‘Tis the Season

Much like my favorite atheist Jew, my blogger friend Rob is a vocal non-believer. But lately, it’s his fellow There’s-No-Big-Guy friends who have been gnawing at his patience with their smart-alecky, know-it-all-ness. And although he recently posted a list of five things we Believers should do differently (e.g., stop trying to convert him), what he really wants—what most of us really want—is for open discussion and kindness to prevail. Steve and I had a popular discussion about this a year ago, and it continues to be read almost daily as Google searches for religious themes click unsuspecting readers over to our back-and-forth about the essential absurdity of Faith. (Essential for me… absurd for others.) In a world that seems broken with all of its celebrity worship and gun-toting children, where jobs can’t be found and tires are being stolen off of cars, where insane, angry people blow up innocent athletes… well, we’re all looking for something, right? The discussion of God, whether He is or is not, and regardless, how to multiply kindness in our midst … well, that’s the most important discussion we can have.

Rob adorably asserts we share the same opinions on just about everything, even though 20 years and half a planet separate us. We’re in agreement right up to where I believe Jesus died on a cross to change the world (and did). And though he takes a more logical approach to Biblical things, I cajole him into admitting a glimmer of Faith, because certainly someone who talks about it with such frequency and respect couldn’t possibly be a nihilistic heathen. Although admittedly, the heathen post will always trump in entertainment value the vague, otherworldly musings of annoying zealots, especially this time of year. Overused “blessings” can make the season sound quite sneezy. An Atheist’s 5-Step Guide to Being Religious begs a thoughtful rebuttal from a mouthy Jesus Girl. But having spent the past week entirely at Church planning and organizing our annual fundraiser, I’ve had few opportunities to bump up against non-believers who question my passion for a supernatural, undead Jew.

What I can share is why this is an excellent time of year to visit Church… whether you Capital B believe or not. The birth of a baby that saves the world is at least as compelling a story as a gaggle of pitch-perfect Austrians. And the music of the season is equally fantastic. Ave Maria? O Holy Night? Goose bumps and damp eyes all around. You’ll find throngs of robed singers eager to belt out harking heralds for all ye faithful at Church, where it smells wonderful, and where real candles glow, and where sacred music is always free. What if we all attended a service of Lessons and Carols and murdered the melody of Once in Royal David’s City together? I strongly believe a community that sings together is more likely to contemplate community. There’s just something about gorgeous music wafting up toward stained glass that makes our hearts swell with the fantastic notion that everyone deserves to have similarly swelling hearts, and inspires our Scrooge-y souls to consider the most vulnerable among us. Of course this can happen outside of Church… but come inside, light a candle, sing along, see what happens.

Saturday night was our annual Trinity mini-reunion, fancy dress grown-up party at Steve’s. Steve recently guest-blogged about this year, which began with a new friendship: Agent 99 joined our gang with sparkly aplomb. Our chat chat chatting about times long past and what’s happening now was accompanied by mulled wine and bubbly wine and savory bits and sushi. We were over-served and we overstayed, which is the mark of excellent hosting. We just weren’t finished celebrating our collective fabulousness (my impression, and these old friends kindly tolerate my vanity.). To prolong the fun, Tony—whose scotch consumption made Honda-maneuvering a bad idea—came home with me and found himself in the hustle bustle of Church readying at 9am the next morning. He could have easily slept in, begged off, pleaded atheist, feigned ill, or claimed hangover… but Tony accompanied The Family Lee to sit in pews and listen to an Advent season sermon.

Our Church prints a weekly leaflet to avoid hymnal page ruffling, provide sit-stand-kneeling directions, and offer words to un-memorized prayers. For the kiddos, it’s also an effective tool for marking time, and answering the rather frequent query, “is it almost over?” But Tony didn’t even crack its cover. Instead he put it aside and just took it all in, approaching this novel church-going more like a college class he was auditing for the day than a zoo exhibit we insisted he see. Eventually it was time to take the sacrament of communion, and well-dressed ushers politely nodded that it was our turn.

“I think I’ve gotta be a part of this thing,” said Tony… who quite possibly hasn’t had the merest sliver of host in years. We bellied up to the rail together. It could have been Cathy’s sermon, which was intelligent and uplifting, thoughtful and soul-touching; maybe it was the chance meeting and Tony’s introduction to some of my favorite Churchy friends; possibly it was Michael’s incredible organ solos with pompadour-flipping gusto. Or perhaps it was just the sense of community and a collective mindfulness of those who don’t have that component of cozy goodness in their lives. Gotta be a part of this thing? Well, exactly.

Maybe you go to Church all of the time, or maybe the idea of pew-sitting and communion-taking gives you all sorts of heebie jeebies. Or maybe (Rob?) you’ve been wondering if you should see what it’s all about, or start going again, or finally find a place that feels like a spiritual home. ‘Tis the season for that. Come inside, light a candle, sing along… see what happens.

For local readers: Carols By Candlelight, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Thursday, December 19th. Church of the Redeemer, Chestnut Hill.

The Redeemer in the snow...

The Redeemer in the snow… where miracles happen.

11 responses

  1. Russell Brand did an interview with this sweet Journo Muslim dude named Medhi… or something. It’s a beautiful interview. The basic gist: What do we want? KINDNESS! When do we want it? Some time during my life time would be great! (Let’s be realistic.)

    I actually did go to a church with my old (Jesus loving) roomie in NY when I was there last Jan (jan 2012). Alas, Britt, I found it a bit creepy. Wasn’t for me. Which was a bit strange, cause it was filled with young, cool-looking sorta people. Was a ‘hip’ (I think the youngsters still use that term) church. They would do skateboarding shows, while preaching the word.

    I’d definitely try a different church. For me it’s like an anthropological field study. Something different. But that’s all really. If I need a ‘spiritual’ fix, I’ll climb a mountain or lick a tree. Or, alternatively, I’ll read some of your blog stuffs. It smells nice over here. Anything that reeks of kindness and good vibes – dat bee 4 me.

    • I’ll watch the Brand interview. Kindness, indeed! I think Tony approached his time under stained glass like field study, too. And I agree you can commune with nature to get a shot of Holy Spirit (spiritual fix). I love how you’re always searching, Rob… and approach it with humor and respect. You’d like my little gang of believers and atheists over here.

  2. Yeah, sigh. I think Tam would punch me if I made this suggestion to her. Number one because she’s VIGOROIUSLY aetheist (in the most philosophical way). Number two because she is constantly in search of such community and resents that she only finds it among crazy religous (redundant) folk.

    Among my religous people, we pray together, eat together, learn together and drink whiskey together. What’s a communitarian aetheist to do? Is there a secular equivalent of a religious community?

    • I think Steve would tell you… YES! There must be a secular equivalent. But then the Jesus girl in me recalls Matthew “…whenever two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Even if the two or three don’t recognize it, if communion is happening, He is There. Sneaky bugger.

    • I don’t know whether they’d consider themselves secular strictly speaking, but they are certainly a-theist: the Unitarian Universalists. I attended a service with my friend last summer and it has many of the elements of a faith-based community, but welcomes believers of other faiths and non-believers alike. It’s an interesting concept and I don’t feel that it conflicts with my own Christian faith, although I have to admit that to a practising Believer it feels like it’s lacking something (ie, God).

      • As a kid, Steve attended Jewish services in a Unitarian church. And as an atheist, can get on board with that community. When we insist on bringing The Big Guy into it, some people get creeped out, or feel funny, or sense exclusion, or just don’t get it. I think that’s why respectful discussion is so important… so we don’t lose all of these fantastic people by sounding bonkers. Thanks for reading and commenting, May!

  3. Well done, Britt. Church at the Redeemer is a beautiful production. It is an event, and accompanying the Lees makes it even more so. I love that our mini-reunion features a wide spectrum of religious and political beliefs, and can lead to an ultra liberal, non-theist attending a mass in an olde Boston community (thank you, Bernie, for describing where we were by spelling olde the olde way). Regardless of our beliefs and despite the human tendency to draw lines and create conflicts, we are all, at the end of the day, a part of this thing.

  4. Pingback: ‘Tis the Season | osvaldomontanares

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