Things Jesus Doesn’t Do

I am fixing my computer. I’ve issued a few “#$%$#%’s,” “GDs,” “F’s” and other words that color the rainbow. When I say “I’m” fixing my computer, I really mean someone I’m chatting with at Apple is so doing, as was the awesome guy with the Australian hat at the Genius Bar earlier today. He’s fixed my stuff before. I try to hide behind my long hair like Cousin It as the Genius does things like wipe the dust off my screen and do other things I should’ve done before going in.

I look at these Geniuses as if they’re demi-gods. I want to be like them, trying not to laugh at silly things people like me do. Right now, I’m being assured we’ll get this set today, but while we’re at it, lets just take a few hours to update my OS.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 5.35.07 PMI should have prayed. I’m peaking at my social media feed between chat bubbles which indicate a couple of good football games passed while I was in the Land of I Don’t Care. Every post said “Jesus be praised” or “Thank you God!” Some were multi-line prayers of gratitude.

I never thought to ask God or Jesus about the password I forgot or to help set up my Gmail after several errors appeared on my restored system. I should’ve. He apparently sides with football teams. My mom gets him* to do amazing things–besides the real big things that people need, he takes time to find her parking spaces when she asks nicely.

I think that he’s busy. I’d like to establish a list of things God and Jesus do not do:

1. Jesus doesn’t play or fix football, baseball, or hockey. I know this because the Whalers didn’t get to stay in Hartford, now the only thing Hartford has going for it is some awesome Jamaican food on Albany Ave.

2. I’m not sure God finds parking spaces unless people aren’t feeling well and need to park close. He finds them for my mom, because she does a lot of extra good work for him. Parking closer gives her more time to help others and not run errands. God does, however, curse people who use other people’s handicapped plates or keep theirs too long just to get a space.

3. God does not help students who didn’t study for tests. You can’t go around being all faithful saying “Who needs to study for O-Chem? I have Jesus.” I think that gets him mad.

4. Jesus does not start cars. Especially if you don’t change your oil or follow the maintenance schedule.

5. God doesn’t create spontaneous sales in grocery stores unless you’re especially faithful, down on your luck, and share food with others. Then, he will give you all the pasta or eggs you want.

6. He doesn’t make kids behave. I know this, though my son knows the difference between the “good Jesus Christ,” as in when people pray, and the “bad Jesus Christ,” as in when someone (not me) says JESUS CHRIST!  I wish JC would take a moment, get rid of free will and make kids obey. Free will’s overrated. In any case, it shouldn’t be installed until kids turn 18. Or 21. Or when they move out of the house.

7. Jesus doesn’t get kids into college or get them financial aid. It’d be nice. Refer to #3.

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 5.38.33 PMIf you want to know what God and his associates really do, take a look outside first thing in the morning. You’ll see the sun peek over the horizon, hear the beauty of the birds singing a song, and feel the cool air on your face. You may even wish for the first flakes of winter snow. You’ll look into the face of your child or your other loved ones, and you’ll take a step or two toward beginning your day, which you can, because you’re alive, well, and graced by the power to live, impacting the world in an amazing and unforgettable way. God and the universe hope you do.

That’s what God does. Gives you the tools. The rest is all you. You’ll be great. Magic. A force to be reckoned with. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Now, if I could only fix this Mac. Jesus?


*I chose the pronoun “he” fully realizing God transcends gender.

[Image: Buddy Christ from Dogma and “Birds at Sunrise, Sam Stearman]

Can a Man Marry a Man? A Five-Year Old’s Position on Marriage Equality

"I have two mommies. I know where the apostrophe goes."

“I have two mommies. I know where the apostrophe goes.”

“Mom,” Declan said

“Yes?” I replied

“Can a man marry another man?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“Would they love each other?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“Can they have kids?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“But then there’d be two Dads.” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“How would they get the baby? Babies come from moms’ bellies. Would it come from dads’ bellies?” (Declan)

“No, they would adopt. Or they would raise a child who didn’t have a mom or dad like you do. And they would love that child.” (Mom)

“Okay.  I don’t want to marry a guy.” (Declan)

“You can marry a girl. You can marry anyone you want as long as you love the person, and just pick one person out of the world.” (Mom)

“I don’t want to marry anyone.” (Declan)

“Why?” (Mom)

“Because I’m going to be a paleontologist, not a husband. Paleontologists don’t get married. They dig up dinosaur bones. And I have two best friends. One is a boy. One is a girl. It’s tough to choose.” (Declan)

“Paleontologists can get married. Whoever you marry goes with you when you move. If you  get married, who would you marry?” (Mom)

“PALEONTOLOGISTS DON’T GET MARRIED! THEY DIG UP DINOSAUR BONES! And I’m taking the dog with me to my paleontologist tent…Can I marry you, Mommy?” (Declan)

Now that, I fear, is an entirely different issue. “No. I am already married to Daddy. You can only marry one person.” (Mom)

“Can two moms have a baby?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“How would you know which mom you needed if you sick? Would one be called ‘Daddy?'” (Declan)

“They would both love you the same and help you if you were sick. Some families call one mom ‘Mom’ and the other ‘Mommy.’ Then you know.” (Mom)

“I’d like TWO moms AND two dads.” (Declan).

“That, would be an awful lot of people to tell you to clean your room.” (Mom)

“Paleontologists don’t clean their room. They dig for dinosaur bones.” (Declan) I think he wants to follow that with “Are you stupid? Do you not understand the words coming out of my mouth?” But lucky for him and his life expectancy, which still has a lot remaining, he does not. Instead he just informs me, “I’m going to leave my room a mess. Even if I have two moms and a grandma.”

End of story.

[Image credit: New Yorker Magazine, May 2, 2011]



Attention Non-Christian Friends: You’re Getting a Card, Too!

I never make it through my Christmas card list.  Every year I try, every year I fail.  If I start too early, I feel like a department store putting Santa out before Halloween.  The news in the cards becomes outdated. Then I don’t want to send them. If I start too late, they never make it to the mailbox.

I’m old-fashioned about the idea of a Christmas card–they remind me of a time when people used actual correspondence and had certain levels of etiquette about such things. I wax nostalgic about a tangible piece of mail that does not contain a bill or coupons for products I don’t use. I still get junk mail dating back to the time when we thought it was a very funny practical joke to sign each other up for mailing lists just to be obnoxious. I bet the rainforest thought that was pretty obnoxious. Someone signed me up under the name “Jon Shankenheimer.”  He gets a lot of college offers at my address.

Anyway, every year, I sit down with Card Number 1, and write an amazing letter, then put it in a pile.  For reasons unknown to me, I can’t mail Card #1 until all the cards are done and since they are never done, they never get mailed. Sometime around the Fourth of July I find the stack and toss it. Or I’ll pick one or two finished cards from the pile and mail them like the winning entry of the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes to people who truly get the essence of my mind.  They can enjoy my card in time for the summer solstice. Two days later, that person will call me because they can’t read my writing anyway. So much for Dickensian calligraphy.

On a good year, I can make it to the D’s in my address book. Some years I try to be fair and start at the Z’s and go backwards thinking of the kids who never got to be line leader due to the cruelty of alphabetization. In such years, I can almost always make it to the Y’s or even W or V, but not much further.  M and N are always left out.

This year, I have a very different strategy, which I will begin this week. I’m going to do my cards in order of religion, starting with all the non-Christians first. This, I think, makes the most sense, because I want everyone to feel included in the holiday season, taking part in “American Christmas,” which was created by Macy and enjoyed by us all. Consumerism transcends religion, after all, because if the holidays were really about God, we’d forgo the Black Friday sales and spend more time serving our fellow man. So, why not include non-Christians and secular Americans in the fun, too?

The order of operations for cards:

I’m starting with all my Jewish and Hindu friends.  Why? Well, because Jews have been oppressed for thousands of years, and so they always get my respect and admiration. They deserve a card, even if it has Jesus or Santa on it. Hindus come in close second because they get to be born again, so if I don’t finish, I always get a second chance with them.

Buddhists will be third–not because I love them less, and it’s true, they also get a second crack at life which helps me better deal with my procrastination, but they also spend such a great deal of time getting rid of desire for material things. I fear a Christmas card might just be clutter.  Still, I think my Buddhist friends will appreciate the sentiment behind the cards, even if it messes with their inner zen.

Muslims come next. They have lots of cool holidays so they may not need ours, but since most of their holidays require superhuman feats of sacrifice, like 40 days of fasting and prayer while watching other people eat, they are on my most-respected list. That’s hard-core prayer and contemplation. They definitely get a card. Maybe two.

I have a few Jehovah’s witnesses on the list. They’re a tough group, because a Christmas card would actually offend them. They don’t technically celebrate the holiday, though, because they feel such commercialism aggrandizes people above God (true), and we don’t even know when the historical Jesus was born–it was most likely in spring, astronomers tell us–so why have a party to give ourselves presents during the time of the winter solstace-based Roman-conquest holiday of Festivus?  It doesn’t make sense to them.  And as such, they do not get cards commemorating holidays of Roman conquest, presents, trees given to us by German pagans and awesome yule log cakes made by French bakers.  But I found a loophole.  You can give a Jehovah’s present a gift out of friendship and appreciation, if it does not lift the individual above the Lord.  So, this is the spirit of my cards.  “Hey, you’re a great friend.”

Then, if I make it that far, I’ll tackle the list of cards to my Christian and secular friends.  They’ll be really busy shopping and wrapping, so they won’t have time to read the cards right away anyway.  But if I don’t get that far, as usual, I’ll consider stealing a screen shot of an Ansel Adams photo and posting a card on Facebook.  It’ll be that or mailing out the summer solstice cards once again.  I still have three weeks–I’m doing the best I can. We’ll see how it goes.

Black-listing Friday: Getting Back to What Matters

Christmas appeared early this year in our local stores–about three weeks before the Fourth of July, I think. It’s not that I don’t love the site of a freshly-decorated fake tree with a pine-smelling air freshener trying to convince me it’s real–I do, don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff.  I love mistletoe and wilted cranberries alternating with stale popcorn strung in strands wrapped around light poles.  I love walking down Fifth Avenue looking at the outrageous perfection of window displays planned months in advance and revealed for the season. I love knowing that the largest tree in the world has been hunted down, exterminated, and will be waiting for me in Rockefeller plaza if I get a chance to get down to see it, which I used to try to do annually but haven’t done for some time.

I love all the trimmings of the American Consumer Christmas that was created in tandem by Coca Cola’s plump carbonation-consuming Santa and marketing genius W.H. Macy–the first great entrepreneur to give St. Nick an emolument for sitting in his department store training kids to want stuff on the occasion of the birth of someone else. And then to be ballsy enough to have a parade in honor of that desire. That’s America! And who doesn’t love the movies–the Bing, the Jimmy Stewart, the “Christmas Story” 24-hour marathon. Because I can watch it twelve times. It’s a cult classic.

I don’t mind the secular side of Christmas, or the leftover relics of other holidays so intelligently disguised by the Holy Roman Empire–I love the German Christmas tree, the Yule Log, and the fact that the mistletoe was actually a fertility ritual. I’m even willing to forgive the fact that in the year 350 the Roman Catholic Pope Julius I picked the date of Christmas to coincide with everyone else’s holidays irregardless of the historical birth of Jesus, just to make it easier and more convenient for other religions to convert and still keep their celebrations in tact.

I want to share this holiday spirit with everyone–religious, secular, Christian, non Christian–it’s the season of awesome carols (also a pre-Christian tradition, I might add, but I’ll steal a good song like Vanilla Ice lifting Freddie Mercury when it presents itself). It’s the season of million-calorie egg nog.  It’s the season to give cards, token gifts, and smiles–even to the people we don’t like. They all seem a little nicer to me. And that’s a good thing…


Black Friday.

This is a tradition I just can’t wrap my head around.  I didn’t mind so much when it was the stores opening a bit early to publicize a few doorbuster sales.  But then it got vicious. Stores opening earlier. Stores staying open all night. People fighting over the last Whatever’s Hot That Season and selling it on Ebay for ten times the cost. Almost all of the “seven deadly sins” wrapped up in a – bow for the news coverage to see. One person reported to me that he had to go to Black Friday training to be permitted to work the all-nighter, because stores taught techniques in loss-aversion and crowd control.

Let me get this right–we have to train employees in law enforcement so they can deal with thieving, pushing crowds the day after Thanksgiving–the holiday of gratitude? Workers need to learn how to mediate disputes between people fighting over consumer goods at rock-bottom prices made in countries that are underpaying poorly treated workers? In honor of love and spirituality?

I pause to think.

One year, I did take part in Black Friday–I didn’t set my clock. I’m naturally awake at Dumb O’Clock in the morning.  The reason I decided to venture out was because I lived in the city near the store. We were really struggling that year–we were building a business–the entrepreneurial spirit is never quite as glamorous as one thinks–the Great Recession hit hard, and there was so much uncertainty in the air. I was flat broke and my step-daughter’s holiday list was on the table. I went out to one store, and got the simple things–as many as I could so that I’d have something to wrap under the tree. Things made in countries by underpaid workers made available to me at rock bottom prices.

I started thinking of a time before Black Friday existed. I was somewhere around eight years old.  My father was out of work during that generation’s Great Recession, but there wouldn’t have been box stores offering huge sales at that time, and if there were, my mom would have had to make choices between things like food or presents.  Somehow, there were presents. The gift I remember most was a radio. I now know this came from a tag sale, and it was broken.  It only got one channel–the Spanish station. I think my mother was upset, but I loved the Spanish station–I still love it today.  Por eso, hablo espanol bastante bien, claro. 

Because the things we truly love cannot be measured by money, sales, or consumerism.

As a child, that Christmas was just like any other Christmas–family, community, and fun. Community was much closer in those days. Friends stepped in and helped. They were there in person because computers did not exist. When there was no food, food appeared, when there was no money, it magically grew in the Christmas cactus. When someone was sick, people came and took the kids and gave parents the break they needed.

This is the essence of the holidays and Christmas seasons I remember. My friends Karen, LIsa, and Cheryl–how we used to make Christmas crafts together. All my parents’ friends and their circles of guitars. The traditions at the church and the houses of the people with whom I grew up. As we got older we sang in the choirs. As we got older still, the last people awake and still coherent enough to read the words on the page had to go back to the late Mass to sight sing Latin a capella…I miss that. And you can bet this holiday season, I’ll throw on the sacred music, even if I don’t always land in church in person.

Black Friday–taking employees away from their families and communities–is the opposite of this feeling of warmth I remember.  Although I caved to Black Friday that one year due to the year of fear and uncertainty for my family and for many Americans–I will not be doing it again.

This year, Thanksgiving will be small and peaceful. I suspect my extended family will show up for cheesecake, egg nog, and the list of pies they requested. The day after Thanksgiving, I plan to fence off my garden–I just moved, and I want it to be ready for the spring.  I want to take the weekend to reach out and thank the people to whom I’m grateful–friends new and old, new colleagues, family members I don’t see enough.  I want to make actual phone calls rather than sending texts and emails–I want to hear voices on the other end; just a small attempt to stop the rat race for a little bit.

And if I venture out into the commercial arena, it will be to my local businesses, which have pulled out all the stops better than the stores on Fifth Avenue ever could. I’ll meet the shopkeepers in my new town, and buy some gifts from them–because Small Business Saturday, I think, should not be a holiday, it should be a way of life.  It should be a way of shaking hands and building back the community that the rat race seems to have stolen from us.

I’m guilty of joining the rat race, too. Of seeing how much I can get done in order to defy the physics of time. This holiday season, I want to prepare, connect, build relationships, and enjoy.  Black Friday seems the perfect time to do just that.


Yom Kippur–It’s Not Just for Jews


I’m not really Jewish—I’m an honorary Jew.  I got this honor for a couple of reasons, for which I’m grateful because the Jewish holidays are really cool.  Of course, many people prefer the Christian holidays, because who gets gifts on Rosh Hashana, and truly, there’s nothing like a pile of presents under the Christmas tree to show love—Jesus did pretty well when he was born, but Madison Avenue’s Santa really made that holiday special.

As a kid, I wished I could share my holidays.  The Jewish kids always had to come to school with a note to take off their holiday and they had to make up the work afterwards.  No one gave us work to make up on Christmas and Easter. Just a pile of presents and a basket of candy awesomeness.

As a kid, I wouldn’t have liked Yom Kippur–instead of a holiday of candy awesomeness, you get to–let’s see–not eat for a day. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But as an adult, I understand it differently–a holiday to make things right with God and the world.

In fact, one of my best memories of the Jewish holidays was of Yom Kippur.  A colleague of mine handed me a letter and walked away.  He was a real writer—a true intellect prone to bouts of writer’s uniqueness.  I opened the letter.  It was the most beautiful letter ever—several pages of heartfelt words. I have never received such a letter before or since—not from anyone.  I still have that letter—it was a letter of atonement.

The premise of Yom Kippur is that you should work to be a better person.  You must consider the wrongs you have done, and seek forgiveness, and correct them.  At the end of the day of prayer and fasting, you are once again inscribed in the book of life with the Almighty.  It’s like Catholic penance, but it only comes once a year. I used to think that was convenient—we’d be spared the “how many sins could I have committed  in one week at age ten” syndrome.  I used to make up a bunch because I didn’t know what I did wrong, and then at the end I’d apologize for lying to cover the sin of making the up entire confession.  Yom Kippur seemed a little simpler to me–one and done!

This Yom Kippur letter outlined times when my colleague was aloof or unkind to me, and in a heartfelt way he stated that he would have enjoyed hanging out and collaborating; that he should not have acted as he did.  I would have been speechless—except I was too clueless to realize he’d been mean to begin with.  I just thought he had a writer’s disposition.

To realize, “Nope, dummy, I really was awful. You were just too stupid or naïve to realize it” was probably worse than not having received the apology at all. Perhaps being too naïve or stupid would have saved me some pain in the long run. Either way, I granted instant forgiveness—I’m a sucker for heartfelt words and good grammar.  Wish I got them more often.

That Yom Kippur moment was a formative moment in my honorary Jewish life.   We should all take time to think of both kinds of “sins.”  Things we did wrong, things we could have done better, and things we know we should have done.

Officially, I got my honorary Jewish status by working at the Jewish Community Center after I returned from Moscow.  I wanted to retain my Russian language, and the greatest concentration of Russians was at the Jewish Community center.  I learned my holidays, some weak Hebrew, and bonded with some families and friends. I worked with refugees, old ladies, and teens trying desperately to integrate.  And I got to eat—Jews and vegetarians love each other—well, if not love at first sight, at least it’s a mutual respect.  Vegetarians and Jews never mess with anyone’s food—Italians, Irish—they’ll take the sausage out of the soup and tell you it’s vegetarian, but Jews—no way.  The diet is sacrosanct. It forms a strong basis for bonding.

Being Jewish is a complex thing.  It’s not cut and dry like being Buddhist or Catholic or Baptist.  Being Jewish isn’t only a religion—I know plenty of Jews who are entirely secular.  Being Jewish is more than that.  It’s an identity, a tradition, something you carry with you through generations of family members who have been kicked around Europe and the Middle East,discriminated against since the earliest days of Christianity.  In Europe, there were  witch hunts called Blood Libel where Jews were accused horrific acts like murdering children.  St. Simon of Trent was one of these children, killed in 1472, and made a Roman Catholic saint while Jews were the scapegoats.  Jews were persecuted in the Spanish Inquisition and then by both the Russian Tsars and the Soviet Union.

Many of them came here—bringing a rich tradition,  but at what cost—millions of families destroyed, homeless, searching for an identity, not unlike many African-Americans brought here by imperialists extending their empire.

I experienced this in Moscow one day.  I read some anti-semitic graffiti—there was a lot in Moscow. People stared at me.  I didn’t understand.  I asked my friend.  “Oh,” she said, lowering her voice the way people who don’t want to appear prejudiced do when they utter the ethnicity in question, “You look Jewish,” she said.  It was not an utterance of fact so much as the tone of apology that made me sad. Yet most Jewish families have experienced far worse.

And so, on this Yom Kippur, I’m taking the time to appreciate Judaism. I’m making the effort to be better, to seek forgiveness where it is warranted, and find ways to improve the world around me. It’s something we should all do from time to time, even without a great holiday to give us the excuse.