"Do we believe in heaven?"

Driving home from the farmer's market on Sunday, Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven came on the radio.

Elysha asked the kids, "What's the name of this song?"

"Stairway to Heaven!" they shouted in unison.

"And who sings it?" she asked.

"Led Zeppelin," they answered.

Elysha smiled and relaxed in her seat, feeling that her job was done. But then Charlie, age six,  asked, "What is heaven anyway?"

I opened my mouth to answer but Elysha began speaking first. She explained that some people believe that heaven is the place your soul goes to when you die if you've led a good life.

"Do we believe in heaven?" Charlie asked.  

Elysha said nothing for a couple seconds, and then, just as I was about to speak again, she said, "That's up to you. People have to decide for themselves. I'm not sure if I believe in heaven. I'd like to think it's exists, but I'm not really sure. But I hope it does."

"Just like I want to like cucumbers but I don’t really like them?” Clara asked. 

Yes," Elysha said. "Sort of."

There was another pause, longer than the first, and then Charlie said, "I don't think I believe in heaven, but I'm not sure, either."

"I believe in heaven!" Clara said, almost desperately. "And I don't want to talk about this anymore!"

That's Clara. Desperately pushing back on the darkness at all costs.

I said nothing. I didn't need to say anything. I thought Elysha was brilliant.

When asked if we believe in heaven. Elysha made it clear that her beliefs and my beliefs need not be Charlie's beliefs. She offered Charlie some information about the spiritual nature of heaven and then carved out a space for him to be himself. To search his heart and mind for what he believes is true. 

I've never believed that spiritual belief is passed from parent to child through genetics or hereditary. I don't believe that children should be expected to share the same religious beliefs as their parents. It's odd, I've always thought, that your religious beliefs might be determined by the religion of your parents, which was often simply determined by the religion of their parents.

In this scenario, your spiritual destiny was probably determined hundreds of years ago by someone you never met in some faraway place who decided to be one thing instead of another, and then decided that their kids would be the same thing, too. 

That's weird. 

Religion doesn't equate to eye color or height. It's Grandma's secret recipe for meatballs. Religion amounts to a determination about how and why the universe exists and what is expected of us while we live within this universe. It might be nice for parents to think that their children will grow up sharing their beliefs and traditions, and this often happens, but not because the child is engaged in a journey of spiritual self discovery and deep introspection. It's most often achieved through the powers of indoctrination, coercion, and familial and societal expectation.

To expect that a child will inherently share a parent's religious beliefs strikes me as selfish and ridiculous. Even worse, it denies that child the opportunity for self discovery.

It prevents them from being themselves. 

Elysha and I may be raising our children in the Jewish tradition, but we also celebrate Christmas and Easter because the secular aspects of those traditions are important to me. They remind me of my childhood and make me feel connected to my family.

But when our children ask us what we believe, we answer their questions honestly and then create the space needed for them to believe what they want. 

Clara and Charlie are afforded the opportunity to find their own truth. They are encouraged to search their hearts and minds to find what they believe or need to believe is true. 

I remained silent because Elysha did all of this so beautifully and perfectly. I sat back, steering our car down a little country road, as my children took one of many, many steps in finding their place in this universe. 

Their own place. One determined not by our beliefs but by what they will ultimately choose to believe.

Jesus was a brown, undocumented immigrant who crossed national borders illegally ill

For those awful human beings who believe that child separation on our southern border is an appropriate policy but also profess a deep and meaningful belief in a Christian God (or in the case of Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempt to use that Christian doctrine to defend this unrighteous action), this church sign is an excellent reminder that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were all refugees who illegally crossed national borders, too.

In fact, Jesus and his parents were more akin to the asylum seekers crossing our border today - impoverished brown families fleeing persecution and death - than any racist, white American who supported a President who called these people racists, thugs, criminals, and "bad, bad people." 

Also, since so much of Trump's immigration policy is based in racism (note that we only separate families with brown skin when the majority of undocumented immigrants arrive in this country via airplane and overstay their visas), it's also an excellent moment to remind everyone that Jesus's skin was probably just as brown as the immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers crossing our southern border.

I've been in many, many churches in my life, and I am always amused by the number of white Jesuses hanging on crosses at the front of the church.  

Jesus was a lot of things, but white was definitely not one of them.

In fact, if Jesus returned to Earth today (as so many Christians believe he one day will) and attempted to cross Mexican-American border, he would look very much like the Mexican and Central American parents who are currently being separated from their babies and toddlers by indecent, evil human beings who have forgotten the long lens of history and ignored the lessons found within their Bibles.

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What would Jesus do?

Attorney General and all-around bigot Jeff Sessions attempted to defend the parent-child separations that are taking place on the southern border this week by citing a passage from the Bible:

"I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes," Sessions said. "Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak, it protects the lawful. Our policies that can result in short-term separation of families are not unusual or unjustified."

I'm not a religious person, but I've read The Bible from beginning to end three times, and this is not so hard to understand. Christians simply need to ask themselves one question:

What would Jesus do?

Whether you believe that Jesus was the son of God, a prophet, or simply a smart and righteous guy, his teaching, as presented in The Bible, is unwavering and unambiguous.

Would Jesus separate a child from their parents?

Would Jesus refuse to bake a cake for two men who loved each other and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together? 

Would Jesus, a refugee himself, send asylum-seekers back their home country and an almost certain death?

Would Jesus cut permanently cut taxes on the wealthy while offering fractional, temporary tax cuts to middle class?

Would Jesus have voted for a man who brags about sexual assault? Defrauds Americans with a fake university? Lies constantly? Commits adultery with porn stars and then pays them off with hush money? Stands accused of sexual assault but almost two dozen women? Insults Gold Star families, war veterans, the disabled, and women? Refused to rent apartments to black families? Demands costly military parades? Befriends brutal dictators who have locked up hundreds of thousands of his citizens in gulags?

If Christians simply applied the "What would Jesus do?" question (and perhaps in some cases actually read The Bible instead of trusting the teaching of politically motivated religious leaders) to these policy decisions, the choices would be clear.

No, Jeff Sessions. The Bible does not support your barbaric policy of separating children from their parents on the border. Jesus would never do such a thing, and "What would Jesus do?" is is the only Biblical standard that should apply to Christians and/or bigots who attempt to use The Bible to defend their barbarity.  

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Evangelicals hate. Jesus would love.

Evangelicals would disagree, but this is exactly the kind of church that Jesus would love if he were here on Earth.

I'm not a religious person. I describe myself as a reluctant atheist, and that's about right. I wish I had faith, but despite a lifetime of effort, I've yet to find it.

But I've read The Bible - beginning to end - three times in my life, and I've read the first four books of The New Testament many times beyond that. I cannot imagine how Evangelicals - or anyone, really - could read the books of The New Testament (the story of Jesus) and not think that Jesus would support every word on this sign.

I have to believe that they have either never read their foundational text from beginning to end or have been taught to pick and choose between the Old Testament and the New Testament, buffet style, in order to better support their bigotry.

Transactional Christians. Not the kind of Christians who Jesus - human philosopher or Son of God - would want following him. 

I prayed for a full month. Here is what happened.

One of my yearly goals was to select three behaviors that I am opposed to and adopt them for one week, then write about my experiences.

Back in May, I prayed twice a day, every day, for a month, to see what might happen.

Would my heart or mind experience a transformation of some kind?
Would my prayers be miraculously answered?
Would God talk back to me?

As a reluctant atheist, it had been a long, long time since I prayed. As a boy, I can remember a period of time when I prayed each night before going to sleep. Oftentimes this took the form of the Lord's Prayer, but at other times I would pray for things I needed or wanted and for the health and security of my family.

I as a teenager, I found myself feverishly praying to a God who I no longer believed in when my girlfriend was late for her period.

I was desperate and decided to hedge my bets.

I also found myself asking God for help in a broom closet in the basement of the Bourne, MA police station back in 1993, but that was not a prayer as much as a question in need of an answer. I still didn't believe in God, but alone and in the dark, facing a monumental decision, I asked a God I did not believe in for an answer, and I may have received one.  

Since those desperate days, I had not uttered a word of prayer in more than 20 years.

During the month of May, I prayed in the morning and evening. I thanked God for all the blessings in my life. Prayed for the good health of my family, the future of our country, and the wisdom and strength to accomplish all that needed to be done on that given day. I even repeated the Lord's Prayer on several occasions.  

The results:

Sadly, I felt nothing in terms of greater spirituality. No sudden awareness of an ethereal being. No connection to the unseen entity to whom I was speaking. Not a hint of additional faith. 

Frankly, I didn't enjoy the praying at all. I felt a little... infantile. Like I was praying to some parental figure who would supposedly, arbitrarily, possibly bestow upon me an infinitesimal bit of his (or her) supposedly infinite power. I felt like prayer was the act of relinquishing control of my life and passing it onto some unseen other, placing my faith and hope for the future in someone else's hands.

I didn't like that. 

As much as I might wish to have faith, perhaps only for the existence of Heaven and something beyond this mortal coil, I wouldn't want to place my future in the hands of a God would may or may not decide to help me. As much as want to believe in a kind and just God (who frankly would be very different from the God of The Bible), I think I prefer to have faith in myself, my friends, and my family over an arbitrary, seemingly disinterested, and maybe even cruel spiritual being. 

I believe in me. I believe in the love of my wife and children. The support of my friends and family. The goodness of my fellow man. 

God would be nice, too, but if his (or her) power is infinite and the world continues to disappoint in so many ways, I can't help but think that we might be better off placing our faith in each other.    

I didn't finish my month of prayer with any greater faith or belief in God, but I might have found an even greater faith in myself and the people around me. Or at least an appreciation of it.  

So not a waste of time after all. 

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I've been told that I'm going to hell. I'm not sure I agree.

About a month ago, I wrote a post that criticized Pastor Greg Locke, an outspoken, Trump supporter who opposes the rights of gay, transexual, and transgender Americans and has gone so far as to call them mentally ill and criminal. 

Specifically, I attacked the ridiculousness of Locke's ""Don't you dare lecture us" rhetoric in response to Eminem's freestyle rap video about Donald Trump after it was clear that Eminem had already lectured to him and he had already listened to it. 

It's a bit of verbal puffery that I cannot stand. 

In response to this piece, a man wrote to me (via Facebook), saying, "Your going to hell."

After pointing out to the gentleman that his response required the contraction "You're" instead of the possessive "Your," I found myself wondering how someone who is religious found his way to believing that this blog post was enough to send me to hell.

As you may know, I'm a reluctant atheist, so the threat of hell is fairly meaningless to me. Even when I possessed faith in God as a child, I never believed in the existence of hell. But this man probably does, and he apparently believes that I am going to suffer eternal damnation as a result of my critique. 

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It seems like a bit of a stretch. One blog post and I'm forced to suffer the fires of hell for all time? 

I clicked on the parts of his Facebook page that are public, and he seems like a decent man. He lives in Hillsboro, Alabama and makes his living as a welder. He has a beautiful family. Smiling children. A seemingly loving wife. They are a family that seem to enjoy football and their faith.  

Yet he believes I'm going to hell.

Would he still believe this if he didn't know me via the Internet? Would he says these words to my face if we were eating a meal together? If our families were picnicking together? If we were watching a football game side by side?

I like to think not. 

Yes, I have my many flaws, and yes, as much as I wish I had faith in God, I don't.

But I want faith. I strive for faith. Does that count for anything?

I also have two cute-as-a-button kids with kind hearts and great minds who love me. I married a remarkable woman who still loves me eleven years after we were first married. I've dedicated the last 20 years of my life to teaching children in the public schools. I just spent a weekend in Kansas City, donating most of my time and expertise to help the poor, the homeless, and the underserved tell their stories. Last night I worked with the children of Holocaust survivors to tell their story. I've worked with ministers, priests, and rabbis to help them preach to their congregants. I have good friends who love me. Family who loves me. Neighbors who like me. I have a 16 year-old dog who my vet says is alive today only because I have given more time and money to her than any pet owner he has ever met. 

I have even been invited to lead a worship service at a local church in the spring. 

Am I really going to hell because I oppose the words of a pastor who calls my gay friends "criminal" and "mentally ill?" Am I going to hell because I support and love my transgender students? Am I going to hell because I stand against a pastor who supports a President who makes fun of the disabled, brags about sexual assault, attacks military veterans and Gold Star families, and lies with impunity?

Does this man really believe that the Jesus depicted in the New Testament would send someone like me to hell? I've read The Bible cover to cover three times, and I can't see the Jesus who I know from that book suggesting that I belong in hell.   

This is the problem with the Internet. People are emboldened to say things that they might never say in person. They type words that might never come from their mouths, feeling like digital distance protects them from judgment. They often become the worst versions of themselves.

Whenever I write something online, I ask myself, "Would I say this in real life?" Admittedly, I tend to say things that others might not, but I like to think that the thoughts, ideas, and opinions that i express online are the same as those I speak in real life.

I don't think enough people ask themselves this question. 

I'm not a bad person. Certainly not evil. If there is a hell, I am fairly confident that I will not be going there. 

I'm also fairly confident that if I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with this man, we would find more commonality than difference. More to like than to hate. More reason to be friends than to be enemies. 

I like to think that if he knew me, he might change his mind about my eternal damnation.

Is God now here, or is God nowhere?

This church sign in Newton, MA is fascinating. What did you see when you saw it? 

Presumably the intent was, "God is now here."

But if you're me, I saw "God is nowhere."

Spacing is everything. 

But maybe I'm being too presumptuous. Perhaps the minister or sign attendant or even the congregation took a long, hard look across the American landscape and thought, "What has happened to our country?"

  • A serial adulterer who bragged about sexual assault, attacked Gold Star families, publicly disgraced veterans, failed to keep his promise to release his tax returns, operated a fake university that stole millions from American citizens, and has spent more than 25% of his days in office on a golf course is now President of the United States.  
  • A billionaire's wife who never set foot in a public school is Secretary of Education.
  • A billionaire who spent his career suing the Environmental Protection Agency is now running (and dismantling) the EPA.
  • A millionaire who campaigned on the desire to eliminate the Department of Energy (and did not know it regulated the nuclear power industry) is now running the Department of Energy. 

Maybe whoever is responsible for this sign assessed the state of our country and decided that God is nowhere to be seen. 

Or perhaps this is a signal of an existential crisis. The minister or groundkeeper is doubting God's existence. Maybe the person responsible for the sign is like me:

 A non-believer who wishes he could believe in a higher power.

Maybe not the vengeful, wrathful, violent God of The Bible who sent 42 boys to death at the hands of two bears after they insulted a Hebrew prophet's hairline (2 Kings 2:23-25), but a kinder, gentler God who is less prone to pointing large, angry mammals at disrespectful children.  

I would like that kinder, gentler version God to be somewhere. 

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"Don't you dare..." are words most frequently uttered by morons

This is a tweet from Pastor Greg Locke, an outspoken, mouth-breathing conservative who opposes the rights of gay, transexual, and transgender Americans and has gone so far as to call them mentally ill and criminal. He's also a supporter of Donald Trump and many of his policies. 

Yesterday Locke tweeted this:

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If you haven't heard, Eminem produced a freestyle rap about Trump that has gone viral. It's angry, clever, pointed attack on the President and (more surprising) his fans who support Trump.

I have two comments on Locke's tweet:

1. His description of Eminem is ironically a near-perfect description of Donald Trump.  

2. More important, Locke did that stupid thing that people do.

He writes, "Don't you dare lecture us..." 

Don't you dare? He already dared. He produced a four minute freestyle rap video that clearly lectures about politics and that you clearly watched. How can Eminem not dare to do something that he's already done and you know he's already done?

Do you think he has a time machine? 

It's sad and stupid when someone uses this meaningless, overly dramatic rhetoric to try to make a point. Proper retorts to the "Don't you dare..." nonsense include:

1. Too late, wing nut. I dared. And you know I did. That's why you're talking about it. What is wrong with you?

2. Hey dumbass, this isn't a reality television show. The "don't you dare..." middle school melodrama doesn't play well in the real world where cameras aren't running and the words are meaningless. Give it a rest. 

3. Look at the angry little man, everyone! He's trying to tell someone who's already done something to not do that something. How transparently powerless and pathetically ineffective of him. What a train wreck of a human being. Kind of makes him look like a President who promised that Mexico would pay for a wall, Americans would have beautiful, inexpensive healthcare, the Dreamers immigration status would remain unchanged, the LGBTQ community would be supported at every turn, and that he would release his tax returns. All talk and no action.

This is not the Jesus you learned about in Sunday School

The odd thing about the America that so many Republicans (including the alt-right) desire is that it would absolutely reject Jesus if he were still alive today.  

After all, Jesus was Jewish.

He was very much a socialist.

He was homeless. A refugee.  

He was anti-death penalty. Anti-school prayer (Matthew 6:5). Anti-violence.

He strongly opposed the accumulation of wealth. 

He never said a word about homosexuality or gay marriage. 

And as much as the church might have you think otherwise, Jesus was not white. He was a brown-skinned Middle Easterner who wore sandals to the dinner table and hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes. 

Also, unlike our Vice President, he was able to dine alone with a woman who was not his wife.

There is no room for Jesus in the American that Republicans like Mike Pence envision. Brown skinned, Middle Eastern refugees have already been banned from our country. His anti-capitalistic rhetoric would be shouted down by Republicans. It would be difficult, if not impossible for him to attend a Trump rally without being verbally, if not physically, assaulted (and have Trump offer to pay the legal fees of anyone who hit him)..

There is no place in conservative, Evangelical, Trumpian America for Jesus, despite the fact that they invoke his name constantly. 

I keep waiting for the smiting.   

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Republicans don't read The Bible

Last month, the Republican Congress sought to repeal ObamaCare, slash Medicaid, and strip more than 35 million Americans of their vital healthcare.

They came one vote away from achieving that goal.   

This week they are at it again. A new, even more draconian bill is being considered in the Senate that would once again strip healthcare from millions of Americans, slash Medicaid, and eliminate pre-existing condition protections. 

What they never say is that the repeal of ObamaCare would also trigger a massive tax cut for the wealthiest of Americans. 

The Republican Congress is also attempting to pass tax reform, which they claim will simplify the tax code and give all Americans a tax cut. While this may be true, they fail to mention is that the vast majority of proposed tax cuts are for the wealthiest Americans. This effectively turns their tax cut (and the possible repeal of ObamaCare) into a massive transfer of public assets from the neediest Americans to the wealthiest Americans. 

Call me crazy, but taking healthcare away from children, the disabled, the poor, and other needy Americans while putting money back into the pockets of the ultra-wealthy strikes me as especially evil. In fact, it's exactly the kind of thing that Jesus explicitly advised against.

Read the first four books of the New Testament (or 1 Timothy), and the message is clear:

If you're wealthy, you'd better be using your good fortune to help the needy. 

Remember this often quoted bit of Scripture?

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

This comes from Matthew 19, where Jesus tells a wealthy man to sell his possessions and give to the poor if he wants to gain access to heaven.

Jesus really couldn't have been clearer on the issue. If you're wealthy, you'd best be helping the poor. 

I don't happen to be religious. I'm a reluctant atheist who wishes he believed, but in my search for faith (and because I was an English major in college) I have read The Bible cover to cover three times, and I'm absolutely certain on Jesus's views on these matter.

It's indisputable.

As a result, I can't help but seriously doubt that most Republican lawmakers have actually read the Bible. Members of the GOP are constantly citing their faith in God and appealing to groups like Evangelical Christians for support, yet their deepest, most consistent desire is to transfer wealth away from poor, working, and middle class Americans to the wealthiest Americans.

I know that Jesus preached nonviolence, but I honestly think he would punch some of these Republicans in the face for wrapping themselves in the cloak of Christianity while knowing nothing about one of it's most important tenets. 

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Religious folk shouldn't be filled with so much hate

A waitress with a pro-LGBTQ tattoo received this note from a customer. 

I realize I am a reluctant atheist, but in my lifetime, I have read the Bible from cover to cover three times (which is more than many ardently religious people), so I am familiar with the teachings of Jesus. 

And yes, while it would admittedly run counter to everything Jesus taught, I am fairly certain that he would at least want to punch this bigot in the nose for invoking his name in support of intolerance and hate.  

I like to think that even Jesus had his limits.

Suck less

I love this sign. 

We live in a world where the President of the United States opened his very first Cabinet meeting by having each of his Cabinet members praise him as the television cameras rolled. Then he praised himself by declaring himself the post effective President in history with the possibility of Franklin Roosevelt. 

Americans laughed at this demonstration of fealty. Ridiculed him incessantly. Even the President's closest allies mocked this ridiculous display.

What people like Donald Trump fail to realize is that actions like these do not project strength. In fact, they do exactly the opposite. They demonstrate weakness, desperation, a lack of self confidence, and the cloying need to be loved. 

If you want to appear strong, you must do exactly the opposite. Vulnerability projects strength. Honesty and authenticity project strength. A willingness to acknowledge one's flaws, foibles, and failures is the way to demonstrate to others than you are strong in both mind and self. 

We all suck. We can all suck less. And if we all sucked less, we might just save the world.

The first step to sucking less is knowing that you suck. 

I suck. You suck.

Donald Trump really sucks. The sooner he acknowledges that, the better off we'll all be.  

My children's personal ten commandments are beautiful, heart wrenching, and completely applicable.

My kids were studying the Ten Commandments at Hebrew School this week. As part of the lesson, they were then asked to come up with some commandments of their own. 

My daughter's commandments are beautiful. Much better than the Bible's ten commandments, which waste the first three on God's obsession with being the best and only God and forbid adultery (#7) but say nothing about rape.

Also, there's the commandment that orders that Sundays be kept holy (#4), which is ignored by almost everyone in America and is especially ridiculous during football season. 

Here are Clara's commandments. Nine in all. 

  1. Have fun!
  2. Let me tuck and kiss my brother at night.
  3. Eat good food.
  4. Have friends!
  5. Have a good education.
  6. Get good helf care. (healthcare)
  7. Do not bother me when the door is close (except at night).
  8. Be kind, respectful, and responsible every day. 
  9. Let me have flowers in my room. 

Charlie's commandments are fewer in number and much more like the commandments that his father would write. 

  1. Do not die. 
  2. Love. 

They also kind of say it all. At least for me. And brevity is the soul of wit. Right?

Simplify your life. Just love everyone. Even if you're a bigot.

I love this sentiment. Even as a reluctant atheist, I love it.

Not only would it make the world a much kinder place, but if you believe that Jesus was the Son of God (or even just a solid guy), the message on this church sign also adheres to one of his clearest and most repeated messages, stated most simply in Matthew 22:39:

"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

Take solace, bigots. If you think that same sex marriage is an abomination, or if you think transgender children should be forced into restrooms that make them uncomfortable, or if you believe that African Americans or Mexicans or the Irish (shout-out to old school racists) are sub-human, why not just leave everyone alone and trust in God to deal with these people in Heaven?

Eat some ice cream. Take a walk. Adopt a cat. Learn to play pinocle. Do something for yourself with the full knowledge that these terrible, rotten, no good, very bad people will be punished for eternity by someone more powerful than you.  

Just love everyone. It'll allow you to remain a bigot but will also allow you to enjoy your life a little more and shout a lot less. 

"Merry Christmas" is perfectly fine. But the existence of Jews should not be a secret.

Conversation between a cashier and me at a local restaurant on the morning of December 24:

Me: (handing over a signed receipt) Happy holidays!

Cashier: You know what? I'm going to wish you a merry Christmas! Donald Trump said that we need to say 'Merry Christmas' more often, so I’m going to do that... (leans in and shifts to a whisper voice) ... even though there are a lot of Jews in West Hartford. 

Me: (shifting to a whisper) Like my wife and kids over there? And lots and lots of my friends?

Cashier: (looking a little startled) Yeah. She wouldn’t be offended. Would she?

Me: Not nearly as offended as I am about Americans voting for a bigot and sexual deviant. 

Cashier: (stares) 

Me: Happy Hanukah.  

Elysha missed all of this, of course, but as she left the restaurant, she waved to the owner and shouted, "Merry Christmas!"

Icing on the cake. 

For the record, I have no problem with people wishing others a "Merry Christmas."

A "Happy Hanukah," "Joyful Kwanza," or "Blessed Eid al-Adha" either. 

It's slightly presumptuous to automatically wish others a "Merry Christmas" given that more than 20% of America is non-Christian, but I judge on intent. No malice is intended with a simple "Merry Christmas." It's a simple pleasantry that is occasionally off the mark.

No different, really, than people who say, "God bless you," to me when I sneeze. I could explain to them that I'm a reluctant atheist who has been unable to find faith in God (and I sometimes do), but I never take offense to their offer of Godly intervention on my part.

They mean well. 

Frankly, "Happy Holidays" is just as presumptuous given that about 20% of Americans now consider themselves non-affiliated to religion. Atheists. Agnostics. Secular humanists. For them, December is just another month, absent of any holiday whatsoever.    

If you're Jewish or Muslim or an atheist and are wished a merry Christmas, you can either accept the sentiment as intended kindness or take the time to explain your belief system. 

No big deal.

But when you feel the need to whisper about the existence of Jews in a town and base your seasonal greeting solely on the advice of bigot, I'm probably going to respond in a snarky manner.