in the Mailbox
Holidays come and I shrink. My secret shame floats like a spent
shred of Christmas tinsel. You see, I was excommunicated from the
Catholic Church when I was two days old. I know you must be asking,
"What did he dribble to be kicked out of the kingdom at such
a tender age?"
it's simple. There was Jewish blood in my father. My mother was
Catholic. My parents had eloped to Kingman, Arizona, to a justice
of the peace who married them. When the baby came -- yours truly
-- they baptized me in a stucco Catholic Church on Alvarado Street
in Echo Park, California, back when the palm trees were shorter,
and the air was cleaner.
days later, the priest showed up at my grandmother's bungalow, which
always smelled of Niagara spray starch and freshly ironed drapes,
and insinuated that my mother should leave my father. My mother
brought her face close into the young priest's and asked firmly,
"Is your Church going to pay for this baby's food?" My
father, enraged, backed the priest out of that little wooden house.
topic is still a sore one with my parents, who feel terrible about
it all, embarrassed when they explained to me, "Well, look,
the priest said that you're illegitimate in the eyes of God."
found out that this priest was not even wearing a collar that fateful
day; he did the deed in civilian clothes. Why no vestments? Shouldn't
I have been treated more like the little Omen that I was? Street
clothes? That was the final cut. I always wonder if there was a
nun, plain and tall, waiting in the getaway car, like Faye Dunaway
in Bonnie and Clyde. Did they laugh as they peeled out of
my grandmother's gravel driveway?
I've gone through life knowing I was kicked out of the Church like
a football when I was the size of a football. That was that. Religion
died in our young family. No Church. No Synagogue. No Christmas.
At Easter, I would hide eggs myself and feel guilty looking for
were on our own and I am not ashamed. I did my best, as did my parents.
No regrets. With no religious compass, we forged through life looking
for meaning. I dipped into all things spiritual with fervor -- ecclesiastical
music, the litany. I was prepared never to eat the Body of Christ
or drink his blood.
parents never even attempted to enroll me in anything religious.
At our house, Sundays were meant for yard work; the Sabbath was
meant for KFC. And yet, I was drawn to the forbidden dance in the
pulpits and pews. I would find myself standing in front of churches.
I wanted to go in, but I was too nervous that my baby picture had
been placed on some urn, warning the sentry guards not to let this
bastard son into his rightful Father's house. Is there a Church
equivalent to the FBI's Most Wanted Lists that I've seen at the
only experiences I had with organized religion were Christmas at
my cousins' -- no Jewish blood in their branch of the family tree
-- and Hanukkah at my other cousin's. I went through the ceremonies
and doted on each particular form of light. The mystical language
of Hebrew prayers soothed me. The splendor of a decorated Christmas
tree illuminated me. Alvin and the Chipmunks relaxed me.
rituals that I bore witness to were like believing that a sunset
is the illusion of the earth spinning. What was the meaning? Christmas
is just confusing. Planets and religions, even these religious holidays
are just fancy machinery; what matters is our point of view. And
it's up to us to figure out what the illusions are. Has the Messiah
been born? Is radiant love possible for twenty-four hours, or is
it just Black Friday at Circuit City?
knew about the Bible; there was no tour of the Holy Land for us,
and the idea of the devil was never explained. These questions have
become as traditional to me as Chia pets. My Chia questions: Am
I the same excommunicated, unwanted baby? Did my young parents fail
me by not standing up to the Church and fighting for my rightful
place in the chorus?
I went to Temple and sat at a Passover table and connected the dots
that all led back to the same principle. I learned that I'm against
vows and baptisms and fancy rites. I have yet to see a table long
enough to fit ALL religions, so until then, I forge on. I know that
I prefer that Jews have laws as opposed to Christianity's rules.
Kwanzaa seems tidy.
of life's consecutive dismissals never comes close to my secret
one: I was a baby sinner, and my inner baby Jesus was kicked to
the curb. But with the help of How the Grinch Stole Christmas
and Charlie Brown, I was able to survive each year and each
holiday season. Looking on the bright side, since I was raised with
no organized religion, I have lived a life without guilt. I never
attached guilt to a biological act. I have never attached guilt
to not going into a store or a mall between Halloween and Valentine's
most importantly, I never really knew Satan existed until a Jehovah's
Witness knocked on my door and explained him to me. I guess the
devil gave up on me when I got kicked out of the Catholic Church.
Now, I believe that getting kicked out of the Church was a good
thing. I was re-born free, just like a lion.
parents like to tell this story: when I was five years old, upon
seeing a Nativity manger set up at a friend's house, I took the
Baby Jesus toy out of the manger and placed it in the mailbox. If
they could do it to me, why couldn't I excommunicate Jesus himself?
it all. The betrayals only a toddler can understand. To my gentle
Catholic readers with your undying allegiance to the Scarlet Sisters
of Rome, there's no need to genuflect or make rush (or rash) novenas,
those 9-1-1 prayers to G-d. All of this is a lot to digest -- I
know, and imagine how it was for me. I was so young I could barely
digest eggnog. As for my Christmas-Hanukkah tradition now, it's
simple. I buy eight trees and light one every night. And I eat bacon,
lots of bacon. And of course, Christmas Day can be celebrated anytime
between December 15th and December 26th. It's just easier that way.
Everyone should try it. There'd be more parking for Grandma.
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