Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Humorous Autobiography

In a couple weeks I'll be speaking about Messianic Judaism at the local Kiwanis club. I visited with them last week, and we enjoyed each other's company enough that when they asked me to send a "bio" I composed a special, humorious version for them. Enjoy!

(Note: For this post, I've replaced my wife's first name with her initial, because she wants web searches of her name to only return results related to her professional work.)
David Van Slyke was born in Orange County, California, back in one of the decades when people could be both Jewish and Republican.

His parents decided that despite their religious differences, all the children would be raised Jewish. His mother was active in the local Reform Jewish community, at different times in her life leading the local Sisterhood, activities at the local Jewish retirement community, or activities at the local Jewish Community Center. His father was from a non-practicing Christian denomination that considered the "two or three gathered in my name" of Matthew 18:20 to be an upper limit, past which religion did more harm than good. Nevertheless, his father was so supportive of the family's Jewish identity that at one point he was asked to head the local synagogue's Ritual Committee.

David is the oldest of three children. His sister married a nice Jewish boy and they have two adorable children. His brother currently works for the California Tax Bureau, gently convincing large companies that items their lawyers described as loopholes actually are not. (His brother is well-established and still single, in case you know any nice Jewish young women.)

David's religious journey progressed through his Bar Mitzvah, when he learned to chant Torah and gave an important speech neither he nor anyone else remembers anything about. In college he took several classes in comparative religions, while in different years dating a Mormon and a Jehovah's Witness.

In graduate school he met C., who would later become his wife. While dating her, through a complex set of experiences, books, and prayers of her friends and family, David discovered that the basics of Christian theology are true. This upset his mother's side of the family greatly, but they were polite about it. (They refused to talk about it, and bought him a set of Tovia Singer's tapes.) By this time his father had become a Secular Humanist, and was happy to have something new to talk philosophically about.

David and C. moved to Rochester, New York, for the sake of her doctoral work in genetics. There they joined their first Messianic Jewish congregation. David served the congregation in many ways: creating the children's curriculum, overseeing home groups, helping run a food pantry, and eventually as Intern Messianic Rabbi (a title quite similar to Assistant Pastor, but more confusing).

As with most Messianic Jews, David became more Orthodox in his practice of Judaism as he spent time in the Messianic Jewish movement.

When David and C. moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 2003, David met with the local Messianic Jewish leaders and they agreed that David was called by God to fill one of Eugene's needs: a Messianic Jewish congregation whose Jewish culture more-or-less resembled Reform and Conservative Judaism. (At the time there were two Messianic Jewish congregations with an Orthodox flavor, but these have both ceased to exist.)

Congregation P'nei Adonai is now two-and-a-half years old. The congregation is growing in size and in effectiveness of discipleship. The use of liturgy with Hebrew, teachings with long discussions, and music with dancing continue to help new visitors learn that it is possible to be very worshipful and confused at the same time.