Most especially, you will need to dare.
Most especially, you will need to dare and to succumb.
You have the ability to succumb. I know you do. Just look at you—out there in the middle of the river, balanced precariously between no and yes, wet all the way up to your chest by now, almost to your neck.
Wanting it to be OK to say yes.
And if you do succumb and relax into the flow, will it be startling?
Will it be frightening?
Will others understand it?
Some, but not all.
Will you be shunned?
Maybe, by some.
Will that matter?
…Will that matter???
You must pray…
…that it will not matter.
For what may matter to you by then is that there will be Someone waiting on the other shore who will leap to bring you in.
More: Chapter Three
Family and friends were curious when Channa and I crossed to the other side of the river.
We did our best to answer their questions, and, satisfied, some of them cast speculative glances at the river themselves, thinking long thoughts.
Some among them seemed alarmed for us because of our incomprehensible dare. From those who seemed alarmed for us we experienced genuine kindness and open curiosity about our conversions. We are grateful. Our dare was something over which we had little control.
When the dare came upon us, instead of struggling against it, we gave in to it.
As a result, we experienced relief.
We were relieved of wandering. We were relieved of contemporary anxiety. We were relieved of our culture’s famous isolation and narcissism. We were relieved, not of sin, but of our compulsion to sin. We were relieved of our need tightly to defend the sins we had chosen.
In all, we were relieved of loneliness for something inchoate we felt was inside of us from birth, but which had been hidden away from our hearts.
Most deeply, though, we were relieved of the horrid and fearsome burden that it might be only we ourselves—only we negligent and stumbling humans—who are in control of it all.
Suppose that were so!
How sad that the fixed, intellectual and self-justifying belief in our world, among many, is that there is nothing in the universe that proves a perspective exists—or even can exist—that is inherently different than our own.
Things exist. They came from nothing. They have no purpose or glory in and of themselves. They cease. That’s all.
This condition applies to us. We exist. We came from nothing. We have no purpose or glory in and of ourselves. We cease. That’s all.
Especially, nothing exists—or even can exist—that exhibits conscious purpose regarding itself. Nothing consciously offers the gift of redemption to us and rewards glorification of itself with salvation.
That’s just the way things are, people. Get over it.
But once, Channa and I stood up to our shoulders in water, braced against the current of a religious river.
We had waded deeper and deeper out into that river for months now. “Honey, I’m tempted to let go,” I might have said…and did say, in not quite those words.
“Do you think it’s true?”
“Almost certain. My head struggles but my heart says let go.”
“I’m still struggling.”
“I know. I want us to be together.”
“So do I.”
“If it’s not true, then they’re right, the scoffers. Nothing matters.”
“If it’s not true, then….”
Well, then, it is very cold out here.
The stars are very strange.
Guttural grunts tiger the night.
And the powerless will continue always to be devoured by the powerful…crunch, crunch, yum, yum.
Is that really all there is to it?
Then why do I stand in the middle of this river wishing I could dare to succumb? Something is pulling at me.
And we did succumb. I, first, and then Channa after.
Here’s what the Holy Spirit gave us to know.
THE UNIVERSE IS NOT ABOUT US.
More: Chapter Four
This thing that happened to my wife and to me is an actual, real, true thing.
Relief, is what we gained, as the consequence of our letting ourselves be swept along by the religious river.
It happened right here, in our world, right now, in our time. What happened is not a metaphor. It is not an intellectual caprice. It arose neither from a crochet nor from a mood.
Though I felt it was poetical, it is not poetry; it is prose.
We didn’t control it. When it came upon us, instead we gave in to it.
The thing that happened to us is a thing that has happened to legions of humans, down the ages. It having happened to us, it changed us as it changed them.
The thing we live now was there for us, in potential, before we encountered the religious river and gave ourselves up to its flow. It is there for everyone. For example, it is there for the Jews. The back story of the Jews is stuffed full of predictions of its arrival just as an eggshell is stuffed full of egg.
It is there, in potential, for believers in the religion of atheism, and for agnostics, and for seekers, and for followers of other religious traditions in the east and the west.
Had it convinced Channa and me only intellectually, we would have enjoyed our study about it—which had lasted during an interesting year—but we would have waded back to where we left our backpacks on the former shore. We would have shouldered our packs, smiled at one another, said “That was fun,” and returned to our trudge.
However, we are different now. As I have said, we inhabit the other shore.
We live a thing we did not live before--
Furthermore—thank you very much—the Almighty’s very gloriousness, His creation and purpose, has existed in a world of skeptical skepticism since His glory, itself, began.
Skeptics today have invented nothing new.
The skeptics are the emperor-worshippers of Rome long ago. They recite the requisite party line. Nevertheless, they are astounded (although they are offended, too) by Christianity’s bent to succor those insignificant disposable ones—the poor, the downtrodden, the ill, the widows, the slaves, the children.
They’re the go-along-to-get-along, Roman emperor-worshippers of old. But when they bring themselves to notice it, they are baffled (but only in private, of course) by the lyricism with which the martyrs meet the lions.
They’re the Roman emperor-worshippers of old. Thinking themselves wise, they congratulate themselves about their superiority (neglecting to remember that the emperor rarely forgives, and he keeps his knives very sharp).
Still, when the skeptics encounter this new Christian concept of a transcendent, a universal, and a forgiving redemptive God, they feel compelled to climb up into His lap, and to…
…to punch Him in the nose.
“You are not the boss of me!” they shout at Him.
Goodness, what a tantrum.
I’m sorry, but God’s purpose is.
Be our time A.D. 100 or A.D. 2000, it can’t be gotten rid of.
End of story.