Potty Mouth Christmas

Those of you who include me in your Facebook feeds might occasionally wish you didn’t. But if we’re friends (in the world webby ether or of a fleshier variety), you know that the Christmas Market at the Church of the Redeemer has mercifully and finally come to an end. As the Church Service League President this year, it was my job to interrupt your BuzzFeed shares, What Color Is Your Animal Spirit?, and Santa’s lap pics with my Shop for Jesus alerts. Organizing the yearly fundraiser is truly an honor, but in the 11th hour, it feels more like that dream where you’ve forgotten to go to class all semester and here’s the final exam.

Churchy do-gooding is mostly fun; and the entire week was peppered with the Christmassy smells of wreaths and greens, giggles between good friends, and moments when the Holy Spirit is tangibly flowing all over the garland-draped church. But the rather awesome responsibility of raising money loomed… and that made me want to hurl my chicken and mushrooms all over the place.

Terrified that the generous people who had donated houses and family jewels and lavish parties to our live auction would be rewarded with a quiet room of un-bidding church folk, I couldn’t push anything past my pylorus. I recently raved about people who have the Godly gift of inspiring generosity in others, baffled by the criticism of any sort of philanthropy. Though I thrive in the busyness of passion-fueled volunteerism, asking people for money will always be awkward for me. Bernie keeps reminding me that this aspect of charity work isn’t really one of my keener skills. And because it makes me physically ill, he’s probably right.

What my stomach always forgets is that this annual event is a team effort coordinated by really lovely souls and presented to a parish hall brimming with people who want to be part of something great and good. Nearly all of the money we raise is channeled to outreach efforts, and results in real improvements at our sister Church, our food pantries, care for our community’s elders, even our West African brothers and sisters afflicted with deadly Ebola. It’s a night to think about others, and that’s what everyone does, and there’s really no reason to get all pukey.

Floating on that isn’t-everyone-and-everything-just-wonderful feeling that accompanies a weekend of Christian fellowship, I returned my attention to my own home and hearth, sorely neglected during Christmas Market week. The halls were un-decked. The cupboard was bare. The checking account was overdrawn. Sagging pumpkins at the doorstep, half-unpacked clothes from Thanksgiving travels, and not a single photo in any of our cameras or iThings worthy of a holiday card quickly froze all those floaty feelings and grumpy, potty-mouth mommy delivered chastened, weepy children to the bus stop yesterday.

Yelling at the boys to “Fucking smile! We’re going to miss the goddamn bus!” in order to snap the Christmas photo before school doesn’t align terribly well with the spirit of the season. Zealot Sister wisely counseled that I should avoid unimportant activities that sap the joy out of the next two weeks. And after a deep breath and a pot of coffee, the necessity of a perfect picture or pumpkin-free stoops seems… stupid. So does cursing at small children, in spite of the breadth of their early morning assholery.

With a better attitude and entire platter of French toast, I greeted two happy little guys this morning who couldn’t wait to tell me about their ham radio exam. After umpteen classes and hundreds of sample questions, my boys passed the test and have earned operating privileges for vintage communication. Sometimes I wonder if we should install lockers in the home so my kids can practice escaping them. But most times, these boys delight and amuse me and I can go entire weeks without wanting to backhand them (kidding) or demonstrating the correct context for bad words in angry sentences (confessing). Fa la la la la… la la la la.

I’m going to slow down, friends. Drink the entire pot of coffee. Send the blurry Christmas photo… after the New Year. Watch “Love, Actually” over and over and over. Order takeout. Leave gigantic tips for the wait staff wherever I go. Pop the Prosecco and read every holiday letter enclosure. The King is coming whether I pitch the pumpkins or not. And though my home and hearth may not be ready, it’s pretty important that my heart is.

Fa la la la la… la la la la.

The best plot line in the movie...

The best plot line in the movie…

 

 

 

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‘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.

Atheist Jew Meets Churchy Jesus Girl: a discussion

Steve is a non-religious Jew, and I am an observant Episcopalian, but we both value irreverence. Recently, Stevie wrote this to me in an email:

“As you might guess, the only thing I know about Vestry is that the word ‘rector’ is hilarious. I would love to sit down and discuss religion with you at some point. Religious discussions in this country are all about ‘me versus you, and I’m right.’ People who are religious genuinely fascinate me. I often envy them their beliefs. However I tend to infuriate the believers, with my rampant joke-laden atheism.”

Steve drafted a list of topics, and we both promised not to get all huffy. What follows is a transcript of our virtual “sit down.” I hope we don’t offend, and that maybe you’ll share your take on God, Life, and Whatnot, too.

ON ONE’S RELIGION:

STEVE:
I call myself very Jewish and not religious. That’s what I like about Judaism. It’s à la carte. My Bar Mitzvah was in a Unitarian church because my temple was still under construction. I call myself a “Jewnatarian.” If I were Christian, I’d go with Unitarianism. It’s hip to say “I’d like to be Buddhist,” but that requires meditation, and there’s stuff on TV.

BRITT:
I like Jewnatarian. Unitarians don’t subscribe to a divine Jesus, seeing Him more like a moral Michael Jordan: a bit super-human in his awesomeness, and thus, someone to emulate. Being Jewish is a birthright you cannot escape… but God gifted His chosen people with good bagels, Yiddish-spewing grandparent hilarity, and irrepressibly sexy teenage girls. Adding the “religious” component of Being Jewish with all that Hebrew-learning and rule-following is exhausting, and gets in the way of a good bacon cheeseburger. So although Zealot Sister will balk at your à la carte approach to religion, as… well… not very religious, I understand being choosy. I found all of the beauty and tradition of the Catholic Church over in the pews with the Episcopalians. But this crowd of Christians aims for the broadest interpretation of Scripture to include all of us… especially our fabulous gay friends.

LOVE

We believe in One Holy Catholic (meaning everyone) and apostolic Church. It’s right there in The Creed… and I wear a cross to remind me of The Big Picture. Being a responsible “religious” person also means a perpetual auditing of Bible 101. Only by attending Church and Bible study sessions can we learn what God’s teaching means in this world. The Bible was never meant to be studied in isolation. Faith needn’t be blind, and for thoughtful people, “religiousity” will likely wax and wane.

STEVE:
I followed your first paragraph, but you lost me on the second. Why must one attend a given building and the meetings therein to relate to meaning in the world? It’s true, Judaism has the whole Talmudic tradition. But even there, the goal isn’t to find answers – it’s to ask more questions. It’s nice to be part of a faith where a perfectly good “answer” ends with the suffix “-ish.”

BRITT:
I don’t want to lose you. One mustn’t do anything to know God! However, to understand how Bible teachings relate to today (or to your life), that is most responsibly done with some sort of guidance– maybe from someone with a PhD and a snazzy white collar? An example: with sufficient smarts and determination, one could possibly learn everything a medical student learns… but would you go to the “homeschooled” doctor? Why should the study of a religious practice be any different?

ON FAITH:

BRITT:
Faith is the sticky wicket. For those of us who claim to be religious, it would seem that Faith should be as constant as a heartbeat. But, it’s not. The religious people I relate to (drink with) tend to work on this part the hardest. On the other hand, those with the arrogance to dismiss Faith entirely sound sadly unenlightened to me (this article in particular drives me bonkers “Why I Raise My Children Without God“) Those with no Faith at all should be a great deal funnier about it. Also, many of these same people sanction Santa and tooth fairy lies with a near religious zeal. Admittedly, if you think they’re all fiction, you gotta go with the ones that deliver iPhones and cash.

STEVE:
I don’t know if we’re funnier, but we do have more fun. Why is religion so full of rules against fun? Plus they are so anti-women. The Catholic Church won’t allow female priests– or contraception. No premarital sex. And as anyone who has had post-marital sex will tell you, if you can’t have premarital sex, there’s not much left on your horizon. Jews kept the women upstairs in the sanctuary before they realized “Hey– there’s women here. Maybe get them a seat we should?” Then there are the religions that, well, you know, kill the women for behaving like women and… why isn’t Britt making this argument?

BRITT:
The topic here is Faith, not Religious Rules. So, here’s a quote from a rabbi: “Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that there is even the slightest chance that there is a God. Then wouldn’t learning about Him be the most important thing to do?” The key here is learning. That’s why I go to Church: to learn, even if what I take away on any given Sunday is something-ish.

I have little faith in a community that scorns Faith: even a faith-less community is more agreeable one that is all shout-y and against it. Religion attempts to access Truth as much as science does, just with fewer t-tests and, unfortunately, more than a handful of loud, unreliable reviewers.

But please don’t caught up in arbitrary rules of religions you don’t study! The Catholic Church, at times, leans more heavily toward tradition than Scripture. So what? You’re not Catholic. Leave them be to have all of their married sex and gazillion babies. It’s not your religion. In our country, women have the luxury of finding a religion that honors their participation. I cannot explain why Zealot Sister chooses to follow such difficult rules any more than I can explain why Jason (our favorite Orthodox Jew) has two sets of plates. I don’t know enough about any religion to criticize people who follow them, but I have great respect for Zealot Sister and Jason who study their religions and try their best to honor their guidelines.

The rules are easy targets for dismissal of Faith, so let’s be clear: The Bible is not a rule book, but a record of God’s presence and the life of Jesus. Paul offers this regarding strict adherence to dietary guidelines (e.g., arbitrary rules): “eat the food or not, as you please, but give no offense to others and do all for the glory of God.” You do your thing, I’ll do mine, and let there be no quibbling. I like that.

ON LIFE:

STEVE:
A considerable improvement on the alternative, but in need of a rewrite.

BRITT:
Really, Stevie… On Life? All I know is that those Life Is Good products are more irritating than people who can’t shut up about politics. I have no idea why this condescendingly simple message delights the masses… and yet a God is Good coffee mug would have people giving wide berth around your cubicle. And isn’t there all sorts of “life” that is no good at all? Mushy brain on a ventilator? Not so good. No stick figure t-shirt for that.

This is so, so wrong... so obviously I think it's oddly funny.

I imagine Jesus is wicked funny, totally has this t-shirt, and looks great in yellow.

I also tend to think a little God infusion wouldn’t hurt when someone’s Life seems empty, sad, broken, ill fated, unfairly difficult, or about to end. I don’t believe prayers are answered, exactly, but moments of real humility on my knees asking for guidance have been instructive to me. And if you feel it, the Holy Spirit is fantastic at reminding you of the beauty and connectivity of the Life in all of us. What makes this worldview palatable (and you and me friends) is admitting that people who talk like this sound utterly insane.

STEVE:
OK, even I should have been less flip. Life is pretty great. Neat stuff. Arrogant to think that we’re the center of it and that we’re the only ones who invented the sandwich. For every billion planets, I bet there are thousand variations on corned beef. Some may be silicon based, but even a, well, sand-based sandwich could work.

There are still religions that insist that you take literally that we are the center of the universe. Or – again – they will kill you. Just try to get corned beef then. Even dry corned beef.

A sandwich-eating alien is only ever one click away.

On her planet, she’s the Queen of Sandwich… and a Lutheran.

ON DEATH:

STEVE:
The end. Game over. Not to happen again. Like being asleep, except without worrying about forgetting about finals. Kind of the ultimate final, actually. Terrible invention. That’s what I mean about needing a rewrite.

BRITT:
Oh, Steve. I hate that I agree with you here. But then my Faith creeps in (and also C.S. Lewis with The Great Divorce) with the slimmest possibility of something more. Scientist Britt can’t argue it well, though.

ON GOD’S LOVE

BRITT:
Cathy George, our rector (hee hee) advised us at Lenten time not fixate on trying to be holy. “You are already holy.” God’s love makes us holy, and God loves all of us. A Ma often cites evidence of God’s love for our family, but I don’t think that way. Good luck is not God’s love. There’s no such thing as circumstantial confirmation that we’re in good with The Big Guy. God’s love is constant, and the proof we’re looking for when our Faith is flagging. For me, it’s something I actually feel. Unfortunately bad writers have been making believers sound stupid and corny for ages (like this nonsense).

STEVE:
I don’t like it when people shoehorn “God” as a metaphor into things. As in “‘God’ is really about the love you feel when…” or “You see God in the face of a newborn child.” I don’t see any such thing. I see beauty, yes. I see something wonderful and amazing. But it seems that calling that “God” is stretching the original description rather than admitting it’s a different concept.

BRITT:
But it’s not entirely different. I’ll admit it’s an easy explanation to a complicated theological question. But as a small child, those giant cloth banners embroidered with God Is Love put an earthly tag on something indescribable. Moments of beauty aren’t God, per se, but they do summon the teeniest essence of Him… and are, thus, divine!

STEVE:
I need to throw this back at you as a question – how do you feel God’s love?

BRITT:
Brace yourself for the crazy, but remember that you know me to be a smarter than average blond girl with all sorts of science degrees and a good degree of skepticism. I also love to make fun of just about everything. But you asked, so here goes. God’s love is unsullied belief in your own worth. For me, ironically, it means getting on my knees and admitting my complete incompetence to understand anything. Regarding God, we’re all idiots. But in those moments of prayer (meditation? begging for impossible things?), God’s love feels warm, calm. Do you know deep down– in spite of school shootings and war and Kardashians– that people are inherently good (that you are inherently good)? That’s God’s love. It’s omnipresent and free, but in our busy, angry world, it’s easy to overlook. Plus, there’s stuff on TV.

ON SCIENCE AND RELIGION

STEVE:
“The wonderful thing about science,” said Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.” You may have seen this quote floating around Facebook. He said it on “Real Time with Bill Maher” in response to someone saying he didn’t believe in something scientific. I love this quote and it summarizes my relationship with religion perfectly.

BRITT:
I loathe Bill Maher. He argues so smugly (and so poorly) against religion, and also thinks people like me are loons. Picking through the Bible or highlighting any number of religious beliefs out of context is just poor journalism. Back in college I thought science and religious beliefs were at odds, so I dismissed the latter to embrace what I could see and prove. Now I realize that they can co-exist. And now, I might even put forward this: “The wonderful thing about God, is that He exists whether you believe or not.”

I'm right... you crazy!

I’m right… and you crazy!

STEVE:
OK, Bill Maher is a dick. Given. Atheist zealots are every bit as irritating as religious door-knockers. But we’re talking proof, not faith. A star cluster exists, demonstrably. Life evolved – and did so over millions of years. This is not up for discussion. I can look in a sky and see such wonders that the founders of religion couldn’t have imagined.

“There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5. Great line, but dammit – he had to put “heaven” in there.

If “God” and his scribes knew all His wonders, surely He would have thought to include them in his teachings: “Not only is man an amazing creation of Mine – but whoa! You have got to see the work I do with galaxy clusters, quasars, collapsing stars, dark matter, and – oh yes – a few planets right near by.” He might have gone on less about fish.

BRITT:
Laughing too hard to comment. And God in quotations is killing me.

ON COMFORT:

STEVE:
I take no comfort from otherworldly things. That’s scary. That’s something I envy in religious people. I can find comfort in my children, loved ones and friends. But I gather it’s not the same comfort.

BRITT:
God isn’t otherworldly. He’s right here.

STEVE:
You’re not mentioning comfort.

BRITT:
The comfort: I’m never, never alone. Strip away Bernie, my kids, my pretty stucco life and ask me if I still have the Comfort of God? I dunno. But last year, when there were moments when I didn’t know if I’d be here to have this discussion, my sole comfort came from God. You can’t knock that.

ON FANATICISM:

BRITT:
Blech. Religious fanaticism always excludes, hurts, even kills.

STEVE:
I love people who have faith and kindness. (Although I don’t see why you need faith to be kind.) I do dislike fanatics – those who say their way is the only way. When you go from belief to fanaticism, that’s when the Holy Hand Grenades tend to come out. Fanaticism also leads to hooligans and tedious, low-scoring soccer games.

In these hats, we trust.

In these hats, we trust.

BRITT:
I completely agree that Faith has little to do with kindness, or even human decency. Faith is a personal matter. Kindness is a public one.

ON THE BEAUTY OF THE UNIVERSE

STEVE:
Oh God, it fucking rocks. Wait – I just invoked God. Maybe there’s something there.

BRITT:
Of course there is. Make fun all you want (I insist!), but there are other Jewnatarians out there just waiting to set up folding chairs with you in some temple basement. In the meantime, I’m going to drag you to the Redeemer. There’s a whole Bible study group of women who have been praying for you. (Can you feel it?)

STEVE:
I like that. Can they pray for me to have less back hair?

Half atheist?

Results may vary.

(DP Challenge)