11 March 2014

Deep Cross-Cultural Understandings

All we wish for is peace on earth and good will toward all people. And a decent bagel.

As many of you know, I am Catholic. As many of you also know, C., my best friend, who also lives with my husband, daughter, and me, is Jewish. And we're not talking secular Jew. Oh hell, no. This woman read from the Torah in Hebrew for her bat mitzvah. She knows when Tu Bishvat, AKA Jewish Arbor Day, is. C. knows that Maimonides is more than a hospital in Brooklyn. Maidel is hard-core, yo.

This (and so, so many other things) have led us to many sit-com-like situations. Like the time my father was the head of the RCIA at his and my mother's church, and, since the Last Supper was a Passover meal, wanted to have a kind of Passover for Goyim Dummies thing for his class. So of course, he hands this off to my mother. My mother, for those of you who don't know her, is an angel and a saint (shut up, she might read this), but this sort of thing was not really up her alley. So Mom calls me and the task gets handed off yet again. So I call C., and unthinkingly use the same words my mother said to me. C. starts laughing hysterically.

"What?" I asked, completely lost. "All I asked was how you throw a seder!"

She didn't stop laughing for another ten minutes, at least. I got the last laugh, though, as I dated a guy I swear to this day was the only 6'2" Jewish man in Texas.

Now, living in New York, I caught up on a lot of things that had previously flown under my radar: bagel with schmear, mashugana tourists, and schlepping ten blocks for the subway. I became, as the poet and playwright Ellen Orleans once put it, "psycho-semitic." This did not, however, keep me from attempting to bring a ham quiche to a family sitting shiva.

And hanging around me and my family (and, you know, living in a generally Christo-centric society) has brought C. up to speed on many Christian-slash-Catholic things. For example, she only wished me Happy Ash Wednesday the once, and she almost never asks about the shmutz on my forehead.

And yet, some things persist. Allow me to set the scene.

Like many other churches, the one my husband, daughter, and I attend has a little program-type thing they hand out when you come in the door, so that you can find where in the big, thick books in the pews the readings and songs we're reading and singing this week are. Again, like many churches, the pastor or the parish or liturgical council might put some other information, homily notes, or whatever in the little program thingie.

As many of you undoubtedly know, we Christians have just begun the season of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for Jesus's death and resurrection on Easter.

Last posit: like many other Christian churches, our church has adopted a theme for Lent. (And a running motif for the homilies, but that's an entire other post.)

So, C. and I are sitting at the dining room table waiting for egg rolls to come out of the oven. I don't eat them myself, but you can buy and sell my kid for one. C. notices that the program from this past Sunday is on the table, and the theme for Lent is emblazoned on the front:

Lent... a time for close encounters.

No, no, no...

You know, we don't even need to say things anymore. She just looked at me. And I looked back. And she grinned. And, not for the first time, I said, "Christianity does not involve aliens!" But it was too late. Suddenly I'm seeing Jesus, not ascending into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, but being beamed into the mothership.

Still not as good as the time she put dibs on being the First Epistle on the off chance I bore the next Messiah, though.

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