"I gave it up for Lent" is a popular expression here in America, maybe around the world. From what I've seen over the years, it's an expression that seems as much in-or out of-vogue among Christians and non-Christians alike.
I'm sure that many observant Christians really do give up something for Lent. Maybe it's meat, like it used to be for Catholics on Friday, or maybe something else that they love, like chocolate or beer.
Friday night at sundown begins the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur. In case you haven't noticed by now, I am of the Jewish persuasion. Very Jewish and yet, at the same time not very Jewish.
There was a time when I treated Yom Kippur as a sacred observance. I would fast from sundown to sundown and show up at synagogue (hereinafter called, "shul") looking appropriately solemn.
When I was a youngster growing up on the North Side of Chicago, I attended shul regularly. I went to Hebrew school from the time I was in 5th grade until I was in high school. I went to Friday night services, Saturday morning services and, upon reaching that age attended Bar-Mitzvah Club on Sundays.
It was a total immersion. I was especially fond of the lox and chocolate donut sandwiches I used to make at Bar-Mitzvah Club, but that's another story.
If I had to categorize myself, I would have to say that I am a Zionist. I believe in the State of Israel and feel very militant about her right to exist. Sometimes I think I can feel the flow of 6,000 years of Jewish blood coursing through my veins.
I have never seen Schindler's List, nor could I ever. Images of Nazi atrocities committed against my forebears make me physically ill. I find genocide in Dharfur horrifying, but with the Nazis it's more personal, more visceral.
Somewhere along the line, though I realized that I had something in common with about 20% of my fellow Jews. I don't believe in God.
I think I knew it pretty early on, but thought of myself as an agnostic. Turns out calling yourself an agnostic is like saying you're a little pregnant. Either you are or you aren't.
I don't believe in ghosts, werewolves, murderous dolls or talking dolphins. I might change my mind after a personal encounter with any of the aforementioned, though.
The question, then is what happened to that observant little boy from West Rogers Park?
I still believe in all those rituals as a connection to and a recognition of those who have come before me. Besides all that, shul is a good place to socialize and on Friday night they have honey cake.
Among those Christians I know, church seems to have a central place in their lives. A lot of what they do seems to revolve around church activities and people they know from church.
When I ride the back roads of Illinois and Wisconsin-two states that I am very happy have no helmet laws-I always find it amazing how many churches there are. It's not uncommon for a town of 500 to have 3 or 4 churches. I can't decide if I think that's nice or nuts.
For me, though whatever bond I feel with my people isn't enough to keep me from feeling just too hypocritical going through the motions of praying to a god that I don't believe exists.
I can understand the creation of God and I can understand the perpetuation of that belief. It serves a great purpose and offers comfort in times when no other is available.
I've heard all the arguements in favor of God's existence and all the reasons that faith demands a suspension of disbelief. As a Star Wars fan, I believe in the suspension of disbelief. I also know that it fades like the night when the lights come up.
Sometimes I think it's a little disheartening that people need the promise of Heaven and the threat of Hell to be kind to one another. And sometimes I wish I could forget all that rational stuff and go back to having lox and chocolate donuts on Sunday mornings.
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