Is G-d dead?

“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity .” – John Lennon, 1966
This morning started with some patchy fog and a dreary gray sky, the air still wet and heavy from yesterday’s rain. I went to my go-to place, just in case the National Weather Service got it wrong (again). On the way to my go-to place, I habitually cut through the parking lot of a church situated in the neighborhood across from mine. Over the past seven years, I’ve watched congregants come and go, attending services regularly throughout the week, but mostly on Sundays. The people were always pleasant, saying hello with the usual, “Nice day for a bike ride!” I also looked forward to reading whatever “words of wisdom” were posted on the church sign.
At some point in the past year, I noticed there were less and less cars in the lot for Sunday mass, with virtually none on any given weekday. About that time, a large white truck was placed in the corner of the lot. It was a tree service truck. I wondered why it just sat there day after day, never moving from its spot for many months. Then, as the weather thawed, I was diverted from my usual cut through due to the truck, along with some of its friends, cutting down nearly every tree on the property…and then, nothing…
Last week, several different kinds of trucks were parked outside the rectory entrance and the church sign stood wordless. I realized at that moment the church was now abandoned and someone had bought it to turn it into something else. I almost cried. What happened? Where did all the people go? Why did this church…”die?”
I decided to do some research on this little church. I found an “unofficial” Facebook page with one single post:
“A small friendly church. We could use new members. 10:00 am service. Refreshments and fellowship following the service.”
That pretty much said it all. Google searches gave me nothing…until I found an article written by a women’s group that had used the church’s space for meetings and special events. And I was right – the church had closed it’s doors permanently in May of 2016.
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So what happened? This church was erected and functioned for 130 years…130 years! I’ll tell you why – because organized religion is dead in America. Yup, I went there. Americans “identify” with being this or that religion, but how many of them actually practice what they preach?
Seventy percent of Americans identify with being Christian – as of this moment, that’s approximately 228,000,000 people. Albeit, there are different sects of Christianity, but the question I ask is, “Where are you? Why are thousands of churches being shut down each year? Why are Christians not supporting their way of life? Why did you give up?”
Approximately 23% of Americans consider themselves to be “unaffiliated.” There are more atheists (3%) and agnostics (4%) than Jews (<2%) in the United States. And, of that <2% of Jews, .5% consists of people who don’t actually “identify” with being Jewish. What?! It angers me to think how hard I had to work to become a Jew when over 3,000,000 people with a solid Jewish ancestry dating back hundreds of years have decided “I’m no longer Jewish.”
And for those bigoted Americans who fear all those “Muslim terrorists” living in the United States? Less than 1% of Americans practice Islam, along with Buddhism and Hinduism.
And then there’s the almost 16% of “nothing in particular.” What does that even mean?!
Back in the day, America was referred to as a “melting pot,” a term used to describe the assimilation of immigrants to the United States. I had an anthropology professor who would ask us, “Is America truly a ‘melting pot’?” She and I would argue endlessly every time I answered in the affirmative. She believed that America was not a melting pot – that immigrants could come to the States and live as they did “back home.” I adamantly disagreed. Sure, people of varying nationalities and cultural practices could come to America and attempt to continue living their lives without skipping a beat, but, to me, America didn’t just melt your beliefs and practices – it devoured them. I still believe this to be true, as I witness thousands of churches shutting their doors forever due to lack of interest.
Maybe it’s the media we should blame. Celebrity worship has become the latest “religion.” Thirteen years ago, Morgan Spurlock came out with his documentary Supersize Me. In a section of the film entitled “Modern Heroes,” Spurlock shows first-grade students different pictures of men in our history:
These children could not recognize Jesus or George Washington, but every single one of them knew Wendy and Ronald McDonald. How did this happen? Sure, let’s blame the media. They’re the ones pushing this celebrity worship – it’s definitely their fault…right? Wrong! There’s this wonderful element of the human soul known as “free will.” We have a choice here…we don’t have buy into it. And this is where parents have a responsibility…
Except for a very brief period at age 14 when I thought I was an atheist and then “realized” I was agnostic, I was a member of the Catholic church since birth. I was baptized, made communion and full-heartedly made confirmation. I even went to church throughout high school…by myself…because I actually wanted to go. At some point later, however, I stopped going – not for lack of interest, but because I no longer agreed with the doctrines the church was giving me. Hence began my 8-year-long search for a new “church.” Then I met my husband…
As an adult, following my conversion to Judaism, I had a conversation with my mother. She was having a hard time understanding how I could possibly believe in G-d when I didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah. By the end of that talk, she finally understood. She was now convinced I still had my belief and faith in G-d, that everything she and dad had taught me was still inside me somewhere.
I think part of the reason my mother had such a hard time accepting my conversion was because she had chosen to become Catholic. Not having been raised with any real form of organized religion, she confirmed her faith at age 14, following the formal steps of catechumens and being baptized and receiving communion in the end. All this years before she met my father, who was born and raised a Catholic. My parents never wavered from their faith. They went to church on every major holiday and religiously attended services every Sunday no matter what the weather. Although they stopped attending services after moving in 2012, they both kept their faith. Faith is what they had at the end of their lives…

I’d like to continue the legacy of their faith. My husband and I have raised our daughter enveloped by Judaism. Faith in G-d has been our survival kit. And being part of an organized religion helps us keep that faith. We are surrounded by people who share the same faith. They add to our survival kit and help us stay strong. And when weakened, these people are our pillar. Organized religion is our life support. So why do so many millions of other Americans not want this in their lives? What happened? Who or what is to blame? I have no answers…

A strange thing happened after taking the above photos of the church – the clouds evaporated, the sun came out of nowhere and the sky turned my favorite color blue:
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I thought, “G-d’s trying to tell me something,” but I wasn’t quite sure what He was saying…
“I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I-Ching
I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
“I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in yoga
I don’t believe in kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles
I just believe in me
Yoko and me
And that’s reality”
God – John Lennon

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

My feet hurt…

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

Dr. Seuss

My feet hurt…precisely

I’ve been on a mission to find the perfect shoes for cycling. In the beginning, I just wore whatever pair of sneakers I owned at the time. However, the laces were too long and kept getting stuck in my chain. Double knotting and tucking the bows into my shoes, they inevitably snuck their way out and found themselves back in my bicycle chain.

Then I got into mountain biking and discovered the perfect shoes. They fit perfect, they didn’t have laces and they were sturdy enough for cycling but flexible enough for walking when off the bike. I remember a friend’s excitement when he saw that I was taking this whole cycling thing so seriously (and he secretly envied my husband’s nod giving me permission to purchase them). I wore them for a year or two until the insoles fell apart and they started to hurt my feet.

I quickly followed those perfect shoes with a new pair of Pearl Izumis that seemed perfect when I bought them. After several months of ignoring my feet sliding around inside these boat-sized (and very heavy) footwear, I returned to the store to find a new perfect pair of shoes. Once again, they seemed perfect when I tried them on and walked around the store a bit. And, at first, they seemed to work when riding…and then my feet starting sliding off the pedals for no apparent reason (no, I don’t have clips and, no, I don’t want them…don’t even try to convince me). But I cycled on, trying desperately to keep my feet still. Then came that day when I got a flat 3 miles from my house…

Although annoyed, I calmly set my bike down on the sidewalk, took out my kit bag to locate a new inner tube, only to discover I had brought one of my daughter’s tubes by mistake. “No problem,” I thought, “I always bring two spares.” Of course, this wouldn’t have been a problem if I hadn’t brought TWO of the wrong tube…and my phone hadn’t died…and my husband was out for the day…

As I slowly walked through the back streets of Maple Shade, my perfect slippery Pearl Izumis  grew stiffer and stiffer with each step. Within a mile, I begged myself not to cry. The pain was unbearable. I’m not sure how long it took me to walk home, but it felt like hours. Practically crawling, I pushed Ole Bessie into the garage, sat down on a folding chair, ripped those perfect slippery stiff Izumis off my swollen feet and hurled them across the room.

That’s when I asked Kathy what she wears on rides. She showed me a beat up pair of old sneakers that probably cost her less than $20. But they fit her perfectly – no pain, no sliding, no stiffness…just pure comfort. I ran to Kohl’s, found the perfect pair of New Balance jogging sneakers and have worn them ever since…except for the last pair of Shimanos I bought on clearance last summer…that seemed perfect when I tried them on…

“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.
Marilyn Monroe”

So today I slipped on my little New Balance jogging shoes and went for a two-hour bike ride…

Halfway through my ride and five minutes after stopping at this playground, my phone decided to die. I had at least another hour to go and I wasn’t quite sure of my location. I reminded myself of the original plan to simply loop around the Cooper River a few times because my husband and daughter were traveling out of town. With that plan in mind, worst case scenario, if I had some kind of issue where I couldn’t ride my bike, I could walk it home, albeit, a four-mile walk home, but this time I had my good old New Balance…

As I exited the park, looking to my left, I realized I had been here before, only this time I was on the other side of the water tower:

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March 18, 2016

I suddenly realized where I was and knew I’d be home in an hour…and this time I had TWO of the right tubes…and my New Balance…

“You keep lying when you oughta be truthin’
And you keep losin’ when you oughta not bet
You keep samin’ when you oughta be a-changin’
Now what’s right is right, but you ain’t been right yet”
These Boots Are Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Omens

omen (ō’mən) n. A phenomenon supposed to portend good or evil; a prophetic sign.

Sunday, April 16, 2017, a brief reprieve in the seemingly never-ending Passover holiday. The weather predicted for today was low 80s…and it was…and I was not prepared.

Already feeling like an overly stuffed turkey after days of non-stop eating and drinking, I decided to take a short ride to the “countryside,” mostly because I wasn’t feeling very well hydrated this morning (omen #1). A short ride for me at this point is 5 miles out, turn around, 5 miles back. In my training, I’ve been working simply on riding 10 miles without passing out, cramping up or chafing beyond repair – it’ll be 10 miles between each rest stop on the cancer ride. I figure, if I can get from one stop to the next, 54.4 miles won’t seem so bad…hopefully…

So what did I do? Went against my better judgment and told the little voice inside my head to shut the hell up…”It’s too beautiful out here! I finally have a perfect day for a long ride! I feel GREAT!” I shouted (hopefully to myself in my head where the little voice resides…omen #2)…

Finding myself 10 miles out, I took a break at a local business, parking my bike in the handicap space. I felt like nothing could stop me. No sweat, no pain, no chafing…yet…(omen #3)…

Back in the saddle, I started to feel it…the sun was getting higher in the sky and heating up the tar. My quads started cramping up, my feet were going numb and sitting on my saddle felt like coarse sand paper on naked skin (omen #4)…

So what did I do? That’s right…I went against my better judgment…again…and told the little voice inside my head to shut the hell up…”It’s too beautiful out here,” I whimpered, “I finally have a perfect day for a long ride…I feel…okay…it’s not that bad…not really…I can do this…I feel…(like I’m going to die out here…but I said that somewhere else in my head, hidden from the little voice…omen #5)…

Quickly realizing I hadn’t packed enough water, I painfully pushed myself the next 10 miles, which just so happened to be here:

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Rita’s Italian Ice

So what did I do? Yup…I started crying when I realized I’d forgotten my ID, my cash and my debit card. As I slowly gulped the last swig of warm water from my bottle, the little voice said, “Just ask them for ice or water or something, you stubborn old woman!”

So what did I do? Of course I told the little voice to shut the hell up, struggling not to vomit and/or pass out from extreme dehydration. I knew I was only about 2.5 miles from home – that’s about a 15 minute ride…and I could take all back roads if I needed to stop or I could call my husband for a ride if necessary.

So what did I do? You betcha! I got on my bike and started home…I think my little voice stayed back at Rita’s to schner some free water ice because I didn’t hear her the rest of the ride…

I slowly peddled home, plopped my exhausted body down on a chair in the garage, drank as much water as I could possibly hold and then slept for 12 hours wondering what flavor my little voice had ordered…next time I’ll listen to her…hopefully…

So why did I ignore all those omens? At each instance, I didn’t “see” the omen and even chose not to listen to my little voice telling me something was just not right. I know omens are just superstition, but my little voice believes in them, hook, line and sinker. I know it’s all just “hindsight is 20/20” – I “see” the omen now because I’ve chosen to make meaning of my experiences…but the little voice knew they were signs, warning me to stop and reconsider my actions.

“Survivors look back and see omens, messages they missed. They remember the tree that died, the gull that splattered onto the hood of the car. They live by symbols. They read meaning into the barrage of spam on the unused computer, the delete key that stops working, the imagined abandonment in the decision to replace it.”

Joan Didion,  The Year of Magical Thinking

The above quote was written by a woman who was born on the same exact day as my mother – December 5, 1934…is it coincidence that I found the perfect quote to express my experience and only discovered her date of birth after I copied and pasted her words? (Little voice: “Or is this another omen…stubborn old woman?!”)

“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain”

Horse With No Name – America

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Cherry Hill Park

The one thing you’re guaranteed to find in Cherry Hill are cherry blossom trees. And, no, Cherry Hill is not named for the trees – the trees were an afterthought. Originally, Cherry Hill was the name of a 19th-century farm located where our local movie theater and residential neighborhoods now sit. At some point, someone in Cherry Hill decided it would be a pretty cool idea to plant cherry blossoms throughout Cherry Hill…so now everyone thinks Cherry Hill is named for the trees…but, alas, they are wrong.

So today I went for a ride in Cinnaminson, Maple Shade and Moorestown…Cherry Hill is so overrated….

Yes, the following song was really written with Cherry Hill, New Jersey in mind. FYI – there is no actual Cherry Hill Park…and don’t let Mary Hill’s behavior convince you that Cherry Hill girls are that “thrilling”…

“Mary Hill used to love to ride the merry-go-round
All the guys got eager eyes watchin’ Mary go round
In the daytime Mary Hill was a teaser
Come the night she was such a pleaser
Oh Mary Hill was such a thrill after dark
In Cherry Hill Park”

Cherry Hill Park – Billy Joe Royal

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

 

Michael, Michael, Motorcycle…

April 13th

As I busy myself with Passover/Shabbat cooking, I realize that today Michael would have been only 62 years old.

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He was born 9 months after our parents were married…ahhh, the good ole days. It was a Wednesday. Two years and one day later, on Sunday, April 14, 1957, Kathy was born – kinda like Irish twins, but not exactly…

I remember my father telling me a story about when he and my mother first brought Michael home from the hospital. As Michael slept, my parents kept their apartment so quiet a pin drop sounded like thunder. Soon after his arrival home, a neighbor who worked as a nurse stopped by to see my parents’ new bundle of joy. Noting the absolute quiet and being shushed several times, the neighbor told my parents that keeping the home quiet would never help Michael learn how to sleep. Therefore, they must make as much noise as any given day of noise they would normally make in their home. This advice I never forgot and practiced after giving birth and returning home with my daughter on March 13, 1999. From vacuums to lawn mowers, suffice it to say, the kid can sleep through a tornado sucking up our house in New Jersey and crash landing in California during a magnitude 10 earthquake only to wake up and complain that her covers were missing. My job as a good mother is complete…

Passover has also put a damper on my bike riding…and, of course, the weather has been fabulous and I can’t ride. G-d challenges me with every increased degree of the thermometer and each cloudless sky. I spent the past week enviously watching fellow cyclists from the living room window cruise up and down my street in their flashy bright kits, mocking me as they fly through the air with smiles of cycling ecstasy…”F**k you!” I shout through locked windows. “Go ahead! Show off, you bastards!”

So finally, last Sunday I managed to sneak out for an hour and ride to my go-to place…and, of course, this is what happened:

I managed to find the one sliver of glass on the road that punctured a hole in my tire…and, of course, it was the back tire…which I hate to change…because more often than not, of course, I discover that I have the wrong tubes in my pack and I can never figure out how the chain goes back on the tire and the tire back onto the frame…

Naturally I took a couple of photos while I waited for my husband to pick me up (with my tail between my legs, of course)…

Aside from the sun dial being wrong (is that possible?!), I often find trails of jet fuel in the sky when I ride – it always makes me think of Michael. At his funeral in New Jersey, a number of jets flew over the chapel. Granted, McGuire Air Force Base is only 6 miles away from the military cemetery, but I like to think how cool it was that planes were flying over my brother as we laid him to rest…

And, because of my devotion all the past week (along with a sliver of glass), G-d decided I deserved a nice bike ride…of course, after cursing out my colleagues all week long…

I found a bicycle cemetery behind the Camden County Parks Department in a field that used to be a horse farm. I also found a lone tulip in my back yard that has never bloomed before. And, of course, the cherry blossoms of Cherry Hill have emerged…

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Happy Birthday to my beloved brother in heaven!

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Perspective

Over the past week, I had three friends attend the funeral of a parent, all three becoming new members of the “Orphan Club.”

“They” say things happen in threes. Scary enough, I’ve found this to be true. As the coordinator of shiva meals for my synagogue since autumn, there have been three families at any given time sitting shiva at the same time. It started with my husband losing his mother in 2014. As shiva came to an end, a close friend’s father past. At the end of his shiva, another close friend lost his father. Since then, when someone in the community loses a family member, I know there will be two more on the way. It’s a gloomy point of view on such a somber topic, but it’s all about perspective

“One symbolizes unity, agreement, simplicity. When something exists alone, nothing disturbs it. It remains completely at peace, without regard for anything else.”

“Two symbolizes duality, tension and complexity.”

“The number three symbolizes a harmony that includes and synthesizes two opposites. The unity symbolized by the number three isn’t accomplished by getting rid of number two, the entity that caused the discord, and reverting to the unity symbolized by number one. Rather, three merges the two to create a new entity, one that harmoniously includes both opposites.”

On the Meaning of Three – Eliezer Posner

http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/608781/jewish/On-the-Meaning-of-Three.htm

In our class last week, the rabbi talked about perspective or “point of view” – what one sees is not what another sees. He used the example of how we conduct ourselves during the Rosh Hashanah service when blowing the shofar (ram’s horn). Jews are commanded to hear a certain number of blasts from the shofar in a specific order. The shofar must also be blown accurately. So that the shofar blower knows he is precise and accurate, a decision was made years back that the rabbi would hit the shulchan (table) one time if the blower needed to repeat one note and two times if he needed to repeat the entire line.

I’ve witnessed this hitting of the table for seven years, but I thought the hitting was to quiet the congregation because it must be completely quiet when the shofar is sounded. Oftentimes, people will talk during the shofar service, so I figured it was the only way for the rabbi to shush the audience. Then the rabbi told us how another congregant yelled at him for “embarrassing” the shofar player, thinking he was pounding on the table as a form of punishment toward the blower…

perspective: /pərˈspektiv/ noun – a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.

I rode 28.5 miles last Sunday, returning home in throbbing pain and reminded myself that the cancer ride will be twice that…ugh…But I keep reminding myself that I road 45 miles of New York City roads and highways in the pouring rain with 40-degree temperatures. I’ve cycled the BQE for crying out loud! Riding to the beach should be a cake walk…right…?

And besides, I found a pretty pink tractor and a few asses along the way…and the other day I road an hour straight without stopping…

“I never miss a beat, I’m lightning on my feet
And that’s what they don’t see, that’s what they don’t see
I’m dancing on my own, I make the moves up as I go
And that’s what they don’t know, that’s what they don’t know”

Shake It Off – Taylor Swift

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump