Religion & Beliefs

Introducing Amy Guth!

This week on FaithHacker our guest editor is Amy Guth, writer extraordinaire. Amy Guth is the author of Three Fallen Women, which she is perpetually schlepping around to pimp out. Between travels, she's the woman with the pink-stripey hair usually … Read More

By / August 20, 2007

This week on FaithHacker our guest editor is Amy Guth, writer extraordinaire. Amy Guth is the author of Three Fallen Women, which she is perpetually schlepping around to pimp out. Between travels, she's the woman with the pink-stripey hair usually starting up the horah at MOT get-togethers. Keeping true to her stick-it-to-the-man Hebrew namesake (Shifreh), she has written about feminism, sexism, tikkun olam, tzedekah, blaxploitation, social reform, media literacy and all sorts of other things for The Believer, Monkeybicycle, Bookslut, Hungry Chicago, Four Magazine, JewishFringe.com, and The Complete Meal, among others. She blogs Bigmouth indeed Strikes Again about everything, Granola Bar D'var about jewy eco-kasher goodness, and a few other spots here and there, has collaborated on a few shows within Second City's Training Center and is an assistant fiction editor at 42 Opus. The select few remember the days when she dabbled in improv, as well, including the night she was the "Kill Whitey" crayon. Stalk her silly at Guth-a-Go-Go.com.

Last week Amy and I met up at a coffee shop in Chicago to talk about what we love, like and wish. Plus, boys, tattoos, and lots of Jewcy goodness. Here's some highlights of our conversation:

 

TF: In your book, Three Fallen Women, there are a lot of non specific spiritual revelations. Why did you decide to keep Judaism out of it explicitly? Do you feel like there's a difference between Jewish spirituality and other kinds of spirituality? What is it? AG: To me, the spiritual is the spiritual. I don't think there's one true path; I think that whatever you feel in your bones is right for you. I love Kol Nidre, for example, and during services, I can't help but feel like there's nowhere else in the world I'd rather be and nothing else I'd rather be doing. Any sort of spiritual practice that brings that feeling about is right for the person doing it, including, in my opinion, seemingly secular activities that anyone finds joy or meaning through. I had this coach that I trained with for my first marathon who used to say something like "running is my religion" and I knew just what she meant. She didn't mean anything about rote or routine, but that feeling, the same as the feeling I also get on a great run and in the example I used of Kol Nidre. It's right for her down to her bones, so she finds spiritual meaning in it. I can dig that for anyone from any background. You know, I think I'm always thinking about the ethereal and the spiritual so much that I didn't really ever make a conscious decision, I just wrote about my world view, really. I had a few Hebrew words and some transliterated lines from Mourner's Kaddish in the original manuscript of Three Fallen Women, but I cut them in the end for accessibility. I was writing about pretty universal themes, and didn't want to exclude anyone from it, or alienate a reader for not, say, knowing a particular word, or knowing what it means to say Mourner's Kaddish.
TF: What do you consider your most spiritual practice? Why? AG: I think I already started to go here a little in my previous answer, because I don't necessarily weigh one thing as having greater spiritual weight than another out of the things where I find meaning. And, it's always changing. I find meaning in some things for ages then one day, it doesn't fit. To me, that's a very Jewish thing– to have the freedom and sense of self-reliance to know when it's time to try something new, or do something in a new way or even to abandon it entirely, if need be. I tend to not categorize things as "Orthodox stuff", "Reform stuff", etc., but just to do what feels right. I just try to listen to my gut and do well. But, if I had to pick one thing, I would have to say that I could boil my entire spiritual life down to trying to be as compassionate as possible. I try to know where my money goes when I buy something, how my products and foods were manufactured/grown, who my choices benefit/harm, and I try to just keep things simple and go with the kindest possible option. I do this occasional feature on my blog Bigmouth Indeed Strikes Again, called Guthmantics where I interview an author. A few weeks ago I interviewed Margaret Sartor, author of Miss American Pie, who I read with in New Orleans last spring. She said something in the interview that I ended up blogging about a second time: I wrote, "I keep thinking about that beautiful thing Margaret Sartor said on here the other day when I interviewed her: 'I believe that compassion is a kind of power and kindness may be the one virtue that can save us all — if it's not already too late.' And, I believe that so hard that it almost makes my chest hurt. That sentence is my religion, my world view, a summary of everything I really believe in." TF: What do you find to be the most frustrating thing(s) about the Jewish community today? AG: I feel like there are a lot of things that people assume without really knowing and make a lot of declarations about what we should and shouldn't be doing as Jews, when I feel like Judaism is such an encompassing thing and, I mean, really, it's really constructed to find things for yourself, I feel. It's built to live and let live in a way, so when things arise, I really hear it because it seems so antithetical to what Judaism is to me. But, even in saying that, I'm sort of doing just that. I suppose in wanting to freedom to make Jewish choices, I have to give people the space to think there isn't room for anything but by-the-book. TF: Where do you go to shul? What do you love or hate about it? AG: Oh, my rabbi would be so mad if a stalkery type showed up at services. I like having a designated place to just sit and be and think, and I like the sense of community that being a member of a shul offers. What don't I like? Hmm, not much. I guess it's a little un-fun when it becomes about politics and committees instead of encouraging and supporting each other. TF: What's your favorite part about the High Holidays? AG: I love anything that feels tabula rasa. A new start. The High Holidays are so inspiring in that way to me. A sort of life inventory, outward and inward, and really sitting with myself and my thoughts (I tend to write a lot of essays around the High Holidays) and thinking about how my choices affect my life and the people around me I care for. Maybe a little hokey, but true. TF: I know you have this blog, Granola Bar Dvar. What's the impetus behind the blog? AG: I have my main, general blog, Bigmouth indeed Strikes Again, and a couple of side blogs, including Granola Bar Dvar, where I take the weekly parsha and think about it in the most practical, earthy and applicable terms I can, which usually ends up pointing to environmental, social and interpersonal issues. It was really something I did secretly for a while just to kick around ideas about the world and people, in my own sort of outside-the-box granola way, and it came pretty naturally to me. I hear something, anything really, and think about how it relates to my life in practical and applicable terms and I wasn't seeing much of that out there, so I tried my hand at it and really got a lot out of it. I like taking a time out and writing a piece for Granola Bar D'var and thinking about the spiritual and the things we can't know but can only really consider. That said, I'm a jerk and I haven't updated it in a bit. What's your earliest Jewish memory? AG: Latkes. TF: It seems like you're a really disciplined writer. How have you gotten that discipline, and has it been helpful in other areas of life? How? AG: Thanks, I try to be. I think I am fairly disciplined in most areas of my life. Maybe even too much in some areas, if that's even possible…? No, not really. I mean, I'm human, whatever. I do yoga, I'm a distance runner, and when do those things or write, I tend to put a song on a continuous loop for… something like mantra-like steadiness. It's not as compulsive as it sounds, and not based in compulsion at all, really, but in the way the repetitive sound and motion gets my brain to turn off of the daily blah-blah and lists and such and sort of open up and let me get down to the real things to think about and consider. TF: Can you tell me something about your next book? AG: It got a lot of stripped down elemental stuff in it. A lot of fire and water, but in subtle ways. Some of the woman-breaks-out-and-does-the-thing-people-think-she-cannot themes are in there that are present in Three Fallen Women, I think, but that just might be my thing, at least for now. I try to do new things and creep myself out to have new experiences. That's the name of the game, right? TF: How do you feel about this whole "trendy Judaism" thing? Do you think Judaism is cool? AG: Well, I have mixed feelings about it all. On one hand, I hate how Kaballah has been co-opted and made trendy. I hate hearing things like "Ashton and Demi were married in a Kaballah-style ceremony". I'm like, what the hell is that? Kaballah isn't a religion! That'd be like saying, "Oh, we had a Vacation Bible School-style wedding", I mean, seriously? It doesn't make any sense to me, and, frankly, I think it's so disrespectful to the people who– according to tradition– became both Torah and Talmud masters prior to Kaballah study. I mean you devote your whole life to this study and then Madonna and Paris put Kaballah on like a new pair of Blahniks. I can't stand that. If someone wants to convert, by all means. Get thee a Rabbi! But Brittney Spears running around with that Magen David seems trite to me. It makes me want to scream, "She's not my people! That's not how we are! She's not Jewish! I'm not like her! She doesn't represent me!" I hear it's hip for non-Jewish guys to wear kippot and got to Jewish singles events lately, in order to pick-up Jewish women, which I think is both hilarious and rude. I mean, how different would the world be if we all were just our authentic little selves instead of crap like that? So, things like that feel more like a mockery of us that's probably a side-effect of the trendy-Judaism. Then again, I think maybe Jew Stuff being more on mainstream radar offers some myth-dispelling and maybe is a little bit helpful, at least in a positive way…? Maybe? I say that and I don't even know if I really believe it. I guess the bottom line is that I think there's probably more in the "unforch" column then the "forch", when it comes to this. I mean, VH1 has talking head shows devoted to Jews, Sarah Silverman did the "Give The Jew Girl Toys" song that was so funny, Borat made for great Satire, young non-Jewish Deadheads and Rasta kids are all over Matisyahu, and all of that's positive, but it's tricky (and sometimes awful) to see Jews represented when we're deadling with a religion that's so based in personal choices and practices. I mean, we all "do Jewish" differently, you know? It's nice to see non-Jews enjoying or appreciating our Jew Stuff because that's probably building bridges of some kind ultimately, but it's so uncomfortable when my neighbor asks why I don't wear a "red string bracelet like Madonna's". All of that said, sure, I think Judaism is very cool. I'm proud to see the world through my own brand of Jewish filters.