Jatholic Thoughts

February 27, 2009 at 6:11 am (Faith, Interfaith) (, , , )

Today is Friday, so if you’re Jewish, it’s the Sabbath.  (I guess it is for Seventh Day Adventists too, but I don’t know diddly about them).  Last Friday, we were at my sister-in-law’s place outside of Boston, so we ate Shabbat dinner with them.  And man, was it great…The food yes, but I’m not talking about the Chicken with 40 Garlic Cloves.*  I love the rituals of Shabbat…the candles, the blessings, the songs, the intellectual discussion of religion that seems to occur spontaneously and comfortably and naturally, the children’s involvement.  I just really love the Jewish rituals that are centered around the home.**  The Jewish meal is one example, but mezuzahs are another one.  They hold little pieces of scripture and are mounted to the wall, and you touch them upon exiting or entering the house.  OH! And the holidays!  The Passover Seder, Sukkot, making hamentaschen for Purim, playing dreidel at Hanukkah.  It’s really just a beautiful and rich faith tradition.

As I understand it, many of these rituals began with the diaspora.  I guess when you have to go underground and when you aren’t allowed to worship as a community for years and years and years, you do come up with some pretty nifty traditions.

What’s my point?  I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could pick and choose the elements you liked from different religions?  So for example, you might pick mass, and Jesus, but Shabbat and that other stuff, along with yoga, and say, meditation.  Boy, that’d give a new definition to cafeteria Catholic, wouldn’t it?  I guess one of the benefits of being in an interfaith marriage is I do get to have that.  Sort of.  But do I need to find a Hindu and a Buddhist husband to round out my perfect religion?  And then aren’t I really a fundamentalist Mormon in Bizarro world?  (I should know better than to watch back-to-back Big Love episodes…)  Anyway.

I’m signing off until Monday…happy end of February!


*Totally serious that this is the name of the recipe…which I know because my sister-in-law asked me to start the meal for her when she got held up in town…Also totally serious that it was freaking fantastic.

**I’m really trying not to have the subtext here be “as opposed to communal services” but that’s another post, I guess…


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My Dad, the Environment, and Why You Should be Green Whether It’s Easy or Not

February 26, 2009 at 5:36 am (Uncategorized) (, )

January at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

It was the first week of college, and I was walking down 3rd Street with this guy from my dorm. All of a sudden I saw an aluminum can right in front of me. I stopped, squashed it, picked it up, and tucked it in my bag to recycle it later. Normal, right? Not to this guy, who was shocked by my actions. He accused me of being some kind of self-righteous, environmental martyr-weirdo, making some big statement. I was trying to make plenty of statements in college, but that wasn’t one of them. I was just doing what came naturally.

I can remember my dad picking up cans and bottles to recycle my whole life. I think I was an adult before I learned that not everyone considered a plastic bag to be a necessary accessory for a walk…especially if you’re not walking a dog. I can remember him washing out sandwich bags, drying them, and reusing them. I can remember him cutting most of the top off of a bread bag and sending our sandwiches in that for our school lunches. (That was the WORST! my fragile ego could not handle that mortification…and now I do the same thing to my kids). My dad still engages in all of those practices by the way. He was green when green was still just a color, not a lifestyle.

A lot of it is because my dad is frugal. He was born September 20, 1929. Remember what happened in October? And I guess my grandfather, who I never met, was famously frugal. I’ve heard stories about Lester checking for coins in any pay telephones he happened to pass by. So Dad comes by it naturally too.

But it’s more than just being careful with money. You can see it in his face. My dad hates waste. I mean, really, really hates it. He’s a humble guy, and not too judgmental, so he probably wouldn’t couch it in these terms, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my dad thought waste was sinful.

That’s harsh, but polar ice caps melting, ocean levels rising and widespread environmental degradation is pretty harsh too. That’s why I’m glad that the pope keeps speaking out about protecting the environment and reversing the effects of climate change in moral terms. If you believe God entrusted us to be stewards of the earth, that’s the only sensible position to take. So,you know, the next time someone accuses you of being holier-than-thou with your hybrid-driving, reusable-bag-carrying, composting self, take it as a compliment. I know I will. And thanks, Dad.

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Ashes to ashes

February 25, 2009 at 12:59 pm (Uncategorized)

Ash Wednesday


A couple of years ago, I was downtown at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Ash Wednesday.  As I watched the congregation filing down the aisle to receive their ashes, I spotted a young mom holding a baby.  She was a cute little girl, maybe fifteen months or so?  As I knelt at my seat, I watched first the mother receive her ashes…and then the baby was marked with a tiny, ashy cross on her forehead.  I burst into tears as I imagined the priest saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” to this perfect little new life.

Granted, I was pregnant at the time, so I cried at AT&T commercials, but it really, really moved me to see that baby marked with ashes.  As I’ve said to my husband Sam before, you think it’s hard contemplating your own mortality…thinking about your children’s?  Forget it.  It’s like the worst thing in the world times the power of infinity plus a gazillion.  It’s just horrendously difficult.

And yet…I like Ash Wednesday.  I’m not alone in that, I don’t think.  Contrary to popular opinion, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, so you know, you’re off the hook…you don’t HAVE to go…but church is always packed on Ash Wednesday.  Packed!  And as I go through my day today, I know I’ll spot people with ashes on their foreheads everywhere I go:  at preschool, at the grocery store, at choir rehearsal.

My Jewish husband is ever so slightly uncomfortable with Ash Wednesday.  I think it seems primitive to him, or superstitious, and maybe a little exclusive:  “I’m a Christian and you’re not, nanny-nanny-boo-boo!”  That’s not how I see it.  I see those other foreheads marked with ashes and I think, “we’re in this together.  Me, that old lady who growled at me in Sendiks, that pierced and tattooed teenager, that little baby who could grow up to be President someday…we are all voyagers together through this perfect and horrible and terrifying and miraculous world.  We’ve been given a gift and a responsibility, and we can help each other to realize both.”

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Why I Like Lent

February 25, 2009 at 1:41 am (Uncategorized) ()

What I Like about Lent


So today is Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras…whatever you call it, I’m glad about it, because it means that Lent starts tomorrow.  

My six-year-old is seriously stressed about that fact, as she can’t decide what to give up for Lent.  It’s obvious that she wants to challenge herself; she keeps coming up with great ideas that would be really difficult to put into practice.  First, she thought she might give up dessert.  I nixed that idea, since for one, I don’t want her someday to fall into the trap of “Lent as diet tactic” which I have been guilty of on more than one occasion.  Secondly, she’s six.  Lent is forty days.  I’m no mathematician, but those numbers don’t seem to add up.  Thirdly, she’s a skinny little kid with an incredibly limited palette (read: she’s picky as hell) and I don’t think taking away cookies, cakes and other goodies is a good idea.  So she went back to the drawing board and came up with…giving up arguing with her brother.  I love the impulse, but as I told her, I don’t think God wants us to do the impossible – that’s His job.  So now she’s stuck.

She’ll come up with something though.  I already have.  I’m going to be shelving the computer, at least during the day, (great time to start a blog, no?  I like to make things difficult for myself, I’m afraid…) and I’m going to be foregoing my guilty pleasure of browsing (read: memorizing) real estate listings.  They’re both bad habits.  Obsessively checking email, or logging onto Facebook eight bazillion times a day takes me out of the present.  What am I looking for in my virtual connections that I’m not getting from the people right in front of me?  Not to mention the deleterious effect on my to-do list, e.g., laundry, clean out cupboard of shame, closet of shame, basement of shame…And as I said to a friend of mine at school the other day, I’m pretty sure I’m breaking a commandment with my real estate habit.  Drooling over the 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath one block from the lake seems an awful lot like coveting to me.

That’s one of the reasons Lent is so great.  It’s a great time for focusing.  Not that a person couldn’t engage in this kind of self-reflection any time of year, but Lent is a seasonal kick-in-the-pants.  And I like the simplicity of it too.  You’ve got three things to do during Lent, the Church says:  pray, fast, and give alms.  Well, when you break it down like that, it just doesn’t seem so hard to work out your salvation a little.  

I think my daughter’s figured it out too.  She’s decided to give up candy for Lent.  It’s a good choice.  It will be hard to say no to the ubiquitous lollipops…at the bank, the shoe store…but she’ll be able to do it, and she’ll feel proud of herself for her accomplishment.  Sort of the way mopping the floors is a chore, but so satisfying when you’re looking at the sparkling hardwood.  So Lent is spring cleaning for the soul, maybe, even if spring does feel an awfully long way away here in Wisconsin.

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