Hi Captain Awkward and Army,
I am currently teaching English at a public school in South Korea. I also identify as culturally Jewish, religiously agnostic/humanist/spiritual/existentialist/questioning/whothehellknows and believe that people can and should believe in whatever they want or have to believe in, whatever makes them comfortable and happy, as long as that belief doesn’t negatively impact others, so live and let live, to each their own, etc etc etc. Now, for many Koreans, I have been told, I am their “first Jew.” So there are a lot of questions. And, for personal reasons, I keep “kosher style” – no pig products, no milk/meat mixes in the same meal, no shellfish. This is because it makes me feel connected to my family, history, and ancestors, not because I am afraid of being smited or smoten. I have always eaten this way, and am not looking to change. So, I have asked the staff to please let me know if the school lunch for each day contains any pig (just to keep it simple – I can sort out the rest of this stuff on my own), and when they ask why, I simplified by saying it was for religious reasons. Despite the language barrier, this worked just fine at my old school (…just had a flashback to The Magic School Bus there, sorry), and led to some nice conversations about Judaism, and sharing of religious customs and ideas.
It’s gone a bit differently at my new school. Most teachers are Christian, and (at least) one of them is deeply religious. I have also discovered that the English teacher before me was a religious Christian too, so I think there was some bonding between them on that subject. Last week, this teacher gave me a beautiful calligraphy painting he had made from a quote from the bible. At first, I thought he was just being friendly and welcoming (I have had an amazing time here because of how open and generous colleagues and students have been), but during the last few days, he has also taken to quoting scriptures at me in between classes, and giving me his bible to read, and asking questions about how Christianity and Judaism compare.
So I have a few questions.
1. Is he just being friendly, or is this a divine mission to convert me?
2. If it’s the latter, how can I politely put a stop to it without being rude, especially given the cultural and language barriers? (There are also a lot of random people in my city who approach me on the street to try to get me to convert to Christianity or Mormonism, so a handy script for this surprisingly common situation would be amazing…)
3. What can I do when he asks about how the religions compare? I am not particularly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of orthodox Judaism, and am certainly ignorant about many details of Christianity, so I have no clue what to say. Which he doesn’t understand, because to his mind, if I’m religious enough to adjust my diet accordingly, how on earth do I not have the Torah memorized?
I tend to be completely disorganized in my thoughts, so I hope this is clear enough. Thank you for your time, patience, and amazing work you do. This is one of my favourite places to hang out on the web, and I can’t imagine how busy you are, so I understand if you can’t answer, but I do want to nip this in the bud, in case it starts getting out of hand, so any help would be hugely appreciated.
Emphasis on the -ish.
P.S. (An email immediately following)
Update: I can get rid of the “think”! Work ended about an hour and a half ago, and on my way out of the office, I was given a lovely watercolour with this written on it:
“25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
…and then endured a 15-20 minute conversation about how he became Christian, how he was saved, and how he has watched many youtube videos of Jews who have realised that Christ is the saviour and Easter is coming and oh my god, how am I going to deal with this for another 6 months?
I do not want to insult or belittle this man’s religion, but I have to work with him for the next 6 months, and I have come to my religious affiliation after years of questioning and thinking and raging and being depressed and more than I want to go into here. I am not going to change. So how how how can I put a stop to these conversion conversations without making every future interaction awkward? Please help!