A Halloween Story

Almost every morning I escort backpacked boys to the bus stop, and then race to ballet class. I love the effect all of that tuck, lift, stretch, and burn is having on my hormone-ravaged parts. (Tamoxifen should be every bit as delicious as a 3 Musketeers for all the damage it does to a midriff.) But, barre class begins a rather exact number of minutes after bus stop child disposal, leaving very little wiggle room to snag one of the unmetered parking spaces coveted by lululemon-clad women in legwarmers. We’re happy to shell out $20 per class for a flat belly, but it’s that much sweeter to save the buck on parking. Today I congratulated myself on my good fortune as I backed my car into the choicest spot that didn’t require quarters, then skipped into the studio, blissfully unaware that someone was trying to kill me.

On Thursdays, Leslie and I usually sneak out of barre early and race over to Bible Study. Today we decided to be late, because it feels rude to sneak out early, and Jesus appreciates a girl with a great ass. (Having established that Bible study-attending Churchy types can be irreverent as well as shapely, I’ll put in my usual plug for Thursday morning women’s Bible Study at the Redeemer.) Hopping into my SUV with my still-shaky legs, I turned the key in the ignition and… nothing. I flagged down Leslie and said within earshot of my would-be assassin that I’d leave the dead car in the lot and call AAA after circle time with Jesus.

AAA, for all its economy and convenience, isn’t always the swiftest champion for a damsel in distress. I spent three hours in a parking lot using my almost toned arms to pull on the steering wheel to get the column to unlock. Nothing. The key refused to turn for me, or for AAA hero #1–who was more interested in my ability to plié and do splits than figuring out why the car wouldn’t start. When fate requires you to depend on the kindness of burly men in vans, it’s better if your outfit leaves a bit more to the imagination. But I’d just returned from Bible Study, so in my these-people-in-my-path-for-a-reason frame of mind, I learned that his sister is battling cancer and we had a bit of prayer-share bonding before he told me to call a tow truck. It took another hour for AAA hero #2 to interrupt my shameless Facebook trolling for amusement. Four updates and fifteen comments later, adorable AAA hero #2 arrived, took my keys, and started the car on his first try.

Three hours of frustrated attempts to unlock the steering column so abruptly remedied made me go all Elaine-from-Seinfeld on him. I actually pushed him with an incredulous “how did you DO that?” Of course, having been blonde my entire life, I’m accustomed to these situations… it’s why we have such a bad rap. Proving in three minutes that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my car, he kindly suggested I get the ignition checked anyway. But as I exited the parking lot, my window wouldn’t close. The dashboard went dark. There was a weird rubbing noise that sounded like an expensive problem, so I backed up and told cute AAA boy that I was scared to drive with the noise and wonky computer. He sat down in the driver’s seat and closed the window without provocation before loading blondie’s gigantic, totally functional car onto the flat bed.

It wasn’t until we got to the garage that AAA cutie noticed one of my tires was hanging on with only one bolt. “Where are the other bolts?” he asked as if I use them for sundry art projects and forget to replace them afterwards. Unable to account for four missing bolts that require large, iron tools to remove, it was determined that this was a failed theft. But instead of leaving my Volvo propped up on milk crates, the criminal left me with a car that would have lost its tire as soon as I hit the parkway.

“God is looking out for you, Britt.”

That was the only explanation from my mechanic. He just called. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the steering column. Nothing. The only thing he’s certain about is that driving a car with one tire bolt would have spelled disaster… disaster that was diverted by a car that wouldn’t start. My completely functional car now sports four tire locks, and I’m safe at home in my Cinderella costume. The murderous thief is still out there… but apparently I have a guardian angel.

I've wanted this costume for years... and a failed murder attempt won't stop me from enjoying it!!

I’ve wanted this costume for years… and a failed murder attempt won’t stop me from enjoying it!!

Stay safe, friends.

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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)