I loved going to church with John.
We were scruffy college kids with too much energy and no concept of boundaries, religious or otherwise. We’d blast Queensryche and Metallica in his apartment and eat what we thought was delicious pasta with canned chicken – a dish I can’t even fathom today.
And the conversations we had, late at night and in the dim light of a worn college apartment, were far beyond our youthful years. We discussed what we believed and what we wanted in life and whether our religious differences – his Catholic upbringing and my Jewish roots – would keep us apart in the long-run.
Despite the prohibition of Jews kneeling in churches, I found going to the campus parishes with him on an occasional Sunday uplifting and inspiring. Perhaps it was simply because the benedictions and rules did not apply to me – no inbred guilt, no lifelong requirement to observe. I had the freedom to listen to the message, to notice the rituals in detail, to appreciate the beauty of the church, without any baggage or boundaries.
It provided me perspective and a larger scope to my little world. I could compare the stories and rules of my childhood with the new ones I found from his. I could question and explore without any obligation to come to a specific conclusion.
Once, I met with an Ann Arbor priest and asked him why I suddenly believed in God after attending church, instead of synagogue. He didn’t try to convert me on the spot; he simply heard my questions and guided me toward answers. My answers. In my time.
Years later, John a heartache away and me a nascent reporter in Manhattan, I met with the dean of admissions at Hebrew Union College’s rabbinical school. I thought my experiences, my questioning, prepared me to lead others in an open-minded and real way. I thought I’d make a great rabbi.
But after lengthy conversation, we both decided it wasn’t quite the right time.
Twenty years later, I am ready. It’s time to lead. I already do it, really, and the collective pot of experiences I’ve had in my adult life amount to this: we are all one, religion is universal, everyone is looking for meaning in life.
My path as a spiritual leader isn’t carved out of one defined religious tradition. It’s unorthodox (pun intended); it’s a new look at an ancient way; it’s an attempt to bring insight and wisdom and community to spiritual people without requiring the confines of one particular path.
Let’s see how it goes. I’m pretty optimistic that we’re all going to fly.