The Wednesday Writers: Jennifer Hoffer

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend Jen Hoffer, who lives across the street. (Post written in December 2017).

O Chrismakwanzukkah, O Chrismakwanzukkah!

My family and I were watching the live version of A Christmas Carol last night, which is based on a small Midwest town’s Christmas celebrations.  My other half turned to me and asked, “When you were growing up near Los Angeles, you didn’t get to experience things like a grand opening of a Christmas display in department store windows, did you?”

“Nope”, I replied, “but I’m pretty sure you didn’t have Kosher pickles and matzah ball soup alongside the Christmas ham!”

We all have our holiday traditions, each one as unique and different as the people who represent them.  We watch movies and shows, seeing Hollywood’s take on the “traditional” holiday setting, with it’s perfectly decorated trees and perfectly wrapped presents.  But the reality is that our holiday celebrations are more than that.  They are messy, loud, frustrating, quiet, quirky, happy, sad, and busy.  The holidays bring about memories and remind us of stories from long ago.

I come from a family with many different cultures that have melted together over the years.  My mother’s side of the family is Jewish, my father’s side of the family is Catholic/Protestant.  We have a mix of Irish, German, English, Norwegian, and Mexican family members who have added their own twist to things over the years.  Our family LOVES food, and some of my earliest memories of the holiday season involves unique foods people may not associate with the season.  One of my favorites is bagels and cream cheese with lox, onions, and capers (tastes WAY better than it smells) on Christmas morning while opening presents.  We also would make latkes (potato pancakes) with a little bit of butter and sugar on top (don’t knock it till you try it).  I remember visiting my paternal grandmother’s house and smelling the spicy scent of “Happiness Punch” (apple cider, Captain Morgan’s spiced rum, orange slices and cloves in a crock pot for the adults), and receiving a box of homemade tamales from my Aunt Mary.  After I got married, I learned about homemade Orange Julius, scotch eggs, and the amazing Krumkake (cookies in a conical shape filled with yogurt and whipped cream).  If I haven’t made you hungry by now, you have amazing willpower!

But the holidays aren’t always about the food.  It’s about the stories and the history of such traditions.  One of the traditions that we celebrate in my little household each year is Hanukkah.  I jest with my friends when I say it’s eight crazy nights filled with fried food, gambling, and fire.  It is so much more than that.

In truth, Hanukkah is a minor festival in the Jewish calendar.  Our most sacred days land in the September/October with Yom Kippur and Rosh Hoshanna.  But it gets a lot more attention due to its proximity to Christmas.

But what is Hanukkah?  Why is it important?

The story goes that a group of rebel fighters called the Maccabee were standing up for their religious freedom from a tyrannical ruler named Antiochus IV Epiphanes circa 200 B.C.  Antiochus had desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by building statues of other gods within the temple and slaughtering pigs in the sanctuary (BIG kosher no-no).  Over several years, the Maccabees took back the Temple and took on the task of cleansing it, worthy of being a place of Jewish worship again.  Once completed, the Temple had to be rededicated in a special ceremony, but there was only enough untainted holy lamp oil to light the temple for 1 night.  I took just over a week to prepare and deliver more oil for the temple, and the lamps needed to remain lit in order for the rededication to be valid.  The miracle witnessed was that one night of oil lasted for eight nights, just long enough for more oil to be prepared.  This miracle was a blessing after so many years of turmoil.  Hence, the word Hanukkah means “dedication.”

But what does it really mean to us?  In my family, at least, it reminds us that God is present in even the smallest miracles.  We use this time to prepare for the Christmas holiday by thinking of ways to help others.  Next to our Menorah that we light each night is a little metal piggy bank to donate money to the needy.  We go through our possessions and look for things to donate to food banks and churches.  In a season where the mass media focuses so much on the materialistic aspect of the holidays, we try to hold on to the meaning of our traditions.

What are some of the traditions you celebrate with your family?  Think of the some of the silliest or even the most somber celebrations you share with your loved ones.  Ask your relatives or Google the history behind such celebrations.  You might find some new reasons for the season.

********

JenJennifer Hoffer lives in Post Falls, Idaho with her spouse of 12 years and her family.  She has a 19-year-old stepson in college and a 7-year-old daughter, along with 3 dogs and 3 parakeets.  Jennifer holds a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration and Communication and works for a local healthcare system.  Jennifer is also the Social Media Director for LYDIA Inc. (a non-profit organization to help families with counseling and services, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico).  When she isn’t working, she spends much of her time geeking out on fandoms with her friends (such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Star Gate, Doctor Who, and all things Disney) and getting beaten at video games by her kids.  Jennifer is also the creator of the Healthy Hobbit.

Signature

SUBSCRIBE TO THE NEWSLETTER, REST STOPS ALONG THE WAY. PONDERINGS AND PUPPY VIDEOS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX EACH SATURDAY(ISH).

How I Came to Faith: Questioning Days

sunset-hair

Gentle Reader,

It was either Christianity or atheism.

I studied the other major religions of the world while in college. Polytheism (the belief in multiple gods, as in Hinduism, Shintoism and Mormonism) made no sense. How can one ever know which god to appease? What if appeasing that god angers another god? I was already an anxious person. I didn’t need that kind of pressure. Plus, these gods seemed far too human in their whims and warring. If I was going to believe, then I needed to believe in something wholly Other, something that transcended all flaws.

Islam was out, too. The extreme predestinationism of the religion made me wonder how Allah could hold anyone responsible for anything. I also hated how women were treated.  Judaism had some appealing aspects, but I couldn’t ignore Old Testament passages that quite explicitly pointed to Jesus fulfillment of the Messiah role.

I either had to fully embrace what I had been taught in my youth or reject it altogether.

After that logic and critical thinking class, I began to examine some of the statements my non-believing friends made. I wanted to know if their worldviews were internally consistent. Immediately I was confronted with a kind of moral relativism; you do what’s right for you, I’ll do what’s right for me and we’ll all get along.

What if, I asked my friends, it was right for someone to walk into the student union building where we all sat and start shooting people?

The quick consensus was that such an action would be wrong.

How could it be wrong?, I asked.

Because it hurts other people, and that’s wrong.

But why is it wrong?

My friends made a shift toward appealing to a higher, outside authority. It is wrong because the majority says it is wrong. But why is the majority right?, I pressed. What if the majority is wrong and this person who wants to kill people is right? Furthermore, who defines “right” and “wrong” in the first place? How do you have morality or ethics without using some religious code, usually a Judeo-Christian one? I really wanted to understand their position. I really wanted to see if this worked.

It didn’t. This moral relativism was just a thin cover for self-centeredness. I watched as one ran through a string of boyfriends and multiple abortions. She justified her cheating and the refusal to take responsibility for her actions – and then railed when she, in turn, was cheated on. My friends wanted to do what they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it, but they did not actually want others to have that same kind of freedom. This drew me back to the definitions of sin and selfishness.

In my science classes, I learned that we humans are, in a nutshell, nothing but a random collection of atoms. We are the result of chance mutations that happened to work. (Yet, in those same classes, we looked at case after case where mutations didn’t work. There wasn’t one positive example). There was nothing noble or unique about our existence. If this were true, I wondered, why then did humanity persist in trying to make our existence noble and unique? Why were we pressed to create art, to understand creation, to express our thoughts and feelings? Were we not at war with our own evolutionary makeup?

If we humans were nothing special, then why did school shootings matter? Why did anyone grieve at another’s passing? Moreover, if life really were about the survival of the fittest, why did we put forth so much effort in saving premature babies, to getting children with learning disabilities into special classes or providing care for the aging? Shouldn’t we let the process take its course?

Most interesting to me was the anger I saw in the atheists and agnostics I knew. I loved these people. We had great times together. Mention Jesus or God, however, and the fur flew. I wondered how they could be so mad at someone they didn’t believe existed.

Christianity is a force for evil, they said. Look at all the wars it has caused.

This got an incredulous look from me. I had been an avid lover of history for as long as I could remember and I could think of no war that was mandated by Christianity. Was God used as an excuse or as a rallying point in some wars? Yes. Did that mean that faith in God led directly to war? No.

There was a deeper consideration. If one does not believe that God exists, then faith is a moot point. Faith means nothing, for the Deity in which the faith has been placed is nothing. Therefore, the cause of war lay directly within humanity itself. Somehow, my friends did not agree with me. They wanted to blame some external “force,” mostly religion, sometimes politics. But was there anything actually external to humanity? Weren’t humans the ones behind, the ones making up, religion and politics?

I asked my friends if they thought that all the world’s problems would cease if nobody had faith in God. Many answered in the affirmative. Some were strangely quiet. You really think that nobody would ever be selfish, that no government would declare war on another, that everyone would be loving?, I asked.

Yes, the loud ones said. The others stayed quiet.

This was far too simplistic a view for me. Everything I knew of history, politics and psychology bore out the fundamentally flawed nature of man. Over and over again, I saw stories, myths, legends, even comic book themes of redemption. I saw humanity repeatedly crying out for something greater than itself to set the world to rights. The idea that we were progressing to some golden era where all evil would be eradicated seemed incredibly naive.

I noticed a fundamental arrogance in these interactions. Those who believed in God, particularly the God of Christianity, were stupid. If they would just open their eyes to reality, they would recant. They would stop being so weak. I wondered if my friends understood that they saw people they claimed to love as stupid. As idiots. As any number of insults.

I could not get past the lack of consistency. I began to interact with people online to see if, perhaps, I could find someone more “mature” in their atheism. The same level of anger and illogical circling became quickly apparent. One, however, surprised me in his honesty.

Politically, he was an anarchist, because his atheism led him to conclude that extreme individualism was correct. Nobody could define “right” and “wrong,” because “right” and “wrong” did not exist.

Philosophically, he was a nihilist, because his atheism had no room for giving life meaning. Meaning, he said, had to come from an outside source.

Most impressively, he told me that he did not want to believe in God. He told me that he would not worship God even if He were to appear in his room.

In one of our conversations, he asked me to provide evidence for God’s existence. I asked him to define what he meant by evidence. He couldn’t. Tentatively, I offered my thoughts on humanity’s consistent longing for meaning and redemption as fingerprints of the Divine upon our lives; perhaps we had these longings built into us as a way for God to call us back to Himself? He rejected that.

Back and forth we went. I offered him something. He rejected it. I noticed this pattern in other conversations and had to conclude that no evidence, not even God Himself appearing, would be good enough for anyone who had already determined not to believe. This didn’t make atheism intellectually superior, as many pronounced. This made  it an emotionally based viewpoint.

Again, I loved these people. I had great relationships with them.

But I could not get on board.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here