Indulge me a longer meditation on the eve of the thanksgiving holiday. My friend Penny Bailer and I went to see Boy Erased this weekend. I highly recommend it. Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Joel Edgerton and Lucas Hedges are all superb.
But the story begs a larger question: How does our faith guide us? What does our faith require us to embrace, and reject?
And what’s the connection with the message of Boy Erased with that of our own faith?
I don’t ever reflect on my religious faith publicly because my own journey has been circuitous at best: raised Roman Catholic, prepared for conversion to Judaism and then shortly afterward married a Protestant. Hardly the path to recommend for others. Yet each time, at each on-ramp, everything made sense. The truths that had brought me to a new place seemed in fact not to contradict what I had previously held as true. Rather, they seemed to build on what I had previously learned and believed. I’ve never rejected one core series of beliefs and values, but simply tried to add to them through authentic experience. The end result is a faith in a larger more all encompassing God, a God capable of embracing multiple truths simultaneously.
They say that once you are a Catholic, always a Catholic (thanks Mom and dad!). But I’ve also learned that once a Jew, always Jewish (thank you Adina!) And not surprisingly, once a Christian, always ( thanks Kay!) And then it follows, once Muslim always One with Islam (shokran Ahlam and Nader).
In truth, my faith has been inspired by tireless observance. And most of this observance has come in the company of those who seem to have a good sense of how we follow a righteous path. So at turns I’ve discovered I’m a Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jew. At least to the extent that I open my arms to the faith in God they embrace.
For me it has been to follow in the steps of God. Not to become spiritually weak or wish washy. Failing God’s direct presence, I’ve relied instead on her foot soldiers who’ve helped me stay on the right path even as I have more than occasionally strayed. My dad used to always say, follow the “real deal.”
There are numerous “real deals” out there in faiths of all sorts and sizes. That is because the universe arcs toward goodness and is populated with many good people of different faiths. This has made it easy for me to find a place in many temples over the years (mercifully without their roofs falling in). In Europe, in a nod to my mom and grandmothers, I never pass a church without lighting a candle. Whenever I visit Adina, I always try to make it for Shabbat, and kiddish. And whenever celebrating with Ahlam and Nader, and their family, I always remember our first Mansef.
Traditions and faith bind us, not a numb fealty to following certain carefully confined truths.
So what do you say, when your adult child comes home with an epiphany about who they really are? In Boy Erased we find ourselves pained as we see a family not brought together by faith but torn asunder.
It’s easy to knock the Moral Majority, the religious right, those with faith traditions different than our own. But I realized I’m not going to do that. It seems to me that instead, what these experiences show us is that we must simply aspire to a faith in a larger God.
A God who created each and every unique one of us. God created the Muslims, the Jews, the Gays, the LGBTQs, the immigrants, the Republicans, Democrats and anarchists. Given the problems of this earth that’s a good thing. Because we can be thankful for…
A God who is not simply male in form.
A God who is embracing of all faiths.
A God who rejects simplistic gender identity.
And rather a God who embraces the full flair and fauna of the human race created for this earth.
A God who laughs at the idea that there is “one true faith” because this leads to lesser faiths and notions of a lesser god.
I believe in a God who looks and acts like my grandma Vicki; who is slow to anger; is accepting of others, especially those least similar to us; is merciful to all; revels in the uniqueness and differentness of others; seeks not to be high brow or high-minded or superior in outlook. Who finds the grace and goodness in others. Who manages resistance without rancor but rather with grace and goodwill.
We are not children of a lesser god, but rather the disciples of a larger more embracing faith.
For this I am thankful.