First Things, “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” has published a Christmas excerpt from my memoir, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ.
When did I first become aware of Jesus Christ? Every idea has its own history. What was the history of this idea in me? During the months when I began seriously converting to Christianity from the secular Judaism in which I had been raised, I asked myself that question continually. I had heard a call to be baptized, but why? Why baptized? Why Christ?
The thing was: The figure of Jesus had been at the center of my thinking for a long time. Even before I had any faith at all, I had written an entire novel about him—two novels, in fact. By the time the call to baptism came to me, I did have faith, a general faith in God. And yes, the God I believed in looked very much like the God of the New Testament, the logos of Love that redeemed a tragic world. But that only raised the question: Why? Why that God? Why Christ?
Finding the answer was not as simple for me as it would have been for someone who had been raised in a Christian household. As a child, I had never been taught that Jesus was even special, let alone divine. I can’t recall ever having been inside a church as a boy. I don’t think I ever seriously discussed Jesus with any of my little Christian friends. I didn’t have many Christian friends, only a few. Mostly, I grew up a Jew among other Jews. So how had Jesus entered my imagination? How had he come to occupy its core?
It took an effort of memory, but I reached back to the first time I had truly noticed him. It had happened on a Christmas Eve…