A few weeks ago, I went to the Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son.
The young man had obviously put a lot of himself into the ceremony as had the rest of his family.
It was a powerful and emotional experience.
Many in attendance, myself included, wept openly during the ritual and I was honored to have been included.
As I left, there were a few things that stood out for me.
First, the Rabbi discussed the way that the Jewish faith was one that honored life-long learning and debate.
In particular, he referenced this young man’s duty to study and question the Torah for the rest of his life and to engage in debate about the nature of its meaning with those in his faith community.
Second, when my friend’s son made his speech, he said that he found it ironic that he was standing before us at all as he had been a two-time Hebrew school drop-out.
He talked about many late night walks with his mother and how their discussions led him back to pursue the Bar Mitzvah.
Having participated in the study that led him to the Bar Mitzvah, he said he felt more connected to his ancestors and to himself.
He talked about the power and importance of story and ritual in one’s life.
I left thinking about both of these things – lifelong study and debate about the true meaning of faith narratives and the power of story and ritual in our lives.
I don’t have what I would call faith, I don’t have absolute faith anyway.
I used to think Church was only for the faithful.
Then one day, about ten years ago, I argued about this with my Grandfather.
“Church isn’t for people with absolute faith,” he said angrily. “Church is about community. It’s a place where you go to struggle through your questions about faith with the support of others.”
I remember this moment so vividly.
My grandfather’s remarks made sense to me, but the task of finding the right faith community seemed Sisyphean in nature.
[And who wants to roll a huge rock up a huge hill forever and ever?]
Since I’ve had children, this notion of finding a faith community has nagged at me.
I didn’t grow up going to church, so it doesn't feel like I worry about it over some sort of guilt that I need to teach my children about the Bible.
I mean, I hardly know anything about the Bible.
I tried to read it once and got as far as Leviticus.
Leviticus is all about how many lambs, bulls, goats, chickens and other animals out to be sacrificed (and in what order and frequency) to please god.
After the sacrificial overload (the literal Silence of the Lambs) and a long string of The Begats (John Boy begat Billy Bob who begat Roy Rogers), I was done reading.
[I hear I missed all the excitement of the smiting.]
I think the nagging I feel is more about suspecting my grandfather was right.
I still don’t have what I would call faith, but finding a community within which to explore my questions seems like it could be worthwhile, something that opens me, something that invites new possibilities…
A few days after the Bar Mitzvah, I was sitting with the father of one of my daughter’s friends at pre-k pick up.
Talking about the Bar Mitzvah, I asked him where he found himself on the spectrum of faith.
He told me he was an atheist.
I probed for clarity.
“So you are absolutely certain that the existence of some force or spirit larger than us isn't possible at all?”
He got his dander up.
“To posit that there is some sort of life force controlling the universe is ridiculous! It’s also incredibly destructive. Some of the most horrible acts of violence throughout history have been perpetrated over conflicting ideas of faith. It’s horrifying and depressing and it doesn’t make sense. God doesn’t exist. This is it. This is all there is.”
His wife, who attended the Bar Mitzvah with me, and I talked further.
She too describes herself as an atheist.
“Maybe it’s because we’re scientists,” she said. “What you can’t prove, can’t exist.”
“I think there’s only a thin line of difference in your belief and mine,” I replied. “That I can’t prove it one way or another makes it possible in my mind.”
I guess I think the existence of God is possible.
That’s what I’ve got.
[Pretty thin, eh?]
Though my parents were essentially agnostic, both sets of my grandparents were Presbyterian.
There’s a Presbyterian church near my house with a reputation for attracting a very diverse congregation and for being oriented towards social justice.
Last week, a friend of a friend who is an active member offered to meet the kids and I there and to show us around.
She met us on the front steps and led us inside.
The sanctuary of the church felt familiar in that it looked very like my Grandparent’s small, country church in Virginia.
Everything happened in the same order during the service and, like all Presbyterian churches, the “trespasses” were replaced with “debtors” in the Lord’s Prayer.
What I wasn’t expecting was when the sermon addressed whether or not David and Jonathan were lovers in the book of Samuel.
I wondered what my Grandparents would have thought of the sermon.
I thought, “What difference does it make if they were or were not lovers?”
But then, the pastor said the same thing… and more.
He said that whether or not they were lovers was irrelevant to the story’s message about the transcendent power or friendship, but that is was politically significant to call out this biblical story of intimacy between two men and accept its possibility from the pulpit.
He said he felt a responsibility to bless their intimacy, the possibility of their homosexuality, and to publicly recognize it as acceptable in God's eyes.
[Preach it, radical church man!]
At other points during the sermon, the pastor referenced the congregation's uncertainty on matters of faith.
This relieved me.
Still, it was jarring to sit in what looked like any small, southern, Christian church but tasted like something else entirely.
Flavor combinations I had never before experienced were being offered here.
The Mayor and The Rooster seemed to enjoy themselves quite well.
They were whisked off to various Sunday school and other children’s activities where they did various arts and crafts projects, heard stories and were not, at any time, asked to sit still.
Towards the end of the service, the children of the congregation rejoined their parents in the sanctuary for communion and the recession.
During the final hymn, The Rooster danced joyfully in the aisle between the pews.
No one seemed to mind, so I didn’t stop her.
As the robed members of the choir and the various church elders stepped down and into the aisle marching towards the back of the church, The Rooster turned and began high stepping her way out as well, leading them all.
I called her back then.
I know my shy girl well enough to realize that if she fell out of her musical reverie with the length of the church between us, she would dissolve into an instant bucket of tears.
When it was our turn to spill out into the aisle and out of the church, a number of people stopped me to remark that they were sure The Rooster would have led the church elders and the choir right out of the building and onto the street.
The way she had been swept outside of herself made me think again about my belief in the power of ritual and story.
Faith based or not, ritual and story bring meaning to our lives and I want to provide it for The Mayor and The Rooster.
I looked around at the assembled congregation.
“Is this the community?” I wondered. “Are these the people amongst whom I will finally struggle with my questions about faith?”
I left feeling like I might be willing to go on a second date, but that I was nowhere near ready to make a commitment.
[Definitely no good night kiss.]
And now for something completely different....
[A naked organist!]
Can you guess what The Mayor would choose to eat if offered his choice of canned spinach, canned pinto beans or white bread?
His choice might surprise you – and it could lead you to a $100 dollar prize and a year’s worth of free...
Check it out.
Monday, October 05, 2009
A few weeks ago, I went to the Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son.