If we value honesty so much, why do we tell our kids there’s a Santa Claus? One of the most elaborate lies of all time. At the tender age of 11, a friend reveals the earth-shattering truth and, upon some light investigation, they discover the gifts in mom’s closet... From Santa. From Santa my ass. But I guess this opens up a whole can of worms that reek of bullshit. Santa. The tooth fairy. The Easter bunny. Heaven. God. (Oh stop your gasping.)
On Thursday night, my brother and I went back to the homestead to attend a memorial service, hosted by the local funeral home. A tribute to all those who died in the last 12 months. Our father included.
Hymns were sung. Holy words were spoken. I heard the word “father” over and over and over. But they were not talking about my father. They were talking about the father. You know, the one with the Son and Holy Spirit to boot. That elusive, three-fold enigma.
I had brought my inner skeptic with me. Righteous dudes, who is this God person we’re talking about? I’m here to think about my father, not the father of humanity who seems more the stuff of legends than reality. I know my dad existed, and still exists in me and in everything I do. But you have to admit – the rest sounds a little sketchy.
When we sang How Great Thou Art, I was singing about dad. How great he was.
“When through the woods and forest glades I wander,
I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze...”
My dad loved nature. So for me, those lyrics are about what he enjoyed, not what God created. Sue me!
Don’t get me wrong; I was touched by the event. The mutual loss. A room full of people who will celebrate (or lament) this Christmas with an empty chair at the dinner table. Words floated up into the air above our sadness, spelling out I know how you feel. The genuine sympathy of those employed by the Grim Reaper themselves, working under a cloud of death, day in and day out; a well-deserved paycheck. In the past 52 weeks, 82 people had died in our town and surrounding area. That’s about 1.5 deaths a week. And with an ever-aging community, those numbers will continue to rise. Corpses flying. In fact, another funeral home is about to open any day now. Maybe the cost of caskets will drop. Deadly.
I giggled a couple of times. A few righteous brothers were raising their hands to the sky, eyes closed, all full of the trinity and what not. Dad would have looked at me with that notoriously foolish face, subtly mocking the drama; so I did the same to mom. When one musical act was performing, a hot mess indeed, I drew a thumbs-down sketch on my program and flashed it at mom. When I saw her blank-faced expression, I took a second glance at my drawing and realized – it looked just like a penis.
How do you take the whole God thing seriously when your brain is full of dinosaurs and evolution and comparative anatomy? We came from fish, you know. Explain that, Pope. And yes, I know there are wonders all around us that defy science and logical explanation. But all in all, the God thing is a bit of a stretch. I’m not atheist; I’m just a half-assed believer. Seriously, can you blame me? (Note to self: rent Contact again.)
There are two reasons I choose to sort-of-believe...
Reason one: my dad. A super intelligent man with a faith so profound, there simply has to be something to the fuss.
Reason two: Max. I don’t want to raise a child on bullshit, but more importantly I don’t want to raise a cynic. My boy must be full of hope and possibility. I will introduce him to my religion – WhoFuckinKnowsism. The principles of this doctrine? Many things are unlikely, but anything is possible. There is no absolute knowledge; I know nothing, and neither do you. I have doubts; everyone does – and should! And if someone says they have no doubts, they’re full of horseshit.
I’ll tell Max about Jesus and all that good stuff. The life lessons of the parables beat Aesop’s fables, hands down. I’ll give Max the information (and the hope) and one day my little Christian can decide for himself.
After all, how can I tell him about Santa but not God? God. Santa. Heaven. Yes, they exist. Well, probably not. But maybe. Let’s just say it’s more likely than not that they exist. Let’s go with that. And have something to look forward to. Besides a satin-lined box in a cold, cold ground.
Max watched his first movie on the big screen a couple weeks ago – The Polar Express. I had seen it before, of course. But the theme is even more relevant to me now in my motherhood. It’s a story about believing in that which you cannot see. They’re talking about Santa. But I think they’re also talking about God.
Perhaps what feeds my inner skeptic most is the image we conjure up in our mind’s eye. Heaven: a place in the clouds where the deceased go to hang out and play harps and eat Philadelphia Cream Cheese. God: a gentle-faced, white-robed chess master way up there in the Almightosphere, surveying his handiwork but unable to interfere. (Let’s go with this theory since I’d hate to imagine an all-powerful being simply choosing not to prevent the Holocaust.) Santa: a jolly geezer in a creepy red suit, delivering toys to children all around the world in one night.
Forget the imagery; let’s focus on the feeling. An emotion without flesh or postal code. It’s believing in what is possible but not proven. It’s HOPE. And hope is more essential to life than air and water. Especially when life gets tough. Which it always does, sooner or later. For all of us.
I don’t know for certain about God, or Heaven, and I have epic doubts about that Kringle fella. The only things I know for certain: hope springs eternal and love is immortal. Love is the miracle that doesn’t rely on fantasy or organized religion. It spans all space and time, beyond death, beyond all the material bullshit in which we are immersed. Forgive me all you jovial Jesus fans, but at the memorial service I was not feeling the love of God; I was feeling the love of my dad. But maybe, and I think dad would agree, they are one and the same. I’m not saying my dad was God (although some might say he was a deity of sorts); I’m saying that God is not a person or a place or even a He. God is just another word for Love. Plain and simple. And in that case, I wholeheartedly believe.