A (Non-denominational) Recovering Jew Among Them
Today is Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—the holiest of days for the Jewish People. In recognition of that, here is a gently edited version of a story published on himmelink.com in April of 2010.
If Sunday is the Holy Day, it’s a day late from what I had learned as a kid at Temple Anshe Sholom. As a Jewish boy, I learned that God needed an evening and a day to rest from all his hard work. And that’s when the Jews gather as a community and pray—on Shabbat. But that allows Him to be refreshed and ready for all the goyim to give Him their prayers on Sunday. Chosen people? Sounds like bad scheduling to me. But most Jews function on the Gregorian Calendar anyway, so what’s the big deal?
I went to church on Sunday. My weekend started with a nice leisurely drive home from work, a haircut on Saturday morning, which led into some kind of coffee, scotch-induced bender I was unable to tear myself out of until early Monday morning. During the liquid ride, I found myself at a delicious sushi dinner with an old friend, a strange photographer’s private art gallery party and another old friend’s condo for more booze and some NCAA action. That was Saturday.
Sunday, I was excited to go to church. I promised my friend, Tommy Beardmore I would visit his church a few weeks back and had yet to make the appointment. This day would be different. I needed God. I was feeling a little lost and desperate for prayer.
You see, I struggle with religion. The trite organization and rules attached to faith troubles me. But I grew up with a strong connection to the coordination of prayer so sometimes it’s comforting to me to be able to walk into a house of worship and pray. I know I can send my letters of hope to God in my bedroom or on the bus or in the bathroom of a whorehouse, but being in a building with stained glass and high arches makes me feel a little closer. And I realize that is more about the strange comforts we hold on to from our childhoods than anything having to do with my anxiety-riddled beliefs.
At church I felt OK. In sat next to Tommy who explained Catholic things to me. Ironically, I felt more comfortable in that Catholic church than I did in any Jewish temple I’d been in in the last 10 years. Maybe it’s because I feel betrayed by the Jewish people. Maybe it’s because I think Zionism is as evil as anti-Semitism. Maybe it’s because the rabbi at the temple where I grew up seems to have next to no concern for his dwindling congregation and the economic slide of his community so long as he keeps collecting his handsome salary—with benefits. I dunno, but I felt OK.
While I struggle with religion, I’m also fascinated with it. Not every true believer denies science or is too stupid to recognize that some biblical stories might not be entirely factual. So I want to know why people think and believe what they think and believe. I want to know why and how they do what they do. What strange ritual do you do that brings you close to God? And why do you need that? What effort or concessions do you have to make to cleanse you of your sins and make you OK to be you?
Tommy held the wine glass during the offering. “Come on,” he said. “You can make one.” I knelt with Tommy before a statue of Jesus and Mary and we prayed:
Dear God. May my mind be at ease. May there be peace for those I love and vengeance for those I loved who were too selfish to love me back. May your children who claim to serve you like the Catholic priests who molest, the evangelists who rob, the rabbis who think first and too much of themselves, and the Israelis and Palestinians who refuse to see reason and avoid forthright negotiation for peace experience their wrongs and suffer... May the rest of us who are more obviously good—or at least less obviously awful—ultimately have peace.
Then I lit a candle. Well, I pushed a button that lit an electric light that flickered like a candle. I found it silly. The church found it cost effective. I’m thinking God agreed with me and wondered if people should add more to their tithing. I gave five bucks hoping it would sort of curb some of the cheap Jew stereotype.
After mass, the young 20 and 30 somethings went down the street to a bar. We enjoyed the wing specials and watched Purdue win in overtime. I had a move made on me to be recruited by a nice young man named James.
“Are you planning on coming back to church?” James asked me. “It’s a great time. We have great social events.”
“Oh, I’m not sure,” I told him. “I’m here with Tommy and I’m a non-denominational recovering Jew. But I had a nice time.”
And that was no lie. Sometimes I need to feel close to God. Or, whatever I think God is. And it may be just that feeling of familiarity in structured faith from when I wasn’t non-denominational, when I wasn’t recovering. When I was just a regular Jew who wasn’t angry or anxious. One who was comfortable. On that Sunday, church made me comfortable.
Thank God for Tommy.