Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Deyeinu - It Would Have Been Enough

Last night, my friend Beth invited me to her mom's first-ever vegan seder. Guess what? I wasn't even late. I arrived with a bouquet of flowers for the hostess and was immediately welcomed by Beth's family. Grandma Mrs. Katz (who is 98) asked me to sit by her on the sofa, which I did. She held my hand and told me to ignore her if she started repeating herself. I told her she didn't look a day over 48 and that I wouldn't care if she said the same thing ten times in a row. Aunt Joyce and I were chit chatting when we discovered we had something in common - we had both worked at Joslyn. We shared stories and asked if we knew any of the same people. It wasn't long before Aunt Joyce was asking me if I'd like to meet her son's best friend....a successful, SINGLE, Jewish lawyer. "Oh sure," I said. As soon as there was an opportunity, I asked Beth if he was bald.

The Haggadah from which we read was very progressive and humanist as Aunt Joyce pointed out. We read in unison and also took turns reading passages such as the Four Questions. Our hostess, Evie, created the most wonderfully alternative Seder plate. Instead of a bone representing the Paschal lamb, she placed a potato to serve as the "Paschal yam." And instead of a hard-boiled egg, she placed an orange representing the advancement of women in the Temple. She told of an urban legend when a conservative Rabbi said "a woman belongs at the Bemah like an orange belongs on a seder plate." The group laughed and chomped on our salt-dipped parsley.

As we finished reading selections from the Haggadah, we began our meal with matzah ball-less soup, as Evie's vegan matzah ball recipe didn't work out as she hoped. I believe she described it as "an epic vegan ball fail." We moved onto the salad and suddently Beth's brother became agitated and quite vocal about being unemployed and frustrated with life. I know that Beth and her mom were worried about me being uncomfortable, especially since I was sitting next to him. But I was actually more worried about them being worried about me. Eventually, Beth suggested we trade seats and by the main course everything was back to normal. Beth would shoot me looks of "I'm so sorry," and I tried my best to remind her that I empathized with their family. Non-traditional is the norm for me.

I met Burt, a Jesuit at Creighton University who has a jolly smile and quick wit. His best friend Laurie, Beth's college theology instructor, cajoled Beth about her lack of sports knowledge to which Beth replied with the story of Laurie's first Seder when she ate a huge bite of maror (horse raddish), thinking it was a matzah ball. And there was Charles, seated directly across from me, whose eyes twinkle under his snow-white hair. I met John who thinks skim milk on cereal is worse than water. Jesse, Beth's fiance, was suffering from a nasty spring cold, but he was a trooper and stuck it out through the meal. And I can't forget Skippy and Maynard. Skippy is a senior citizen with old man breath but it's easy to forgive once you meet him. And Maynard isn't very aware of his large stature, but his sweet temperment is hard to resist. Skippy and Maynard are dogs, obviously.

It would have been enough for Beth to invite me to her mom's seder. It would have been enough to have a few selections of vegetarian food. It would have been enough for her family to welcome me into their lives. It would have been enough for the weather to be mild. And it would have been enough to feel accepted at a Jewish table.

Tonight, a Seder at my sister's house. Tomorrow, Holy Thursday at the Catholic Church. Oy, what a sacred week.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lost and Found

It would be in my nature to begin this entry with self-criticism for taking so long to write. I would be most comfortable explaining that this project has been nearly overly-inspiring, which has overwhelmed me from writing. And my instinct is to blurt out all of the "but then this happened...." and "then you'll never even believe it but...." and "I had every intention of writing that night but then....." details in order to justify to myself and to you why I have slacked. All of those things matter, and none of those things matter. Because what matters is that I'm writing now. Totally deep, right?

There are many times in my life when I have gotten lost. Literally. Especially in Virgina. Well, always in Virginia. Occasionally in Millard. But always in Virginia. Anyway, this one time I was lost at the Vatican. The real Vatican. The one in Rome. Well, it's not actually in Rome because it is it's own city. So, this one time I went to the Vatican on a college choir trip. It was a rainy, chilly day and our group had waited in line for a very long time to take the tour. Once inside, I remember having a difficult time hearing the tour guide and feeling a little anxious from the crowds. The art and architecture was fascinating and I even managed to sneak in a photo of the Creation of Adam (which was totally illegal, by the way).

The one thing that anyone in my family requested as a souvenir from my trip was a rosary made by the Vatican nuns for my step-mom. On our way out of the Vatican, our group weaved in and out of the bazillions of tourists, hoping we'd all end up on the right bus. We passed a gift shop and I asked the tour guide if there was time to stop for a rosary. She hurriedly said, "Si, si, si! Go now! Quickly!" My choir teacher pointed to the area where the group would be waiting and my friend Trullie grabbed my camera and umbrella so I wouldn't be weighed down. Two other friends, Nate and Miriam, ran into the gift shop with me. We dashed in, purchased our nun-made rosaries, and snaked through the torrents of people to the meeting place. AND THEY WERE GONE. Our group was no where to be found.

Miriam, Nate, and I ran along the bus loading zone looking for any sign of familiarity. We dashed in and out of the rain, ran this way and that, and the group was not in sight. We didn't even know how to hail a cab in Vatican City, and if we did, where we tell the driver to take us?? We didn't speak Italian beyond "gratzi, prego, si" and "ciao." Miriam's ankle went out. My asthma was acting up. Nate was frustrated. We were lost at the Vatican.

By the grace of God, I had a napkin from our hotel in my purse. Why? Maybe I was keeping it for a souvenir? Who knows. We flagged down a taxi and I handed him the napkin. In a very thick accent, he said "herrrrrrre?" "Si!!" We sighed in unison. When the driver pulled up the hotel, we noticed our tour bus wasn't parked out front. Ummmm....where is the group? Is everyone lost at the Vatican???

Miriam, Nate and I changed out of our soaked clothing and jaunted down to the McDonald's for a quick lunch. (Vegetarians, let me just tell you that veggie burgers are way more novel when they come from an Italy.) Upon our return, we were greeted by our choir teacher. Our very upset choir teacher. "How could you do that? What were you thinking? That was totally irresponsible of you!" Yeah, um, well see, we were the ones who left the Vatican. But he wasn't really in the mood to hear our side of the story. Apparently, they waited on the bus forever and even circled around a bit looking for us. The crabby old man never even apologized for leaving us, let alone praised me for my mad McGuyver-like napkin skills.

Faith lesson number one: The napkin is mightier than the map.

In the past couple of weeks, I have been fortunate enough to continue my faith research on large and small scales. I had lunch with my friend Jessica whose family hails from the Missouri Synod Lutheran denomination. We philosphized over nachos and shared personal beliefs between bites of burritos. She was very candid with me, exposing some of the more controversial issues she has confronted within her own faith and belief system. I admire her personal relationship with God and Jesus. It struck me how she described praying. I asked if it's okay to pray for selfish wants and desires, and what if you get distracted during church? She assured me that everyone gets distracted in church and that it's okay because we're only human. But praying for Jessica is like picking up the phone and talking with her best friend. She literally has a conversation with God. She tells him what's on her mind. What she wants, what she doesn't want. It's that simple. Praying for her is like talking. Well that's not nearly as intimidating as I thought.

On one Sunday, I was reunited with my best friend from junior high. Sarah and I went to different high schools, but remained friends until we were about 20 when we went our separate ways. She married her high school sweetheart and started a family. When I wasn't getting lost at the Vatican, I was away at college. Slowly but surely we lost track of each other. This is why we should all be grateful for Facebook! I am so thankful for that addictive networking site because I would have had no way of finding her after all these years.

Sarah invited me to attend church with her family in Gretna. They attend Journey Church, which is kind of self-explainatory. It is a Christian denomination that is pretty progressive and contemporary. Much like the Evangelical-Free service, music plays an integral role during worship. It was so much fun standing next to my long-lost friend, observing her family and listening to them sing. I tried to follow along, but I kept getting lost in the words. I leaned over to Sarah and asked "is 'the Lord' God or is 'the Lord' Jesus?" With her smile that hasn't changed a bit since she was 12, she leaned in and whispered, "yes."

Faith lesson number two: I'm not the only who has struggled with my faith, and also never grew past 5'2".

Today, I had coffee with the legendary Beth Katz (please note blog entry Welcome to the Club). We had the most lovely, comfortable conversation about our unusual family members and how we both speak crazy. We each went to graduate school in Michigan (different universities) and are both Virgos. Of course you all know that Virgos are the best, and even though Beth admits Libra tendancies, the Virgos will go ahead and claim her. She said her energy level was low today but I found her to be very calming, even after the caffeine from my chai latte kicked in. I think Beth is one of those people who really sees a person. There is a rare quality in her eyes that lets you know it's okay to be yourself. So even though I'm just a half-breed, religiously confused, 32 1/2 year old with a special needs cat, I don't seem to have any insecurities around her. She even took it upon herself to be my Renting Realtor and drove around scouting rental homes with me. Beth has faith that things will work out for me. The job, the house, the toning of my derriere.

Faith lesson number three: B'shert. It's meant to be....destiny.

In the past 9 days, I've slumped into an eensy weensy bit of self-pity. Just a smidge. I'm having hard time getting closure from the break up with my former job. I had a mysterious pain for about four days which rendered me completely useless to the world. And I'm really starting to freak out financially. So what did I do? I took myself shopping! :) Calm down, I only went to Borders to buy a pick-me up read. What did I end up with? A book called Lost and Found about a woman who becomes widowed and befriends an injured dog. Yeah, sounds hilarious. It was the last phrase of the backcover's synopsis that sealed the deal for me: "joy does exist in unexpected places." That sounds like just what the doctor, or Lord, or Jesus, or whoever ordered.

Faith lesson number four: Is my faith lost, or simply not yet found?

- help sister select menu for seder
- attend Conservative Jewish service
- attend Episcopalian service
- get a job

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Where I'm At

Here is the ugly truth:

I am utterly confused and frustrated. I am struggling with acceptance and understanding. I can't reconcile certain beliefs in the Christian faith with those of the Jewish faith. The thoughts that replay in my mind night after night are too sensitive and potentially offensive to share.

More dialogue is needed. More exposure.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Welcome to the Club

Dates: March 6 and 7
Locations: Temple Israel and Brookside Church
Faith/Denomination: Reform Jewish and Evangelical Free Christian

Oy. I'm one week into this project and I think my brain might implode. But in a good way. That's possible, right?

First things first: I finally finished Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom. Recommended to me by Angela Maurstad, the book is a true story and a dedication to two men of God: one Jewish, one Christian. Fitting that I should be reading this book at this time of my life. I have no intentions of masquerading as a book critic (but it was really fun to type masquerading just should try it), so please forgive my amateur review which can be summed up as this: the book is good. I wanted to love it because Angela loved it. I think I expected it to delve more deeply into the author's journey toward, away from, and back to faith. He pays beautiful homage to these inspiring men, but I was hoping for a more personal account. Part of the book takes place in Detroit, and I can tell you that I know exactly where the I Am My Brother's Keeper Church is located (on Trumball) and I probably thought it was abandonded. I hope I will take a second look next time I'm in Detroit. I do recommend the book, especially if you have been a fan of Albom's previous works.

On Thursday, I attended Omaha's annual Young Professionals Summit. There I was, in a conference center full of hundreds of YP's, ready to network, plug my blog, smile confidently and knock 'em dead, and shootohmygodIcan'tbelieveitbutIhadapanicattack. During the opening session, I sat next to a handful of women whom I didn't know. Turns out it would be "b'shert" or "kismet" or "fate" that I sat at that table. As I felt my pulse start to race, my arms get tingly, and my eyes scan the room from side to side locating the nearest possible exit, I lost control of my anxiety and quietly excused myself from the table. Okay, fine, the unemployment thing is getting to me a little. Apparently a lot that day. But thankfully my dear friend Lora (see 28x1x1 Project day #19) was there and available to talk me down from the panic. She helped me dance it out, which by the way always works.

I tip-toed back into the ballroom only to see that I had missed the entirety of the opening speaker. Boo on me. Back at my table, a woman named Andrea was waiting for her friend. I introduced myself (conversation: another tactic to distract myself from anxiety). Not only was she very friendly, but she had also recently survived a bout with unemployment. We vented about the strange rules of the Nebraska Department of Labor website and the emotional roller coaster one experiences. And then I met her friend, Beth. Sort of. Pay attention. Beth will appear later and there might be a quiz.

Later in the afternoon, Marjorie (see 28x1x1 Project day #16) and I were catching up during a networking session. She knew about my Servant of Two Faiths project and said, "you have to meet my friend Beth. I told her about your blog and I think you two would really connect on interfaith discussions." I told her that I briefly met her in the opening session but we didn't have time to talk. We walked down one of the long corridors and literally bumped into Beth. Marjorie tried to introduce us, but Beth had just lost her phone and was in her own state of panic.

The keynote speaker of the Summit was Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes ( His speach was outstanding in its honesty and moving in its simplicity. Please read about this organization and consider buying your own pair of TOMS.

After the luncheon, I attended a seminar titled "Managing Business in a Pluralistic Society." Perfect topic for me right? Yeah, well it should have been. I don't want to be critical so I will just say that I was disappointed, not in the seminar speakers, but in the small group to which I was assigned. If you have met me, you might have noticed that I'm not shy. Especially on passionate topics such as religion. I quickly observed that my small group was either tired, embarrassed, or simply disinterested. So I was the annoying girl who kept talking and bringing up discussion items. And then guess who I saw in another of the small groups? Beth. The same Beth I had been trying to meet all day. I walked right up to her, presented my hand and said, "Beth, I would like to officially meet you. We have a million mutual friends, and I'm Jew"ish" and you run Project Interfaith and I think we should know each other." And she totally agreed, and now we are connected and I'm so excited to get to know her and her organization better. Visit to learn more about her work.

Here is my faith lesson from this long-winded story: God, or the Lord, or Jesus or whoever it is, forces you to cross paths with someone even when 2,000 YP's are holding up traffic.

I attended Shabbat services at Temple Israel on Saturday morning. Guess what? I was late. But just couple minutes. I entered the sanctuary and sat in the back. A young man was becoming a bar mitzvah (son of the Commandments) so the service was largely focused on his journey. Since this is a Reform Temple, about half of the service was in English, the other half in Hebrew. I sang along to the tunes I recognized, trying not to butcher the Hebrew.

The Rabbi talked of the significance of the days between Purim (the Book of Esther) and Pesach, or Passover (which celebrates the Jews' freedom from slavery). He talked of preparing our homes and hearts for redemption. I'm lucky if I remember to prepare my home for my spring wardrobe. Have I not tried hard enough to bring faith into my life? The young bar mitzvah, in his personal comments, reminded us as he reminded himself that faith isn't tangible. How did this 13-year-old squeaky voiced boy know what I was thinking? The Rabbi, in his closing words to the boy said, "you have struggled with your faith? Welcome to the club." Oh Mr. Rabbi, you and I just might be great friends.

Faith lesson learned from Shabbat services at Temple Israel: It's okay to admit doubt, but you shouldn't live in it.

Today, I attended services with Angela (mentioned at the beginning of this blog) at the Brookside Church. Guess what? I was late. But just barely. Angela greeted me in the foyer with her bright smile, and escorted me into the sanctuary. The room wasn't like any other religious facility I have been to. It was more of a theatre with a full stage, lights, and scenery. The congregants and the pastors were dressed casually. There was a band and choir performing on stage. And they were really good! For the sake of visitors like me, they were showing the song lyrics on two giant screens on either side of the stage.

The pastor (or is it minister?) was a man around my age. He spoke passionately about his faith, his congregation, and his dedication to God. The service was centered around the Book of Romans. Many of the congregants bring their own Bibles to service (as there are no pews or racks of Bibles at your seat) and Angela was kind enough to share her Bible with me. We read along and interpreted the lessons. To be very honest, I was caught off guard by the pastor's and the Bible's references to the "Upright Jew" and the "hypocrisy of the Upright Jew." I tried to listen with an open mind, tried to understand why the Jews were being singled out in this sermon, and wondered what my friend was thinking about the half-Jew seated next to her.

When the pastor concluded, I put my confusion and growing resentment aside and analyzed his message: do not pass judgement. As he said, "religious acts for show are worthless." He wasn't condemning all Jews. He was quoting the scripture in which Paul addresses his would-be converts about living their word. I think. Angela and I had a moment to debrief and she agreed with me. I'm glad I didn't go with my instinctive reaction of raising my hand in the air and shouting "excuse me, Jew in the room!" Because that would have been all sorts of wrong and unfair.

Faith lesson learned at Brookside: The more you know, the more you learn you don't know.

This past week has been validating and overwhelming. I was worried that I bit off more than I could chew with this project, and wondered if my friends and family would enjoy these posts as much as the 28x1x1 Project. I guess only time will tell on both issues.

From Mitch Albom's Have a Little Faith: "Faith is about doing. You are how you act, not just how you believe." I'm workin on it.

Goals for week 2:
- start "book club" with Adrienne
- coffees and lunches with friends who don't judge me for being faithfully challenged
- finalize Shabbat plans for Friday/Saturday; church services for Sunday
- try to write shorter blog entries

I'll be seeing you.....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Say a Little Prayer for Me

What is prayer? Is it talking to God? Does it allow false hope? Is it meditative chant? Do you have to believe in something to pray, or are you just talking to yourself?

When someone says they will pray for me, I feel squirmy and sweaty. What am I supposed to say? Thank you? No thank you? I'll pray for you also, as well, too? The good news is that those feelings usually last approximately .053 seconds and then I snap into acceptable socialization skills and manage to utter some sort of reply. For those of you who pray on a regular basis - how do you prioritze for whom you will pray? Your mom whose knee is acting up? Your sister whose toddler is acting up? Or the huddled masses? The poor? How do you know that your prayers aren't selfish or superficial? Do you ever really know?

I had pretty serious obsessive compulsive disorder from childhood into my teens. What I'm about to write is something I have never shared with anyone. I was so terrified of not having faith and not believing in God, that I decided I better pray every night just in case it might mean something to someone and save me if I should die and be considered a qualified candidate for Hell. If I forgot to pray before I fell asleep, I would wake up in the middle night in a panic and make myself pray. If I forgot all night and didn't realize it until morning, I told myself I deserved to have a very bad day. And do you want to know the strangest part? I didn't even know who I was supposed to pray to. So I would hold my teddy bear Elmer, put my hands together, and say, "Dear God, or Lord, or Jesus, or whoever You are....." and then I would pray. At the end of my confused faux-conversation with the aforementioned alleged deity, I would swirl my hands around my face and chest - my pretend way of signing the cross. I knew I wasn't Christian but my dad once told me about "spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch" so I modified it for my own purposes. I thought you had to do that in order to end a prayer. Like putting on a stamp on a piece of mail. It just won't get there if you forget that last detail.

I don't remember exactly when I stopped "praying" every night. And I don't know if it had anything to do with losing the hope that I would one day find faith, or if it was because I grew out of my OCD and allowed myself freedom from such strict rituals. These days, I don't pray regularly but if I do, I instinctively begin with "Dear God, or Lord, or Jesus, or whoever You are...."

In 2001, I was stricken with several episodes of kidney stones. Unfortunately, my body doesn't allow me to process stones without a variety of surgical procedures. My local doctor in Detroit didn't show any urgency in scheduling me for surgery, so my dad and step-mom (affectionately known as ChrisMom) encouraged me to travel to Omaha to get it handled. The night after my surgery, I had developed some complications and needed another procedure in order to move things along. It was humiliating and painful, not to mention terrifying. The only person I allowed in the room was ChrisMom. What happened next is one of the most remarkable moments of my life.

I lay in the stark hospital bed, freezing, vulnerable, and being attacked by my own body as the doctors and nurses buzzed around my room planning their course of action. I turned my head to my left and saw my ChrisMom's loving eyes. I whispered, "I'm scared." She wiped the tears from my cheek, brushed the hair off my forehead, and asked me if she could pray for me. My lips trembling too hard to speak, I nodded yes. She held my hand and recited the Hail Mary. Her words soothed me, letting me envision a spirit wrapping its arms around me, getting me through the horrifying experience. Thanks to my ChrisMom and her unwavering faith, I was able to focus on her and let the poking, prodding, and pain fade to distraction.

Was that God? Or the Lord? Or Jesus? Whoever or whatever it was, in that moment, I believed.

I'll be seeing you.....

Monday, March 1, 2010

I'm Jew"ish" and I live in a Catholic Home

Thank you for visiting my new blog project, A Servant of Two Faiths. After a successful maiden voyage into the world of blogging during February 2010, I am excited to embark upon a new social experiment. This project will maintain similar structure of "28x1x1" in that it requires social interaction, community involvement, and documention via blogging. It will not require a daily activity, and it does not include financial contraints although I don't expect I'll need to spend a whole heckuvalot.

So, what is it already??

Between March 1-April 5, 2010, I will explore the differences and similarities of Jewish and Christian celebrations of the Spring season. This includes (but isn't limited to) Purim, Lent, Passover, Easter and anything else that fits within that description which I may have inadvertantly left out because I am very ignorant on this subject. I am ethnically Jewish but was raised agnostic with Judeo-Christian traditions. I currently reside with my Catholic dad and step-mom and am greeted each morning by the cross on the livingroom wall. I have dedicated many hours of my life to self-improvement and self-awareness and yet none of it has included faith. Because I don't know how to have faith.

The purpose of this project is not to "find myself" or "find God." I also don't have any unrealistic expectations of resolving my religious confusion within a few short weeks. I hope to spend each Friday attending Shabbat services at different synagogues (hopefully with a Jewish friend). I plan to go to Sunday morning church services with friends or relatives representing different branches of the Christian faith including (but not limited to): Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, Baptist, and Lutheran. After each service, I hope to discuss with my "spiritual date" the lessons and messages of the service. I don't intend to be particularly scholarly about this because I am clearly a novice in the ways of organized religion. New to this project, I will allow phone conversations with out of town friends and family to count as "spiritual dates."

If you want to participate - just let me know by commenting on this blog, sending me a message on Facebook, or you can email me. Obviously my Fridays and Sundays will fill up first, but keep in mind that prayer groups, Bible study, shul, or any other time you recommit yourself to your faith will aid me in my project. As long as you promise not to get annoyed at my bazillions of questions or judge me for my lack of religious knowledge, I'd love to share my project with you.

Goals for week one:
- determine visiting hours and rules at synagogues
- schedule my Shabbat and church services for March 5th and 7th
- dig up my college text books on Judaism and interfaith celebrations
- finish reading Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom
- start dialogue: Kind of believing in Jesus is like being kind of pregnant. I just don't think it's possible.

I'll be seeing you....