Poker-Faced Faith

Source: Newsweek 

Well, lo and behold the man and I have something in common after all.

Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows. Move over, Donald. And stop hogging the blanket.

To my utter surprise, I found myself last week having a rare moment of commiseration with the president. It had to do with all of the online reactions to his somewhat stony-faced expressions during the funeral of President George H.W. Bush. Tweeters and commentators alike had a field day with how he and the first lady failed to recite the Apostles’ Creed or sing any of the hymns during the service.

That the first couple chose not to recite prayers was in stark contrast to the presence of the former presidents and first ladies who sat adjacent to them in the same pew. Each of those “formers,” as they’re now popularly called, recited, sang, and otherwise chanted along with the other celebrants in attendance at the National Cathedral. It was admittedly a stark comparison between the current and formers.

Social media lighted up afterwards with snark comments about Mr. Trump’s body language and facial frowns during the funeral.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Although I’m used to regularly laughing and engaging in more than a bit of snark at the expense of this man’s many social gaffes, this time the criticism hit a slight nerve: I saw a little of myself in both his and the first lady’s demeanor. I usually sit in silence at religious services too.

Going to funerals is sometimes awkward, and for some people attending religious services can be awkward too. While I thankfully doubt I’ve ever displayed quite the same kind of pose or expression that Mr. Trump is showing in the above photo, I suspect family members of mine at various points have remarked amongst themselves about my own conspicuous appearance of detachment at religious services.

I know I generally sit and stare ahead with a fixed expression as I watch and listen to clergy. I suspect I give off a vague impression that I’m counting the minutes before I’m finally freed from the requirement of being there. A fellow groomsman once remarked after a friend’s wedding in which we were both participants, that I appeared to be more like a pre-nup drafter for the groom rather than the best man I actually was. Fortunately that couple remains blissfully married.

In college I was once tasked to offer grace at an end-of-term banquet for student government representatives and invited deans. I went to the library ahead of time and found a two-sentence, non-denominational prayer in an old etiquette guide for municipal government events. I remember starting and finishing the reading while some people were still “sh-shhing” everyone to quiet down. So I was asked to repeat it again because no one actually heard me. When I finished reciting it for the second time, I recall a unanimous approval to levy an additional 0.05% property tax form the purpose of improving city playgrounds.

What I lacked in ecumenical skills, I more than made up for in public service.

When it comes down to it, I’m just not comfortable with outward expressions of faith, even in a house of worship. Am I okay with you openly praying or chanting in church or temple? Absolutely. I, however, prefer to keep matters of faith and belief a little closer to the vest.

I do think about the scripture passages that are read at services, and I earnestly listen to sermons from clergy, which I often find to be stirring. When I’m in a synagogue, I follow along with the Hebrew in the prayer books and impress myself that it still comes back to me.

Like many of my peers in the years preceding our bar and bat mitzvahs during the early 1970’s, I learned to read and speak Hebrew while for the most part not understanding anything of what I was actually reciting. It was a rote, assembly line-like teaching and learning method that was one-way by choice, and it was perfect for my immediate Hebrew school posse of disinterested contemporaries. We learned our Torah portions for two or three years, and once executed at our own bar mitzvahs, we unceremoniously and unofficially fulfilled the requirements each had each made to our parents. Done. Fini. Sono qui fuori.

From then on, I took a detached, almost academic view of organized religion. It all fascinates me from afar (particularly Catholicism) but not enough to partake on my own accord. When called upon as an adult to say an aliyah at Jewish mitzvahs, I’ve made sure to practice beforehand to not embarrass myself.

Two of my three other siblings, however, took different paths and are much more aligned with their faith. Each are active in their respective temples, and religion plays a very important part in their lives. I receive greeting cards from them at Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah, and naturally I’ve been invited to all the mitzvahs for my nieces and nephews.

But none of my experiences or feelings about religion changes how I act or feel once I enter a house of worship — any house of worship. I do believe in God, or at least a higher power of some kind, and I am always respectful and interested in the services taking place in one. Were a network TV camera to be trained on my face, as it did to those at the Bush funeral, it might lead some to conclude that I am disinterested and disdainful of my surroundings. And that would be wrong.

So I give Mr. Trump a bit of a pass on his church demeanor last week. Just as I wouldn’t want others to come to wrong conclusions about me, I don’t think that we should necessarily jump to conclusions about him or the first lady either.

I am not blind to the fact that he cozied up to the evangelical Christian right in this country to get elected. Like many, I do find it laughable that a twice-divorced, Manhattan businessman who’s had numerous liaisons with models, strippers, and porn stars, actually convinced that particular cross-section of the religious electorate that he was “one of them.” Please.

But really none of that really matters to me as it relates to his mannerisms and private thoughts at the Bush funeral, or any religious ceremony he attends for that matter. I’m giving him the same benefit of the doubt that I wish to receive: don’t judge a book by its cover.

Of course, yet another old expression alludes to the habitual nature of someone looking, swimming, and quacking like a duck. But let’s not go there for right now. After all, we still have two years left to say the secret word and have Groucho pay us our $100 at the next election.

Source: TheMotionsPictures.Net

Until next time…


30 thoughts on “Poker-Faced Faith

  1. Hi, Marty – I’m avoiding the news so missed much of this backlash — thank goodness!
    Although I could never ever compare you with Donald (not even for a nanosecond), I am impressed by your reflection.
    I am now back to my news-avoidance with renewed determination!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I will only say three things in response to the photo you posted:

    1. I wish he would be that quiet most of the time.
    2. I think he puts hands under his arms like that to prevent him from tweeting.
    3. Finally, I have difficulty imagining the same turnout for his funeral.

    Marty, I applaud your ability to attend various services and support those who are in attendance. I tried that and was successful until, attending a Sunday service with my sister when her children would be singing in the choir. When the minister started talking about women in a less-than-equal fashion, I got up and walked out of the church,

    Thank you for finding some common ground with this man. The only time I do is when I find myself coming up short in patience or empathy.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I suspect he may have been thinking about his own funeral too, Eddie. But he can count on Scott Baio to give a eulogy for sure. 🙂

      Try as I may, and shockingly much to the apparent disapproval of progressives lately, I do make an attempt to follow Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high, we go high” mantra. This was in some ways my doing that because honestly, I was mad as hell when her husband’s own faith was questioned. If we start to question the faith of others, that’s a long and slippery road to travel. It’s best avoided.

      I would have walked out of your sister’s service too, I’m afraid.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting perspective. I’m less annoyed by his lack of participation (even though he is aligned with the very religious) than his look which I interpret as disinterested and disdain but I don’t know what he was thinking. Perhaps reflecting on what words would be used to describe him at his funeral. I was more surprised that his wife wasn’t more…ummm…I don’t know….participative or upbeat or something. Frankly I’m surprised he was allowed to attend. At the end of the day, it wasn’t about him at all so whatever.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think your last thoughts, Kate, were what the Bush family was hoping for. They apparently had to negotiate a kind of truce with him ahead of time to make it all work harmoniously. Melania is a bit of a mystery, which I guess is what she’s trying to achieve. A real life Mona Lisa, if you will. But then out of his presence she was quite animated at Barbara Bush’s funeral earlier this year. Maybe he just zaps all her joy.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I wonder if our so-called President can read. That was my explanation for his awkward behavior at the Bush funeral. It doesn’t surprise me that he doesn’t know the Apostle’s Creed or any Christian hymns because he wasn’t reared around them. But if all you have to do is read them off a piece of paper and then you choose not to do so, knowing that the eyes of the world will see you not participating, I gotta wonder if this fellow can, or has forgotten how to, read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, you do raise an interesting question, Ally. He’s known for completely rejecting all written background briefings and absolutely will not read any reports. So it does then make one wonder if perhaps there could be a learning disability there that’s never been revealed. Hmmm.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t watch the news. I do, however, remember that Bush the son said he couldn’t go to all funerals, so he didn’t go to any. (Might be a little hard to not go to his own daddy’s funeral, though.)
    I don’t go to funerals. I have a dark and twisty relationship with them. When my daddy died, mama had a “service” for him. My children kept looking at me, wondering why I wasn’t crying. I don’t cry…but I do get pissed.
    My daddy’s brother showed up, acting like he gave a crap. I remember mama telling me that my daddy would call him and find out that he had been fishing. He would tell him that he sure wished he would call the next time he went because he would like to go with him. That @sshole never called. Then he shows up at his service. I hate people like that. They show up at your funeral, crying and bearing flowers…and they wouldn’t give you the f’n time of day when you were alive
    That’s why I’m going to be cremated (anonymously) and thrown into the closest dumpster.
    People should get their flowers and kind words when they’re alive and can smell them and hear them…should they not?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You deserve better than a dumpster, Laurel. How about at least the beach?! It’s against Jewish law to be cremated, but my dad said the heck with that and wanted it anyway. For him it was the cost — he just didn’t want to see any of us have to pay those excessive funeral home prices. I think I’ll follow him in that decision. But right now? I don’t want to think about it– I’ve got too much left to do (and so do you!).


  6. Hi Marty, An interesting, thoughtful perspective that reflects more on your own character than Mr. Trump’s character. I really like your title. It speaks volumes. At some point in time, likely in emotionally charged circumstances, we have all tried to hide our true feelings. I agree with you…….Do unto others…….just be cautious if it quacks like a duck

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent writing, and I remember reciting Latin prayers in Catholic school and not understanding one word. 🙂 I watch/read/listen to as little news as I can get away with these days. It is too slanted, too negative, too depressing, and involves too much fear mongering. Do I want to spend my life watching facial expressions and interpreting what they mean on anyone’s face besides a family member or friend? No. Do I want to read Tweets every time anyone, let alone a politician, has a thought pop into their head? No. I’ll turn on my white lights, grab a cup of good coffee and my Lee Child book, and spend a few minutes enjoying the start to my day after reading your post. Have a good Wednesday yourself. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Naturally the Latin mass is the more interesting one— but that’s easy for an observer to say because I don’t have to worry about chanting it or even following along closely! I’m sure has I been a Catholic during Vatican II, the liberalization to the English mass would have been welcomed. It’s always us outsiders who prefer the traditions more. 🙂

      I too am really “economizing” on my news intake these days to keep my sanity. To paraphrase Barbara Bush, my beautiful mind deserves better.

      Thanks, Judy!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m no Trump-er, but I find it interesting that people made such a big deal over Trump’s lack of engagement during the funeral. Plenty of people attend religious functions out of respect/sense of duty/whatever and don’t actively participate for personal and/or private reasons. Sometimes value based (I wouldn’t expect a Jewish friend of mine to recite the Apostles Creed during the Catholic funeral Mass of my Dad) or energy based (large emotional investment in the death of a loved one) or whatever.
    However, as for his body language, facial expression etc…he just looked like how he always does while he knows he’s being watched…ick.
    Just sayin’…


    1. Totally agree, Laura. He didn’t make it easy for me to write this post! Public officials have to do certain things such as attend funerals, and they are overly scrutinized for sure. And I can be as snarky as they come, but I just don’t feel it’s right to question someone’s faith— even his. But good G-d, dude, at least put a better face forward! 🙄

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I grew up Catholic – elementary, high school, college – and knew all the prayers and responses during the mass by heart. Around 2011, the Church changed much of the text of the responses. Why, I have no idea. All that memorization and church going growing up…out the stain glass window. Now, when I do go to Church visiting with my Mom or on other occasions, I stand in Church and don’t say much of anything or sing as it would be apparent that I am not a regular church goer anymore–laziness mostly. 🙂 At least they did not change the times to stand, sit and kneel; otherwise, I would really look out of place. I have to wonder though at what others around me are thinking when I just stand there with a seemingly haughty attitude not participating as much. “Who…Who Does Not Want to Sing???!!!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They’re thinking, “Boy, he’s not very religious at all!” 😀 I think I can really appreciate how weird that would be to know a mass a certain way for so long only to have it suddenly change on you.

      Gentile friends have asked me over the years the difference between a reform and conservative Jewish service. I always jokingly answer, “About 45 minutes because a reform service has more English in it.” That’s not far from the truth either!


  10. Brave post Marty!

    Last night I was watching some re-runs from John Oliver and saw again the episode of Jeff Sessions quoting Romans 13 to defend the separation of children from their parents at the US border.
    How can one not cringe when, first of all the bible is used to defend inhumane actions, and second of all, but not unimportant, the passage quoted was not only taken out of context, but totally misunderstood (no surprise here).
    Separation of church and state…I thought it was something agreed upon, but then again I might have thought so much more that has been trampled on over the last 2 years.

    Funerals…weddings….OK, but there is where I draw the line and simply just out of respect to those for whom it is important. I sit and I listen and sometimes join in. I will always be puzzled about the lyrics that do not fit (and how the singers make them fit) and their lack eloquence , but the melodies can be quite beautiful (Mr. Bean did a good one on this issue… YouTube Mr. Bean in Church 2011).


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Elizabeth, your reflection on Senator Session’s comments in the light of today’s tragic news about the death of the little girl in one of the migrant centers is sobering but precisely on-point. If one is going to quote scripture, at least do it first in a correct manner, and secondly think about the human aspect in possible repercussions of such comments.

      And, yes, the mixing of religious doctrine with public policy continues to bewilder me. Sessions’ comments aren’t even half as bad as others in that party (former senator Rick Santorum wins some of the biggest prizes in my humble opinion). I find it galling and mind-numbing that we have to defend something that is an important underpinning to our democratic and constitutional systems as the separation clause.

      I tried in vain to use that Mr. Bean video in the post, but it didn’t seem to fit each time I tried it. Some of the best stuff always remains on the virtual “cutting room floor” of a blogger’s office. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I was raised Catholic and I turned out alright. Didn’t I? I’ve completely divorced myself from any religious institution but don’t have a dim view. The church was a great comfort to my mother and my wife still enjoys going. I accompany her on occasion. I still remember all the words and jecticulations.

    The religious right made a Faustian deal to get political muscle. We’ll see how that turns out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I’m glad you asked because…. KIDDING! (that lame coda just never gets old for me).

      I love pageantry and always thought the Catholic church was the best for those who were simply lurking like myself — the thurible alone is worth the price of “admission.” But admittedly, the endless parade of abuse disclosures are doing great damage. I hope in some way they ultimately become the sole reason for greater reform.

      I totally agree, re: religious right. Even as a know-nothing 20-something at the time, I knew we were in trouble once Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority became synonymous with Washington conservatism back in the eighties.


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