Posts Tagged ‘Interfaith Marriage’

the girl can write

March 5th, 2012    -    60 Comments

About two years ago I read something on the web that I loved. I adore words, and I often admire other writing. But this was different than admiration. It was as if someone cracked open my ribcage and wrote the ache in my heart.

The piece by Joanna Brooks was called There is no Such Thing as Half, a courageous bit of outspokenness against the fractional religious classification of her children, born of a Mormon mom and Jewish dad. I read it and gushed blood, then immediately wrote a fan letter to Joanna. The similarities of our interfaith families, as all similarities, didn’t end there. It turns out she was a beloved professor to my next-door neighbor’s first-born. We both came of age on the suburban rim of the California orange groves. We shared the relative obscurity of all fledgling writers, figuring out how to woo readers, win publishers, and assemble the mythical “platform” that we’ve been told will yield access to the promised land of literary inclusion.

All I could offer her was encouragement. She went on and did everything by her pioneering self, becoming the go-to media girl for progressive Mormonism, a commentator at the frontier of politics, faith and feminism. Last month she published her memoir, and I recommend it to you here.

The Book of Mormon Girl is the story of deeply loving one’s faith, surviving its narrowness, renouncing its arrogance, and ultimately reclaiming the church. It is as smartly rendered as language can be, and it is beautifully, universally true. It gives me hope. Hope for our miscounted daughters, for our misunderstood grandmothers, and for the achingly faithful hearts, like mine, still beating and bleeding for peace, tolerance, and the seemingly lost cause of human respect. It gives me hope for our common lineage: love.

Comment on this post for a chance to win my copy of the book, to be drawn this Friday.

Are snowflakes really Christian?

December 4th, 2009    -    4 Comments

Today’s guest blogger Joanna Brooks grew up in a conservative Mormon household in the orange groves of Cold War southern California. Now, she’s an award winning writer and religion scholar working on Mormon Girl: An Unorthodox Memoir of Belief and Belonging. Find her at

The Starbucks cups have changed from green and white to red. Here in San Diego, that’s how we know the season has descended, lumbering down from the sky in a haze of petroleum fumes like a jumbo jet full of trouble.

My husband, David, is a Buddhist Jew. I’m a Mormon feminist. Which means, of course, we do it all—Hannukah, Christmas, walking meditation—and we pretty much do it all wrong.

Like the year I rushed to Target on Hannukah Eve to seize the last roll of always-always-understocked blue wrapping paper (anti-Semites! retail outrage!) only to discover upon arriving home that I had failed because there were white snowflakes embossed on the gift tags and according to David snowflakes are in fact Christian.

Or the year David made our first Christmas Eve dinner in our very own house—as a sign of his devotion, the most gourmet and goyische feast one could imagine, starring a roast pork loin stuffed with gourmet cubed bacon—only to end up spending the earliest hours of his Christmas morning hunched over a toilet hurling up bacon-stuffed-pork.

Ahead of us stands a full month of obligatory giftings, truckloads of sugar, frypans of spent oil, grocery sacks of potato peelings, barrels of crumpled gift wrap, kennel stays, viruses in waves, drought, bleating plastic toys assembled by the tiny fingers of Chinese children, long freeway commutes, pottytraining, baby Jesi (that would be plural for Jesus) stolen from manger scenes and nursed at the breast by young daughters, stacks of final examinations, computer crashes, missed deadlines, burnt tempers, hair and dust congealing on the floors, and two wars we never voted for grinding along in the background.

And somewhere in this mess, allegedly, is God.

What we do not have is a Christmas tree. Like many Jews, my husband is allergic to Christmas trees. It’s a social allergy with deep historical roots. What is the Christmas tree but the mermaid on the prow of the ship of Germanic cultural conquest, the USS Anschluss?

What we do have is our annual opportunity to redevelop our sense of humor. Riddles. Miracles. Tales of improbability and overcoming. For example, how does a virgin give birth? Or, how does one day’s supply of oil last for eight? Or, what happens to Jewish husbands who eat bacon-stuffed-pork on Christmas Eve? And, our personal household favorite, are snowflakes really Christian?

All around us the people of San Diego sense the earth turning away from the sun. They retrieve great rolls of dingy white batting from the rafters of their garages and anchor them to their thirsty lawns. They unstring great yardages of small plastic lights and plug into high voltage power grids. Like locusts, they begin to consume whatever sweet, shiny, noisy things appear.

David and I draw a bright circle around January 1. We break the emergency glass and don the magic goggles that will help us distinguish compulsion from custom from spiritual nourishment. We take one last breath of air untainted by sugar and plastic and gasoline fumes and clasp hands as the holiday season rolls in.

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It’s not you, it’s me

November 1st, 2009    -    19 Comments

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.

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