Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Secular Christian?

Secular Jew is an accepted description of a person who identifies as being Jewish but is Jewish in a cultural, nonreligious way.  OK, I do understand that being Jewish is different than being "Christian", since there's a whole tribal identification and--like being mixed race--in a sense you are what the world will name you.

Christians aren't quite the same, though shared experience can create a tribal feeling for sure:  church suppers (just listen to Garrison Keillor), nuns with rulers, bathrobe Christmas pageants, Midnight Mass--. And, since many of the US's immigrants are traditionally Christian, you have the whole food and whatever connected to the holidays. Tamales, stollen, a German pickle, clam chowder, or Taco Bell so mom doesn't have to cook, whatever it is, it is, and hallelujah.

My parents were both from the South though my dad was very evasive about what he actually believed and we weren't constant church goers, I was raised a Protestant Christian.  Jesus watched every minute of my day and was very sad when I did anything wrong.  My mother read a chapter of the Bible to me every night; I said the Lord's Prayer and long list of God blesses kneeling by bed, hands porperly folded, before I went to sleep.

Christmas was magic.  Mary and Joseph, shepherds, Wisemen, and all the friendly beasts clustered around a baby while the angels sang. Every Christmas Eve I searched for the Star as I also watched for Santa and listened for the reindeers' jingling bells.

Peace on Earth and a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  I won't give up my claim on them.

That I don't believe in Christian tenets anymore in any orthodox or even unorthodox way, I believe deosn't matter--I cling to my right to my heritage.  I collect nativity sets, sing Christmas carols when no one can hear (do unto others), remind myself that each person carries a spark of the divine and when I feed the hungry, clothe those without clothes, I serve whatever is holy in all of us. I should judge not and should remember that if I have two coats I ought to give one away.

For those who believe I still say I will pray for you.  "To whatever is at the heart of all this and cares" may not be much of an address but I don't think it's the dead letter office and prayer is as good a name as any.

Tradition is good, love is even better, and stories that encourage children to believe that hope shows up in surprising ways, the angels sing of peace, and the scraggliest Christmas tree can shine like a star are, I believe, mine to claim.


  1. You sound like a believer to me. I don't take all the details of the bible to heart but I do believe in the concept of it all. I have so many fond memories of your parents and I can still picture your mom and hear her call me "precious" as she gives me one of the best hugs in the world. May you have a wonderful Christmas.

  2. It's odd. B asked me today if I'd talked to Hunter about Hannukah (apparently his boys were drawing "holiday pictures" and Z did a menorah.) A few months back, I was starting to get in touch with my heritage, thinking about what I wanted to pass along to Hunter. Then I decided to attend Yom Kippur services and had *such* a disconnect with so much of the "liturgy" that I shut down that side of me.

    A couple of nights ago, I read Hunter a book about how Christmas was celebrated around the world. Afterwards, I told him that some people don't celebrate Christmas at all, and some people celebrate other things. I got my menorah out of the linen cabinet (the same menorah we'd used when I was a child) and, searching online, actually found the exact version of the prayers we had said.

    I explained the story behind Hannukah to Hunter, but as I began to read the prayers for lighting each of the candles, I started to cry.

    I don't know. I think I'm doing okay by Hunter, teaching him that love is paramount in human relationships and that it never ends. I also like teaching him about different perspectives, rituals and beliefs. But I don't know that I can hand him what was my heritage as his own.

  3. Narda, You have no idea how much your comment means to me--your family meant so much to my mom and dad. To my mom you were another grand daughter and a wonderful one. I'm glad my meandering explorations weren't offensive. I never took the Bible literally once I was old enough to carefully consider it--but it is still an incredible human journey that touches the very essence of who we are. Hug everyone for me and give your boys a Nana hug for her

  4. Rachel--it is a challenge. What we "believe" whatever belief is, what we remember, what connects us to our tribe and to others--I gave my children some of what I was raised to and try to give them the stories. I never told them that Christians had the only road or that Jesus was monitoring htere every thought and action. My grandchildren don't really even know the stories--but they do know the holidays and the family stories and cornbread dressing. And maybe that;s enough?

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