Yisrael Means “Wrestling with G-d”

Surprise! New blog. If you’re interested in someone who has wrestled with G-d his whole life, you’re in the right place. Read on.

What do you say in a first post to a new blog? I’ve stared at this blank window for twenty minutes, trying to figure that out, while the work that I need to do waits patiently on my desk. I should probably put this aside and come back when the work is done, but I can’t stop thinking about the topic of this blog, and it’s interfering with getting my work done. Better that I should put it here, so I can move along with my day.

I’m just not sure what to write.

But as the King said to Alice: “Begin at the beginning, and when you come to the end, stop.” So I’ll begin at the beginning. Coming to the end may take a while, however, and it won’t be in this post.

Typing G-d as I do is sort of a dead-giveaway indicator that I follow a particular path. However, this is a path I’ve only recently started to walk upon as I investigate the possibility of converting to Judaism. Hence, this blog.

Now, for many people, conversion to Judaism is a Big Deal. It should be – if it’s not, there’s something wrong. But for most people, conversion to Judaism probably starts with having already been comfortable with believing in a G-d of some kind.

I am not that person.

First, I’m queer. That encompasses a lot of datapoints, including that I’m bisexual (leaning gay) and polyamorous. I grew up, and still live, in the Los Angeles area. I love Disneyland, and I have a family-history connection to it. I’ve been married twice (once straight, once gay), divorced twice, and I have two daughters from my first marriage who are in their late teens and approaching adulthood. I’m in a committed relationship with a male partner and I have another relationship with a female partner (yes, I’m bisexual). I’m in my forties, I am a type 2 diabetic (so far, controlled very successfully with a Paleo diet), I have rheumatoid arthritis and severe grain allergies that make it worse, and I’m a high-functioning autistic. I teach college, and many of my students face issues of discrimination and low preparation (hence the work that’s waiting for me to finish this blog post).

I know, I know. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Well, I value my sexualities – all of them. I value my children and my partners. I value my education and my work. And I figure, the disabilities and challenges I face can serve as object lessons both for me and for others.

I have also spent most of my life wrestling with G-d. My father was a devout Catholic (although when asked, he would say “No, my faith is Catholic – my religion is MUSIC“) and my mother was a troubled one. As a result, I grew up as a Catholic (sort of) and then as a fundamentalist Christian (sort of) and then as a Catholic (sort of) again, and then as a pagan, and then an atheist. And I say “sort of” because although I attended the services, and sang the songs, and read the scriptures, there was always a part of me that said “the G-d this church believes in is harmful to you.”

When G-d is represented to you as someone you should be terrified of, and someone who sets you up to fail and expects you to thank him for it, and who is just waiting for you to fail so he can punish you for failing, this is probably an understandable reaction. Even my bout with paganism did not help; I became pagan more as a rejection of Christianity than as a true path, and I could not connect with “the gods” in any meaningful way. So I said “I’m a pagan atheist – the gods are just archetypes, not real.” It didn’t help. And the dogmatism I encountered (and still encounter) over and over again from “Christians” about women’s rights, about gay people, about how you must profess faith and how doubt is nearly a sin, just drove me away from their churches.

But I couldn’t stop searching for G-d. I couldn’t stop wrestling, either.

Every spring, my partner says, I come searching for G-d. I’ve tried all the books. I’ve read C.S. Lewis, and John Shelby Spong, and Borg, and many other liberal theologians, trying to make sense of G-d. But I never could. I could never get away from that image of G-d as someone who wants me to fail just so he can laugh at me.

G-d as a divine bully, in other words.

Over the years, I’ve been angry with G-d, indifferent to G-d, terrified of G-d. I’ve never been – until very recently – open to G-d. I’ve always tried to understand G-d, to figure him out, to find a box to place him in. Part of that may have been searching for a cage to place him in so that I could relax – so I could put the divine bully behind bars.

From about the time I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism in my early thirties, through the death of my father five years ago, up until two or three months ago, I was an atheist, screaming into G-d’s ear “You don’t exist, and I hate you!” (As if you could hate something that didn’t exist. I didn’t see the logical fallacy at the time.)

Then one day I began to look for G-d again, as I always do in the springtime. I’ve been a shocher – a seeker – for years and years. Decades, even. But this time I stopped looking for G-d only in books. I started to listen. I started to really listen, and I felt a sense of peace I’ve never known before. A sense that I could stop wrestling for a while. A sense that perhaps, there were some answers.

The details of how I discovered this aren’t really relevant, but in the last few months, I found out that Judaism aligns exactly with what I’ve always thought was important. Do good here, during your lifetime. Heal the world. Help the stranger. Be there for those in need. Tikkun olam, in other words.

That’s when my life changed.

I didn’t have a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment. I didn’t have any sudden revelation. No divine presence shouted at me. It was more like what happened to Samuel, who heard G-d calling but didn’t know who he was hearing at first. It took a while for me to realize that it was G-d speaking to me. Not yelling at me. Not berating me. Not bullying me. Just speaking to me. Not to tell me what to do or to tell me how bad I was. Just to say “I am here.”

Since then, I have started to come to peace with G-d. Part of that peace came from attending a Seder this past Pesach, and having every Jewish person at the table be surprised when I said that that verse, “fear G-d,” makes me afraid.* They assured me this was not how it reads in the original Hebrew – “fear G-d” is a clunky translation that many Christians have since run with, abused, perverted, and twisted. Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is sort of the ideal-type example of this perversion of that verse. The actual meaning of those words is “be in awe of G-d.”

The reason for that meaning is that you can’t put G-d in a box. He’s outside of human understanding. He’s too big to “get”. More to the point, he doesn’t expect us to “get” him. He’s simply “there.” He’s not making demands – those were delivered at Sinai. He’s not waiting for us to mess up – that’s Christianity’s perversion of the Scriptures. He’s not a divine bully. He’s more like the sun. He simply IS.

It’s no accident that he said to Moses “I am that I am” out of the burning bush. He can’t be categorized.

It’s like I can finally hear him now, after talking over him and ignoring him for most of my life because of my fear.

I tell people that the seder was not the catalyst for my conversion journey, but it was the confirmation that I was on the right path. I haven’t even spoken with a rabbi yet, but I plan to, around the end of this month. I’ve been studying Hebrew, and talking with my partner (who is not interested in converting) and posting on several boards for Jews by choice. I’ve chosen the name I want when I finally do finish conversion. I’m nervous (it’s the unknown) but I am on the path. And I’m the kind of person who rarely changes his mind once he makes a decision.

So, why this blog? Well, completely apart from hoping that I connect with others who are going through similar experiences, there’s not enough information on the Web yet for people in my situation. As Michael at ChicagoCarless.com said, I’m adding to the record by creating this page to group together my own narrative. It is my hope the posts I wrote during my conversion process will have meaning for others considering their own Jewish journeys.” I figure my own journey might be of some service to people who are investigating conversion as well, so here it is. 

(I will add one small warning: If you are a Christian who thinks it would be a good idea to send me a tract or a comment about how Jesus is my savior – don’t. Just don’t. I’ve heard that message for thirty years from hundreds of well-meaning Christians, and it’s never been convincing to me. It’s never given me any hope at all. All it’s given me is pain and fear, and I’ve had enough of that in my life. So if you’re so moved, please move along. I may not be done with my conversion yet, but in my soul, I know that I am supposed to be a Jew. Any comments that try to push Jesus or Christianity, on me or anyone else, will be summarily deleted.)

———-

*The person leading the seder considerately altered “fear G-d” to “appreciate G-d” when we next encountered the phrase in the Haggadah.

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8 Comments

Filed under Conversion Process, Judaism, Wrestling Matches

8 responses to “Yisrael Means “Wrestling with G-d”

  1. As I said elsewhere, welcome 🙂

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  2. Miche

    Mazel tov. 🙂

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  3. I am so happy for you. Judaism seems perfect for you, from what I know as a non-Jew with several close friends and neighbors who are Jewish. I think you will love the structures and the deep history, and most especially the fact that questioning, arguing, and wrestling with G-d are not only allowed, but encouraged. Mazel Tov!

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  4. Mary Kridler

    One of my favorite stories is of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord; I have always loved that he was expected to “wrestle”, to argue, to come to terms, and that his life was changed and blessed thereby. I am so glad that you have found this path and peace upon it. Thank you for sharing your journey. 🙂

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  5. I am too starting this journey towards Jewishness. Can’t wait to see where your journey takes you. you might like my blog : http://whyzaravenlikeawritingdesk.blogspot.com/

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