Tag Archives | religion

in which the godless heathens go to a wedding

wedding

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Old Longtime friends of my husband’s got remarried this past weekend. For those of you in blogland, yes, I know, can you imagine? They got married on Blogher weekend, thus forcing me to choose between…well, between blogging and my family.

My family won although frankly, it was a tough call. Not only would I miss actual face-to-face conversations with people I generally talk to only on the interwebs, I would also miss the amazing writers who were chosen as Voices of the Year.

But you know, marriage is all about compromise, or so they say, so I bid farewell to my Blogher dreams and off we went to Cape Cod for this wedding. Which was great and lovely and optimistic, as all weddings are and maybe even more so for being the second time around for both bride and groom. After all, in round two, you know what’s coming: stinky socks and weird sleep habits and fortheloveofgodputdownthetoiletseat. In other words, you know that “happily ever after” is more of a wish than a certainty.

My kids have never been to a wedding that they’re old enough to remember, so they had no idea what to expect from this one. Their most recent context for “marriage,” in fact, has to do more with the Supreme Court’s decision about DOMA than about two people plighting troth.  This wedding reminded me, once again, that while I grew up in a nominally Episcopalian household, my children are growing up without any religion, other than the rituals they witness because they live in a Muslim country.  Their lack of religious education meant that instead of spending the ceremony looking at what people were wearing and running my own little Tom and Lorenzo dialogue in my head, I was trying to field questions that should really only be tackled by a licensed theologian.

What’s a Eucharist? What’s a celebrant? What’s a communion?  Are the bride and groom Christian? Are we Christian? What’s an Episcopalian, anyway? Do I have to get married as an Episcopalian? What if I don’t want to get married? What are these books for? What’s a hymnal? Do people know all these prayers, like memorize them? Did you and Daddy get married like this, with a minister? Do you know these prayers?

I got through Eucharist and celebrant, but communion meant trying to explain the whole body-blood-bread-wine thing, and that’s where we went a bit off the rails: how to explain that something can be a literal truth to some, a symbolic truth to others, but not relevant at all in other religions. Caleb was adamant: I am not eating that! Not someone’s body, no way.  Needless to say, we stayed seated during the communion bit of the ceremony

As for the rest of it, what surprised me is that some of the basic prayers stuck with me–the Lord’s Prayer, the call-and-response recitations–although I haven’t said any of those words in decades.  I remembered that when I was a little girl, I had a nightgown with the “now I lay me down to sleep…” prayer embroidered around the collar. Because really, what could be more comforting to a small child about to go to sleep than the phrase “if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take?”

It’s as if along with that prayer, the others also stitched themselves into my subconscious, all because my mom thought she “should” take us all to church when we were young, even though she was not herself a particularly religious woman. I don’t know that my life has been significantly improved by my years in Sunday School or my stellar performance as a horse in the Noah’s Ark pageant, but I suppose it’s been useful to have what amounts at least to a cultural understanding of religion, if not an actual, you know, faith.

I know that cultural awareness and understanding have to be learned; they’re not innate. So my mom chose to teach us about, or at least expose us to, Christianity, while Husband and I are making a very different choice with our kids. Sitting there in the pew, as our friends pledged their troth (again) and my kids flipped through The Book of Common Prayer, I realized that my kids probably won’t ever have Christian (or Jewish or Muslim or Zoroastrian) prayers swimming in their subconscious; there is an entire body of ritual that they aren’t learning.

Most of the time I think that’s fine…although I think it’s too bad neither boy will get the opportunity to play an animal in the Noah’s Ark pageant. They’d make great ocelots, or maybe meerkats. Noah saved the meerkats, didn’t he?

 

Continue Reading · on August 1, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Education, family, Kids, marriage, Parenting, religion

in which I am revealed as a godless heathen

Caleb and I are in the back of a cab headed to a soccer tournament, early Saturday morning.

“Mommy? Have I ever been in a church?” he asks, apropos of precisely nothing.

I think to myself that surely he must have been in a church, at some point in his eight years on the planet.  I stall: why?

“Well,” he says. “We were looking at an exhibit of chairs and we saw one of those church chairs for Christians–wow, that’s a lot of “ch” sounds–and anyway, I looked at that church chair and told Mrs. Allen that I’d never been to church.”

With the flair of a natural-born storyteller, Caleb paused and looked at me. “And then,” he continued, drawing it out, “the entire class looked at me with wide eyes and said what? you’ve never been to a church?

I am triumphant: Notre Dame! We went to Notre Dame when we were in Paris!

Caleb shakes his head, disappointed. “That’s not what I mean. We were just looking at things, so it wasn’t really church.”

Kid’s got a point. We were tourists, not worshippers, but his question has sent me into a parental tizzy of “shoulds:” I should be taking the kids to church, I should be reading to them from the various holy books, I should be better about explaining the principles of world religions…

“Actually, mommy, do we know other people who don’t pray?”

Add that to the “should” list: praying, instructions thereof.

I point out that none of his aunts, uncles, or grandparents pray, although one aunt has lately become a Buddhist, so she meditates. He snorted. “Meditating is not praying.”

For a heathen, he’s pretty clear about his spiritual definitions.  “But besides, that’s all family. I mean regular people we know who don’t pray.”

True, our family is not exactly what you’d call “regular,” but luckily most of our friends are unchurched, so I rattle off some names.

I grew up going to an Episcopal Church, which I liked mostly because of the word itself, which I stretched across my tongue: e-pissssss-co-PAY-leeeeee-an. I found out many years later that we went to church because of my mother’s own “should” list: she taught Sunday School because she “thought she should,” even though she didn’t like doing it and wasn’t much convinced about the existence of god.

Now I live with my children in a country where religion is an inescapable presence, from the mosques on every corner, to the adhan that sounds across the city five times a day, to the sprawling grounds of St. Andrews Church, which is used by all manner of non-Muslim congregations. The sheer physical fact of religious practice here makes our family’s absence of religion much more noticeable than if we still lived in New York. I like to think we’re raising our children in basic humanity 101: treat others as you would be treated, be grateful and generous with what you have, look for ways to make the world a better place.

But I wondered there, in the back of that cab, if somehow my son was feeling some profound spiritual absence, some gap in his life that only rituals could fulfill.

I took the plunge and asked the question: would you like to start going to church and learning prayers?

He looked at me, shocked. “No,” he said in those slow tones that children only use when their parents are being particularly idiotic. “I mean, maybe. But only to look around. I don’t want to do any of that church stuff.”

He’s a chip off the old heathen block, that boy.

 

 

Continue Reading · on March 11, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Education, family, Kids, religion, UAE

Saturday’s Snapshot (surat al-sabat): لقطة السبت

In the midst of last week’s National Day celebration, a group of men find a patch of grass to begin their prayers.

 

Having no religious faith of my own, I am always impressed and a little mystified by devotion, while I am infuriated by zealotry of all sorts. I wish – devoutly – that the former did not so frequently cross the line into the latter.

Continue Reading · on December 8, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, religion, surat al-sabt saturday snapshot, UAE

nuns on a bus

The pitch: So there are these nuns, right, maybe a Sandra Bullock type and an Amy Adams type, who decide it’s time to challenge corporate bigwigs and oh yeah, maybe also the Pope, about their misplaced priorities.

Hollywood Muckety-muck: Uh, nuns? The last big box office we had about nuns involved Whoopi Goldberg, gangsters, and a lot of singing. How about aliens? Could you do alien nuns?

The pitch: No, really, these nuns are great. They outfit this big bus and are going from town to town talking about the real mission of the church, you know, all that loving thy neighbor as thyself and stuff.

HM-M: Kinky. Like “Big Love” meets “Sister Wives” or something? Or could we go with maybe there’s a bomb on the bus? Or terrorists?

The pitch: No, just…nuns.But really radical nuns.

HM-M: Radical? But you said there aren’t any bombs or terrorists. Do they do any second-story work, any rappelling down buildings, maybe we could set the story in Dubai or Morocco, maybe a sand-storm?

The pitch: Well, Wisconsin has been kind of a battleground lately…

HM-M: Nah. We’ll pass. Just nuns? On a bus? Bor-ring. Snoozeville, babe. Never gonna sell.

***

As usual, Hollywood gets it wrong. There are nuns on a bus. In Wisconsin. And if I were in Wisconsin I would be following them around, a Nunnish groupie, applauding them at every stop.

Go, nuns, go.

I don’t know from nuns, really. I’m not Catholic, never been Catholic, and although I taught at a Catholic college for fifteen years, there weren’t many nuns on the faculty, probably because they knew to be wary of the Christian Brothers who ran the school (me, a non-Catholic, didn’t realize this fact until it was way too late). Let’s put it this way: a friend of mine (a lapsed Catholic) said the Christian Brothers were comprised mostly of men who couldn’t cut it as priests or Jesuits.  snap!

The Vatican – home of the Popety Pope and his Popers – issued a report that said yeah, nuns are doing good work with the poor but that those good works don’t matter as much as the Nunnly silence on Really Important Issues: abortion and gay marriage. Apparently speaking out against gay marriage is waaaay more important than, you know, helping the needy.  Even worse, nuns have been arguing with their  male superiors (which in Catholic-land I think means pretty much any dude in a black dress with a white collar – so Coco Chanel, don’t you think?) about things like the all-male priesthood and celibacy.

Who knew nuns had such balls?

So these ballsy nuns on the bus? They’re riding through nine states between Wisconsin and Virginia to protest budget cuts in programs that support families and children; they have said that the budget cuts are immoral. And when a nun says you’re being immoral, I dunno but that you should probably pay attention.

Seems to me that these nuns have taken a truly radical position: they want to help the people who no one else wants to help. I’m not a particularly God-oriented person, but in my limited knowledge of the Bible, I thought one of the Big Commandments, right up there in the top five, was “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Last time I checked “love” doesn’t mean fire your neighbor’s ass, cut off his unemployment benefits, deny his health insurance claims, and then scold him for going on welfare.  That’s not “loving,” that’s “screwing,” and not in the fun recreational sense of that word. (Bill McKibben has a great essay about loving thy neighbor, which you can read here.)

My pretend Hollywood muckety-muck gets it wrong. I think Nuns on a Bus will be a blockbuster and I hope they’ll be budget-busters, too, because the Ryan budget is immoral and all the more so because it comes from the political party in the U.S. that likes to tout its religious bona fides.  More money for guns and the military, less for food stamps and health care, more tax cuts for the uber-wealthy? Hmm. The religious text the GOP seems to be following is the one about the Pharisees in the temple – but the GOP sees the Pharisees as the good guys.

Here’s the thing that Ryan and all his friends at the Tea Party might want to think about when they ask “what would Jesus do?”

I don’t have a direct line to the Big Guy, but my hunch is that Jesus? He’d get on the bus with the nuns, and ride, ride, ride.

 

Continue Reading · on June 15, 2012 in Education, Feminism, Politics, religion

Abayas

Here’s where you get your abaya when you visit Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque:


No, there are no shoes available here, just black full-length robes for all female visitors not already wearing a robe, and white full-length robes for male visitors wearing shorts.

And here’s what you look like when you put on your black robe and veil:


When Muslim women wear the full abaya, with head scarf and face veil, they look to me like beekeepers in mourning. Me? I just looked like a white girl in a black bathrobe.

As I swished from the outer patios of the Grand Mosque into the inner courtyard, I imagined that wearing this robe would render me anonymous—just another devout Muslim woman.  But of course, peeking out from the black veil is my round Midwestern face–and no amount of Manhattan living, or black veiling, can disguise that, alas.

When I first put the headscarf on, Liam chided me for doing it wrong. I ignored him, of course. What ten year old boy knows anything about scarves?  And then just before I entered the mosque itself, the very nice young woman guard standing in the doorway pulled me aside. With a quick pinch of fabric in the back, a flick of the wrist, and a deft tuck or two, she had the veil adjusted: covering all of my hair in the back and snugly wrapped so that it wouldn’t slide around while I walked.

Liam, of course, was delighted to be corroborated in his sartorial judgments.

Wandering around the mosque in my black abaya, I wondered what it would be like to wear a robe all the time. It would certainly solve the whole muffin-top problem—there’s no waist-band in a robe and thus nothing for a tummy to spill over.  What happens to the concept of “sex appeal” in countries where women wear the abaya? Is it all about the eyes and the pedicure? The voice? Or are there codes and silent signals, the way there were when women carried fans all the time—fanning fast meant one thing, fanning slowly something else.

What would it be like to have your body not be available for scrutiny from anyone passing you on the sidewalk? To not catch a glimpse of a jiggly upper arm as you walk by a shop window and sort of wince? Would it make you feel more powerful or less powerful, do you suppose, to have your body just…not part of the equation of daily life, at least in public?

Considering questions of female empowerment was not, perhaps, the most mosque-appropriate line of thought, especially given that I was in the main prayer room—which is to say the men’s prayer room—while I contemplated the position of Muslim women in their society. (There are two ladies’ prayer rooms, each of which holds about 1500 people, adjoining the main prayer room, which itself holds about 9000.)  The main prayer room also, in fitting tribute to the “can you top this” spirit of the UAE, boasts the largest carpet in the world:


Of course, the other thing I kept thinking about, as I walked around with the boys, marveling at the intricate carvings and delicate details, is the Tea Bag Head kerfuffle a few months ago about the building of a Muslim community center in downtown Manhattan, near Ground Zero.  While there will be a worship space in that planned facility, it has about as much relation to “mosque” as a YMCA has to St. John’s Cathedral.

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Continue Reading · on November 29, 2010 in Feminism, Gender, NYC, Travel

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