“The old familiar story told in different ways; Make the most of your own journey from the cradle to the grave;Dream your dreams tomorrow because today, life must go on
But there’s more to this life than living and dying, more than just trying to make it through the day;more to this life, more than these eyes alone can see, and there’s more than this life alone can be.”
The above lyrics are from Steven Curtis Chapman’s “More to This Life,” the title track to his 1989 album.
I discovered this song probably sometime in the mid-to-late 90s. I was heavily into contemporary Christian music then, and this song resonated with me. It remained in my top five favorite songs right up until I walked away from Christianity (and its music) more than five years ago.
I frequently refer to myself as a BEC (bitter ex-Christian), but I’m finding that this definition of myself is starting to change. I’ve now put enough time and space between my current faith and my former one to gain some perspective, and I’ve found myself assessing the lessons I learned over the decades I spent practicing the various forms of Christianity. I’ve learned lessons, some good and some bad, and I thought I’d share some of them here. I’m starting chronologically from my earliest participation until my last, and the approximate dates of where I was involved is included for context. I’ve also included links to places and people because, well, it was fun to walk down memory lane as I wrote this.
For the last couple of months, two ladies who are Jehovah’s Witnesses have been stopping by our house every third week or so. They are very aware of my status as a Jew because the posts by my front door make it clear where I land on matters of the spirit.
While I am firmly rooted in my “religion” (I put that word in quotes because Judaism is so much more to me than just a religious practice), I also believe in being kind.
Note: As part of my conversion process, my rabbi requires that I write my religious autobiography, which is made up of a series of essays. I’m posting these essays here, as well, to share my journey. I’m nearing the end of this process and will soon meet the beit din (rabbinical court) who will decide my Jewish “fate.” If my request for conversion is approved, I’ll then enter the mikveh and, when I emerge, I do so as a Jew.
Here is my first essay in the series, which is all about what compelled me to make this decision.
When starting out on my faith journey in my early twenties, I carried with me the God of my youth. This God was one that, if my prayers were sincere enough, my heart true enough, and my deeds good enough, would grant whatever it was that I wanted. If my prayers weren’t answered, it was because I had sinned or had fallen short of God’s plan for me. God was like a magical ATM in the sky, dispensing money, happiness, and an occasional new car to those that were worthy and devout.
If I’m being honest, the hardest part about giving up Christianity was not the preaching or the Sunday services (or…you know…Jesus), but the music. I’ve been a massive fan of the contemporary Christian genre since I was in the sixth grade and listened to Michael W. Smith the first time.
The other genre I’ve always adored, thanks to both my father and Ricky Skaggs, is Bluegrass. I have sought out great Bluegrass for years, even when I was in my early 20s and my cohorts thought I was insane for jamming to “Country Boy” while they were listening to whatever ear-bleedingly awful pop song was popular at the time. With the new Broadway musical Bright Star out right now, Bluegrass is getting in front of fresh ears, as well as reigniting my love for the genre.
These past eight-odd months, first when I was distancing myself from Christianity and then later, when I realized that Judaism was it for me, I missed Christian music because, naturally, I gave it up. But a soulful melody has always been like a religious experience to me, and while I was finding snippets of music here and there that I liked in the Jewish world, I had yet to find something that made me sit upright and yell with glee.
What happens when you combine Bluegrass and Jewishness? Well, you get the self-titled debut album by Nefesh Mountain, and it is nothing short of MAGNIFICENT.
Music owns me. Nothing lets me lose myself like a powerful song. As a writer, I can often envision entire scenes in my head between my characters just because of a melody or refrain. Music soothes my soul or revs me up or inspires me or becomes a companion when I need it. Simply put, I love music.
I’m five weeks into my “official” study of Judaism (official because I’m under the tutelage of a rabbi) and every single week, I learn something new or discover something about myself and my own beliefs that tells me I’m on the right path.
My biggest realization, thus far, is two-fold: 1) I’m completely falling in love with Shabbat; and, 2) Shabbat preparation is challenging.