Archive | Religion

Why I Hate Sundays

Mamma Mia

Mamma MiaI saw Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again recently with my 14-year-old daughter. I need to get that out of the way up front in case there are any ABBA haters out there. Yes, the film is cheesy as all get out. And yes, Cher makes an appearance in a platinum blonde wig towards the end, improbably cast as Meryl Streep’s mother and Andy Garcia’s long-lost lover.

My daughter kept asking me who “Cher” was.

“Be quiet!” I hissed, brooking no distractions as I drank in Cher’s velvety rendition of Fernando.

Sunday Dread

I saw the film on a Sunday. Watching Mamma Mia was probably the best anti-depressant I could have hoped for. I hate Sundays. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who could enjoy them as much as I enjoy Saturdays. I desperately want to experience it as just another day of rest a day when – as The Lord’s Prayer so aptly puts it – you can “protect yourself from all anxiety,” kick back with a craft beer and read The New Yorker.

But it’s never been like that for me. Invariably, I wake up early, even though it’s the only day of the week that I don’t set an alarm. I always feel like I’m right on the edge of a tidal wave of despair, but that if I swim fast enough, I can just escape being swallowed up. So I douse any lingering anguish with a double espresso, and hope for the best.

I call this feeling “Sunday dread.” I used to think that it all stemmed from an underlying fear of Mondays and the resumption of normal activity. But I’ve been in a career transition for the past year, so I don’t have that excuse anymore. Monday can be whatever I want it to be. And still the Sunday dread arrives.

I’ve tried to flee this awful feeling at various points in my life with all manner of activities: swimming lessons, phone calls to old friends, elaborate brunches where I experimented with the kinds of foods I imagined people in Southern California to be eating: kale burritos or banana chip loaf. You know, relaxed people.

But it’s to no avail. I can’t escape the underlying anguish. It’s sort of like having a hangover, except that I don’t really get drunk anymore. Still, there is that vague undercurrent of nausea and fatigue, exacerbated by too much caffeine. Over the course of the day, what might have been depression morphs into a prickly disquietude. As with a hangover, I know I just need to ride it out until it passes. And eventually, it does.

Childhood Sundays

I blame my father for my hatred of Sundays. As a child, he forced all four of us kids to go to church on Sunday mornings. He was a devout, if deeply conflicted, Catholic. My mother had left Catholicism when I was born, refusing to carry on submitting to a religion that obliged her to keep having children. I was never quite sure what to make of the fact that my birth simultaneously prompted my mother to abandon religion and my father to quit drinking.

But the upshot was that she stayed home and slept while the rest of us trudged off to Mass. So, church was never a neutral experience for me. It was always entangled in some sort of deep, unspoken conflict between the two of them, glimpses of which would occasionally bubble to the surface and then recede.

In the late afternoons, we’d drive down to visit my Grandmother on the outskirts of Newark, NJ, where my father had grown up. Our family had long since “graduated” from this part of Jersey. My Dad became a successful lawyer and escaped to a big house in a good school district further North in the state. But Sundays meant revisiting the bleakness of East Orange – a town name that still rings with the false promise of a Fitzgerald novel. To my seven-year-old eyes, it was nothing but a string of shuttered factories and faded corner stores with chipped paint, all surrounded by shady looking men drinking out of paper bags.

The Warmth of New Possibility

I live in London now. This means that if I’m up before 9 a.m. on Sunday – as I was the day I watched Mamma Mia – I can listen to the “Sunday worship” program on the BBC (a live broadcast of an Anglican service), while I empty the dishwasher. There’s no separation of Church and State in the U.K. So you often get this weird (to an American ear, anyway) co-mingling of the religious with the secular. Still, I find it soothing to listen to the rote mumblings of the Episcopalian service, which is so similar to a Catholic mass…and yet, distinct.

Yesterday, the weather here conspired to make me feel even worse than usual. London is experiencing its first proper heat wave since 1976. This is not a country that’s set up for this much heat, and I don’t just mean the lack of air conditioning. The baseline mood of your average Brit hovers somewhere between dour and nonplussed. So, when it gets above 80 degrees Fahrenheit – as it has on several occasions in the past six weeks – people lose it. They just don’t know how to operate with this much…bright light.

For me, however, the sun has been an unexpected blessing. In a summer where I’ve been trying to land an agent for a book I’ve written and launch a new business, the weather has lifted my mood. Every day has felt full of possibility. Like it was all within my reach. And work might finally be, I don’t know…fun?

Until yesterday. For the first time in over 45 days, it was windy and rainy, and we reverted to the London of Charles Dickens and Graham Greene.

Which brings us back to Mamma Mia. Cher sang: “There was something in the air last night, the stars were bright, Fernando.”

And for two hours, I could breathe. When I stepped out of the cinema into the light rain, I felt hopeful again.

Image: Mamma Mia by Nick Grabowski via Flickr

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Why I Envy Atheists

Brideshead mansion

Brideshead mansion

 

 

 

 

Note: I originally published this post several years ago on this blog. But when I recently re-watched Brideshead Revisited with my son, I realized that my feelings hadn’t changed so I am sharing it with you again:

Every so often you read a book or watch a film that you need to put down or look away from because it cuts too close to the bone.

So it was for me the other night when my husband and I finally finished watching the 1981 British television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, an 11 episode meditation on privilege, family, religion and sexuality, all set in England between the Wars.

Most people – even those who haven’t read the book or seen the series – use “Brideshead” as shorthand for the flamboyant excesses of the British aristocracy on its last legs. And make no mistake, there’s no shortage of champagne flutes, dinner jackets and preposterously polite banter. In short, it’s the kind of thing that Americans tend to lap up. (See: Upstairs, DownstairsGosford Park and most recently, Downton Abbey.)

Read the rest of this post over at Thrive

 

Image: Castle Howard, Yorkshire by Nick Garrod via Flickr

Catholic Church, Please Be Quiet

If you’ll excuse my bluntness, I’d like to send the Catholic hierarchy a quick and pointed message: Please be quiet.

I’m referring, of course, to the explosive and ongoing battle that’s erupted over whether or not faith-based institutions – such as universities, charities and hospitals – should be required to make contraceptives available to their employees for free as part of their employer health-care plans.

In a year when a presidential election was supposed to be all about jobs, it’s somehow — as Anne Taylor Fleming noted recently in Politico — ended up being about the female body instead.

On Friday, after several days of severe criticism from the Catholic Church, Republican congressional leaders, all four Republican candidates for president and even some liberals, President Obama released a compromise measure that would shift the requirement to provide free, preventative birth control to the insurers of such institutions.

But, apparently, that’s not enough for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which still finds this latest compromise “unacceptable.”

 

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: Icon: St. John Maximovitch, Archbishop of San Francisco by rosefirerising via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Do Atheists Need ‘A Cathedral Of Their Own?’

This just in, from the Department of “Can you imagine this happening in the United States?” Two prominent atheists – popular philosopher Alain de Botton and popular science author Richard Dawkins – are sparring over the wisdom of erecting a “temple for atheists” in London.

No, but seriously folks.

In his latest book, Religion For Atheists, De Botton argues that even atheists have a soft-spot for the sort of grandiose architecture commonly associated with churches, mosques and temples. He has thus raised some 500,000 British pounds (approximately $786,000) to construct what he refers to as a “secular space for contemplation” in the heart of the city’s financial district. Although many in the West have little time for organized religion, they still have feel nostalgic for its “consoling, subtle or just charming rituals,” as he put it in an interview with a columnist at The Daily Telegraph.

In part, de Botton is motivated by a desire to counter what he sees as the “destructive beliefs” about atheism put forward by scholars like Richard Dawkins and the late journalist Christopher Hitchens, whom he sees as criticizing religion without offering anything more inspirational in its place. De Botton wants, instead, to borrow the idea of awe-inspiring buildings that give people a better sense of perspective on life.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: Atheists by yoshinari via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Why I Envy Atheists

Every so often you read a book or watch a film that you need to put down or look away from because it cuts too close to the bone.

So it was for me the other night when my husband and I finally finished watching the 1981 British television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, an 11 episode meditation on privilege, family, religion and sexuality, all set in England between the Wars.

Most people – even those who haven’t read the book or seen the series – use  “Brideshead” as shorthand for the flamboyant excesses of the British aristocracy on its last legs. And make no mistake, there’s no shortage of champagne flutes, dinner jackets and preposterously polite banter. In short, it’s the kind of thing that Americans tend to lap up. (See: Upstairs, Downstairs, Gosford Park and most recently, Downton Abbey.)

The actors are to die for. The series launched Jeremy Irons’ career and also features outstanding performances by Diana Quick, Anthony Andrews, Lawrence Olivier and more. Plus, any film that dwells on extensive bouts of family conflict, alcoholism and unspoken homo-eroticism? I’m there.

So that was all well and good. But as the series wore on, it became increasingly clear that this wasn’t just another voyeuristic journey into the heart of Oxbridge-bred England. Rather, it was essentially a protracted tale of one family’s inexorable, inter-generational and self-destructive struggle with Catholicism.

I’ve written before about my own personal struggles with my family’s faith. How my husband and I have tried, through the years, to reconcile my religious Catholic upbringing with his cultural Jewish identity. And how that has led me to become, begrudgingly, over time, a sort of reluctant secularist.

What Brideshead Revisited added to that equation was the pain and guilt that goes along with that decision. I wanted desperately, as I watched, to identify with Charles Ryder, the protagonist of the story. He is the stoic, eternally rational hero who can’t quite fathom why this otherwise well-educated and cultured family in which he has become enmeshed – The Flytes – is so hopelessly caught up in their Roman Catholic faith.

Instead, I ended up identifying with Julia, his beloved, who tries her very best to leave her religion (and thus, to some extent, her family) by embracing Charles (and divorce and modernity) and the skepticism it implies. In the end, however, it’s too much for her and she can’t quite bring herself to do it. It breaks her heart, but she chooses the Church over her true love. It is her destiny.

I won’t do that. I left the church long ago and save a few masses here and there and the occasional compunction to pray on airplanes, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Catholicism. Or any other religion, for that matter.  Even Judaism.

But I experience that as a loss. And it’s a painful one.

And that’s why I envy all the atheists I know, who make up about 90% of the people around me, including my husband. They don’t share this anguish. It doesn’t keep them awake at night.

I would love to have that peace of mind.

But I don’t.

And that, my friends, is one price of adulthood. At least mine.

 

Image: IMG_2994 by Franie Frou Frou via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

 

Yom Kippur, The Pope And My Reluctant Secularism

Sometimes the easiest questions are the hardest ones to answer. Like: What religion are you?

I had reason to think about this issue the other day during a routine doctor’s appointment at a local London hospital. As we were winding up, the doctor turned to me and asked: “Oh, yes, and what religion are you? It could be relevant to your treatment.” He was holding a clipboard and a pen, ready to tick the appropriate box on his chart.

I paused, as if he’d asked me the solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem. “Umm . . . well . . . I used to be Catholic.” I heard myself say. “But my husband’s Jewish . . . so I guess . . . um . . .”

The doctor raised his eyebrows. As polite as the Brits tend to be, you can tell when you’ve tried their patience. And I could see that this kind gentleman was thinking: “Honey, just answer the question. I’ve got loads of patients to see in the waiting room and I really don’t need an American confessional right now.”

“I guess I’m nothing,” I told him finally. “Yeah, that’s right. Just tick ‘nothing.’ ” But what I really wanted to say was: “Do you have a box for ‘formerly Christian’? Or perhaps for ‘wanna-be Jewish’?”

Read the rest of this post on www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Yalmukes by Bekah Stargazing via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Mel Gibson As Metaphor For What Ails America

OK. Here’s my guilty summer confession: I can’t get enough of the Mel Gibson scandal.

Let me preface this post by saying that I’m hardly one for celebrity gossip. I have no idea who Justin Bieber is. I don’t care whether Jennifer Aniston wants kids or not. And despite former Politics Daily colleague Emily Miller’s compelling argument for why we should all be taking The National Enquirer more seriously, I can’t stomach tabloids.

Still, when it comes to the ongoing Mel Gibson saga, I can’t look away. And I suspect I’m not alone. And that’s because — Australian accent notwithstanding — Gibson embodies a whole bunch of different ills plaguing America right now, which we’re trying, as a nation, to figure out. And as we do that, Gibson provides a convenient foil for examining our worst fears about ourselves as a country.
Read the rest of this post at www.PoliticsDaily.com

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While you’re there, you may also wish to check out my post on the growing trans-Atlantic tension over the BP-Lockerbie hearings this Thursday in the United States Senate.

Image: Mel Gibson by kjd via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Why I Could Not Go Back To Catholicism

An old friend of mine recently posted the following sentence on his Facebook page: “I know this is totally not a PC thing to say, but can someone please explain to me why anyone is still Catholic?”

It’s a fair question. And my Politics Daily colleague, Melinda Henneberger, has one answer. In an honest and moving piece she wrote a few days back, Melinda tells us that she’s as put off as the next person by the current sex abuse scandal roiling the Catholic Church, as well as by the Vatican’s latest attempts to play the victim and point fingers. At the end of the day, though, Melinda is going to hang in there with this Church, because being Catholic is integral to who she is. “In the end,” she writes,”it is not about them.”

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about why I’m not convinced by this argument. I explain why – even if I were contemplating re-entering Christianity – I don’t think I could stomach becoming a Catholic right now, despite being raised in an observant Catholic family. And yes, it has everything to do with the current sex abuse scandal.

Drop on by and have a look.

Image: Pope Benedict XVI in Nazi camp in Brezinzka by miqul via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Interfaith Marriage: A Catholic Contemplates Passover

Passover begins tonight, followed quickly by Easter. As a former Catholic married to a Jew, I hate this time of year. It reminds me — once again — of just how unresolved my husband and I are about the status of religion within our family.

Yesterday, I was over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about how hard this time of year is for those of us in inter-faith marriages.

Have a look

Image: Passover by Ohad* via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Defending Burqas In Adulthood

For those of you who live in Europe – and even those who don’t – you’ll know that headscarves – and now burqas – have been a hot-button political issue in France for awhile now.

Today, a colleague of mine over on PoliticsDaily.com – Bonnie Erbé – wrote a post suggesting why she thinks France should go ahead and ban the burqa…and why The United States should do the same thing.

As with so many issues, my feelings on burqas and headscarves have changed dramatically since living in a country where they are a part of everyday life.

Please come visit me over on PoliticsDaily.com today where I find myself in the unexpected position of…defending the burqa.

Image: Burqa a Meta by fotorita via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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