Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Lapsed Catholic Catechism: The old rules and how to bend them - AN INTERVIEW with the author, lapsed Catholic DANIEL FORD

HEADLINE: Lapsed Catholic's humor book has its Jewish moments, too

SUBHEADLINE: Daniel Ford was born in a Catholic hospital in Boston and grew up Catholic in the city area. Now in his 60s, the book author and New Yorker magazine writer has penned a humorous look at Catholicism, but without rancor or bitterness. Titled ''The Lapsed Catholic Catechism: The old rules and how to bend them," the book is available on Amazon as an ebook (although you can read on any computer, not just Amazon.)

SUBSUBHEADLINE: Being a bit of Jewish humorist at times, myself, I recently reached out to this Ford and asked him a few questions about the book, its genesis and its targetted audience, and the similarities between Jewish humor and Catholic humor. Since he grew up Catholic in eastern Massachusetts and I grew up Jewish in western Massachusetts and pretty much at the same time in the 1950s and 1960s, I was looking forward to this online interview, and Ford was kind enough to answer my trans-Pacific questions in Internet time.

THE INTERVIEW: When I asked him how he became a lapsed yet still-compassionate Catholic, Ford explained his background, and the background to his humor book, this way: "I grew up in the cocoon/Catholic ghetto of West Roxbury, Masschusetts -- born in Catholic hospital, went to Catholic grammar and high school. Within a few months of arriving at Harvard, however, I met kids from different backgrounds, and my eyes were opened. If Catholicism was the 'one true faith,' how come only Catholics knew it?''

When asked about his relationships as a young boy and as an adult with Jewish people, Ford told me: "At summer Boy Scout camp, Catholic and Jewish scouts -- from Brookline, Massachusetets, mixed -- I recall a Jewish camp counselor putting a hiking staff behind his neck and draping his arms over it, pretending to be crucified -- to goad me. I think I wrote home in tears to my parents that our religion was being mocked. At Harvard, however, I had two Jewish roommates, nice guys, and we became lifelong friends (with one now my lawyer, and the other my doctor). I've worked professionally all my life with Jewish collaborators; My sister married a Jewish man and she converted to Judaism."

Speaking more about his relationships with Jewish people, Ford said: "In our Catholic family, there was no ill feelings toward Jews. When my sister announced that she was marrying a Jewish guy she met at graduate school, my father's response was to go out and buy a paperback on how to speak Yiddish! And later, when he met his future son-in-law, he proudly showed him the Yiddish book to him, to which my brother-in-law responded the he actually didn't speak Yiddish but only English and French since he grew up on Montreal."

Ford's book is a compendium of Catholic humor of the lapsed kind. When I asked him what his favoriate joke in the book is, he pointed me to this one, noting:.

"It's the joke that comes after a description of how God abandoned his creation right after he set off the Big Bang."

Question: Did God leave someone in charge during His absence?

Answer: [Yes,] Dick Cheney.

Ford added that when he submitted the manuscript of his book to his agent, the agent said he cracked up at that one.

When asked if he knew any good jokes that he could tell here, Ford said: "

I liked the one about the definition of chutzpah -- with the kid who killed his parents asking for sympathy because he was an orphan. And I [also] like Jewish Princess jokes.

As for the afterlife or what comes after death, Ford had a humorous response as the ready, noting: "I hope I'll be in a comfortable chair next to the sea with a Kindle reader that has infinite battery life with downloads to the latest books still available.

I was curious what motivated Ford to write his book of Catholic humor, from the viewpoint of a lapsed Catholic American. Like many authors with a quirky book inside them just waiting to come out, he said: "I just got the bug in my head to do it -- it's quite different from the serious books I've written on nuclear energy and nuclear weapons -- and I thought it might appeal to high-school or college-age Catholics or lapsing Catholics as well as to nostalgic Catholics who hadn't had a

who hadn't had a poke in the ribs for years about their old religion."

And there you have it. Daniel Ford, author of ''The Lapsed Catholic Catechism: The old rules and how to bend them." His book won't appeal to everyone, but certainly Catholics and others with a sense of humor about religion, be they Jews or Moslems or Buddhusts, just might like it. I did. As an equal-opportunity humorist, it ticked my funny bones, but in a loving, compassionate way, which is the kind of humor I like.

And maybe Ford's book would make a nice gift you could give to cheer up any Catholic or lapsed Catholic friends you have.

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