So if I’m not praying to Thor these days, what am I up to spiritually?
It might seem like I’m a flake who’s just chasing whims and not taking this stuff seriously. But if anything, it’s the opposite of that: because I take these matters so seriously, the choice of where to make my spiritual home is critical. I did have to evolve my understanding of what I was looking for in a spiritual home, but I’ll delve into that some other time.
Until a few years ago, I didn’t even realize that my level of interest in life’s big questions was unusual. But when both a therapist and a member of the clergy asked me about why these things are so important to me, it seemed reasonable to reflect on it for a bit. My answer is that I don’t think I had a choice in the matter, but maybe not for the reasons that some people might think.
Spirituality is sometimes framed as a matter of getting a correct answer to a specific question for the purpose of securing the fate of one’s soul after death. But that version of events has never sat well with me. If a spiritual framework is going to be meaningful, it should have something to say about how I live my daily life.
So where am I now? Currently my spiritual home is a Conservative Jewish congregation in the Dallas area. Despite the name, no political affiliation is implied here. Conservative Jews run across the political spectrum. I’ll clarify in a future post how Conservative congregations differ from other Jewish congregations.
As some of you might guess from my last name (I share it with a family of gospel singers), I was not raised Jewish. Nor do I have any obvious Jewish heritage. So how did I end up Jewish?
It started, of all places, at a Lutheran university.
I got my bachelor’s degree from Texas Lutheran University (how I ended up at a Lutheran school despite not being Lutheran is another story). At the time, TLU students were required to take two theology courses: an introductory course that everyone took, and an advanced course where you could choose from several options. As is the case for many young college students, I spent a lot of time re-evaluating my religious beliefs during my undergraduate years. Therefore, I wasn’t especially eager to take these theology courses. I didn’t even take the introductory course until my junior year.
Without going into details, let’s just say that my introductory theology course did not excite me about taking more courses in that area. But my senior year came along and I needed to knock out that advanced theology course to graduate. By this point I had become disillusioned with the Christian faith I was raised in, and the prospect of delving into Tillich-isms like “Ultimate Concern” and “getting to the God beyond God” sounded about as appealing as stabbing myself in the eyeball.
Fortunately, the course schedule helped me out. The university offered a course on Judaism, taught by a retired Army chaplain (Rabbi Richard Dryer, of blessed memory). I figured if nothing else, I would learn something about a religion I knew very little about so that I wouldn’t ask stupid questions when talking to Jewish people in the future.
I got what I came for in the course, but I didn’t start my conversion journey then. However, I left with a positive impression of Judaism, and unbeknownst to me, a seed had been planted for the future. More on that in part 2.