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While we were in New Orleans, we had to take our son to the emergency room. He’s fine, and was fine at the time, but he had bronchiolitis/RSV and was wheezing a lot. We called his pediatrician, who said it was probably not a big deal but since he’d never wheezed before we should have someone check him out. Due to insurance restrictions, we ended up in the ED. They declared him a “happy wheezer”, didn’t even think he needed a breathing treatment, and sent us on our merry way with an inhaler and mask gizmo, just in case.

When we checked in, I had to fill out an admissions form. This form had an extensive section for information on all three of us, more so than any form I’ve previously encountered. I was rolling right through the baby’s section — social security number, name, birthdate — when I hit a blank that gave me pause.

Religion: ___________________

Nobody had asked me this before. Mine and his father’s, yes, but I’ve never had to mark down baby J’s religion. I paused and looked at BWB, who shrugged. Just put both, he said. Oh, right, of course. So I filled it out: Christian/Jewish. I was proud of us, satisfied with that answer, and moved on.

The clerk at the desk, an older gentleman who had been telling me about his pre-Katrina job in real estate, looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, mama, but the system only lets me put one in.” I frowned, and started to explain that it wouldn’t be accurate. “Should I put down other?” Um. Okay? So my son got marked down as “other”, and he apologized again. He said he was Cajun, and they never had a good box to check for that, or for Creole either. I smiled and nodded, and we moved on.

But I haven’t moved on. My son is other? No. Other implies not belonging, lack of definition. My son is not other. My son is loved and accepted by two communities, has two sets of ladies at coffee hour and oneg who want to hold him. My son was blessed by a rabbi and a priest, he hears both Shalom Rav and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing sung to him as lullabies at bedtime. I reject your checkbox, fancy computer system.

Yet even as I write this, I know that this is only the beginning. We have a long road of other-ness ahead of us, and I am sure this will be far from the last time that we find ourselves in this position. We are still confident in our choice to “do both”, and still certain we will make this work. That doesn’t mean we’re not aware that it would have been easier to just pick one. Sometimes the right thing isn’t the easy thing, though.

Someday, my son will speak for himself. He might choose to identify as Jewish, or Christian. He might call himself Buddhist, or Muslim, or Wiccan. Maybe he will continue to claim all of his heritage and defy the checkboxes on his own. Until he gets old enough to make those choices, though, it falls on me to try and make the world accept his religious reality.

So no, not “other”. How about, All of the Above, Yes, or Both? It’s Complicated. More Than Meets the Eye. Answer Unclear, Ask Again Later. Clearly, the form needs to be updated.

In the meantime, we’ll keep doing our thing despite the boxes. My son and our family are many things, and we are okay with that. Even if sometimes we don’t fit neatly on a form.

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I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I’ve wanted to do. — Georgia O’Keeffe

I am afraid, always, all the time. There is always something I am worried about, something that scares me, something that terrifies me. I am afraid of being attacked when I walk the dog, of missing our plane when we go on trips, of not matching, of matching badly, of not being allowed to graduate. I’m afraid of public speaking, of large groups of people, of meeting new people, of sounding like an idiot on the phone. There is always something about every day that makes me fearful.

Don’t get me wrong, I have developed all kinds of self-talk and management techniques which keep this constant anxiety from overwhelming my existence, but that doesn’t mean the underlying monologue of fear is any less present. It’s just less in control. BWB tells me sometimes that he is amazed at how difficult it must be to be me, and that he wonders if I realize how strong it makes me that I don’t let it break me. I don’t know about that — this is just the way my life is — but I do know that it can be exhausting and frustrating to constantly fight with my instincts.

As a result of all this, the O’Keeffe quote I started this post with has become something of a mantra for me. My mother gave me a matted, decorative version of it ages ago, probably because she knew how applicable it was to my frame of reference. I am always scared. I am always anxious. I don’t expect either of those things to really ever go away. I do expect to live my life in spite of them.

The sermon this week at church was about choosing love over fear, and one of the points the guest preacher brought up was that one of the most often repeated phrases in the Bible is some variation on, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid, we are told, because God is with you. And He is, I am certain of it, but sometimes in the darker, scarier moments of life it can be hard to remember. Many of the hardest choices that I have had to make in my life were ones which revolved around taking a step off the precipice into the very murky darkness of the unknown when it would have been much, much easier to stay where I was and be assuredly safe. I don’t think that when we are told to not be afraid, the intention is that we should not do the scary things. Quite the contrary, the point is that the scary things need not be quite so big and scary in the first place, because we are not as weak and alone as we might feel in that moment.

I have been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, but I do my best to make sure it never keeps me from doing a single thing I’ve wanted to do. God is with me; I can trust in Him and not be afraid.

This is a new one to me, and I was struck by it on Wednesday night when we went over it in choir practice. It spoke to me, and I wanted to share it, and remember.

Eternal Spirit of the living Christ,
I know not how to ask or what to say;
I only know my need, as deep as life,
and only you can teach me how to pray.

Come, pray in me the prayer I need this day;
help me to see your purpose and your will
where I have failed, what I have done amiss;
held in forgiving love, let me be still.

Come with the vision and the strength I need
to serve my God, and all humanity;
fulfillment of my life in love outpoured —
my life in you, O Christ; your love in me.

Hymn #698, 1982 Hymnal

It’s Friday evening, and Christmas is all over the table. Yes, as of the first week of February, Christmas has migrated into bins on the dining room table, slowly being sorted into ornaments (breakable and not), garlands and soft things, and breakable non-ornaments. Hanukkah is there too, in slightly larger proportion than when they came out of the boxes as we made a concerted effort to find more Hanukkah-related decorations this year. The jury is still out as to whether there will be interfaith storage, or if the blue bins will sit beside the red ones in the closet. All of this is progress from the last week of January, when it still looked approximately the same as the last week of December, only with slightly more wilted and brittle greenery.

With Christmas and Hanukkah holding court on our dinner table, there is no room to put out candles, wine, and bread. The smell of challah hangs in the air, filling the house with the essence I am coming to associate inextricably with Shabbat, but I fret over how this will work without a clear space to put our food or sit. How are we going to do this?

My iPhone plugs into the television, and soon Shalom Rav is quietly playing in the background. My husband and I stand in the middle of our kitchen and say prayers over the candles, wine, and bread which are waiting on the countertops. We have dinner on TV trays from the couch, listening to my very short Shabbat playlist and talking about inane secular topics like what the dog has found and whether he’s supposed to be chewing on it.

Even without the dinner table, without elevated discourse, without the good china or cloth napkins, standing in the middle of the kitchen with doughy dishes soaking in the sink, even with Christmas and Hanukkah haunting us and the stresses of school driving us both insane, even with all of that, we still eked out our little holy space tonight.

Blessed are you, oh God, who blesses Your people with Peace.

In a sermon a few weeks ago, the priest was talking about soul food, the kind of food that not only feeds your body but makes you feel good inside at the same time.  He drew a parallel to communion, not surprisingly, and in the process of doing so said something along the lines of, “Jesus created a way to nourish our spirits”.  Not long ago, I would have taken this at face value and moved along.

However.

On Sunday morning, the priest says a blessing over bread and wine.  He washes his hands, and says a prayer over that, too.  He blesses the congregation, and we all share food together at God’s table.

For the last three Friday nights, we have said a blessing over bread and wine.  We wash our hands and say a prayer after we do so.  We bless each other, and then we share food together.  I’d venture to say we share food together at God’s table on Friday nights, too.

I don’t think most Christians are aware of how closely Sunday morning Eucharistic prayers mirror what happens in Jewish homes every Friday night.  I also don’t think that the echo somehow invalidates or cheapens either ritual.

I’ve heard several sermons over the years which have addressed the importance of sharing food in ancient/Middle Eastern cultures.  The basic concept is that sharing a meal creates a special connection, establishing a relationship amongst the people gathered at the table.  This is why the Israeli and Palestinian representatives have refused to sit down to dinner with each other, even after signing treaties.  There is an obligation to treat someone with whom you have shared food with a level of respect that perhaps is inconvenient for opposing politicians.  This idea of being united by sharing food is one which I’ve heard many times before, but I wonder if I’ve missed the point in the past.

I don’t think Jesus, the Jewish man, was thinking literally when He told His disciples to think of Him when they broke bread together in the future.  He said, I am the Bread of Life.  Christ was broken for all of us, for the whole world.  I think what Jesus was getting at was that we should recognize that through Him, we have all broken bread together, whether we have shared a table or not.  I think what He wanted us to remember was that His ministry was for everyone, no matter what they believed, and that the obligation we feel to each other should not be limited by whether we have literally broken bread together.

For me, both Friday night challah and Sunday morning communion wafers are a reminder of my ties to my family and to my community.  I think I need to also remember that everyone is invited to God’s table, even though they may not be able to literally fit in my dining room.

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