Friday, April 18, 2014

Interfaith Life - My Messy Beautiful

It’s Good Friday today. We celebrated Passover last Monday. We’re celebrating Easter in two days. Matzo and Easter baskets, Seders and communion, we have it all. My family is interfaith. We are Jewish and Christian and we observe both religions. We are raising our daughter, currently three and a half years old, in both faith traditions.  We attend synagogue and church. We pray in Hebrew and in English. We love this. Our family and friends love this (thank you!). But it confuses and upsets a lot of people, and lately I’ve been dealing with that more.

My husband and I met as adults, at a time in our lives when we cared about our religious backgrounds but somehow they weren’t the most important aspects of our lives. It mattered more that we could talk to each other, that we shared the same values about how we treat others, how we treat the earth, how we spend time and money, and that we enjoyed each other’s company. We knew from the beginning that neither of us would change religions, and when we married after three years of dating we celebrated with an interfaith ceremony. A Rabbi and a Baptist minister officiated and in our ketubah, our wedding contract from the Jewish tradition, we promised to raise our children in both of our faiths.

Our daughter was born ten years later, and by then we had both spent plenty of time getting comfortable with each other’s traditions. We had developed a lovely rhythm of holidays, celebrating with both of our families whenever possible. My Jewish mother gives us Christmas and Easter presents. My Christian mother sends Passover and Hanukah cards. It’s beautiful. So it seemed natural to stay on that path, to keep attending two sets of services and celebrating two holidays. The central commandment for both of our faiths is the same:

“Love the Lord your G-D with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

That’s the code we’re trying to live by.  So it’s surprising and painful, lately, when people who don’t know us well begin to criticize. “How will you possibly raise your daughter in two traditions?” we are asked, with that skeptical tone that says “I know you can’t do it.” Well, we don’t know exactly, because it’s a work in progress, but so far observing both faiths and talking about both faiths works for us. “Don’t you think your daughter will be confused?” we are asked, with the implication that of course she will be. Well, no, actually I don’t think she will be. I've done some studying about this and interfaith kids raised in two traditions seem to do just fine. Plus, adults underestimate kids' intelligence and depth. I still remember how I thought as a child. I understood some fairly complex things, like death and divorce, at a very young age. I imagine that my daughter, raised by two loving parents who support each other, can sort out two separate but related sets of religious beliefs.

“Isn’t it difficult and messy?” we are asked. Yes. Yes, it is. It’s definitely more of a time commitment, both in attendance and in study. We've had to think more, talk more, read more, and plan more to make our separate religious lives cohere into a working whole. It’s definitely more of a challenge to introduce ourselves to new communities. It’s definitely hard to be kind and patient with skeptics, to gently but firmly handle people who push for us to be a different kind of family, a family that fits better into their categories and boxes.

But, you see, it’s a beautiful mess. By being different my husband and I have deepened and sharpened and broadened our understanding of our own faiths. We each love our own traditions more now than we did when we met 18 years ago, and now we love each other’s traditions too. I would never want my husband to convert to Christianity. I love Judaism, with its ancient prayers and songs, its ritual and symbolism, and it’s deep wisdom. I would never want to lose that for him or for us. Similarly, I would never want to convert to Judaism. I love Christianity, with its buoyancy and intimacy with G-D and its paradoxical love and wildness and grace. I would never, ever want to force my daughter to choose. If she makes a choice someday, if she hears a call strongly to one path or another or even something completely different, then that’s wonderful too. I’ll keep celebrating with her. That’s our family’s messy beautiful life.

I wrote this post for Momastery's Messy Beautiful Warrior’s project, to celebrate the paperback release of “Carry On, Warriors.” You can check out the project at You can also check out the book (which I definitely recommend, it's a great and inspiring read) here