Rather than spend time digging into the exegesis of society that so often flows from the pages of this blog, often by way of my keyboard, I thought I’d take time in this season of reflecting on the cross and of Easter which happened just weeks ago to share where my heart went in consideration of how I’d come to be here. And by here, I mean seminary, I mean Christianity, I mean everything. God’s word tells us to confess our sins to one another, and I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the journey than by way of confession. So I’ll begin with the conversations that took place when I professed my faith in Christ to my grandmother and to my father. You don’t know me from Adam, no pun intended, but let me just say parenthetically that I didn’t have close relationships with either of them before these events took place nearly a year ago, and I am just not coming to terms with the way things are now. I’ll fill you in more as we go.
“You are Jewish.” That’s what they said. When I was born that was decided for me. I got no say. I wasn’t consulted or asked if that was a good idea. I had no clue because, let’s face it, babies never do. I think it’s something to do with them being babies and not being able to talk yet. So they said I was a Jew. Said I should follow the Torah. Said that was the way. The irony was that it was all talk and no walk, if you get what I mean. But to understand what I’m about to say you need some background on who “they” actually is and what their expectations were of me. It began with my grandparents. You see, my parents divorced when I was about three, so even though my dad was, or at least suggested that he was, a devout Jew, I wasn’t near him to glean his feelings on the matter. I was raised by my mom, far and away from my dad, so that was a nonissue. The only people still around who “practiced” the Jewish faith were my mom’s parents. My grandparents went to synagogue on the Jewish high holidays, donated generously to various Jewish organizations in their area and insisted that their grandsons have a Bar Mitzvah. So even though my mom was only Jewish by technicality and not by practice, and even though I had no interest at all in the matter, and (yes another and) even though one of my cousins was given the option and allowed to decline to have one, I was forced to go to Hebrew school.
Hebrew school was awesome! (Wait, what?) Yes, the time I spent at Hebrew school was great.
“Why was it great Adam?”
I’m glad you asked. It was great because Hebrew school was preparing my for my Bar Mitzvah. A day when Jewish boys become men. A day that occurs at or around your thirteenth birthday. So as a result of the timing of the event, you begin Hebrew school a few years earlier. That put me at 11 years old. 11 happens to also be right smack dab in the beginning of my spiral into substance abuse. Now having laid that out on the table, you can imagine how focused I probably was during class time. Especially since they were doing a lot of teaching while speaking Hebrew which, even while not intoxicated, sounds a bit odd. No disrespect to the Jewish faith or to the language itself or to anyone who speaks it — like many of you reading this I’ll be taking it myself beginning in the fall — but during your preteen years it does sound funny. So I laughed a lot. Sometimes to myself. Sometimes out loud. I also skipped class a lot. My mom would drop me off and I would walk in, see her drive off, and walk right back out. I’d do a ton of drinking, make fun of the kids inside, and then walk in just in time to see my mom drive up to pick me up.
Before you get all “he’s too young to drink” and look down at the situation please know two things: 1. I was definitely too young to drink. That didn’t stop me and this isn’t the right forum to discuss how I overcame the obstacles involved in getting the alcohol. 2. It is far more common than you think for someone that age to have a substance problem.
Anyway, It was a perfect system. She leaves me there, assumes I attend class, and picks me up but has no interest in the faith and so she asks no questions. Perfect, except that I wasn’t learning anything. So I got pulled from the school and given a private tutor. Once a week for like 6 months I had to visit this rabbi for an hour and rehearse the Bar Mitzvah from beginning to end. Can you spell torture? The day finally came, and despite my expectation of complete failure, I actually pulled it off. And to really ice the cake, I had only just quit abusing substances drugs by then and was going through withdrawal the entire day. I spent the hour leading up to it vomiting, I spent nearly an hour afterwards vomiting and the time in between while I was presenting my Jewishness in all its illicitly fake glory I was laughing inside at how much of an imposter I was. I disgrace to the faith. But then again, I didn’t want this faith anyway. I didn’t feel anything for it. Didn’t feel a connection to the God of Moses, the God of Abraham and all Israel. The God that my grandparents loved so much. I had nothing for. I felt nothing for. So the moment it was finished, I was finished. My mom never took me to synagogue. We usually decorated for Christmas not Hanukkah in my house because it was more fun and in my mind being Jewish was a joke and I was the punchline. That was the day I renounced religion in general and went rogue. I led my life by my own moral code and did, what I would describe as, fine. Fast forward 18 years and I’m 31, living at rock bottom because I’ve been married, had 3 babies, lost a baby in between the first two and the third, run my marriage into a wall, run my kids away from me, and run our finances into the ground. It may seem like I’m making light of all that, but I have to, otherwise this story will take hours to tell. They have their own times and places to be told. Rock bottom is a horrible place to be. Vicious, unrelenting sadness. But it has one incredible upside. There isn’t anywhere to go. And more so than that, it is a place where often times you finally realize that God is right there with you.
I’d been Godless for 17 years and, if we are really honest with each other, I’d been Godless since the day I was born. Remember friends, being born into something doesn’t inherently make it part of your heart, only part of your life. Yet, we know that God is sovereign in all things, and so my experience of being without God doesn’t take away the fact that God was there. Directing my steps. Forming me.
Ok, so I told you that story to get back to this story. At this moment I’m pouring this story from my head and my heart onto the keys of this MacBook so that it might be posted for all of you to read and glean I don’t know exactly what from. I’ve been a Christian for 3 years. I’ve been in seminary for a third of that. And I’ve known that this is exactly where I am meant to be the entire time. I found God in my darkest hour and He showed me a way out. It was that defining moment that became a turning point for me. I left all my anxieties at His feet and I began to rebuild my life. Brick by brick, I put it all back together. My kids are more well-rounded and happier with Jesus in their hearts. My wife is more comfortable in her own skin, more driven and more fulfilled with Jesus in her heart. I’m more dedicated, more at peace, more engaged in life, more successful, let’s just say I’m living in a perpetual state of MORE. I’m living my best life. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Now I’m finally at the point that I started with 1,465 words ago. My dad and my grandmother are not at all fans my newfound faith in God. They’re upset that I left my Jewish roots. If you need clarification on my Jewish roots, please reread this entire story and then come back here.
Ok now that you’re clear on where I stand, I’ll continue. My grandmother is quiet about her dislike. My dad on the other hand… let’s just say he has a few objections And he expresses them.
that’s what he called me. The best part of that is the fact that I called myself that very thing the day of my Bar Mitzvah and at this moment, in Christ, I’ve never felt more authentic. He said this because my mom and dad are both Jewish and therefore I am Jewish. End of story. Again, if this is confusing start over and rejoin me here. If you aren’t confused, or even if you are, you’re very much like where many of my best friends are in the matter. The reality is, I was never Jewish. And to be an imposter, by definition, you have to be one thing acting as though you’re another.
So with me now extremely active in our Church, I’m told I’m an imposter. A Jew pretending to believe in and pretending to love Christ. “I don’t identify as Jewish”. That’s how I began my defense. I’m sad to say I didn’t stay as calm as I wanted to in that moment. He called me foolish. He called me immature. He called me a hypocrite. And as at peace as I am, as grounded as I am in my beliefs, I lost it. I played the comparison game. I got sarcastic. And so did he.
Here’s the thing. We both married Christians. We both celebrate Christmas and we both fill our homes with decorations that revere the birth of the Son of God for a good month at the end of each year.
It made zero sense to me that he was upset. Zero sense that I was accused of rejecting my “faith,” I mean. If we are talking about living a truly proper Jewish life, neither of us was succeeding. At least I was committed to something. Committed to leading a proper Christian life. Yet there I was, arguing that I can be whatever I want. Arguing that no one was there for me as a child to truly lead me to God. Arguing that I’m allowed to follow whatever I want to follow and live by whatever code I prefer to. Trying to justify my belief. I eventually apologized for my brashness in defending myself. Apologized and accepted blame for saying hurtful things, things that I knew would instigate him. I knew he wouldn’t apologize, and that was ok. But even though I knew it wouldn’t fix things, we still don’t speak (not for lack of trying on my part), I know that this is what Jesus meant when he said that we would be persecuted because of him. And it left me with this question.
Why is it that when you finally find happiness, finally stop playing the game for everyone else and instead allow yourself to be truly happy, do people turn their backs? We actually offended people by choosing to be happy. We aren’t hurting anyone. Just loving ourselves and getting back to loving life. And now we have to defend against all of these negative words and actions?
A single word comes to mind.
And that’s the moral of my story here. I left my sin on the table for all of you to see so that I could make this very point: Never feel bad, ashamed, embarrassed, meek or nervous; never feel intimidated by people questioning you. Your faith isn’t for others. Your faith isn’t to be used to fit in with. Your faith isn’t a hole to hide in. It’s a part of you. A big part. An important part. Know yourself and love yourself and have faith in God who loves you and gave His only son for you. A God who knows suffering because I lived it for you. Lean on Him. Let him shoulder the burden for you. And don’t, I repeat DONT believe the lie that your past defines you. You are hidden with God in Christ and your sins, your past, your brokenness, that’s all part of the epic story. Not your story, but His.
Adam Sculnick — Sinner, Saint, Servant. Executive Director of CIA Boys Club, loving husband, proud father of 3 and author. Adam has a passion for the spreading of God’s word, the raising up of leaders young and old and an affinity for sharing all that he’s learned. Follow him @ciaboysclub