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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Best Wishes and Love

Like a lot of twentysomethings, I struggle with God. And I don't mean that we arm-wrestle.

It's always been a tenuous alliance, ever since I asked, "Daddy, are we Jewish?" on a family car ride at age 6. My father answered by reaching behind his driver's seat with his clumsy, bear paw of a hand in a vain attempt to control the car whilst simultaneously trying to pull my right leg off.

Of course I knew we were Jewish. In those days, we walked to synagogue, for Christ's sake. What the fuck did I think we were doing-- cardio? I was just trying to stir up the pot, to push my father to the point of explosion. To goad God.

My wife and I had a little picnic dinner out on one of the local college campuses, the one with the duck and turtle pond, and, as we sat there on our blanket, feeling all collegiate again, our post-dinner conversation drifted seamlessly proto-philosophical dimension to another. Just like college conversations do, except without the pot or frisbee-golf.

"Do you think some extremely religious people are crazy, or were they crazy before they got hyper-religious?" I asked, her head resting against my sternum.

"Well, I think there's something in the rituals that appeals to a certain type of person who is obsessive," she replied.

"Right," I said, "like wacko Orthodox Jews. Because the people who convert to Orthodox Judaism have a shitload of rituals and rules, not only that govern prayer, but that run their entire lives-- and you can really get obsessed with that bullshit."

Seriously, the laws dictating what you can and can't do (mostly can't) on Shabbat could fill up a goddamn bookcase. And it's very easy to get so bogged down in whether you can dunk your tea bag on Shabbat or whether or not you can eat bagels that were prepared on Shabbat (well, only if they were prepared by the black non-Jew in the kosher kitchen, and, was the water boiled on Shabbat? etc, etc, etc) such that you can totally ignore or at least forget the meaning behind all of these things.

And, of course, what is devout and pious to one person can really be regarded as totally clinical to another person. Of course, it's the sum total of a person's beliefs and behaviors, attitudes and lifestyle that determine if you're religious or crazy. I mean, it's great that you're in synagogue a lot and that you study the good book and that you pray all the time, but, if you do all that and you live in a one room shack covered in filth, don't pay any bills, count your eyebrows and eat hamster food, then I think we might have a problem.

I've always been skeptical of hyper-religiosity, because I worried that it was a veil covering something unpleasant, that it is sometimes used as a mask or a venetian blind. It's sometimes the case, sometimes not. Child molestation, mental illness, birth defects, social ignorance, racism or other prejudice, sometimes hyper-religiosity is just an innocuous-looking cloak to be worn over these most regrettable negatives. "Ah, but he is such a learned man-- studies the Torah night and day!" "Oh, but he goes to mass and confession every week!"


At 29, I wish that I had a better handle on my views on religion or God. The pragmatist in me knows that the whole thing is made up, that every people on this planet has their own spin on it, their stories and their legends and their books-- their guides to morality and behavior. And I don't resent or make fun of any entity that desires to prescribe morality for human beings, because, really, we need it. We're a scandalous lot, we are. But I know that religion is always going to be manipulated, either from the top or the bottom, by people who want to use it for their own nefarious reasons, and that depresses and upsets me. As a generally pessimistic person, I tend to focus on this darker aspect of religion, and that, I suppose, is my own failing. Fallen from grace.

On Sunday afternoon, my friend Bob, who is 64, came to our house to put the finishing touches of trim around the master closet that he built for me and my wife. We met Bob through my various Gilbert & Sullivan activities. He's a wonderful man, a music educator and a conductor and, thankfully for us, a pretty skilled carpenter. He popped in some nails in some thin pieces of trim with his pneumatic nail gun and, as he was getting into his truck, we shook hands warmly.

"You know," he said to me, "you gave me too much money."

"Maybe you didn't charge enough," I said. I felt guilty. He said he was giving us "The Thespian Rate," and originally quoted us a price of $500-$600. He eventually finished the job, after multiple trips out here, and he said he wanted $500. I gave him more.

"Well," he said, "you're very kind. Oh, and Winnie sends her best." Winnie's Bob's wife, who accompanied him to our house last weekend with bagels and cream cheese for brunch.

"Well, send her our best wishes right back."

"Oh," Bob said, "and I'm heading to Julie's tomorrow to supervise some guys who are putting in $10,000 worth of fencing at her house, and I spoke to her on the phone and told her I was seeing you guys today and she was so excited. She said to please send you her love and all her best."

Julie's another Gilbert & Sullivan friend of ours. My wife and I love that woman to bits.

"Oh, send her our love, too."

"I will," Bob promised.

"Jeez, all these best wishes and love-- it's like God's singin' in our ears today," I remarked.

"Well," Bob smiled and said, "that's what God is, you know." He waved out the window of his truck and drove off.


  1. I like this post!*corny smile*

    Not that you should leave all your crankyness by the wayside or anything

  2. I just got a warm fuzzy.

    Felt pretty weird...

  3. I love this post. I went to a funeral today for an old high school friend. When her brother saw me he responded by crying and hugging me. The response was mutual. There were a few groups on facebook in her name and there was a lot of god talk. It makes me feel awkward because I am a pragmatic person. Your last 2 sentences is what I would like to think a higher power or god is. Well said young man. You made me smile and get teary all at the same time. Good Job!

  4. It's refreshing to read the words of a twenty-something about God that don't involve cursing. I, too, wish I had a better understanding of my own religious beliefs, but I can't say that I do. Years of Catholic school has instilled a healthy guilt, but even more years of living among the Jews (my parents caretake a synagogue) has taught me that faith is up for debate, so I vaccilate. Some days I want to go to church, other days, I just want a bagel with some schmeer on it.

    Good post, Apron.


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