This post was originally written for subscribers of the daily taryn, a writing project started in Dec 2017. Now's the perfect time to join, so I'll hold while you do so. Love u.
Here’s the tale of how I went from Jewish to Christian to Super-Christian to where I am today. It’ll be a nice high-level overview with a few follow-up issues down the line, as many of you have asked specifics about how I view God and religion today. We’ll get there, but here’s the backstory:
That was literally my AIM screen name growing up. No joke.
My mom comes from a Jewish family and my dad comes from a loose-Christian family. According to a 23 & me DNA test, I’m 48.1% Ashkenazi Jew, so the nose perfect makes sense. I went to Jewish preschool and summer camps, but we never went to a Christian church. Honestly, I can’t think of one time we went to church, not even on Christmas or Easter, but we still celebrated everything. I loved being a Christmukkah family. It was unique, gave me extra presents, and allowed me to think for myself.
Although my parents taught us about everything, I never felt pressured to choose anything. As we got older, it was clear that any of us kids could believe anything we wanted, so long as we stayed good people. When I was in high school, I dipped my toe into Christianity out of complete curiosity. And by complete curiosity, here’s what I really mean:
My best friend at the time, Emily Payan (still one of my best friends), was a super Christian. She wouldn’t sleep over on Saturday’s because she couldn’t wait to go to church on Sunday. She had tons of “church friends” that went on summer trips and read books together. Then, my other non-Christian friend started going on the trips as well, and I immediately felt left out. I wanted to be apart of everything, but literally knew nothing about God or Jesus or Mary or lambs or anything that Christian’s talk about. So instead of just attending church to learn like a normal person, I asked my mom to take me to a bible store so I could buy a bible. I still think this is hilarious — my sweet Jewish mother taking her completely confused daughter to a bible store. What a sweet woman she is.
This is the part where I become a Christian
Once I had that bible, I became completely and quietly obsessed with Jesus. I would read the bible every morning before school and after night when I got home from tennis. I would research things I didn’t understand, journal about every little verse, and pray to my new homie, Jesus. As a chronically anxious person, Jesus calmed me down. He gave me a place of refuge within myself that I hadn’t had before. Once I felt ready to take the full plunge, I googled “how to become a Christian” and prayed the prayer that would suddenly change the course of the rest of my life. That night, I was so afraid that my parents would be upset at my big life-changing decision. So, in true Taryn fashion, I wrote them a letter asking them not to disown me for becoming a Christian (LOL) and slipped it under their door.
My parents are great people, so of course, they came in my room in the morning and celebrated me. Aside from being purely happy for me, my mom said something to me that I will never forget: “Bear, I’m happy for you no matter what, as long as you don’t become judgmental… against people of other religions like me, against gay people, against anyone.” She was basically telling me to stay good, which I would hold onto for the rest of my life.
This is the part where I win Miss Christian ASU
That’s not a real thing, but basically. Let’s fast forward through high school, filled with no partying and no sex and lots of praying and summer trips and all the WWJD bracelets. All of the them.
Now, I’m in college and I’ve found my people — ASU’s Campus Crusade for Christ, aka Cru. I jumped into Cru headfirst. I lived with Cru people. I was on Cru’s leadership. I lead a small group of younger students every year. I spent two summers living in Santa Monica and China, on mission trips aimed at helping people accept Christ as their Lord and savior. I was the MC of Cru’s weekly meetings. I dated (and almost married) a guy I met in Cru. I shared my testimony on stage at a nation-wide Cru conference, to thousands of college kids like me.
All to say, I was obsessed with Cru. It was everything to me. Until it wasn’t.
This is the part where I questioned things
I love a lot about Christianity — the rituals, the feeling of being at home within yourself, the warmth of praying, the bigger picture, the community, the learning, the morals — but I could never, ever, get over the fact that just because my mom (and many of my friends) “didn’t believe in Jesus” they were destined to a life in hell. Everyone around me believed that, and in turn, expected me to believe that. Just think about that for a second. Everyone around me, my best friends, believed that my mom (who they all loved and adored and agreed she was an actual saint) was going to go to hell because she didn’t believe Jesus was the son of God that died for her. My friends believed that, and I just couldn’t. I pretended that I did, but I didn’t. And that was the core belief of Christianity — the one thing that marks you as a believer. And no matter how many books I read, prayers I prayed, people I convinced to believe what I didn’t, I just could not reconcile that fact. I still can’t, and I never will.
This is the part where I started dating girls
It’s also the part I’ll revisit in a later issue, but as you can imagine, this really threw a kink in things. After giving my entire college existence to Cru (which honestly was a full time job aside from being a student), I was basically kicked out of Cru and Christianity because I fell in love with a girl. The way I was treated for something as simple as liking one soul over another has completely changed the way I see the religion I knew and loved. It’s changed the people I’ve looked up to, the people I called friends, the things I give my time to. It took away a lot of things I loved, but the best thing that it’s done is made me define my beliefs myself, not relying on books or thousand year old stories or “leaders” or one-off bible verses that are so incredibly out of context it’s exhausting.
This is the part where I really started living
My sweet friend Shannon has a youtube channel called Now This Is Living. It’s about how much better life is when you’re living it authentically and unapologetically. It reminds me of what my mom taught me — no matter what I do, I need to stay good.
Religion has been a very central, very weird part of my life, and it’s certainly not over. Like I mentioned, many of you know me from Cru/church days and have asked specific questions about my life and beliefs after all this went down. I’m excited (and nervous, to be honest) to answer them. Let me just say this now — if you’re from those days and are here to see that I’m still wearing a WWJD bracelet around, I regret to inform you that I’m not. What I can tell you, though, is that I feel closer to God now than I’ve ever felt. I’m happy. I strive every day to make the lives of people around me better and fuller. In my moms words, I stayed good. Might be better now, honestly. Now, this is living.
This is the part where I say bye until tomorrow
I know I’m saying this every time, but holy cow, your responses have already brought tears to my eyes. 70/161 of you are complete and utter strangers, which means 91 of you already know me and are still reading this, hahaha. Thank you thank you thank you.
One last question: here’s a reminder to feel free to bring people along for the ride. I’d actually love if you did, so when you do, please tag your girl (@thetarynarnold on twitter and instagram) so I can like the heck out of it.
OK. My stomach feels full and my heart feels happy. I spent the day driving through SF with friends, then making chicken noodle soup and cheering on our roommate as he left for a date. Life is good.
Hi. I can't believe you read this — it actually means the world to me. Now that you're on a roll of making me happy, I'd like to give you 2 options to keep the fun going. 1) If you'd share this with someone or a feed of someones, or 2) you joined my newsletter. If that's not your thing, I'll love you regardless, but I'll do some middle school love letter journaling about you if you do either. Head here to join my list of gorgeous subscribers.