Gay Wedding, an update

Facebook is a happy, rainbow-splashed place right now. I cannot recall a national moment when we all cheered this gleefully together. I’m sure there are dissenters… but at least in my social media spaces, they are letting our gay friends (and us) have the moment. Just two years ago, Johnny and Deano explained to me how anything other legal Marriage–recognized as the same for all– would never be enough. My boys are young enough to never know a world that prohibited love, and old enough to attend so many fabulous, future weddings that are just… weddings. Love wins.

This weekend I attended my first Gay Wedding… an event I highly recommend if you’re lucky enough to have lovey dovey gay friends who are willing to tie the knot, even though our Federal Government won’t recognize the pairing. These state-sanctioned unions are a fabulous step forward (in neon-soled bucks), but don’t afford the same rights and privileges I have with Bernie. And if you, like me, were wondering what those rights and privileges might be, go ahead and Google… there are over a thousand of them. Johnny and Deano–who have been together since I owned scrunchies– explained this to me with great patience: what’s the point of this piece of paper, if it’s not going to be recognized by the institution that takes 35% of their income? I’m ready to swap my swirly skirts for a sandwich board and march all over town.

It was only 46 years ago (!) that the Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia declared any ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional, obliging all 50 states to recognize marriages regardless of skin tone. In 2013, we find these not-so-ancient anti-miscegenation laws ridiculous in their assertion that any human being is somehow less, and not included when we stand hand over heart and pledge Justice for All. And yet, here we are in 2013, with our fellow human beings still fighting for basic human rights. I look at my handsome husband and adorable little half breeds and cannot help but make the comparison, no matter how strongly smarter, lawyerly types contend that these are apple-and-orange arguments. To me, it’s the same. And there is no way for us to explain DOMA to our children without sounding like the hate-mongering weirdos who tried to keep people like me and Bernie from making little Brodies and Teddies only 46 years ago.

Now I’m going to swap my sandwich board for stilettoes and tell you all about my fun evening aboard the Moshulu in Philadelphia, where Brett and James stood before a teary audience of well-wishers and promised to love and cherish each other forever. Uncle Jim, a retired minister and longstanding friend of the family was the honored celebrant, and he chose his words thoughtfully. This union, he explained, was a coupling of best friends and lovers, recognized by the District of Columbia in April, but blessed by God today. There was no doubt amongst any of the hanky-blowing witnesses that Brett and James were entering the institution with anything other than grave respect, irrepressible love, and sheer delight. And our parents, all of them striding into their eighth decade, embraced the moment in their black tie best… disproving all sorts of assumptions about a boatful of Republicans. I was proud of them, too.

Brodie and Teddy met Brett and James two years ago, and having spent all of their days in a post Will and Grace world, didn’t bat an eyelash at two handsome men who were newly engaged. They just thought their car was wicked cool. The only query was how Uncle Jim closed the ceremony on Saturday:

“Did he say, you may kiss the groom… or did he pronounce them man and… man?”

Neither. Instead, Uncle Jim reminded us of the quaint tradition of sealing these before-God-and-everyone moments with a kiss. And they did. So we blew bubbles, then drank bubbles, and then tore up the dance floor in our stilettoes and neon-soled bucks.

In ten years time, I hope all of us have a Gay Wedding story. I also hope it will be far fewer than 46 years for youngsters to cringe at any archaic “gay” designation for a union between two people who want to share everything from china patterns to children to tax forms. Weddings will be just… weddings. Love is love is love. For everyone.

Saying,

Saying, “I do” before God and everyone.

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)