Paris…

…how you see the world and how you will teach your children to see it, too.

About a month or so ago, Milky said to me “(classmate) says Paris is a dangerous place. There are bad people there.” I did some digging and discovered that she must have heard this after Charlie Hebdo. Her father is an art director for a magazine. It makes sense that her six year-old perspective would be such.

Paris is a special place for me. If you spend 10 years of your life studying a language and a culture of a particular place, the epicenter of said language and culture means something. When Dock and I took our first taxi ride into The City of Lights, I openly wept. Sweden owns my heart. France owns my brain. Knowing that I would soon have a chance to walk around this magical city, the core of it all, was simply too much to process. It was 10 years of studying, six years of using my knowledge at work (albeit intermittently), two weeks of slogging my way through trenches, forts and bunkers in the making. I was excited but overwhelmed. The teachers who never knew they inspired me would likely never know the dream would be realized. And all of those hours spent making a stained glass window in high school would pay off the minute I stood in La Sainte-Chapelle (which also made me cry).

I turned to Milky and said “Paris, like any big city, can be dangerous. It can also be safe. Big cities require big city posture. You and I call that Philly Style, right?” Then, I explained Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher. To a six year-old. To a six year-old Jewish kid. It was arduous work, thinking of how to minimize the fear, especially since Milky will be taken to Paris, at some point. The city is too important to Dock and me for us to keep Milky away.

Towards the end of the conversation, I shared my story of one time when I was in Paris, when in the hunt for cheap lodging, away from tourists, I decided we would stay near La Marais. Being the history fiends that we are, I wanted to inject a little Jewish history into our adventure. I admit, I’m not quite ready to experience anything Holocaust oriented, at this point. My stepfather’s family died in the Holocaust. It’s too painful.

We ended up in a predominately Arabic district in Paris six months after 09.11. The general mood was quite peculiar. The French, as a whole, were thrilled to see Americans returning. One bar owner said “You have been gone too long. We miss you.” which is something I expect from smaller towns and rural areas. It is not something I expect in Paris proper. It’s not something anyone with a lick of sense should expect to hear in any large city (so, kindly refrain from saying Parisians are snotty. They’re not. They’re urbane, just like every denizen of every large metropolis.). We courteously thanked him. He was also gracious enough to speak English to us which is also sort of an anomaly because very few people in France speak English to me. Dock, yes. Me, no. I learned too well and no matter how exhausted I am from a day of translating, no one gives me mercy.

As we wandered around our little temporary neighborhood, it was evident there was an American in one’s midst. Dock felt slightly uncomfortable. I shrugged it off. I shrugged it off to the point where I left Dock and our traveling companion behind one afternoon and took off for a walk by myself. “That’s how dangerous Paris is,” I tell Milky. Mommy, all 63 inches of her, all 130 pounds of her, can go for a walk by herself in a big city and feel just as comfortable as she would in Philly. Or anywhere else. And, being me, I bought souvenirs for friends and candy (it was near Easter and chocolate eggs are ubiquitous) for my colleagues. I also scouted for kebab stands because Dock and I love authentic kebab.

This tangent is important: Dock looks very WASPy and American. He doesn’t dress typically American when he travels but his general appearance is very much American or Scots-Irish. I, on the other hand, am ethnically ambiguous. Thanks to my paternal DNA and the ability to speak more than one language (well enough to survive), it’s hard for the locals to determine where I’m from. Most natives know I’m not from their country but thanks to my table manners, my appearance and a few other factors, they just cannot figure out where I’m from. My father reports the same thing only everyone assumes he’s Middle Eastern (he looks eerily similar to Yasser Arafat).

We arrive at the kebab shop I found earlier and the shop keeper stops us at the door. He looks at me, looks at Dock and then says, in French “No. You can’t come in here. You’re American.” I respond, in French, “Why not? We’re hungry. I speak French quite well. We don’t have proper kebab at home.” He twists his face, pauses and relents “Fine. Come in.” As I’m eyeballing the menu he says “No. Go sit down and I’ll make you something. You’ll like it.” Now, it’s challenge time. Do I accept food that could have expired or do I trust the man? I trust him, grab Dock’s sleeve and sit down. We look around and we’re the only non-Arabic folks in the restaurant. I whisper “Imagine what would happen if he finds out he’s feeding Jews.” in a joking way. For all I know, the shop keeper could love Jews but really hate Americans after 09.11. He had no way of knowing that Dock and I fundamentally disagreed with the Bush Administration. The meal was the best kebab I have ever eaten and neither one of us became sick. We thanked the shop keeper, left a standard, small gratuity as appreciation and went on with our evening.

Another night in Paris. Another night in a beautiful place, brimming with culture and brimming with diversity. Another opportunity to show that not all American tourists are hideous, chest thumping beasts.

I shared that bit with Milky, as well. We all have our implicit biases. Sometimes, it’s up to us to knock down someone else’s wall. Most important, in a post-09.11 world, it was imperative for Americans to not treat all people of Arabic descent like garbage for then we’re the problem.

Paris is not dangerous. Paris is not a scary place. Paris is not rife with evil. Paris is hurting. This year started horrifically for Paris. It appears that it will end horrifically, as well. When Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher happened, I said that Paris shouldn’t be defined by this, that Paris has survived much worse (you think it hasn’t?) and that Paris will recover. 2015 is a very small period of time in a city with a history dating back to the 3rd century…BC.

Today, I ache for Paris. I ache for the world. I ache for my child and children everywhere. Yet, I remain determined and committed to keep moving forward, keep pressing on – for this world can be better. Even if it’s only one kebab at a time.

Fear and Loathing Subsides……..

Wow.

It’s June 27th, 2015, ten days after the slaughter in Charleston’s AME church, and a day after Barack Obama delivered a eulogy in that same church, at the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney.

I have just had to time to watch it in full.

This is a good man. A real man. A man of substance.

I find my thoughts drawn to Hunter S. Thompson. HST was the keenest poltical writer America has ever known, in my opinion. He saw the big picture. Always. In a way it was his curse, and I think what created his cynical, biting edge. But he wasn’t cynical for the sake of cynicism. He was that way because he saw the whole machination at once. Many of us only see the figures that appear out of the cuckoo clock on the hour, but Hunter always saw the wheels behind those doors and understood them. One of his last books was Better Than Sex, an almost grudging tribute to Bill Clinton, whom HST saw as a perfect politician, because of his natural charisma, and his ability to play that machine better than he ever could that saxophone of his.

But HST could not have foreseen Obama. He could not have dared to have hoped that large, except perhaps maybe in his heart of hearts, where only few, if any could see. I think if Hunter were around today, and had not taken himself out (yes, I’m still pissed at him for that, I miss his voice in this world) he would be describing Obama as “the perfect blend”.

Does he know and play the political game? Of course he does. He has to. No one becomes President any other way. But no President in living memory could represent what he stands for, and could have stood in that pulpit, and delivered that eulogy in the way that he did. He did so from his heart, with conviction and passion, and in a way that showed what Christian ideals are when they are understood and lived properly, regardless of the theology. The social side of the church. He did not bow, or hide his faith, nor did he trumpet it as better than any other.  Indeed, he spoke of the church’s actions in fighting actively for change as representing not just Christians, but all Americans.

In a time with so many divisions, Barack Obama is a courageous, tireless, intelligent, passionate, unifying force. Sisyphus with a mission. Sisyphus with a quiet stubborn streak. This man is something we have not seen in leadership in a longtime. He is an inspiration.

I am willing to bet that Hunter would have admired Mr.Obama a great deal. Would he have found some stuff to be cynical about and written about that? Of course he would. But looking at the span of what could have been his lifetime – from Richard Nixon, whom he viewed as the epitome of evil, all the way up to Obama, and the escalation of changes in between, I am convinced he would have seen Obama as just that – the perfect blend, and the person America, and the world, was ready for and needed.

May the remainder of his term give him the leeway to continue the path he is on, and has been on from the beginning, and may his legacy become clear in his lifetime, and even moreso in the history to be written.

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/obama-clementa-pinckney-eulogy-charleston

 

 

:stammers:

Suspend the prose.  Suspend the creative process.  All I can do is get on my soap box (well…box of soap containing bottles of CeraVe) and just look at the world with disbelief. And shock.  And disgust because I’m usually disgusted by humanity.

Hyper Cacher happened.  I started thinking humanity doesn’t deserve religion because we don’t play well with it.

Shortly thereafter, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz happened.  My feelings about that aren’t any different than any Jew (practicing or non) or any human being with a soul and a shred of decency.

In response to these things, I found myself rooting through my massive piles of jewelry (because all Jews have tons of gold at their disposal – not just sewn in the hems of their clothes) and plucked out a necklace with the Magen David charm and put it on.  Not because I’m a religious Jew but to send a message that I am a Jew, that this Jew is not going anywhere and that this Jew made another Jew who will likely breed at some point. My father, also not observant, had started wearing his Magen David a while ago.  Maybe it’s our way of telling the bigots to fuck off?  Neither my father nor I are random people. We’re deliberate people and, chances are, if we’re doing something – our actions have meaning; we’re sending a message.

For reasons which have no place in this post, I crawled into bed very early last night, pulled the blankets over my head and avoided reality.  I also spent a good amount of time unplugged yesterday.  It was a Mommy-Milkface Day.  I did not see the news until I woke up.  And, before we go any further, because I’m so awesome and American news is anything but, most of my sources for news are foreign.

From Haaretz:

Danish police shoot and kill suspect in fatal attacks on synagogue, cafe

One dead in Copenhagen synagogue shooting, hours after man killed at free speech event; Danish PM condemns ‘cynical act of terror,’ says: ‘When the Jewish community is attacked, all of Denmark is attack.’

(…moar…)

The shooting at the synagogue in Copenhagen (one of my most favorite places on Earth) wasn’t the only one.  The precursor was a shooting at a free speech event.

From The Guardian:

Jens Madsen said the killer may have been “inspired by militant Islamist propaganda issued by IS [Islamic State] and other terror organisations”, but it was not yet known whether he had travelled to Iraq or Syria before the attacks.

(…moar…)

Honestly, I have no words for this.  None.  I cannot even describe my emotions.

The shit…it needs to stop and it needs to stop now.

It had to happen…

…eventually.

Being married to a self-proclaimed Evangelical Agnostic and drifting further and further away from my faith, the question loomed large. What are we going to do with the child? Since there is more to being a Jew than the religious aspects, we really were faced with a significant challenge.  The Evangelical Agnostic is not shy about his feelings.  At one point, he said anyone who followed any religion was “stupid.”  I was sitting in the den.  EA was standing in the doorway.  Hanging on the wall, facing me was a plaque that reads “Shalom” (it’s still in the same spot but the den is now Milky’s bedroom).  My house is not outfitted with Judaica but there are bits and pieces here and there.  I collect dreidels.  I have menorot (one via my grandmother and namesake).  There is a mezuzah on the doorpost.  None of these things speak to my level of commitment to my faith, though.  At least not on a conscious level.  They’re more along the lines of “things Kang likes” or “things you just do.”  When you move into a home, you put a mezuzah on the doorpost.  It’s just what is done.  As Milkface grew inside me, I thought of the whole “stupid” comment while sitting in my den, looking at the word “Shalom” and trying to keep the definition and spirit present within and wonder…what do we with the kid?

While I’m of the Reform persuasion, looking back, my upbringing was leaning a bit conservative.  Had it not been an interfaith marriage, I’m pretty sure our family would have been members of the Conservative temple.  For years, my stepfather dragged me to and from shul for Hebrew school (Mondays or Tuesdays), Sunday school and confirmation classes.  My mother would deal with my sullen, unpleasant tween self by forcing me out of bed, into a dress and over to temple for whatever classes were on Saturday and services. I’m a proud member of the Jew Camp Illuminati (credit to Foster Kamer for that brilliance), having gone away to the Poconos for eight glorious summers of shenanigans, kosher food, prayer and the opportunity to not be a minority for at least four to eight weeks a year.  Jewish summer camp is a pretty big deal and I highly recommend reading City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder by Herman Wouk if you’re interested in learning about the long tradition of sending little Jewish kids off to the mountains in the summer since it’s been going on for nearly 100 years.

Ultimately, we decided that, at the very minimum, Milky would be culturally Jewish.  He would identify as a Jew.  Half of his family is Jewish.  Random Yiddish words pop up in conversation so naturally that I’m completely unaware of the occurrence.  My family is delightfully neurotic and prone to self-deprecating humor.  On my part, there is a very strong passion to keep the family folklore alive – from how my father’s family managed to evade a Pogrom, my stepfather’s family experience with the Holocaust and the general immigrant experience that many Jews either had first hand or have heard via tales from their Bubbes and Zaydes.  Then there’s the ugly baggage that comes along with being Jewish (culturally or observant) – bigotry and rampant racism.  If the child is going to be raised as a Jew (practicing or non), we, as parents, are going to have to prepare him for that.  There is no avoiding that.  Not even if you grow up in suburbia with other Jews.  The bigots…they will find you and depending on where you are in life, what your experiences are and how you are adept at managing this bullshit, your life will become a temporary hell.

Now that we consigned Milky to his fate, without his permission (something oft criticized by the EA set), all we needed to do was put the plan in motion.  Here you go, kid.  Have fun with your new identify!  You is J00, now.  You will have latkes, gefilte fish and chopped liver and like them.  You will grow up being told that you will be a doctor and a doctor you will be (Sorry, it’s your father’s fault you were born male).  Your mommy will wreak such havoc with your psyche that all future romantic partners will curse my existence for perpetuity.  And don’t even think about looking at a state college, pal.  It’s Hopkins, MIT or Duke for you.  Fret not, you’ll find other young, Jewish males whose soul has been sucked from them, too. You will sit around bars and basements with them, watch sports and critique the game play at an expert level while being completely unable to play said game yourself because, let’s face it, we’re not exactly athletic people.  You’re welcome.  Really. You should be a little more gracious and appreciative, however.  Mommy had to do an enormous amount of work and sacrifice a great deal of herself to provide you with all of this.  And you won’t even pick up the phone and call…

Since we are not religious and are not practicing anything other than how to not leave the living room looking like a toy tornado ripped through it, religious symbols, holidays and other things haven’t exactly been high on the list of things we discuss.  Sure, we’ll whip out the menorah at Chanukkah and light the candles but we also have the tree and give presents on Christmas.  Dock may not like the concept of religion but he sure as shit loves the concept of presents.  This year, however, things are changing as Milky is in kinderMAPP and is learning *everything* at a pace that defies description.  This includes symbolism.  Last month, it occurred to Milky that the “stars” are ours and the “t’s” belong to everyone else.  Ok.  Time to discuss religion, explain symbolism and tell him that there are many more flavors at the old ice cream parlor.  But the point – Milky knows he is Jewish and he seems pretty down with that.  Kewl.  Let’s hope he doesn’t decide he wants to go to synagogue or have a Bar Mitzvah because I’m not sure I want to deal with that aspect of it for reasons I’ll explain later.

The drawback to Milky’s realization and self-identification is now he knows he’s Jewish and to my point earlier, this privilege comes with a whole lot of unnecessary and unpleasant baggage.  The other day I wrote about my experiences on Rosh Hashanah where the Jews were eating each other.  I don’t want Milky to experience that.  I don’t want Milky to have to listen to ramblings about how Jewish he is because his lineage isn’t 100% Jewish.  I don’t want Milky to be put in the position of questioning his identity as I was when I was a teenager.  That shit hurts!  You think you’re in a safe zone when you’re among your own and it turns out…you’re not!  Scripture is murky and can be interpreted many different ways.  Some may say that certain people aren’t Jewish but others will accept that they are.  People outside the faith make no distinction when it’s time to put us on train cars, though.  So, that’s huge problem number one:  potential discrimination from within the tribe.  I don’t like dealing with that.  Do you think I want to put my child in those crosshairs?  Say what you will about my parenting methods but no one can say that I’m not one hell of a protective mom.

On to problem number two:  discrimination and intimidation from everyone and everywhere else.  I mean, do I really have to cite specific examples?  Is that really necessary?  Were we not paying attention in history class, folks?  Very well – what happened yesterday in Paris? Unsatisfied with the outcome at Charlie Hebdo’s office, the fanatics decided to raise the bar on the berserk scale and go buck wild at a kosher grocery shortly before the start of Sabbath.  Four people were killed.  Why?  Wrong place at the wrong time?  Did they do something offensive?  Did they run over a cute little bunny on their way to work?  Possibly.  Nope.  Nope.  They were killed because they were Jewish. Of course.  Now, France doesn’t have the best track record managing anti-Semitism and I feel fairly comfortable pointing a finger because I did spend time in France and did spend over ten years of my life studying all things French.  So no, I’m not rambling from a knee-jerk perspective, looking for a source to assign blame.  That said, you know it’s bad, you know it’s legitimate when François Hollande flatly declares the attack at Hyper Cacher was anti-Semitic.

Awesome.

I should like to add – as the events of yesterday unfolded and I was jabbering with my family, this came as a surprise to no one.  We all saw this coming.  As soon as the words “kosher market” were said, we knew.  We knew why.  We knew what the outcome would be.  We know these things because we have lived this directly or indirectly.  And, as I mentioned the other day, there will be plenty of commentary stating that the evil, horrible Jews deserved what they got.

Tell me, again, why I chose this life for my child?  Of all the things I could bestow on my kid, I decided to give him a life of managing this? What was I thinking?  Why am I even thinking these things?  I’m not the one with the fucking problem.  Neither is my family. Nor most Jews.  And please, shut the fuck up about Israel.  This is about being Jewish; not Israeli.  Stop linking the two every single time something happens and stop using politics as an excuse to be a fucking racist asshole.  Jews don’t deserve to be targeted because of the actions of a nation they don’t live in.  YES.  It is that simple.  Furthermore, if people keep attacking Jews and killing us, these people are simply enforcing the need for a Jewish state where we nice, minding-our-own-damn-business Jews can go about our lives without having pennies thrown at us, having to endure hate speech, see swastikas, listen to “jokes” or worry about being killed.

My question about whether or not human beings deserve such a privilege as religion may be nearing an answer in my own brain.  I’m beginning to lean towards:  NO.  It’s far too destructive and we do not use the tool/device as we should.  Looking back through history, we haven’t been, either.  My personal perspective – I’m very close to cashing in the old chips and walking out the door with my remaining kitty.  I know I’ll never cease being a cultural Jew and that part I will not relinquish.  That part I will pass along to my child.  As for the religious aspect, I don’t think I am capable of fully relinquishing that, either. There’s too much guilt and fear.  Yet another reason why I wonder if religion is a good thing.  If you think about walking away from it but don’t because you’re guilty or afraid – that isn’t a good thing.  That’s an abusive relationship, is it not?

Another day, more words, continuing frustrations and no answers.  And in due course, I’m going to have to have the conversation that all Jewish parents have with their children. I’m going to have the good fortune of trying to explain why, throughout history, people have been killing us because of religion.  No amount of self-deprecating humor, jokes about the IJC or funny stories about the insane allegations that Mommy is an agent of Mossad will soften the blow, either.

I do not want…

…your fucking shirt.

Everybody’s talking at me
I don’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind

People stopping, staring
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes

I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes – Harry Nilsson

No, he wasn’t talking about the cacophony emanating from the human race but the lyrics really suit the mood of the day regarding cacophony.  With the pain of the mass murder of the great minds at Charlie Hebdo still fresh, condemnation freely flows.  A good amount of it is justifiable.  From our perspective, no one has the right to silence another because the message may be unsavory.  We have a right to argue.  We have a right to disagree.  We have a right to ignore.  We have no right to kill another human being because we find their particular message distasteful or blasphemous.  This seems to be lost among many (regardless of preferred religion).

Along with the justifiable outrage, sheer terror and tremendous heartbreak, now we get to wade through the sea of bigotry because this is what happens when a subset of a particular group behaves horrendously.  The few become the sole representation of the many and unfairly so.  Being a religious minority myself, I certainly appreciate that special feeling of mortification and understand the dread in anticipation of the backlash.  Each time Israel blunders, I steel myself for the hate speech and look at the computer monitor through splayed fingers with a turning stomach and legs that feel like lead.  Today, tomorrow and, potentially, the following day, decent Muslims will be attacked by the ignorant masses who presume that bad apples represent an entire belief system.  It’s shameful and disgusting.  It’s why so many people looked at Australia with wonder in middle-December when they responded to an attack with love instead of hate via I’ll Ride with You.  The rest of the world seems completely incapable of doing that.  It’s why I have a tendency to get a bit twitchy and bitchy when I hear people say :insert random demographic here: are dangerous/evil/vile/must be wiped off the planet.  It’s why I won’t allow others to besmirch what they do not know or understand – at least in my presence.  It’s very easy to look at something, form an opinion and stick to it when you lack basic facts and knowledge, especially when everyone else appears to be doing the same.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news but that is the very definition of prejudice.   Oh…and you thought you were so very evolved and enlightened, didn’t you?

Alas, this isn’t a tentacle wag at the bigots.  This is actually something a bit different.  The above is actually a rambling aside.

I freely admit that I spent a large portion of my time in my 20s in a drunken stupor or stoned (possibly).  If you’re unmarried, childless, gainfully employed and unencumbered by any other responsibility, your 20s are the appropriate time for fucking around and fuck around I did.  That said, for as drunk as I was, I don’t recall the world being as barking mad as it appears to be today.  Could it have been because I spent ½ of my 20s living outside of the Bible Belt where religion was just one of those things that was a part of life and not the sole point of life?  I really don’t think so.  I lived in predominantly Catholic Western Pennsylvania, went to a state university and for the life of me, I don’t recall the cafeteria feeding us meat on Friday.  It was fish.  Every Friday in Western Pennsylvania was fish and mac and cheese day.  Yet, no one was hounding me to surrender my faith.  Those who even bothered to ask really didn’t care that I wasn’t one of them.  Oh, and I really loved fish and mac and cheese day, too.

Religion didn’t really become an issue for me until I moved to the Bible Belt.  Since then, I have had the joy of experiencing discrimination at every single job I have had.  It’s not pleasant.  But what’s really unpleasant, what’s really the catalyst behind my picking up my ball and going home (reevaluating my entire position on religion, in general) is the incessant attempts at evangelization.  Yes.  I understand that certain groups have instructions to go forth and seed.  And, yes, I have tried to be patient and respectful of this but a person can only stomach so much before it becomes offensive.

As I see it, religion and attempts to shift someone away from their existing ideology to the ideology of another is just madness.  And it’s presumptuous, rude and in very poor taste.  Think about this scenario:

You’re out and about doing whatever it is that you do and someone walks up to you with a shirt in their hands.  They see that you’re already wearing a shirt but that doesn’t really matter to them.  That person thinks their shirt is better than the shirt you’re currently wearing.  They say “Look.  I have a shirt for you.  I think you need to put it on right now.  This very minute, to be exact.”  You tilt your head in confusion.  You point to your shirt.  You tell them that you’re already wearing a shirt that you quite like.  Yet, the person you’re speaking to is neither listening nor caring about the words coming out of your mouth.  Instead, they say “NO.  You must wear THIS shirt.  This shirt.  Right here in my hands.  Wear it.  Wear it now.”  Again, you look at your shirt and the slightly deranged person talking to you and you say “Allow me to iterate, I have a shirt.  I’m wearing a shirt.  It is a comfortable shirt.  No thank you.”  Still in denial, they thrust the shirt in your face and adamantly exclaim “But MY shirt is better than YOUR shirt.  It will save you!”  “Save me?  Save me from what?” you ask “Is it made of Kevlar and thus bullet proof?”  The shirt bearer stares at you like you’re crazy and says “No.”  You ask “Is it impregnated with some sort of anti-bacterial and/or anti-viral substance that will keep me immune from all disease?”  Shirt bearer shakes head no.  “In the event that I’m standing atop a very high building, near the ledge, and someone decides to shove me, will a parachute deploy and will I float safely to the ground?”  The shirt bearer, again, responds “No.”  You follow with “Ok.  Given that there is zero evidence that this particular shirt will save me from three imminent threats (or three terrible traps, three terrible traps, three terrible traps – so terrible!), please tell me how and why you think this shirt can save me.”

Marginally flummoxed, the shirt bearer responds in the only manner they can “Well, it’s because that is what I believe.”  You, finding this data insufficient, tell the person that you disagree with them which prompts the de rigueur “But then you will go to hell.”  Not one to pass up the opportunity to scramble brains, you say “Well, the joke is on you.  I don’t believe hell exists.”  Completely exasperated, the shirt bearer hollers “PUT ON THIS SHIRT!”  You calmly say “Please take your shirt and leave.”  “MY SHIRT IS BETTER THAN YOUR SHIRT!  I WILL NOT BE DENIED” howls the shirt bearer.  You repeat “Please take your shirt and leave.”  “WHY WON’T YOU WEAR MY FUCKING SHIRT?”  Losing patience, you testily snap “Please take your shirt and your very un-pious self and go away.”  “I HATE YOU.  I WILL ONLY LIKE YOU IF YOU WEAR THIS SHIRT. “  Again, “Please take your shirt and leave.”  Shirt bearer snarls “YOU ARE A VILE HUMAN BEING AND I’M GOING TO SPEW HATEFUL WORDS AT YOU, YOU BLASPHEMOUS, SINFUL PIG!”

In that scenario – do you want to put on that shirt?  Do you want to spend time with that shirt bearing freak?  NO.  And now you understand why many of us are growing tired of religion, in general?  Is the popularity of the Flying Spaghetti Monster starting to make sense?

Within the first few months of living in North Carolina, a colleague asked me out to lunch.  I was excited as I thought “Hey!  Friend making time!  Hooray!!!”  And, since we know how much I love putting myself out there and trying to make friends, this was a pretty big deal to me.  On our way to lunch, she played Christian rock which I found peculiar but kept my mouth shut.  At lunch, she openly prayed before eating.  Again, for someone not from the Bible Belt – different but something I was going to have to accept as the cultural norm.  Then she proceeds to talk to me about religion.  She expresses her grave concern for my soul since Jesus is not my savior.  She is very worried that I’m going to hell; so worried that she invited me to lunch to talk to me about where I was going astray.  All I could do was look at her, smile and say “I’m not concerned about hell.  I know you’re praying for me and that should take care of it.”  We never went to lunch together again.

Mind you, all of this isn’t meant as an indictment of Christianity.  Like every family has its crazy relative, each religion has its crazy zealots who taint the rest of the followers.  Each religion has its own issues with thinking it’s the only path (towards what…who the fuck really knows).  Each religion sits in judgment of the next.  Shit – each religion judges itself.  I spent one Rosh Hashanah listening to a Rabbi drone on forever about how horrible the Hasidim are towards those who are less orthodox.  The Rabbi condemned someone in our own faith for condemning us.  It was one of the most fucked up experiences I have ever had.  I wanted to walk out of synagogue but I was too afraid that the Almighty above would smite me for leaving temple in the middle of a High Holy Day.  And don’t even get me started on how fucked up being afraid of something that may or may not exist is.  My attempts to reconcile that one over the past 18 years have proven unsuccessful.

And this is why I sit with a very fatigued brain and heart and wonder if any of this is worth it.  Aside from some inner peace which could, theoretically, be obtained through various other methods, what is humanity getting out of this whole religion thing?  War.  Discrimination.  Murder.  Death.  Women being treated as chattel or worse.  On a good day, we’re lucky if someone is simply offended by hearing their religion used as a verb, it seems.  That’s not sufficient enough for me.  Not anymore.

There are many things I think humans are not capable of handling responsibly, as collectively, we all do a wonderful job of dropping the ball and screwing things up.  I’m starting to wonder if religion is one of those things.  Have we bastardized the whole concept to the point where it is more detrimental than beneficial?  Is religion simply an outmoded technology (a series of laws before there were actual governments)?  I  genuinely do not know.  What I do know is this – I cannot bear another yesterday.  I don’t want to raise my child in a world where yesterdays are not only possible but normal.

Modern Absolution

In olden days
the Church sold
sin offset credits
called Indulgences.
Essentially,
after life insurance
in the form of
coupon vouchers
for debaucheries
yet to be committed.
Rates were determined
by severity of sin.
Subject to terms
and conditions
of course.
Now-a-days,
such vouchers
are no longer sold.
Instead,
they are exchanged
for penitent tasks.
Like, for example:
Climbing the Sacred Steps.
That’s good for
seven whole years
off your time
in Purgatory.
And as long as you’re
“truly penitent
and contrite”
you can get
an Indulgence
for following
the Pope’s Twitter feed.
Got to keep up
with the times
after all.

Would Jesus hand out pamphlets?

Some advice would be so nice.
I could really do with some,
About what to do when the,

Jehovah’s Witnesses come.
They always come in pairs,
In order to outnumber you.

And catch you off your guard,
Big smiles for disarming you.
All politeness: “Excuse me, Ma’am.”

But have you heard the Message?
The Good News about God’s plan,
For you, nothing to fear.

It’s all written down, in
This convenient pamphlet here.”
Since they really are polite,

It seems wrong, a disgrace,
To tell them to piss off.
Shut the door in their faces.

Their eyes and smiles so wide,
Sorry, but your little faith is
Much too small for God to fit inside.