Today I’m thrilled to share this space with fellow blogger, writer and nonbeliever, Amy M. Miller. She shares her perspective on living without faith while trying to hold on to her heritage. Her bio follows. Thank you, Amy, for taking the time to guest post here!
First, let me thank Debbie for inviting me to share some thoughts on her insightful blog. Debbie and I became members of the mutual fan club this summer and she will also write a guest post on my site.
I never thought I’d become a parent. I didn’t feel comfortable around children, I wasn’t a naturally playful person. In my younger days I considered myself more of a serious intellectual. That’s right, I was a snob. But one of the reasons I feared parenthood was my lack of faith. I felt it was one thing not to believe in a higher power, but I had no idea how I would explain that to a child or children. To make matters more difficult, I am Jewish. For many Jews, this isn’t a problem. They identify as cultural Jews, rather than religious Jews. Anne Lamott refers to people like me as “bagely Jews.” We enjoy a schmear and a kibitz with our culturally Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish friends, but you won’t find us at synagogue. Well, maybe for the high holy holidays.
It’s a contradiction that many Jews live with, but I don’t know many Jews who worry over it like I do.
Soon after I met my husband in 1998 my attitude towards parenting began to mellow. Insert biological clock cliché here. I was teaching literacy skills to elementary-age children and they became cuter to me every day. When we moved to D.C. in 2011, my husband and I would moon over babies on the Metro. “We could make one of those,” we thought. And we did. Two, in fact. Our kids are now 6 and 9.
But having a family and not knowing what to tell them about my belief system, or lack thereof, is a nagging harpy that harangues me on a regular basis.
Why, you may ask.
Because I want it all, just like Veruca Salt. I want my kids to understand and appreciate that they are Jewish, but also view the world through critical lenses. To say, hey, this is a beautiful tradition, a wonderful heritage, it makes me verklemf, but this whole creation of the world in seven days thing? Horse hockey!
Here’s where I confess to you that I don’t take my kids to synagogue. We live in the South and there just aren’t any progressive congregations within driving distance. If we still lived in D.C. or moved to Portland, OR or Chicago, we’d have a seat at the table of Humanistic Judaism. Not so much in Kentucky. I struggle with this because I want my kids to participate in the traditions along with peers who are like them, I want them to cherish the Jewish value of justice and the Jewish practice of charity. And I just can’t teach them these things very easily on my own. I don’t have confidence that I can do it well, my husband is a Christian-born agnostic, and I really crave community.
I know I’m not the only cultural Jew/Muslim/Hindu/Christian/insert your identity here. I take comfort finding like-minded parents who also struggle with how to explain a complicated heritage and non-belief system to children who every day become more assimilated, more homogenous. Community is important to me, but unless we move away from our hometown, we are left with scattered friends in separate homes teaching their kids different things.
I guess what I’m saying is: how can I raise my kids to accept we are contradictions of faith and heritage, we’re not alone, and it’s okay?
Amy M. Miller is a freelance writer, graduate student, and adjunct professor, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband, two kids, two dogs, and pet rat, Eleanor. Her writing has appeared in local and national magazines, newspapers, online journals, and blogs, including Insider Louisville, The Paper, Under The Gum Tree, Skirt! Magazine, Underwired Magazine, and Offbeat Families. You can read more of her ramblings on her blog ADDled at addledliving.com.