JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Marc

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Earlier this year my sister in law, a lovely woman with two kids and a dog who jumps atop tables, took in a foreign exchange student with no place to live.

The kid was a high school senior from Thailand, and Leah (my sis in law) felt bad for his plight: He had been in the U.S. for a good chunk of time, but something had gone wrong with his host family, and either he found a new a place to stay, or he would be sent back home. I’ve always thought what Leah did represented true, unambiguous kindness—sight unseen, she gave up a place in her home. Beautiful.

The kid stayed with Leah for several months. I don’t think he was overwhelmingly happy. Leah’s children are young, his English was spotty, she works long hours. He was certainly lonely.

Anyhow, the student eventually left for another home in Ohio. We’re Facebook friends, and yesterday we received word that he was finally returning to Thailand. And that the family in Ohio had changed his name to Marc. And that they had introduced him to Christ, and now he’s a devout Christian.

Oy.

On the one hand, I don’t care. Whatever is whatever. But on the other hand—Marc?! The kid’s new name is Marc? That’s the best they could do? Were I to have an exchange student living in my home, and his English is mediocre, I’m changing his name to Tollbooth. Or Malikyoba. Or Freddiegotfingered. Something creative and cool. Furthermore, the whole Christian conversion thing … well, no good. I don’t care if it’s a Christian conversion, a Jewish conversion, a Muslim conversion—an 18-year-old kid away from home, half-adequate in the language, head spinning, should not be indoctrinated. Really, he shouldn’t. Why? Because he can’t possibly know better. He’s a kid. In a foreign land. Shuffled from one home to another. Suddenly surrounded by happy happy!

Again, it’s one of my problems with the whole recruitment element of organized religion. You rarely hear of some Harvard Ph.D being sold on religion, or a construction worker with three kids and a mortgage in Pittsburgh. It’s always the poor and vulnerable; the exchange student from Thailand; washed-out celebrities like Hammer and Tiffany. The sell is that your life is incomplete … that your life will get better … that we have the answer, and you can, too!

And, to show I’m not only giving it to Christianity, yesterday the wife and I visited with our friends who are ultra-, ultra-, ultra-Orthodox Jews. By ultra, I mean the beard, the endless stream of children, the aversion to most modern devices. These are wonderful people, but there is, undeniably, something perplexing about some of the actions. The school their children attend doesn’t allow families to have televisions. Literally, it is not allowed. Why? Is it because TV is damaging? Or is it because TV might show young Orthodox kids that there’s a world out there with color and fun and bacon? I don’t know the answer.

Faith—OK.

Faith used as a dagger—not so hot.