Pastor Paul has worked with young people in the Twin Cities, Seattle, Sao Paulo, and New York City. He currently is a chaplain at Columbia University in New York City.
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I'm a college freshman who has very strong feelings about converting to Judaism. But my parents are deeply Christian. They get mad when I attend synagogue or do anything connected to Judaism, even if it's for a class. My dad tends to be a bigot, he once used an anti-semitic slur to my face! What should I do? How should I handle the holiday season? I've been given a choice--celebrate Christmas or leave the family. There's also a "no-dreidels-or-menorahs-in-the-house" rule.
It's unfortunate that your family's hostility seems to be forcing you to determine so quickly whether the Jewish tradition is right for you.
Your family sounds like it is verging on spiritual and emotional abuse. Remember you have done nothing to deserve it. It may be that all you can do right now is tell your parents how it hurts you and then walk away. In their own way, your parents are truly worried about you. They sound like the kind of Christians that believe non-Christians are going to hell. It's not an excuse, but it may help you to understand them better during this time.
Unfortunately, until you're paying the bills, you have very little say about the rules of the house. Remember, religious observances take place in the *heart*. You can observe Hanukkah in a very real and meaningful way without bringing dreidels or menorahs into the house. You can honor your mother and father (however hard that might be right now) by going with them to a Christmas service and appreciating it for its own sake--even if it doesn't represent your faith any more. My Jewish cousins have come to Christmas services with me and I have gone to Yom Kippur services with them because we love and honor each other, and our respective traditions.
Make sure that you take the time to hear where God is calling you, and in which faith you best understand him. If, after a careful discernment process with the guidance of a rabbi, you feel that you want to convert to Judaism, then God's blessings upon you.
Talk with other teens about conversion.
|Dear Pastor Paul,
I'm 17 and have been questioning my religion. I was born and raised Jewish, but my father is half-Jewish, half-Irish catholic. I got bat mitzvahed, went to Hebrew school, but realize now that the Jewish religion might not be for me. I don't agree with a lot the teachings and am interested in converting. Religion was such a minor part of my life and we only went to temple when we "had to"...
So now I'm in search of my own personal spirtuality. I want to further my research on the Catholic Church because I feel strongly that's where I belong. I am concerned though that I might lose God's favor, but I believe in my heart that it doesn't matter what your religion is as long as you love and respect God. I also worry that I would be denying my Jewish ancestory.
I would like to know if there is an age of consent for conversion, how I would go about doing it, what the process involves, and your experience with this.
Your parents should feel fortunate to have a daughter so interested in the questions of religion. It's exciting to receive a letter from a young woman so in tune to what she is feeling spiritually.
Question 1: Are you rejecting your family and ancestry searching for a new religion?
As we saw in Amanda's story above, a teen's religious conversion can be very intimidating to a family. The most important way to alleviate any fear is to love your parents as you have always loved them, respect them and the faiths and traditions they have, and remember to talk with them every step of the way. Continue being their daughter in the same way you were before, and you'll still be an integral and valuable part your family's proud ancestry.
Question 2: Will you lose God's favor in the process?
Correct me if I 'm wrong, but isn't it God who is leading you on your conversion? The first step to any conversion is a profound call through prayer and study. If your switch to Catholicism comes about through a hunch based on your father's heritage, rather than prayerful conversations with God, then you need to spend more time with the decisions you are making.
Question 3: How do you do it?
The Catholic Church considers anyone who is at least 14 years old capable of making a serious choice about their religion. You can call a church directly. Or, since you have Catholic relatives, why not give them a call and have them recommend a priest or lay leader who could meet with you? Either way be prepared to attend a class called the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults to learn about the Church and its teachings. This class can take up to a year and will give you a chance to really dive into the culture of the Catholic Church and find out if it is right for you. Bless you and your search.
Read more on the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.
|Dear Pastor Paul,
I was born in Vietnam and like many South Asian families, we are Buddhist. My parents are devout and strongly encourage me to follow that path. I don't really want to because I strongly disagree with the strong emphasis that Buddhism places on family values rather than individualism. Is that true? What is the basis for which Buddhist values are built upon?
--Confused in North Carolina
It sounds like you want to practice the same religion as your parents--but on your own terms. You feel that your parents' Buddhism stifles your individuality and they use it to support their strong belief in obedience to the family. This doesn't make them bad Buddhists or bad parents, it's simply the tradition that they know and practice. However, it may not be right for you.
Oftentimes, people look for truths in other religions when their truth may be found in their own religion. It's great to hear you asking deeper questions about Buddhism. I spoke with Mary Talbot, our Buddhism editor here at Beliefnet about your dilemma. She pointed out that while the Buddha did teach that everyone owes a great debt to their parents, his teachings almost entirely focused on the individual and his or her own path to awakening. The emphasis that your parents place on family responsibility is probably due more to their Asian heritage than to actual Buddhist teachings. Buddhism teaches that each of us has sole responsibility for cultivating our own mindfulness, wisdom and compassion.
While it's important to respect the tradition your parents practice, I hope you'll continue to explore Buddhism on your own terms. Check out some writings of contemporary Buddhist teachers such as the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, or visit a temple or practice center of your choosing. Remember, traditions are only as alive as each new generation makes them. Check out these meditations by Thich Nhat Hanh.