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3 faith questions changed newsman David Gregory’s life

(RNS) His book "How's Your Faith?" shares his path to a deeper sense of his Jewish spiritual life.

The Gregory family. Photo courtesy of David Gregory
The Gregory family. Photo courtesy of David Gregory

David Gregory with his family. Photo courtesy of David Gregory

(RNS) To be publicly fired from a high-profile network television post might provoke a spiritual crisis for anyone.

Not David Gregory.

He was unceremoniously dumped as moderator of NBC’s  “Meet the Press” in August 2014 after a steep slide in the ratings. He learned the news when the network leaked it on Twitter while Gregory was in the New Hampshire hills picking up his three children from camp.

However, Gregory, 45, has taken his abrupt unemployment as an opportunity — time to write a book on the religious life he had been nurturing for years.

“How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey” goes on sale this week, between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, the somber Day of Atonement, when Jews “turn to God and ask to be inscribed in the book of life.”

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It’s clear from the opening pages that Gregory — son of a Jewish father and Irish Catholic mother — began as a cultural Jew and has became a religious one. His book is a travelogue about “deepening and grounding myself in my faith path,” he said in an interview. 

“I’ve been asking tough questions all my life in my career. But three questions asked of me set me on the path to finding answers,” Gregory told Religion News Service.

First question: “I know who you are, but what do you believe?”

When his Methodist wife, Beth Wilkinson, agreed to rear their children as Jews, she asked him what Judaism meant to him, beyond his warm cultural memories and recollections of a showy bar mitzvah party.

"How's Your Faith?" by David Gregory. Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster

“How’s Your Faith?” by David Gregory. Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Gregory found a teacher, an Orthodox Jewish scholar, Erica Brown, to commence years of private study. He also studies now with the rabbi of his congregation, Temple Micah in Washington, D.C., and with an informal group of Jewish journalists including David Brooks, whose book, “The Road to Character,” Gregory said he “devoured.”

But to keep this book appealing to a universal sense of faith, he doesn’t use the Jewish word for the Hebrew Scriptures — the Torah. Instead, he always refers to Bible study, a term that might encompass the Gospels to some readers. And the book is virtually empty of specific doctrine and theology.

READ: Q&A: David Brooks on character, sin and rumors about his religious journey

“I happen to be incredibly inspired by the teachings of Jesus,” said Gregory, whose book details his conversations not only with rabbis but with evangelical leaders such as Joel Osteen, Tim Keller and Russell Moore and with Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan. (He also speaks with Mohamed Magid, imam of a large Northern Virginia mosque, about centering faith in life.)

There is a gap between a Christian understanding of salvation through Christ and a Jewish vision of a life that stands on prayer, study and good works. Gregory said, “We don’t gloss over the differences, but we are a Jewish family and these differences don’t create tension.” They find bridges in the “universal truths of Judaism and Christianity.”

Second question: “How’s your faith?”

David Gregory with his mother. Photo courtesy of David Gregory

David Gregory with his mother. Photo courtesy of David Gregory

Gregory describes his growing up as a chilling mix of anger and numbness. His parents divorced and he says his mother was an alcoholic during Gregory’s teen years. Gregory turned to college and career with fierce ambition and little time for introspection. But, he writes, he was not prompted to turn inward only by Wilkinson, whom he married in 2000.

Former President George W. Bush asked Gregory “How’s your faith?” more than once during the years Gregory covered presidential elections and the White House for NBC before taking over “Meet The Press” in December 2008.

Bush publicly credits a conversation with evangelist Billy Graham and a connection with evangelical belief for his turn away from his own carousing ways, and his shift from tradition to belief. Gregory writes in the book that Bush’s faith was “deeply personal and it impacted every realm of his life.”

That’s exactly where Gregory was heading. “I had to admit,” he writes, “that (my faith) was something of an empty page.”

Bush found grace, love and dignity in turning his life to Christ. Gregory writes of rooting his Judaism in study and prayer and the practice of celebrating the Sabbath on Friday nights.

“What I like most about the Sabbath is the separation it has from the rest of our lives and the rest of the week,” he said. “It’s Jewish time, with prayers and challah (bread) and candles. It’s special time. It is what God expects of us, a special time to consider our blessings.”

Third question: Who would you be if you lost it all?

David and Beth Gregory. Photo courtesy of David Gregory

David Gregory and his wife, Beth Wilkinson. Photo courtesy of David Gregory

During his difficult final years at “Meet the Press,” he said Brown posed that question.

But when the great job really was lost, Gregory knew the answer: He had not “lost it all.”

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He said, “I have come to believe that there is always a loving God who is present in our lives and who hovers.”

While his next career move is an open question, Gregory concludes that his next spiritual step is to put more of his energy into “creating and nurturing community” in his synagogue and beyond, he said.

“The one thing I have studied and talked with Erica a lot about is how to separate your professional identity from your interior life. I realize in losing my job at NBC that (‘Who would you be?’) was an important question. To me, faith and trying to become grounded in my faith is critical.”

He’s working on a question of his own: “‘Who am I as a true self before God?’ The more I go, the deeper I go, the more I try, the more I find that this is my true identity.”