Sunday, November 29, 2009

Texas Teacher Refuses to Give the Finger to the State

Pam McLaurin, a kindergarten teacher in Texas, believes digital fingerprints are the Mark of the Beast that the Book of Revelations warns us against. Hence her refusal to allow the Texas Education Agency to make a digital copy of her fingerprints, something required of all kindergarten teachers.

Is Ms. McLaurin right? Are digital fingerprints satanic. Maybe yes. Maybe no. I have no way to know.

To err on the side of caution, I will assume digital fingerprints are satanic, and the digital print is the Mark of the Beast. Now here is my problem: the digital fingerprint is simply a copy of the swirls on my very own fingers. So if there is the Mark of the Beast on the print, it must first be on my fingers. Now, that’s scary!

If Ms. McClaurin is right, and I cannot prove she is wrong, our fingers all bear the Satanic Seal. We have known for a long time that “idle hands are the Devil’s playground,” but now we know that our fingers themselves are satanic!

So what do we do?

First, give Ms. McLaurin a break. She has worked for the Texas school system for 20 years, and if she were going to do something satanic with those satanically sealed digits of hers, she would have done so already. If she won’t make a copy of prints, just ask her to wear gloves to none of her little charges have to be touched by the Beast.

Second, we ought to consider burning off our fingerprints. Who wants to carry around the Sign of the Beast on our fingers? (Toes, too? I don’t know.)

But maybe I am taking things too far. Maybe Ms. McLaurin isn’t claiming that all fingerprints are the Sign of the Beast, but only her fingerprints! If that is so, then she must be removed from the classroom, and all the children she has touched over the past two decades should be found and tested for blasphemous ideas and unholy behavior.

I only wish that Ms. McLaurin had the guts to admit twenty years ago that she bore the Mark of the Beast. I am certain the great state of Texas would not have hired her. So maybe she is in league with the Devil after all. Or maybe she is just a liberal like me, who extends the classic don’t ask don’t tell policy invented for homosexuals to that other oppressed minority: Satan’s minions. I just don’t know.

What do you think? Should Ms. McLaurin give Texas the finger or not?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

One Jew Speaks of Jesus

I got a standing ovation in church last Sunday when I spoke to over six hundred Anglicans gathered in Christ Church of Calgary, Canada, to hear me talk about Jesus.

I told them I love Jesus, and believe him to be one of the greatest sages who ever lived. I told them that Jesus was a Pharisee, as am I, and that they shouldn’t heed the propaganda of their Bible that paints us as legalists and hypocrites. We were in fact the liberals of our day, and Hillel’s branch of the movement, the branch to which Jesus may have belonged, was clearly quite progressive, defining the whole of the Torah as not doing unto others what you would not want others to do to you. Jesus’ positive restatement of Hillel’s negative expression of the Golden Rule suggests both that he sat in Hillel’s academy and my not have been all that attentive.

I shared with them how Jesus, when he said “Resist not evil,” was actually saying, “resist not evil in the old ways, but in a new way, my way;” a way of nonviolent confrontation with injustice that proclaimed and affirmed the dignity of the oppressed (in his day Jews), and made clear the immorality of the oppressor in a way that might just might trigger a change.

I told them how “if they strike you on the right cheek” reflected a Roman law allowing soldiers to backhand Jews as they might a mangy dog, and how “turning the other cheek” was an act of defiance, daring the soldier to strike you openhanded on the left cheek, a sign of anger among equals. I told them how Roman law allowed soldiers to force Jews to carry a soldier’s pack for up to one mile in an effect to reduce them to donkeys, and how “going the extra mile” asserted one’s humanity and forced the soldier into the absurd situation of having to refuse the kindness of a Jew who had now regained human status. I told them how the courts stripped people of the very clothes on their backs, and how “giving one’s tunic” was an act of standing naked before the court shaming the judges and encouraging resistance to their injustice.

I told them that while I did not believe Jesus to be the Christ, I did, following Martin Buber, believe him to be a Lamed Vavnik, one of the 36 hidden saints of every generation whose love for humanity keeps us from imploding under the weight of our own ignorance, arrogance, anger, fear, greed, and violence. I told them Jesus’ pleas to those he helped not to reveal him as a healer was his attempt to remain hidden, and that once outed he used his new status to directly confront Rome and those collaborating with Rome, a decision that he knew could only lead to death on the Roman cross.

I told them that belief in Jesus as Christ was fine, but, as Jesus had just said to them in the day’s reading from Matthew Chapter 25, it was care for the powerless that determined one’s future with God, and not belief in Jesus. I told them that true lovers of Jesus must do as he sought to do: establish the kingdom of godliness and resist the oppressors—military, political, religious, and corporate—that are today’s Rome.

And I thanked them for listening to one Jew speak with pride of another. And they gave me a standing ovation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What I Am Thankful For This Year

In his thoughtful essay, “What the Pilgrims really sought,” in USA TODAY (November 23, 2009), Michael Medved tells us what is at the heart of American religiosity: uncompromising Puritan theocracy.

While I am not a Puritan myself, I trace my origins to their American Mecca, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (my family hasn’t lived in Israel since the Neo-Assyrians conquered the place in 740 BCE), and feel an affinity with them. Yet even I have to admit that they were anything but religiously liberal. They tried to make their colony Judenfrei (free of Jews); beat, whipped, and hung Quakers; and burned witches at the stake; and until the 1960s forced retailers to close their stores on Sunday (they abandoned this practice when they realized the faithful were driving to Connecticut to shop). Religious tolerance went down hill from there, with other colonies establishing their own religions and taxing everyone to pay for them.

In fact, if not for the necessity to band together to kill the British in the name of independence, we would probably be about killing one another in the name of God.

Religion didn’t unite the colonists, it divided them. It was the abuse of Catholics by Protestants in the Continental Army that forced George Washington to demand religious tolerance. Freedom of Religion was imposed on the people of the United States not derived from them. In fact, as Mr. Medved shows, the intent of the First Amendment was to protect the right of states to establish their own religions by forcing the federal government to be religiously neutral.

My only quibble with Mr. Medved’s fine essay is his statement that Thanksgiving celebrates religious coexistence. I don’t see that at all.

The first Thanksgiving in Virginia in 1619 gave thanks to God for the people’s safe passage over the Atlantic. The more famous Pilgrim ceremony two years latter thanked God for a good harvest. There is no American holiday of religious coexistence. And I’m pretty sure we could never have one.

Religions coexist in the United States by default. The United States is a secular state not because its people want it that way, but because they are too religiously divided to impose on religion on the country as a whole. True, I believe that put to a vote, most Americans would amend the Constitution to affirm that we are a Christian nation, but as soon as we do so, we would split into warring camps to determine who is the true Christian and what is the true Christianity.

At that point the country will come to the brink of collapse, giving rise to a fundamentalist charismatic leader who will promise to save us by imposing a theocratic oligarchy on the nation that will preserve the two great powers in America: church and corporation.

So this Thursday when I sit down to eat, plan my strategy for avoiding death at the hands of Black Friday Christmas shoppers at Wal-Mart, and visit my Native American brothers and sisters offering to buy their land for beads and handing out a few disease-infected blankets, I will make time to thank God for being so confusing as to split humanity into an ever increasing number of competing religions and thereby making it almost impossible for any one of them to dominate the rest. Oh, and I will clean my rifle just in case I am wrong.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Religious Competition

Last Friday evening I spoke at a Reform synagogue in Calgary, Canada. Four hundred people turned out matching numbers only seen on Yom Kippur.

I was there to speak about love, but not two minutes into my talk I somehow triggered a woman in the crowed to suddenly cry out against the notion that religions are in competition with one another. I had said something to that effect, likening religious competition to that of other brand wars such as Coke vs. Pepsi. She didn’t like her faith being demoted to a brand.

Clearly I had touched a nerve, and whenever I do so I cannot help but touch it again. And again, and yet again until I have either killed the nerve or at least left the person raw and in pain. We learn best through suffering I tell myself.

Do you ever wonder, I said, why theologians from any given religion always end up proving the truths of their religion? Why is it that no Catholic theologian ever discovers that Islam is true? The answer to this is the same as the answer to the question why taste tests sponsored by Pepsi never reveal that people prefer Coke.

We Jews call ourselves God’s Chosen People for the same reason Coke calls itself the Real Thing. Who would stay loyal to a brand that called itself God’s Rejected People, or the Fake Thing? Catholics claim there is no salvation outside the Church even though the Jewishly brand loyal Jesus said that salvation comes from the Jews. But what else could they say?

Brands compete; religions are brands; ergo, religions compete. People who say they shouldn’t don’t understand the nature of religion.

I think competition is good. Nonviolent competition, that is. Sending brand loyalists on crusades and jihads is bad for business, and I wouldn’t recommend it. But other kinds of competition is good.

I suggest religions sponsor person-on-the-street surveys asking people which of the following views of heaven most appeals to them: Endless Bible study with God (the Jewish view); endless singing of the same song (the Christian view); or endless sex and feasting (the Muslim view)? While all of them sound like hell to me after a millennium or two, it would be fun to find out which one people prefer.

We could also ask English speaking people whether they preferred their religious services in Hebrew, Arabic, or English? We could also ask people which kind religion they preferred: one that allowed them to eat pork, one that outlawed pork but allowed cheeseburgers, or one that outlawed pork and cheeseburgers but allowed the eating of a cow’s tongue?

People make lots of money doing brand surveys, so maybe I will go into the religion brand survey business. I will need more examples of possible surveys, so think about this for a minute and share your survey ideas with me in the comments section of this blog, If any one hires me to do your survey I will let you know.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

E.T. versus J.C.

Gary Bates, head of the evangelical Christian organization Creation Ministries International, is worried about close encounters of the third kind. According to Mr. Bates, “E.T. life would actually make a mockery of the very reason Christ came to die for our sins.” *

Really? A mockery? I don’t think so at all.

First, God could choose to send Jesus to other planets as well as our own. Second, if that is too far fetched, why is it any less authentic for Christians to believe that beings on other planets must come to Christ through his missionaries than it is to believe that human beings in far flung lands on this planet should do so?

If there is conscious life on other worlds, it could very well be God’s plan for them to be evangelized and saved by missionaries from Earth.

You might argue, of course, that this would be unfair, since it may take thousands of years for Christians from Earth to make it to other worlds to bring the Good News, but this is no different than realizing that humans existed on earth for thousands of years prior to Jesus’ coming. True they couldn’t get into Heaven when they died, not having accepted Jesus as their as yet unborn Lord and Savior, but this is taken care of during the Harrowing of Hell on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday when Jesus descended into Hell and liberated the righteous Jews who lived long before Jesus’ time. So time isn’t the issue. Accepting Jesus is.

If we do find intelligent life on other planets, or at least life as stupid as us, we will no doubt encounter new ideas about God and religion, but this should pose no threat to the faithful. There are plenty of alternatives to Christianity on this planet, and evangelicals like Mr. Bates have no trouble rejecting them. Why would other-worldly religions pose any more of a problem?

Come to think of it, Jews might have more of a problem with E.T. than Christians. We, after all, believe that we are God’s Chosen People. If there are other Chosen People on other planets that would be deflating. If there is a winner on each planet, and there are millions of planets, there are millions of winners, and that makes being Chosen somewhat less satisfying. So if anyone has to worry about E.T. it is the Jews.

I for one am not worried about extra terrestrial life. I assume it exists. With 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe, I have to assume other inhabitable worlds, and other peoples narcissistic enough to think God chooses and saves some, and rejects and damns others.

What worries me is having aliens from other worlds knocking on my door to bring me the Good News of their Gods. I mean how often do I have to hide under my desk and pretend no one is home?

*THE WEEK, November 20, 2009, page 14

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Confederate Jews

The photograph hit me like a hard right to the gut: Rabbis Wisnia and Appel, standing with two Jews dressed up as Confederate soldiers at the dedication of a memorial for Jewish Confederate war dead in Mississippi. The four of them are smiling for the camera as if they were breaking ground for a new Jewish preschool. But they weren’t. They were there to honor those Jews who died defending the Confederacy.

Sure, I know that there were Jewish slave owners. I know there were Jews who helped finance the Confederacy. I know there were Jews who fought for the South. And I know that here in the South where I live fighting for the Confederacy is a badge of honor. We have a statue to fallen Confederate soldiers outside the courthouse of my town. But I am not proud of this. I don’t have my picture taken in front of it.

Full disclosure: I am a Yankee. I am from Massachusetts and take great pride in that. Sure we burned witches and hung Quakers, but we were on the right side in the Civil War— watch the movie Glory. It would never occur to most Yankees to fly the Confederate flag, and those to whom this does occur also fly the Nazi flag, because both are about oppressing the Other, be they blacks or Jews.

But do we Jews have to celebrate our support of slavery? Sure, you can say the War of Northern Aggression was fought to defend the agrarian economy of the South, but that economy would have collapsed had slavery been abolished. No matter what else may have been involved, no matter how equivocal Lincoln may have been on the issue of slavery, the issue was slavery. And Jewish Confederate soldiers fought to uphold slavery. History is history. Let’s admit it, but not celebrate it.

“Stop smiling!” I yell at the rabbis in the photo. “At least look a bit troubled over the morality of what you’re doing!”

Honestly, I don’t know what I would do if, as the rabbi of a Confederate congregation, I was asked to dedicate a Jewish Confederate memorial. Maybe politics trumps morality here. It wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe I would have done my best at the dedication, and then quietly send a donation to the United Negro College Fund. Maybe I would have smiled for the camera, and hoped that no one notices.

But this photo is published in The Chronicle, a magazine of the Reform Movement. The section in which it appears is called “Alumni Changing the World.” Honoring those who died in defense of oppression is “changing the world?” And how ironic that this memorial is in Mississippi where Jewish Civil Rights workers Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner along with their African American co-worker James Chaney were murdered 1964. If we are going to honor Jews who died fighting in the South, I would focus on Goodman and Schwerner.

This isn’t an attack on rabbis Wisnia and Appel (neither of whom I know, and both of whom are probably fine and good people), nor on the editor who choose to run the photo (also unknown to me and most like a nice person). It isn’t an attack at all. Just a cry: isn’t anyone ashamed of anything any more?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Me 5.0

In the current issue of Kosmos (Fall/Winter 2009) Mark Gerzon offers a two-part exploration of global citizenship. Using the analogy of upgraded computer software, Mark identifies five iterations of citizenship:

Citizen 1.0— Worldview based on one’s self (egocentric).
Citizen 2.0— Worldview based on one’s group (ideocentric).
Citizen 3.0— Worldview based on one’s nation (sociocentric).
Citizen 4.0— Worldview based on multiple cultures (multicentric).
Citizen 5.0— Worldview based on the whole earth (geocentric).

While Mark’s metaphor may be original to him, the idea itself is not. Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics, for example, is a more complex and perhaps more complete version of Mark Gerzon’s citizenship idea,* but Mark’s has the distinct advantage of being easily articulated.

When I read his essay it clearly exposed my own inner struggle with the issue of backward compatibility. The more globally oriented I become, the more difficult it is for me to identify with this or that religion, ethnic group, or nationality.

At the corporate level, most religions operate at Citizen 2.0. The primary focus of the religion is who is in and who is out. Yes, there are other concerns such as justice and compassion, and there are progressive 5.0 thinkers within these religions whose focus is elsewhere, but the primary concern of corporate religion and corporate religious leaders is with market share and branding—who is in and who is out.

My question is this: as more and more of us become Citizen 5.0 what will happen to Religion 2.0? As I become more geocentric, can I maintain Zionism? As I recognize the blending of many spiritual teachings in my own life can I maintain Judaism as my singular religious identity?

For me the answer is clearly “no.” The more global I become the less exclusively anything I become. The more global I become the more I find myself articulating what I believe to be true using metaphors drawn from all the world’s religions. The more I live with Citizen 5.0 the more I experience Religion 5.0 and refuse to be limited to any one faith. My loyalty is to truth, and no religion has a monopoly on that. I draw from art, literature, philosophy, science, music, mysticism, myth, etc. to create a rich 5.0 tapestry of reality reflecting what I experience as real. And I no longer care where it comes from.

My guess is that Jews are at the forefront of Citizen 5.0. If Judaism is going to survive Jews 5.0 it will have to remake itself into Judaism 5.0. I am not sure it can. I am not sure it matters. But I am sure it matters to me. Ah the blessed unrest of inner turmoil.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Retreat

I will be on retreat in Alabama this week. There is no cell service or internet where I am going, so I cannot post to TOTO. I will be back in town Sunday night, and hope to update the blog on Monday. Have a great week.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Orthodoxy 192/Liberals 55

In his essay entitled “The Jewish Future in Black and White.” (The Forward, October 16, 2009) Uzi Silber reminds us of the inevitable take over of American Judaism by Orthodox Jews. It is simply a matter of numbers: for every 100 Orthodox Jews in their 50s today there are 192 children; while for every 100 nonOrthodox Jews in their 50s there are 55 children. Do the math. Eventually Orthodoxy wins.

Does this matter? Not to me. Does that make me want to be an Orthodox Jew? Not at all. I’m too liberal, too pro-choice, too pro-GLBT, and too tolerant of Jews who like BLTs to be an Orthodox Jew. I won’t change. I don’t want to change. And if this means that Judaism goes the way of the Orthodox, it is fine with me.

More than fine, actually. When asked at a conference what I thought Judaism’s greatest gift to the non-Jewish world was, I said, “Jews.” I then went on to explain that Jews raised in traditional Torah study have a certain kind of mind, one that tolerates paradox, multiplicity of meanings, and doubt. Some of these Jews will apply that mindset outside the Jewish world and use it to enrich the larger world. I’m thinking of people like Jesus, Freud, Marx, Einstein, Derrida, and others. While none of them was an “orthodox” Jew, none of them would have been the revolutionary he was without “orthodoxy” in his background.

Liberal Jewish education, based on the western model of learning, lacks that penchant for paradox that traditional Jewish education promotes. Not that Orthodox Judaism is consciously iconoclastic or that Orthodox Jews deliberately raise iconoclastic kids, but that there is something about the pedagogy of Torah study that sharpens the minds of the well educated in a way that Western education does not. While liberal Judaism can produce good people, it probably can’t produce revolutionaries. And revolutionaries have been Judaism’s gift to the world for millennia.

So if we liberal Jews are opting out of the race to determine who is a Jew in the 22nd century, I’m not afraid. Just as Orthodoxy gave us radical liberationists in the 19th and 20th centuries, I am certain it will do the same in the 22nd.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Whatta MASA

MASA is a campaign designed to fight assimilation among American Jews. Sponsored by the Israel based Jewish Agency, MASA’s latest Israeli television ad sought to raise funds for its programs by placing photos of young American Jews on missing-person posters with the tag line, “over 50% of Jews abroad are assimilating.” The 50% of Jews abroad who had not assimilated complained and the ad was pulled.

Obviously assimilation of Jews into the broader culture is still a sensitive issue. But pulling ads that highlight it doesn’t really do much to stop it. In fact nothing really does much to stop it.

What does it mean to assimilate, anyway? Am I assimilated?

I try not to be. I have a beard, that’s Jewish. I wear Levi’s, their Jewish. I make a point of being able to pronounce the “ch” sound in Hebrew and Yiddish, and make fun of those Gentiles who can’t. I can spread my fingers in such a way as to offer the Priestly Blessing or say hello to Mr. Spock and wish him a “Live long and prosper.” And I get Jon Stewart’s Jewish jokes on the Daily Show. Is this good enough? How Jewish do I have to be?

On the other hand, I just bought the remastered Beatles collection, I read the latest Dan Brown novel (being a newly minted Master Mason myself, I wanted to see how we secretly rule the world), I like country and bluegrass music, and own a pair of cowboy boots. How goyish do I have to be?

I really don’t care about assimilation. If Jews want to be something else, that’s their right. Nor do I think that MASA’s program of schlepping young Jews to Israel to show them the Walls that define us (the Western Wall and the Separation Wall) is actually going to stem the tide of assimilation. If you want people to be Jewish, you have to make being Jewish matter.

Orthodox Judaism, for example, matters. It matters because it takes itself seriously, it believes what it says, it makes demands of its members. Unfortunately this is also why most Jews who are not Orthodox don’t choose to become Orthodox. To many Jews, Orthodox Judaism is a bit too Amish. I don’t want a religion that is afraid of zippers, or makes a fetish of Canaan.

How can we liberal Jews make Judaism matter? By reclaiming its roots as a radical counter-culture. By promoting Shabbat as a global play day, free from work and consumerism. By promoting kashrut (kosher) as a way of uplifting our consuming to the highest ethical and environmental standards (forget about separating milk and meat; promote vegetarianism instead). By promoting tzedakah as right livelihood: the just earning and use of finances. By excommunicating Jack Abramoff and Bernie Madoff. *

Judaism at its best, at its coolest, is in fact unassimilatable. It is counter-culture. It is all about argument, doubt, and imagination. It is all about everything that our conformist, consumerist society is not. Why not sell that to the kids?

Why not? Because most of the so-called unassimilated are really assimilated! Sure they refer to themselves as Jews, and maybe even attend synagogue once in a while, but they share the same values as the majority of Americans.

Assimilation is a nonissue. It is like dealing with a leaking bucket by adding more water at the top rather than plugging the leak at the bottom. The real issue is imagining and then teaching a Judaism that challenges people to be something other than the middlebrow, middle-class, middle-minded self-satisfied liberals who think watching MSNBC makes them superior to those who watch FOX News. I know these people. I am these people. Come on, MASA, don’t put my picture on a milk-carton, offer me a Judaism that matters.

* Did you ever notice that AbrAMOFF and MADOFF are made up of the same letters with the exception of the letter “d”? Is this a coincidence? I think not.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jesus is from Mars. Mary is from Venus.

I have long had difficulty with the physics of Christianity, especially the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven after his resurrection. According to the Act of the Apostles, Jesus is taken up bodily into heaven forty days after his resurrection. The apostles were witnesses, so I have no doubt that this is true. (Would the Apostles lie?) But that doesn’t help me with the physics.

Given the fact that physical bodies cannot travel faster than the speed of light, Jesus, even after 2000 years of travelling in space, would still be well within the universe and nowhere near heaven (which, I assume, is beyond the universe.)

I once asked a Catholic priest to explain this to me, and he said that God can do whatever God wants. While always a good way to explain away things we can’t explain, it doesn’t satisfy me. Christianity makes a point that the resurrection is bodily, but what is the point of doing so if you are then going to deny the limits God placed on the body? So, with all due respect to the Church, I just can’t buy the idea that Jesus has made it to heaven just yet. And as it turns out, I’m right.

Not only is Jesus not in heaven, he is still in our solar system. In fact he has been spotted on Mars. NO, I’m not talking about Philip Jose Farmer’s 1979 science fiction novel, Jesus on Mars, I am talking about the real Jesus on the real Mars.

The NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took a picture of Jesus on Mars on August 3 of this year, and NASA published the photo in October. Look carefully and you will see the full body of a robed Jesus looking around the desolate Martian landscape saying, “Dad? Are we there yet?”

Actually I made up the “Are we there yet” thing, but there is no doubt that this is Jesus. So what is he doing on Mars? I asked a few true believers at the City CafĂ© the other morning and got the following responses:

“Its like the Shroud of Turin. Jesus stopped on Mars to leave this impression on the rock so that when we got to Mars we would know he had been there. This would bolster our faith.”

“He didn’t stop on Mars on his way to heaven, he is waiting on Mars before returning to earth.”

“This isn’t Jesus at all, but a trick by Barak Hussein Obama to mock our faith and promote Islamic socialism.”

I have a different view. I trust the Apostles and believe Jesus is in Heaven. I also believe in astrophysics. To reconcile the two I now believe the universe is flat and only a few miles thick. If this is true it would take only a few hours for Jesus to pass beyond the universe and enter Heaven.

Of course there are those skeptics who insist that the universe is wide, and who try to prove this by pointing to the fact that light coming to earth from distant galaxies is billions of years old, but that only shows how stupid some people can be. The billions of years old light astronomers see is coming from the length of the universe, not its depth. The universe is flat, thin, and LONG.

Why am I the only one who gets this?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

You Know You're Too Fat When...

You know you’re too fat when a TSA agent mistakes body bulk for bombs. I am too fat.

Last Sunday I’m flying from Dayton, OH to Atlanta, GA. I am travelling light—no computer, small carry-on, one checked bag that doesn’t go through the screening process with me.

I take off my shoes and jacket, and send them along with my phone and backpack through the X-ray machine. I walk through the metal detector. Usually I’m waved on through, but not this time. This time I’m pulled aside for a pat down. Sometimes this happens because of the system’s random check procedure, but not this time. This time it is because the TSA agent sees something suspicious about my person. Unfortunately, it is my person itself.

“Sorry, sir, but it looks a bit bulky under there,” the agent says to me politely, pointing vaguely to my sweater vest.

I am led to a side station, asked to spread my arms, and prepare to receive a pat down. The problem, the agent tells me, is that there is a roll, a bulge, under my sweater vest that seems suspicious to him. It could be a bomb belt. It could be a series of liquids that, when mixed, could bring down an aircraft. It could be pairs of shoes equipped with explosive devices. Or it could be that I’m fat.

Honestly, even knowing the years I would have to spend in prison if it were anything other than fat, for a moment I prayed to Allah that I was carrying a bomb. But Allah, like Jesus, doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews, and it turned out to be fat. As the agent’s well-trained hands ran themselves over my poorly toned mid-section it became clear to him and me that when given a choice between Taliban and marzipan, I would invariably align myself with the latter.

For a moment the agent was as embarrassed as I was. I felt sorry for him. I smiled and said, “I’m a loyal American, all about mom and apple pie. Mostly pie.” He smiled back. I smiled wider. He moved on to the next potential terrorist, I went to buy some Reese’s Cups.

To be fair, I am overweight. To be balanced, I have no idea how thick a bomb belt is, so maybe the agent was right to pat me down. But the humiliation was real nonetheless. To make matters worse, when I took my seat on the plane, and squeezed my broadening butt into the seat, the guy sitting next to me says, “I lost 109 pounds over the past year.” I swear to Adonai, Lord of Hostess, that’s what he said.

Of course I asked him how he lost all that weight, and he told me he ate nothing but steak and butter. As a Jew, I don’t mix meat and milk. As a vegetarian, I don’t eat steak. I’m doomed.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Weather or Not to Believe

When it comes to matters meteorological, I always check with the pious. That is how I know the sun orbits the earth, that hurricane Katrina was caused by homosexuality, and that global warming is caused by atheists.

This last comes from God’s chief meteorologist, Pope Benedict XVI, who said in a recent speech, “Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where His existence is denied? If the human creature's relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the ‘final authority,’ and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.”

This is harsh, but true. Without God we might become greedy and narcissistic. Without God you might walk around dressed in gold robes, wearing red Gucci loafers, wielding giant jewel encrusted silver staves, live in huge palaces filled with treasures and protected by a private army dressed in tights. Without God we might think we have a monopoly on truth, and feel empowered to lecture the world on the evils of condoms.

No, wait. That is what the Pope does and he has God. Wow! If this what the Pope does, just think of what people who don’t have God would do! No wonder the world is in such trouble.

So the answer is to get God. But, you might ask, what will getting God do to save the planet? It’s simple.

First you have to understand that there is only One God, and the Pope has him. So when the Pope says you should get God he isn’t suggesting that you get the god of your choice. He is talking about getting his God. And when you get his God, you get him. And when you get him you get to give him all your money. And when you give him all your money you have no money left over to be greedy. And when you have no money left over to be greedy you won’t be able to buy all those polluting devices. And if you can’t buy these polluting devices, the earth will stop warming and the planet will be saved. Until Jesus comes back and blows it all to Hell in the end anyway, but you won’t care because by then you will have abandoned the Pope for a Protestant Prosperity Preacher who will let you buy whatever the hell you want as long as you give a chunk of your income to his ministry, and who promises that Jesus will rapture you off the planet just before he destroys the place and the Pope along with it.

All of this is good news, though not to atheists. They still lack God, love carbon emissions, and are rapture-proof rather than rapture-ready. So I beg of you, my nonbelieving sisters and brothers, get thee to the Church on time to save our planet in time.