November 7, 2012
A cantor once told me that when he is a member of a beit din (religions court) for adult converts, he asks, "When did you discover that you were Jewish?" rather than, "Why do you want to be Jewish?"
Similarly, many of my friends have told me the story of when they discovered that they were gay or lesbian.
In both cases, these people's true identity is unexpected, and needed to be dis-covered, to have the cover removed that was made from what their parents and their cultures thought they would probably become.
I think this language of discovery is helpful as my husband and I raise our daughter in an interfaith home where both of us practice our spiritual traditions individually and with each other, since so many practices require the participation of one's family to be fully pleasing to God.
|Esther will have a lot of support as she grows up and starts exploring the world around her.
Most of us have had at least one discovery experience about our own identities at some point in our lives. We realized we were not actually who we thought we were or who others expected us to be. Sometimes we turn out to be only a little distance from the mark and other times we realize that we are radically different. From our taste in music to the geography in which we prefer to settle to who we love and how we communicate best with God, most of us are lucky to discover what choices will allow us to survive and thrive in life. Although these discoveries are almost always informed by the lessons taught to us by our parents, we rarely allow our parents to dictate our choices once we reach adulthood.
As parents ourselves now, my husband and I choose to embrace the reality of this lack of ultimate power over our child's identity. If we are lucky, she is going to become whoever it is that God intends for her to become. To that end, we provide her with role models, education, experiences and resources from both of our faith traditions to facilitate her self-discovery. However, we are trying not to provide her with an expectation that any particular identity that she discovers will be more or less pleasing to us.
Now, that sounds overly crunchy-granola, hippy-dippy, and touchy-feely even to my ears.
But how else can I say it?
Just as the generation of parents before us are learning that they love their LGBTQ children just as much as if they were straight, many of us in this generation are struck with the knowledge that even if our children choose a different religious practice and community than our own, we will simply be grateful.
My husband and I spend a lot of family time in religious practice, both because that is the type of people we would be even without children and because it gives our daughter a solid spiritual foundation. We want her to have familiar rituals to turn to in times of trouble and joy of her life. We want her to have historical frameworks of thought to help her process the "big questions." We want her to have good values to guide her in her decisions. And we want her to have a deep sense of belonging to two vibrant communities so that she never feels alone.
My husband is a practicing Jew. He speaks fluent Hebrew, he and our daughter keep kosher, we all celebrate the Sabbath every week and he views the world through a uniquely Jewish perspective.
But if Esther discovers that she is happier in life as a Christian or some other spiritual identity, we will support her in that journey and attend her baptism with love in our hearts.
I am a practicing Christian. I cannot escape the belief that the story of Jesus is true and I have found that the music, metaphors and ceremonies of Christianity are the easiest way for me to be in relationship with God.
But if Esther one day discovers that she is Jewish, I will be overjoyed.
Like more Christians than you would expect, I do not need the rest of the world to accede to the same intellectual ideas about God that I have. In fact, my denomination thoughtfully and carefully determined in the '70s that Jews in particular are clearly engaged in a separate covenant with God than Christians are because we believe that God does not break God's promises, even though new promises are being made with other people.
If my child is right with God and feels at home in a particular community, why would my husband and I be anything other than content?
We have all turned out different from our parents. What if, as parents ourselves, we recognized that inevitability and try to liberate and empower our children to find the identity that works for them rather than trying to contain them in the model that works for us? I believe that my daughter will be more stable for not having to waste energy fighting me for her discoveries and that our relationship will be better because of this.