Is he a Hindu hottie, but you're a Catholic cutie? Not sure what to get your friend for her Bat Mitzvah? Wondering about Wicca? Pastor Paul answers all your religion and spirituality questions. Send them to PastorPaul@staff.beliefnet.com.

Dear Pastor Paul,
I have converted to Islam. My family are Pentecostal Christians. How do I tell them? I'm going to be graduating soon, and I'm thinking of just not saying anything until after I'm out of the house.

-- Becky in Baton Rouge

Dear Becky,
It's tough not being able to share who you are and what you believe with your family, but I think you are right on about waiting until you're out of the house and independent before you tell them about your conversion. Not only could things get ugly, but honoring your parents is in keeping with your new faith tradition. So while you're still in your parent's house, try to follow their rules and beliefs as best you can.

Once you're on your own, explain your beliefs to your family in language that they will understand. I suggest you emphasize that both Islam and Christianity (and Judaism, for that matter) worship God, but in different ways. Educating your family is especially important in the current post-9/11 climate.

Ultimately, converting from your family's religion is a lonely affair. However, as long as you remain a loving daughter and sister, they'll eventually accept you and your new beliefs.

Dear Pastor Paul,
I've been considering a period of fasting and praying. How long I should fast, and what kind of fast should I try?

-- Piranat

Dear Piranat,
Good for you for exploring ways to deepen your spiritual life. Fasting is a time-honored way to focus on the spirit. However, it should be done in connection with other activities that nurture spiritual growth. As an introduction, start out with a day fast (water only) from sun-up to sundown. Throughout the day, try various soul-enriching activities, such as centering prayer or meditation, walking in nature, writing in a journal, or performing some kind of service to your fellow humans. Have a simple, peaceful meal at night and reflect on your experience.

Just a couple of warnings about fasting: don't let it become a public demonstration of how spiritual you can be. Jesus warns against this in Matthew 6: 16-18. Also, don't let fasting become an obsession. Before he achieved enlightenment, the Buddha got heavily into fasting, to the point where he couldn't even lift himself up any more. Ultimately, the Buddha decided that extreme fasting was not the path to enlightenment, rather a more balanced approach to spiritual life called "the middle way."

Finally, make sure that your body can handle fasting. It's not for everyone. If you want to explore further, this chart will give you some more approaches to help you refine your fast, check out this chart.

Dear Pastor Paul,
I'm 16 and have had sex many times. I regret all of this. I wish I had saved my virginity for marriage. I feel so impure and dirtied, and I want to become clean again. A day doesn't go by that I don't feel bad. Now that I know I've done wrong, I'm abstaining. I don't want God or society to look at me with downcast eyes. I'm so troubled by all of this, and it is very hard to ask a pastor in person. Can you help? Thanks a lot.

-- Unsigned

Dear Child of God,
Your letter is the hardest kind to respond to, since you appear to be so intent on beating yourself up-so much that perhaps only grace will allow you to hear how important and precious you are. All I can offer you is this biblical story. I hope that you will know that this story was recorded so that you will accept God's forgiveness. Listen closely:

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to [Jesus], "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"

When they kept on questioning him, he said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."

The woman accused of adultery was at least as "impure" as you say you are, but did Jesus condemn her? No, he did not. Did he sanction the crowd's condemnation of the woman? No--he pointed out that they were all guilty of sins, and none of them was any better than the woman in God's eyes. Jesus does not condemn you. Society has no right to condemn you. Raise your eyes--you are clean and are forgiven. You are free to start your new life, living with integrity, as a beloved child of God.

Pastor Paul has worked with young people in the Twin Cities, Seattle, Sao Paulo, and New York City. He is Associate Minister for Young Adults at The Riverside Church in New York City.