Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reactions

I know, I know. I've been all sour and negative lately. Or leastways I feel like I've been complaining a lot. So I promise I'll get back to posting Grace in Small Things soon. But today I have something to get off my chest that I just can't ignore.

I've slowly but surely been telling members of my family about my conversion to Christianity. For any newcomers, I was raised in a secular, Jewish home. Here is how I ended up becoming a Christian. I was as surprised as anyone by this turn of events, so I have a lot of sympathy for my friends and relatives who are somewhat taken aback when I break the news to them.

My friends and some of my family members have been wonderfully supportive, and for this I am grateful.

What's been bugging me lately is how some other members of my family have been handling it. I would understand if they had a lot of questions, or if they expressed doubts to me about the wisdom of my decision, or if they simply needed some time to process the information. I'm open to discussions on the matter. But some of the interactions have gone like this:

I confide in a relative that I've been going to church since last summer. They are somewhat dumbfounded. I explain as briefly as I can how I got there. They tell me that whatever makes me happy makes them happy. I feel momentarily accepted and at ease. But then they can't resist getting some dig in that reveals how little respect they actually have for my beliefs.

Relative #1: Sure, that's fine. Do what you need to do to be happy. If banging your head against a brick wall made you happy, could I stop you from doing that?

Relative #2: Oh, yes, I can see how you would be attracted to Christianity. The music, the art, and the architecture, some of it is truly beautiful. But when you come right down to it, how can some guy nailed up on a cross have spiritual meaning?* It doesn't make any sense.

(*Tone of voice indicated this was a purely rhetorical question.)

Relative #3: Well, I know you've always been a seeker, so I'm happy that you found somewhere you feel that you belong. Faith is like when you're learning to ride a bicycle. If you believe that someone is running behind you, holding on to the back of your seat, you'll feel safe. As soon as you realize that you're riding on your own, it's a lot easier to fall. So if you need to pretend that there's someone holding on to the back of your seat, if that makes you feel safer, you go right ahead.

I'm open for discussion, but those comments aren't a good place to start. They say "I've already passed judgement on Christianity. It gets a FAIL. Welcome to membership in this group. Now you FAIL too." Technically I could take the initiative to open a discussion from that point, but these comments upset me enough that I figure it's better at that point to just grin through my clenched teeth and agree politely. I can't recover that quickly from the contempt.

It's very tempting to go on the counter-attack. There are plenty of things that I could find fault with in my family's beliefs, if I wanted to go looking for weaknesses and hypocrisy. But I don't want to fight with my family.

In traditional Judaism, if someone converts to another faith, their family reacts as though the convert had died. They tear their clothes; they mourn for a full week and hold prayer services as they would if someone had passed on; and they thereafter refer to that person in the past tense. No one in the family has any contact with them ever again. So, I guess I should count myself lucky.

In any case, I'm trying to be a good Christian, and turn the other cheek. It's not easy, but that's why it's meaningful. I love my family, even when they have both feet stuck in their mouths. Give a me a few more days to lick my wounds, and then I'll be ready to forgive them.

10 comments:

wigsf said...

I wrote a really long comment here, but I've revised and condensed. Here's my point.

You can't pick your family. But you can certainly pick your friends. So, with your family, grin and bear it, turn the other cheek, right. (Or you can turn it left. hehehe) Remember, your friends are happy for you. That's why they're your friends.

unsigned said...

They'll feel different when they are all burning in a pit of fire for all eternity.

Just kidding...

I guess it's just something you'll have to put up with.

You figure Jews would be able to show religious tolerance. After all they should know what it's like to be persecuted on the basis of religion and how bad it feels.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Some people can't help but see religion as a single path leading to salvation with everyone else being lost. I tend to view it as every good religion leads to salvation just some take the path through the meadow while other go along the stream and others still might take a mountain pass. It's sad that some people might never understand why you find the path you have chosen to be more meaningful than the path they are walking.

SoMi's Nilsa said...

As wigsf said, you can't pick your family. But, you can choose to surround yourself by the family members who truly accept your decision and who truly accept you. As a therapist once told me, we are raised to feel obligated to our family and sometimes we shouldn't. Plus, I think comments like that reveal more about the family member than they do about you.

Claire said...

Trying times, honey. But it's all worth it....your family will react how they want to react, but you're on an amazing journey.

Cxx

Sparkling Red said...

WIGSF: All true. Sometimes I can let my family's comments roll off my back, and sometimes they sneak in and push my buttons. But in the end, I always come back to Grin And Bear It, because I love them.

Unsigned: LOL, why didn't I think of saying that? That would have been the perfect opener for a reasonable discussion. ;-)

Ron: Sometimes atheists are the least tolerant. The prevalent myth in the circles I've grown up with is that anyone who believes in God is probably stupid and gullible. Even though my family members identify culturally as Jews, I think that functionally most of them are atheists.

Nilsa: Yes, it's true. What stung most is that I thought my family had a fairly high opinion of my intelligence. They seemed to give that up rather easily in favour of thinking that I must be foolish. That's easier than questioning their assumptions that those with faith are foolish and gullible.

Claire: Thank you for your encouragement!

Scarlet said...

It's amazing how many trials we go through when we bring Jesus into our lives. It clearly stirs things up in the spiritual world, doesn't it?

I'll be praying for you AND your family, and btw, I loved your testimony. I'm glad you know who your true friends are now, and I hope I'm considered one of them. :)

LL Cool Joe said...

As I said before you didn't pick the easy path. I wouldn't allow your families comments to get you down though, I'd just feel sorry for them that they don't know the truth.

That line "But when you come right down to it, how can some guy nailed up on a cross have spiritual meaning?" erm...It's only what the whole Christian faith is built on. Jesus dying on a cross to save our sins!! Without that we are all on our way to hell.

Karen said...

Faith is a personal thing and I truly believe that if you are happy, that is all that matters.

Maybe some of your relatives feel a bit betrayed by your conversion. Like the faith and customs you were raised with are now not good enough for you. Or the faith that your ancestors fought so hard to protect through tough circumstances has less meaning to you now.

Of course, I am not saying that either of those thoughts is true. I understand your journey to Christianity. But I don't think it is easy for everyone to understand.

Be patient with your family and be strong in your faith.

Sparkling Red said...

Scarlet: Yes, you are definitely counted among my true friends. :-)
((HUGS))

LL Cool Joe: What bothered me most was that the person who made that statement is well-versed in the symbolism and history of Christianity. It would have been decent of her if she could have recognized that there is some kind of sense to it, even if she doesn't buy in herself.

Karen: I do believe that some of my relatives feel somewhat betrayed. Thanks for your encouraging words. I will be strong and maintain my faith, because for me there simply is no going back.