Marta Maria

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Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Faith and the Child

We live in a time of unprecedented human prosperity. There are no fields to plow, wells to dig, houses to build. Instead we sit around on our butts most of the time talking about politics and relationships and, sometimes, even God.

I've never really been "into" God or religion, but if you pay attention you'll learn there are all kinds of people out there that are thinking about Him or Her everyday. Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists - they are all thinking about God and what He (or She) wants for their lives. To me those who talk about God are akin to those who talk about baseball. I mean I listen to them talk about this great exciting thing, but at the end it's just sitting on your ass watching a game on television, and, if you are a Mets fan, the game usually ends up in disappointment.

I can trace my lack of feelings for the higher power to two key sources.

1) a fear of Jesus.
People say they love Jesus, but as a child I had a very strong fear of him and his long, pointy nose, eerie beard, and "knowing' eyes. I was told that he saw everything I did, so I was afraid that one day I'd be taking a leak and look out the window, and there he'd be, creepy glare and all, watching me pee, making sure I did it properly.
The worst though were the images of Jesus in the church, of him nailed to the cross with blood gushing from his hands and feet. I felt no kinship with this man, but I learned words that were to follow me like "sin" and "we fear you and love you." It all seemed too bizarre for me to grasp. I still haven't gotten it yet. Bottom line, Jesus scares me. I feel awkward "accepting him as my personal Lord and Savior."

2) a fear of groups
In college, which I hoped would be a multicultural, freewheeling place, people quickly separated into their little groups. Oh, the Catholics talked about religion with the Jews and so on ... but who were they kidding? How do they know what God wants, let alone if He (or She) even exists? It seemed like some sort of perverse role playing game. "Well, my God says this about your God, so there." A true test of my strength came on Lent when all the Catholics were talking about what they gave up. Each year I told them I had given up smoking - as I have never smoked in my life. Then came Ash Wednesday, where all the believers made sure they knew who each other were by having some charcoal cross displayed on their forehead. I decided right then and there that no matter how cool it must feel to be amongst "the chosen" there was NO WAY that I was going to play this game of religious grouping with people.

From that point on I became a sort of benevolent nihilist. I didn't believe in anything, but at the same time, I wasn't very angry about it - like the Atheists who vehemently deny the existence of God. It's just that - I didn't and I don't care much either way. It's not that important to me, just like baseball isn't that important to me.

Enter into this the existence of my daughter, who so far has been brought up ostentatiously in the Protestant faith. She was baptized Episcopalian, but we never go to church. We do live across from a Catholic Church and I feel that of all religions, it is the Catholic religion with its reliance on guilt to motivate people that I have inherited. But what do I tell my daughter about God and the Hes and the Shes and the Theys.

Fortunately my wife is much more sympathetic to belief systems. But I think the best route to take is to allow Marta to have access to religion so she can determine for herself whether or not she believes in it. The last thing I would like to do is to push my beliefs or lack thereof on another person. But I am sort of at a loss as to what I can do to make it more of a choice for her. Should I take her to church sometimes, even if I have no interest in going? Should I push her through Communion and Confirmation, even if I found the events of little interest or usefulness later down the road? At what point does "playing along" become indoctrination, and is it really correct for me to suggest that Marta should do something, even while I don't believe that it's worth it?

Ugh. These are tough questions to answer. Can anybody help me out here?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Marta Needs a Sibling

I don't like accepting it, but the reality is that I am an adult. I can't jump up and down on the bed because I'll hit my head on the ceiling. I can't do a roll and tumble on the floor because I'll most likely sprain something or knock over some furniture. And my crayon abilities are limited to drawing exotic-looking fish. I can play "Old MacDonald" on guitar, and I'm a fairly good playmate - but I'm a substitute for a real playmate for my daughter. I can dance to "Zoe's Dance Moves" - but I have a hard time getting into it.

There's the big empty crater in our family life - where Epp wants to sort laundry and I have to work and Marta desperately wants a playmate, and I have been led to believe that somehow having two Martas, or rather a Marta and an Anna, or a Marta and a _______ ( a male name has not been agreed upon) could fill it.

I wonder if this thinking is flawed though. Will adding a family member naturally mean that my two children will cooperate? Perhaps they'll hate each other and each one will approach me individually and beg me to draw this or dance over there or catch the ball. Plus I like the really close relationship I have with Marta, and with my life as it is, it seems like it could be difficult to include a whole other human being's life and interests in my jam-packed lifestyle.

But I am sure many childless couples have had similar thoughts: "If we have a child, I won't be able to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan in the movie theater" they think. Silly barren adults - that's what Netflix is for!

And so the desire to expand the Petrone franchise also comes with it the requisite doubt about my abilities as a father to "rustle in the dough so the scenery is healthy where her eyes lay" - as Posdnuous, the De La Soul rapper puts it in their song "I am: I be." Good thing life has a way of making those decisions for us.

All hail biology!