The "friendly" Lutheran church across the street from me advertises a free Monday night dinner, open to anybody. Now, I'm not Lutheran; I'm not sure I even know any Lutherans. Most of the people I've met in life are fallen Jews and Catholics. I've always pictured Lutherans to be nice old white people, who probably have roman numerals at the end of their names. But as a marginally employed person living thousands of miles away from home, I've considered popping over for a free meal.
The other day they displayed a billboard sign that said "Jesus makes 'blurred lines' clear." I thought it was kind of clever and quirky, trying to shed an outdated image by essentially tweeting a nod to pop culture with their sign.
A few days later, I passed by and saw a new billboard that said "God loves everybody... even Miley." At first, I didn't think much of it besides maybe it was time to move on from the VMAs. I know it's harder to change the lettering on those signs than tweet from an iPhone, but let's stay relevant. But as the day progressed, I found myself getting angry about the sign. God loves everyone... even Mily Cyrus? As if she were a criminal or warlord. It would be controversial, but what if they had written "God loves everyone...Even Bernie Madoff." At least he had actually done something wrong. It angered me to see that the "friendly" church was slut-shaming this young woman (despite what one might think of her dance moves and style of dress) as a joke to make themselves appear hip. We were back to the story of Eve as temptress in judging the 20-year-old who dared to act naughtily with her 36-year-old dance partner. She was someone who God was kind enough to love despite her sins.
In considering this, I was reminded of why so many people I know have distanced themselves from religion. Life is hard. We are judged all the time, in our jobs, in our creative endeavors, for our clothes and weight and hair. We are constantly being preached to, every time we turn on the television or leaf through a magazine. The idea of going to a place of worship to listen to commentary about proper sexual behavior is unappealing.
But what is lost when religion feels oppressive? A sense of tradition, of existing in a continuum of culture, a community. American holidays tend to revolve around sales, beer, pigging out, and sometimes parades. As someone who loves traditions and community but hates conformity and judgment, I've always struggled with religion. When I was as young as four and went to temple youth services, I was told by the other kids that it was wrong for Jews and non-Jews to get married, that my existence was a sin. This made me feel disconnected from Judaism but I didn't know anything about Catholicism, and was seen as a Jew by Catholics.
Many people question how someone can be culturally Jewish or a Jewish atheist. "But you can't eat pork, you're a Jew" they say as I wrap bacon around my shrimp. I've realized that I can incorporate whatever traditions I like into my life that connect me to my ancestors, my family, my friends, and Larry David while ignoring the inconvenient parts. If I want to eat a piece of bread dipped in honey to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, or go to a party to end a fast that I didn't make, that's my prerogative. And if there is a God, I hope she has greater concerns than how we dance or what we do or don't eat, and judges us strictly by how we treat others and the land we are lucky to live on.