Mama Bearings: Leap of Faith?

By : Sylvie Griffiths
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I’ve had an “it’s complicated” relationship status with organized religion since I was a child. My mother converted to Judaism, the religion my father’s family raised him within, and on Friday nights and many holidays, took us to synagogue. We were far from orthodox and we celebrated Christmas with my maternal grandparents annually.

I also frequently attended Catholic church when spending Saturday nights at my best friend’s home growing up. Overall, I would say I’ve flirted with religion but never fully committed.

Nowadays, I am becoming aware that my kids want to know what my religious and spiritual belief systems are aligned with. Purchasing “Judaism for Dummies” several Hanukkah’s ago helped with the nightly prayers and quick responses to these inquiries. My circle of friends and chosen family are diverse; I know deeply religious individuals and I also know several proud atheists. As I navigate several large life changes this year, including the death of a parent and my second divorce, I have definitely had to swallow some of my pride and fear and reach out for help and support. I have pondered checking out the local synagogue some days.

Religion is something that connects many people to deep feelings and beliefs. Even the lack of belief can be passionately supported. I feel that religious freedom is important and that respect of one’s personal beliefs is even more important. So, what if your religious beliefs are not aligned with your life? I have many LGBTQ friends who are spiritual and religious; how could it feel to love a god or higher power that many say is not supposed to love you back?

As the proud mother of a transgender child, I find myself looking at the world through my little dude’s eyes. All my children impact my world daily, but Jake does in a very different way. I fully understand that the world might not love my child because he identifies as a transgender male. It is sad, enraging and a terrible truth. I have personally experienced more love and support regarding Jake than negativity in the last three years since he came out to us. I am fiercely protective of my sweet nine-year-old boy, and so are his three siblings.

Of all my kids, Jake seems to be the one most interested in religion. The last two holiday seasons, he has asked thoughtful questions about both Christmas and Hanukkah. He has also asked about worshipping and is intrigued by the notion of going to a “Jewish church” as he calls it. To be completely honest, I have been dodging his requests to go to synagogue. There are many different reasons for my hesitation.

When my parents divorced when I was 12, and my mom desperately needed support, we stopped going to the synagogue I grew up attending. I thought, for years, it was because we moved from Palm Harbor to Tarpon Springs, but I was mistaken. A new rabbi had taken over our synagogue I attended from the age of six, and we had not been able to afford the membership dues after my dad left. I still feel angry that in her time of great need, the community we had been a part of for over five years was not there for my mom exclusively due to funds. She found a synagogue in our new area but never felt the kinship of our former synagogue.

Religion also impacted me in a negative way when I lost a friend at the age of 19. You always remember the first loss you experience outside of family, and my friend who died drunk driving was only 18 herself. Her family were practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the ceremony was not what I was used to after her wake. The idea of heaven or hell or an afterlife was scratched early on in the ceremony. I had never contemplated that when you die you just are gone; this deeply affected me and still does to this day.

I am 41 years old and do not have a lot of set ideas regarding a higher power. I encourage my children to research religions and make up their own mind. A bulk of their grandparents are aligned with Christian beliefs; I want them to make up their own mind. Feeling comfortable and supported within a community; a strength of religion, is something we all deserve.

I do not believe that anyone is loved more or less by a higher power based on their gender identity or sexual preference. I want my kids to treat people well and find love, gratitude and kindness throughout their lives. If a religious belief or organization adds those gifts to their life I will naturally support their choice 100%.

The local synagogue I was referred to recently held a unique event. A few months ago, the new rabbi came out as transgender. The Judaism I grew up with was ancient, literally old school, and it amazed me that my town has a liberal synagogue. There was a small bit of controversy, but the members stood proudly with the rabbi at a naming ceremony. When I told Jake, he became even more excited to “go to temple.”

I have finally decided to check out the synagogue in the near future. My memories of organized religion are based on experiences from 20 to 30 years ago. If Brandon, Florida has a rabbi comfortable enough to come out to her congregation as transgender, I can take my little guy to synagogue.

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