Steve Gets Cancer… by Steve Safran

Britt’s blog gave me cancer. OK, maybe it didn’t– the science is still out on the matter. But the facts are this: I am now being treated for Stage 2C Testicular Cancer. I’m not acutely familiar with the shades of the term “irony,” but surely this is somewhere in the vicinity.

Testicular cancer is “a young man’s disease,” and for this, I am repeatedly told, I should be grateful. It is nearly 100% curable. “If you had to pick a cancer, this is the one to get,” an oncologist told me. That’s fine and all, but that’s like saying “If you had to be sat on by an elephant, you picked a nice, small elephant. Look – he balances a ball on his trunk!”

There is one question everyone wants the answer to when surgeons are removing your testicle, so I will answer it right now:

They do not replace your testicle with an artificial one.

I have been getting treatment for this since the beginning of May, and this is the first public notice I’ve given. This is a little strange for someone who can’t wait to post whatever ailment he has that day. On this one, however, I decided to go the old-fashioned route. I didn’t take to social media. I called my friends. It’s intimate when something attacks you from inside, and I needed to talk or, at the very least, privately email them. (So, maybe not so old-fashioned.)

Word gets out, anyway, and that’s fine. It’s not a secret. I have tons of great support. I’ve even given Britt permission to enlist her prayer warriors. That’s a first for this Atheist Jew, whose usual reaction to “We will pray for you” is “Please, don’t.” It’s not because I found religion, but because I realize that the faithful truly believe they are helping. I am not going to ask my friends not to do that which they believe helps. I am not going to ask my friends not to turn to that which comforts them when someone they love is sick.

Two weeks into treatment, I was struck with a pulmonary embolism. This is a blood clot that finds its tiny, sticky way into your lungs. The key sign you have an embolism is that you feel as though someone chose to put up a skyscraper on your chest and neglected to get a permit from you. That morning I took a shower and ran out of breath. That afternoon, I was back in the hospital.

As a result, I now get to stick myself with a needle twice a day with blood thinners. This is the fifth drug I have started taking since chemo began to ward off the side effects of cancer and chemo. My medicine cabinet looks like a Jenga tower.

I have many more dates with needles and chemicals. What you’re reading is a cutdown of a much longer rambling at least six times as long. For now, I’m out of breath. Britt’s blog is exhausting.

Me and Stevie:  Cancer-card-carrying pals.

Me and Stevie: Cancer-card-carrying pals.

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Is There A War on Christmas?

Last year, Steve and I hosted a friendly religious debate here on EMB. The response was overwhelmingly positive because most humans are thoughtful and kind and delightful. We learned that people love to talk about their faith or explain why belief in One Holy Being sounds bonkers. We also confirmed what we suspected: it is possible to discuss religious differences without insult-lobbing or conversion agendas. Steve is no more likely to keep Kosher than I am to demote my Belief for fear of sounding like a zealot. Our aim is for greater understanding, not for change, even though I have the sneaky conviction that discussions about religion are where God is at… and He is rather irresistible.

Recently, a local town included a non-binding referendum in its annual elections to reinstate “Christmas Recess” as the official title of Norwood’s mid-term break, and learned that 76% of the paltry turnout of voters were decidedly pro-Christmas. Two years ago, the town’s School Committee voted to replace “Christmas” with “Winter” for all of the obvious reasons, but not in response to any clear outcry for this change. Our little local town here is bound to make national news as normally sane people take a stance on The War on Christmas, or back a staunch refusal that such a battle exists. Because Steve is hilarious, has oodles of friends, and is a maven of social media, his on-line inquiries lead to long threads of opinions and wisecracks and wisdom. When he asked followers to weigh in on this debate, the time seemed ripe for an Atheist Jew vs. Churchy Jesus Girl reprise.

Steve, quite logically, wants to know why we’re wasting time and dollars and ballot space on this nonsense. I’m not sure he recognizes a War on Christmas and sees the Christian religious defenders to be a bit bullying:

“I’m not Christian. Am I still allowed to say the ‘War on Christmas’ paranoids are fucking crazy? Isn’t demanding that things go your way kind of the opposite of faith?”

For me, the knee jerk reaction to this story was similar to my stance on the Bossy Ban. The politically correct language police irritate me and are largely humorless. I’d love to know what prompted the School Committee to vote out “Christmas” two years ago. Who is opposed to Christmas? Why? Is it necessary to preserve references to Christian holidays on our shared calendars, or are we losing something if we don’t fight for them? Do these semantics constitute a War on Christmas?

Let’s discuss.

ON SEPARTION OF CHURCH AND SCHOOL CALENDARS

Steve: I’m not sure how hilarious I’m going to be on this, but thanks for the buildup. People in Norwood are confused. Nobody is removing “Christmas” from the calendar. All they did was change the name of the vacation that encompasses Christmas and New Year’s (and sometimes Hanukkah) from “Christmas Break” to “Winter Break.” This keeps a consistency in the nomenclature with “Spring Break” and “Summer Break.”

The change to “Winter Break” was done two years ago. For some reason, people got worked up into a frenzy and decided the school needed to change the name back. In a non-binding referendum, the town voted overwhelmingly in favor of reverting back to the “Christmas” name. Towns can do whatever they want. I don’t think there’s a law against naming vacations for the holiday of the majority faith. But I can’t reconcile how the “Keep the government out of our business!” crowd is also the same one that says, “The government should name its vacations for Christian holidays!”

I don’t think this is a matter of political correctness or trivialities. 25% of the country is not Christian. “Merry Christmas” does not offend me and I had a Christmas tree in my house for 20 years. It’s a lovely holiday. But I still don’t understand how having its name on a vacation helps with the education of children.

Britt: It’s that “frenzy” that concerns me the most. We’ve become so polarized, so unable to discuss these things without feeling attacked or invoking referendums. My children attend a Christian school that breaks for “Winter Recess,” and I fully agree with you here that the naming of a school vacation isn’t worthy of the time and money required for this fight. Unfortunately, a handful of zealots and one minivan of voters grab the media attention and now we have another set up for the division of normally lovely human beings into anti-Obama Jesus lovers and left-wing-liberal camps. And Steve, this scares me more than spiders. Why can’t you be hilarious about this? I think we have to be hilarious about exactly this.

Also, I don’t see irony where you do here. Those who are opposed to big government want “officials” to let these things be. They can’t insist the government promote Christianity on its official calendars, but will exert their First Amendment right to make a stink about removing them. Are they right? Wrong? Who cares? They’re allowed to make a stink. I just wish they were less douche-y about it.

IS THERE A WAR ON CHRISTMAS (OR CHRISTIANS)?

Steve: Faith succeeds in spite of governments, not because of them. The argument that a government has the power to destroy one’s religion, especially in America, has neither proof nor a plausible scenario. The American government could decide tomorrow that every mention of religion, from “One nation under God” to saying “Oh Jesus!” during sex should be illegal. Would that, in any way, impact your right to worship? Your faith in God? Your ability to shop for bad sweaters?

The founders of our government thought official state religion was so odious that it banned it as soon as the inkwell arrived to write the first item in the Bill of Rights.

A lot of play goes to the words of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” But note the Free Exercise clause: “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Every argument about religion in public places starts and ends here. In short: “We’re not going to have a state religion, and we’re not going to stop you from observing your religion. We cool?” The U.S. can’t stop a religion. But it’s not supposed to promote it, either.

And even if the world were trying to “Take the Christ out of Christmas,” isn’t one’s faith enough to sustain said faith?

Britt: You have a more faith in Faith than the purported faithful, my friend. And a real part of sustaining faith is its presence in our every day. Jesus might frown on us being all polite and hush-hush about it. People of faith in this town of intellectuals often stifle their support of things that might sound “too religious.” Going a few Sundays a year is normal… but every Sunday? Freak. When you spend at least one moment of every day NOT saying you’re at Bible Study, or NOT saying a prayer before eating, or NOT wearing a cross with your outfit for fear of judgment or your friends thinking you’re an idiot, well… you start thinking, “Fuck! Now we can’t even call it Christmas break?”

Steve: You can call it whatever you like. The state, however, has an obligation to use non-denominational labels.

Britt: I do feel like the world is trying to snuff out all traces of God, sometimes, and that saddens me. But you are already RIGHT, Steve. You win with the support of logic, most of your Facebook contacts, and the law of the land. I’ve already agreed with you. But you still sound so huffy. Why?

Steve: Well, I hate to play the Nazi Card here but the world actually DID try to snuff out Judaism, and we managed to carry on. In the darkness of the Nazi death camps, faithful Jews still found a way to secretly observe Shabbat, Hanukkah, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. That’s right-– in a state that was really, really trying to wipe out a religion and its adherents by the millions, the religion kept right on going.

Britt: Nazi trump card. I got nothin’. Except… it is my duty to explain well and without anger why I want a little more God sprinkled through my day (EVEN THOUGH I AM NOT ALLOWED TO ASK THE GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE THAT!). It’s your duty to be funny about everything. My blog. My rules.

Steve: Yeah, I’m being pissy here. Noted.

IS THERE ANY HARM IN BANNING “CHRISTMAS”

Steve: Who’s banning “Christmas?” Sure, Bill O’Reilly makes a lot of money getting people worked up over folks who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” But THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS IS NOT A REAL THING. Education is. That’s where a school committee’s efforts should lie.

Here’s where I might be going off the rails a little: I think there is kind of a racist undertone to the “War on Christmas” paranoia. Not in everyone. Not even in most. But in some…

“They’re trying to take Christmas from us!”

“Who?”

“The media and the Hollywood elite and the New York Wall Street types and the ACLU and…”

I think it’s clear which people we’re talking about here, and they’re the people busy trying to figure out what they can and can’t eat next week. Hint: We’d support a war on gefilte fish.

I still don’t understand what this has to do with the name of a school break. People are calling for the resignation of the school committee members that don’t support changing the name back. That’s nuts. Suddenly that’s the litmus test of a citizen willing to give their free time to help improve a school system?

Britt: Ahhh… this is the deep well where icky feelings dwell. Those of us who want to stand on soapboxes for Christmas should be able to do this kindly, and without even a hint of anti-Semitism. Sheesh. I mean, Christmas is awesome! Yay! Let’s go buy some ugly sweaters! But why is it more important to argue for this than a better math curriculum or any other thing, and do you really want someone to lose a job over this?

Those who see Bill O’Reilly admonishing liberal culture for their The War on Christmas need to remember that he’s Bill O’Reilly. But they also need to explore the honest motive behind the Christmas break name change in Norwood two years ago. Was there not even a whiff of an atheist agenda there? Those who feel relief or maybe even a bit of smugness when another “Christmas” falls off the calendar… where is that coming from?

I think this was the unwritten undercurrent of your Facebook thread. It’s just Christmas on the calendar, so why is everyone feeling attacked? Unfortunately, the media fuels this fire. How do we put it out? I think it’s done with an open mind, faith that those with differing opinions are also lovely fellow-humans, the refusal to be polarized into a frenzied “war,” and an honest exploration of our pissy feelings. If Christmas is already off the calendar, let it go; but when Robbie Republican fervently wants it changed back, it’s possible that’s coming from a deep passion for preserving a bit of God in the world… hopefully not that he’s an anti-Semite.

Are you Pissy Steve or Believer Britt on this topic? Is there a War? Do we have a responsibility to help end it? Be kind, be thoughtful… be funny.

 

Wouldn't Jesus miss us saying, "Happy Birthday?"

Wouldn’t Jesus miss hearing, “Happy Birthday?”

‘Tis the Season

Much like my favorite atheist Jew, my blogger friend Rob is a vocal non-believer. But lately, it’s his fellow There’s-No-Big-Guy friends who have been gnawing at his patience with their smart-alecky, know-it-all-ness. And although he recently posted a list of five things we Believers should do differently (e.g., stop trying to convert him), what he really wants—what most of us really want—is for open discussion and kindness to prevail. Steve and I had a popular discussion about this a year ago, and it continues to be read almost daily as Google searches for religious themes click unsuspecting readers over to our back-and-forth about the essential absurdity of Faith. (Essential for me… absurd for others.) In a world that seems broken with all of its celebrity worship and gun-toting children, where jobs can’t be found and tires are being stolen off of cars, where insane, angry people blow up innocent athletes… well, we’re all looking for something, right? The discussion of God, whether He is or is not, and regardless, how to multiply kindness in our midst … well, that’s the most important discussion we can have.

Rob adorably asserts we share the same opinions on just about everything, even though 20 years and half a planet separate us. We’re in agreement right up to where I believe Jesus died on a cross to change the world (and did). And though he takes a more logical approach to Biblical things, I cajole him into admitting a glimmer of Faith, because certainly someone who talks about it with such frequency and respect couldn’t possibly be a nihilistic heathen. Although admittedly, the heathen post will always trump in entertainment value the vague, otherworldly musings of annoying zealots, especially this time of year. Overused “blessings” can make the season sound quite sneezy. An Atheist’s 5-Step Guide to Being Religious begs a thoughtful rebuttal from a mouthy Jesus Girl. But having spent the past week entirely at Church planning and organizing our annual fundraiser, I’ve had few opportunities to bump up against non-believers who question my passion for a supernatural, undead Jew.

What I can share is why this is an excellent time of year to visit Church… whether you Capital B believe or not. The birth of a baby that saves the world is at least as compelling a story as a gaggle of pitch-perfect Austrians. And the music of the season is equally fantastic. Ave Maria? O Holy Night? Goose bumps and damp eyes all around. You’ll find throngs of robed singers eager to belt out harking heralds for all ye faithful at Church, where it smells wonderful, and where real candles glow, and where sacred music is always free. What if we all attended a service of Lessons and Carols and murdered the melody of Once in Royal David’s City together? I strongly believe a community that sings together is more likely to contemplate community. There’s just something about gorgeous music wafting up toward stained glass that makes our hearts swell with the fantastic notion that everyone deserves to have similarly swelling hearts, and inspires our Scrooge-y souls to consider the most vulnerable among us. Of course this can happen outside of Church… but come inside, light a candle, sing along, see what happens.

Saturday night was our annual Trinity mini-reunion, fancy dress grown-up party at Steve’s. Steve recently guest-blogged about this year, which began with a new friendship: Agent 99 joined our gang with sparkly aplomb. Our chat chat chatting about times long past and what’s happening now was accompanied by mulled wine and bubbly wine and savory bits and sushi. We were over-served and we overstayed, which is the mark of excellent hosting. We just weren’t finished celebrating our collective fabulousness (my impression, and these old friends kindly tolerate my vanity.). To prolong the fun, Tony—whose scotch consumption made Honda-maneuvering a bad idea—came home with me and found himself in the hustle bustle of Church readying at 9am the next morning. He could have easily slept in, begged off, pleaded atheist, feigned ill, or claimed hangover… but Tony accompanied The Family Lee to sit in pews and listen to an Advent season sermon.

Our Church prints a weekly leaflet to avoid hymnal page ruffling, provide sit-stand-kneeling directions, and offer words to un-memorized prayers. For the kiddos, it’s also an effective tool for marking time, and answering the rather frequent query, “is it almost over?” But Tony didn’t even crack its cover. Instead he put it aside and just took it all in, approaching this novel church-going more like a college class he was auditing for the day than a zoo exhibit we insisted he see. Eventually it was time to take the sacrament of communion, and well-dressed ushers politely nodded that it was our turn.

“I think I’ve gotta be a part of this thing,” said Tony… who quite possibly hasn’t had the merest sliver of host in years. We bellied up to the rail together. It could have been Cathy’s sermon, which was intelligent and uplifting, thoughtful and soul-touching; maybe it was the chance meeting and Tony’s introduction to some of my favorite Churchy friends; possibly it was Michael’s incredible organ solos with pompadour-flipping gusto. Or perhaps it was just the sense of community and a collective mindfulness of those who don’t have that component of cozy goodness in their lives. Gotta be a part of this thing? Well, exactly.

Maybe you go to Church all of the time, or maybe the idea of pew-sitting and communion-taking gives you all sorts of heebie jeebies. Or maybe (Rob?) you’ve been wondering if you should see what it’s all about, or start going again, or finally find a place that feels like a spiritual home. ‘Tis the season for that. Come inside, light a candle, sing along… see what happens.

For local readers: Carols By Candlelight, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Thursday, December 19th. Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill.

The Redeemer in the snow...

The Redeemer in the snow… where miracles happen.