It’s not you, it’s me

November 1st, 2009

My daughter has eight American Girl dolls and more than 200 outfits for them. They occupy a trunk, a dresser drawer, and a considerable amount of the floorspace in her room. I only wish they occupied an equivalent amount of her time, but I’ve learned not to expect that of childish things.

The sum of all this is so outrageous, so embarrassing, that I hesitate to do the math, but I will. Here is how we got in this mess: one doll was a hand-me-down, one came from her parents, one was awarded as a prize, one purchased with her own savings and the rest resulted from masterful pleas to aunts and grandparents.The newest one is always loved best of all, “best” and “all” being subject to the excruciatingly short lifespan of any fancy.

A year ago, I decided to put the kibosh on the whole thing, since to me at least, eight of anything has always been enough.

Yesterday I received something quite close to the following email.

Hi Karen: Well, our contingent feels pretty pleased with themselves regarding Chanukah. When Georgia was here in September she was very enthused about the new AG Doll, Rebecca. Of course we were all delighted. I just ordered Rebecca, plus accessories and the book, ______ got the pink “movie” dress, ______ got her two more books about Rebecca, and ______ got her Rebecca’s fur coat and muff set. It means a lot to us that she wanted it.

For those of you who don’t follow these developments with rabid self-interest, Rebecca is a soft-body plastic doll sold for $114, book and accessories included, embroidered with the storyline of a girl who celebrates the treasured traditions of her Jewish family.

From time to time I’m asked what it’s like to be married to someone who doesn’t share my practice, or more to the point, what it’s like to be in an interfaith marriage. This is what it is like.


The brilliant novelist and kindred spirit Elissa Elliott, herself a disaffected former fundamentalist Christian, has a fascinating post up today. I just read it, and it arrives like heavenly host into the dark storm of my wounded heart. She takes up the curious ramifications of the rising percentage of Americans who have no religious affiliation, a segment that will likely reach 25 percent of the population within two decades. She quotes one religion writer as saying “believers are perplexed and disappointed with God.” I rather think people are perplexed and disappointed with other people: their internecine fights and religious-political warfare.

At my weariest, I feel all alone, but more of us are beating a retreat every day.


I’ve written before about how my daughter views all this, or at least how she used to. It was inspiring and uplifting to me to see how purely she saw us all as one: the divisions meaningless, the sum greater than the parts.

If you click the link you might be wondering how the trip to Israel went. We didn’t go, because the brothers couldn’t work it out.

Yesterday I sent something quite close to the following email:

You can rest assured that Georgia sees herself as Jewish, and always has. No one here tries to take that away from her, or impose anything at all on her. What it means is entirely up to her. My only job is to leave all her options open, pick up the clutter, clean out the drawers, and love her no matter who or what she thinks she is. She doesn’t have to please me. No one in my family has ever insisted she be Christian, for goodness sake, or Buddhist, for that matter.

I am fully aware that this is the most trouble I have ever made about this, but then I’ve been uncharacteristically loud lately.

More and more it seems to me that there is one truth, and it cannot be named. Religious faith is one thing, but religious identity is another: like all identities, a complete human fabrication, and the source of perpetual conflict and suffering. Alas, we like to suffer, and spread it.


Elissa’s post closes with a sentence that pierces me through and through. It seems the name for people who claim no religious affiliation in our country has been shorthanded to “nones.” She writes, “I had no idea that there’s an actual term for all of us.”

There has always been a term for all of us. It’s called us.

But that’s what wishing is for.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to my retreat • Fan me • Follow me.


  1. I recently received an American Girl catalog in the mail. After perusing it and choking, I put it in the recycling bin. I dearly hope we can steer my daughter clear of that obsession.

    I read Elissa's post. What bothers me is there is always an assumption that the non-religious are morally weaker, less "good."

    Comment by kathryn — November 2, 2009 @ 12:42 am

  2. Well – one "none" here and proud to be part of the minority. My morals are intact. My life is intact. Buddhism is my non-religion so to speak.

    As for American Girl. Eeek. My daughter has been expressing an interest as of late. For now she will have to settle for the American Girl stationary found at the Goodwill.

    Should my daughter suddenly come into riches I'll let her buy one for herself.

    Comment by Shalet — November 2, 2009 @ 12:59 am

  3. Ah, Karen,

    I love "us." I wish there were just "us"–all of us, without division or religion or prejudice, in a place where we can all gift ourselves to everyone else (and I don't mean that in an arrogant way, only that we are to be of service to others).

    Love you, and thank you for your openness…and for helping forge the way (because you are, you know…every day)…



    Comment by Elissa — November 2, 2009 @ 2:27 am

  4. I really love and appreciated both this and elissa's posts … I am so struggling, twisting my brain, contorting my soul to keep from becoming a none … it is so hard … I have great faith in Love and tolerance and I want to much to share it in my messy pathetic way …

    I have no great point to make … I just struggle and try to do what is Right for me and my family, my angel baby girl …

    Love you!

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — November 2, 2009 @ 3:40 am

  5. THANKYOU> as a 'none' I have always felt I have to defend my no-choice more than their choice. I feel much more judged for not following the crowd than really I should. Good to hear I'm actually not alone. in my ridiculously religous/non religous mixed up family I reach out to you in yours. hang in there 🙂

    Comment by Britgirl — November 2, 2009 @ 11:58 am

  6. Ridiculously religious/non-religious mixed up family….

    That pretty much sums it up for all of us I think.

    And yes, Karen, it's true – it's always been and always will be just US. I'll keep wishing too.

    Comment by Renae C — November 2, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

  7. The imagination of a child like Georgia will do wondrous things with that doll. It is only the imagination of the adults that will create boundaries by making a doll so much more than a doll.

    I've been there, too, in a way.

    Comment by Mama Zen — November 2, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

  8. Karen,
    I so appreciate this post on so many levels, I hardly know where to begin.

    I'll just say this. I'm grateful you featured Elissa's post. It churned up much. By these accounts, I'd be a NONE, as are many of my compatriots. Though, ironically, my non-affiliated spiritual life is rich and true, bursting at the seams. 🙂 I'd prefer the term "Everythings", but certain folks bash that stating that a mish-mash of spiritual beliefs is not good. I think it is absolutely possible–and with integrity. As an interfaith spiritual director/mentor, I am seeing more of more of US in sessions. It is a beautiful thing to see, not a loss. Our integrity is in tact, as are our morals and values. We "vibrate" pretty high on the scale, and most of us are deeply compassionate.

    My own spiritual director is a Jew and a Buddhist and she is one of the most beloved women on the planet. (You probably know her…Who doesn't who is a Buddhist?) I aspire to be as solid, yet open, fluid and compassionate as she. I hate to sound trite, but I am definitely the Dalai Lama's gal: My religion is compassion. Not a passing fancy, has been for a long time now. I think he speaks for the future of our spiritual lives as a people…

    Blessings to you for this powerful sharing and post! May you be at ease….

    Comment by Jan — November 2, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

  9. Wow, what writing. Worship is complicated enough without dragging human notions of identity into it.

    We are up to 2 ag dolls, and when we last got the catalogue, I some what reluctantly handed it to K. who enthusiastically cicled every single accessory in it. She is cautious about asking for dolls, having lost one that a Grandma gave her.

    The nervous people that want to warn against the first doll/car/cigarette/baby are totally correct: it is a slippery slope, all around us. But they would be wrong in this world to take dolls out of the hands of the children, or to avoid the mess of kids. Things are a mess, it is not just a zen saying. But it is ok, both perspectives are fully part of our lives.

    Georgia is lucky to have doting relatives. A tad excessive, so what. You missed the chance to switch them with puritans. They are already her relatives.

    Comment by Chris Austin-Lane — November 2, 2009 @ 6:44 pm

  10. Its Build-A-Bears over here. But my girls actually play with them. Now the AGs and Barbies are a different story…

    Comment by Kristin H. — November 2, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

  11. so far, my boys are not really into the American Girl thing. so far, we'll see how that goes. for better or worse, i linked to you and elissa's post in my post today, don't know what the protocol is so just thought i'd notify you. ?
    thanks for adding to the inquiry.

    Comment by wifemotherexpletive — November 2, 2009 @ 8:02 pm

  12. People want to belong and feel united. To me, a religion is a way of life that one chooses to live. Unfortunately, sometimes that divides instead of unites. I think there is truth in all and none. I continue to search within myself and explore what my heart tells me to. I am none (specifically) therefore I am.

    Comment by happynik — November 2, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

  13. I was reading your post and the comments about religious identity and found myself thinking, "Thank god (lowercase) I converted to ___. At least I don't have to explain myself anymore." How sad is that? These days I don't even practice my chosen religion – it's just a convenient label to keep the questions away.

    On the other hand… how blessed are we to live in a place where we can choose?!!

    Comment by Karin — November 2, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

  14. Heading to American Girl store tomorrow morning to get gift card Halloween witch is leaving my daughter after stealing her candy.
    Oh the tangled web we weave…but she just wants a doll bed…non-affiliated.
    member of us

    Comment by spielbee — November 3, 2009 @ 7:18 am

  15. light light great light
    to all of us

    Comment by Wendy — November 3, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  16. Sadly, as yet, there is no religion available that is able to encompass the truth, and this is evidenced by the conviction that each religious follower has toward their own system.

    If It were up to me every girl in the world would have at least one American Girl Doll and all her accessories. Your daughter is fortunate; be grateful.

    Comment by Tracy — November 3, 2009 @ 8:07 pm

  17. Tracy, all religions encompass the truth, but only as a practice, not as a dogma. I have known many Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Jews who practice compassionate love and selfless acceptance. The label has nothing at all to do with it.

    If it were up to me we could be truly generous with one another, truly accepting and generous with one another. Every child, every person, every where no matter what they called themselves. This is available every day to us in our lives. That is true gratitude.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 4, 2009 @ 12:02 am

  18. My mom was so disenchanted with her Catholic school upbringing that she swore she wouldn't "do that" to her own kids when she grew up. Then she married a nice handsome Jewish boy. And so on holidays I ate noodle kugel and then changed houses and washed it down with Sicilian wine and spaghetti. Why couldn't everyone see it's all just pasta!

    Comment by DQ's Windmill — November 6, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

  19. i'm a little late to this entry but it touched me. i am a lapsed catholic from an extremely religious family – nuns and priests abound – who married a jewish man 22 yrs ago. i am struck by how inclusive his family was/is to me and how unkind and "unchristian" like my mother is to me. this is a private struggle she and i have because she is clever enough not to spew the hate to my children (so is she really kind?). i can so identify with the struggle you have with your in laws. i think the more fundimental the religion, the less tolerance and more fear there is for the "other". my girls at 19 and 16 proudly claim they are 1/2 jewish and 1/2 christian without batting an eye and i wouldn't have it any other way.

    Comment by Christine — November 6, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month