Bruce Sallan: A Jew in church
My wife is Christian; I’m Jewish. Since we were not going to have children together, this wasn’t much of an issue since this was a second marriage for both of us. We did have the Christmas tree problem but resolved that amicably, by at first going to her parent’s house to celebrate Christmas with them. When my wife got sick and we couldn’t make it that year, I relented and we brought the Christmas tree into our home.
Now we’re celebrating both Christmas and Hannukah in our home and, more recently, I’ve even attended her church (Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California).
This issue, of religion in the home is a touchy one for most couples getting married, especially as they plan on having and raising children. It’s not a simple question nor is there a simple answer. I believe it’s extremely important for a couple to discuss this, in depth, before they marry or have children if they believe and practice different faiths.
I used to think, as many clergy would recommend, that a mixed-faith couple should just choose one religion to practice in the home and with which to raise their children. I still tend to believe this view but have realized it’s more nuanced and complicated than I at first thought. Originally, this line of reasoning made complete sense in that the children get exposed to one faith, learn one faith, and hopefully appreciate and love that one faith.
Further, the thinking was and is that raising children in dual faiths only confuses them and diminishes the value of both religions. In those homes, many children just end up dropping both faiths and end up leading a secular or more generalist spiritual life without belonging to either religion in which they were raised. It was thought naïve that children would have the wisdom, in their young lives, to actually appreciate both religions and possibly make their own choice later. I still tend to agree with this line of thinking.
My first wife and I agreed to raise our children Jewish. We attended an “Introduction to Judaism” course of 15 three-hour lectures, and also attended the obligatory “extra credit” outside homework, that included visiting various temples, Jewish libraries, stores, and places that offered a Jewish experience (that might have included attending a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or a traditional Jewish wedding, as well as different services of the primary three Jewish denominations).
It was a wonderful refresher course, for me, and my wife did complete it and choose to convert before we married and had children. We raised them in a Jewish household, though I was the parent with the primary responsibility for their religious education. Ultimately, both boys became a Bar Mitzvah after their thirteenth birthdays.
I believe this religious foundation was good and that both boys appreciate and respect their Jewish heritage. I’m glad we did it that way. However, in my second marriage, with children not a question, my wife has chosen to keep and practice her Christian faith. At first, I struggled with how this might impact my boys and me. The Christmas tree was the first hurdle since it is symbolic to me as it so represented something contrary to my faith.
I got over that hurdle and next I attended my wife’s church where, to my surprise, I found myself completely enjoying the magnificent services produced at Calvary Church. I use the word “produced” from the position of a former television producer who appreciates the careful “production values” of their services, from the big screens that project the words to the songs sung, to videos sometimes shown, to check-lists and information on those screens that relate to what the pastor may be preaching.
I don’t believe in Jesus, but we share the same basic belief in the Old Testament and the same values that the Ten Commandments oblige Jews and Christians alike to live. I enjoyed the services so much that I approached the senior Pastor, Shawn Thornton, and the youth ministries Pastor, Drew Sams, and complemented them on a job well done.
My conversation with Pastor Drew Sams led to his becoming my regular guest on the “Teen Rap” segment of my new Radio Show. We’ve begun a friendship that embraces our respective faiths and I’ve actually attended several other Calvary services just for the joy, heart, and wisdom in them. The fact that both Pastor Drew and Pastor Shawn are remarkable speakers who preach such inherently valuable words of wisdom is a bonus, along with the artistry of the revolving bands playing first-rate professional music to begin and end the services.
Who would have thought that this stubborn, set-in-his-ways, guy would be singing along to gospel music, swaying back and forth, and listening attentively to every word a Christian pastor spoke? Not me. As for my boys, they are seeped in Judaism. Their adult path is theirs to choose. I will stay a Jew, but I now can share and enjoy my wife’s faith, more than I ever imagined. And, as we both learned during our courtship, it would have been harder to have opposite political values given the divisive nature of political discourse these days than have our different religions, where we share the same basic values. How ironic. How surprising. How wonderful.
Listen to “The Bruce Sallan Show – A Dad’s Point-of-View” Thursdays at 11 a.m. PST on KZSB AM1290 in Santa Barbara or on the Internet via a live stream. For that link and all information about the show and Bruce, visit his website: http://brucesallan.com.