by Hannah Binder
Point Blank Perspective is a blog addressing common places, events, and experiences that we encounter in life. These are described in a column-style with a blunt and one hundred percent upfront attitude.
At simultaneous points in my life, I have owned both a Star of David and a cross necklace. I suppose my confusion about religion began at a young age. This lack of clarity developed the same way that our favorite foods introduce themselves to our maturing palettes. It was simply presented to me in subtle forms and waited for imprinting to take effect.
Growing up, my mother stored her books on converting to Judaism with titles like “A Guide to Buying Yamakas” or “The Jewish Wife: Have You Found Sarah Today?” next to the Holy Bible that had been passed down for generations in her family. Cookbooks such as “Favorite Jewish Southern Recipes” and “Matzah Ball Soup–the REAL Penicillin” were kept next to “Easter Favorites!”.
I had no knowledge of this bearded fat man of the North Pole, though the laughable myth of a Chanukah troll was kept alive for several years in my household. December rolled around and my mother broke out Reba McEntire’s ‘It’s Christmas’ CD for the car and the dreidels and gelt for the kitchen table.
Sometimes I reflect on my 19 years of fluctuations–conscious or otherwise–between Judaism and Christianity and wonder what could have possibly assured me that erratic religious conversions were normal.
Perhaps it was the summer of 2007 in a Southern Baptist church in the heart of the Bible Belt.
A tradition spanning generations and covering several extended branches on my dad’s family tree is that of sending the kids within appropriate age ranges to Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Jackson, MI. It’s a Jewish camp at the heart of it, boasting memorable Shabbat services,–girls, pack your white dresses, boys, don’t forget those white colored shirts and khakis!–religious songs and prayers before meals, challah baking options during cooking times, and Maccabiah, the weeklong competition of 4 teams. There was also art, outdoor games, skits, sports, constant choices for activities, and themed nights–the usual choices given at any memorable camp. My brother and I loved this camp, but this story isn’t about camp, it’s about what happened after my mom picked us up at the end of out month-long stay there.
She’d just moved my sister in for her first year at Auburn University and informed my brother and I that she’d be driving us back to California for a cross-country trip to end summer. This was the first of many such trips for my automobile-inclined mother to initiate.
I have learned that there are two types of travelers out there: homing pigeons and loiterers. The first plan trips destination to destination and don’t stop between point A and B. The second will make gracious attempts at creating itineraries but will most often stray from them with detours between planned attractions. This category is home to my mom–a true fan of taking full advantage of historical or otherwise signs advertising landmarks famous as Yellowstone or as hidden as the “You Need Pie” cafe. She has been known to exit highways quite suddenly, drawn by nothing more than amusing billboards (“Fat Daddy’s Bar-B-Que” while driving through Arkansas). The first Southern Baptist church we saw after crossing into Alabama was no exception.
“Come on!” she said, pulling into one of the church’s street parking spots, “It’s good for you. You kids could use some culture.”
Later, I realized that compared to most kids I met, I actually grew up with an abundance of culture, but this didn’t stop my mom from claiming there was a shortage as an excuse to expose my siblings and I to new things.
So in we went through the wide, wooden doors. It was then that we realized we’d arrived to the service just before it was starting and most everyone in attendance had found seats.
“Let’s go, then.” My mom urged and prodded my brother and I forward.
We could not sit in the back, heaven forbid we miss out on any part of the experience–”Hannah, you’re short, you won’t be able to see the print on the preacher’s tie from the back row,”–so the three of us set out for the front row. Down the aisle we marched, my brother and I fresh from Jew camp, tan lines on our chests from our Star of David necklaces, the Shema perched on our tongues ready for recitation at any moment, and my mother, the caboose pushing our misplaced train along, beaming with pride for finally getting a chance to show her children a slice–though from a radically different pie (my mother grew up in a family that considered themselves Presbyterian)–of her experience with religion.
It was among these women in magnolia and gardenia print dresses and men in limp dress shirts and children with cheeks seeping down their faces as the humidity clung to their skin, that I acquired my first memory of a church. The chorus was particularly memorable, dressed in royal purple cloaks, they swung their hips and proclaimed, with astounding lung capacity, their gratefulness to have a friend in Jesus. A woman next to me in a bombarding hat of salmon pink bumped hips with me during one of the hymns and I couldn’t stand missing out on this joy she spilled forth in church. I joined in too, clapping my hands and singing to Hosana to Give Me Joy in my Heart. Up until then, the only references for church services I’d had were scenes from Little House on the Prairie and, frankly, this was far more lively than anything Reverend Alden had offered poor Laura. I felt for the girl but I danced right there in the pew anyway, my pity easily overcome.
In twenty four hours I’d gone from clinking watered down glasses of Manischewitz with a brisk “L’chaim!” to standing under the cross, yelling ‘Amen!’ at the top of my lungs.
It’s been 12 years since that summer of religious turmoil–I’d like to see Judy Blume tackle that one–and I still don’t have a clue what’s going on in the world of religion. My unusual first experience in church didn’t bring me much clarity on the subject, however, it does prove a suitable form of evidence for my argument that my I’m-a-lost-toy-feeling about all things religious should be excused.
Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always.
Are you there, Buddha? It’s me, Hannah.
Maybe Elizabeth Gilbert was right; maybe it does take three months in India to discover the secret to understanding religion.
After filling my belly with authentic pasta dishes and focaccia bread of course–only then can true enlightenment be found.