The Faith Between Them
In a joint memoir, Peter Bebergal and Scott Korb chronicle how their friendship has inspired their faith.
By Astrid Storm
Most women suffer from an abiding curiosity about just what guys talk about in private. According to “The Faith Between Us,” a dual memoir by Peter Bebergal and Scott Korb, it's definitely not what we assume. Peter and Scott's friendship developed around their shared belief in God, and the 10 essays in this book, which explore how they live that faith out in the world, touch on topics ranging from monogamy, marriage, prayer, food, children, playing musical instruments, and bird watching.
A Jew from the Boston suburbs, Peter is the prodigal figure. After looking for (as he puts it) God in drugs, rock music, sex, and just about anything dangerous, his adult religious interests lead him toward a more rigorous practice of Judaism. His born-again zeal can sound a little evangelistic at times, as in lines like "[I] try to remember that God is my rock, who freed me from the bondage of drugs, from the bondage of seeking God in only one way, who taught me that a desire for the biggest mystical experience was really the most limited of all," not to mention his repeated homage to monogamy, family life, and religious observance. But overall, this attraction to freedom found in limitation resonates. As I read his essays, I kept thinking of a great line from the poet Franz Wright—also a religious prodigal and former addict—"The more you stray, the more you're saved." It's always an appealing story, and Peter's very much so.
Scott, by contrast, grew up in a strict Midwestern Catholic home, where religion was more of a cover for his fear of where such straying might lead him. He uses the model of Jesus in John's gospel—lofty, ephemeral, untouchable—as his example, and growing up and finding God eventually means letting go of everything that has kept him apart
This contrast between the two men’s stories gives the book a nice momentum. Unfortunately, I wasn't sure whether it held it together. More than a few times I wondered, Are these guys really talking to each other? The essays are connected by a short epilogue—"the equivalent of finishing each other's sentences"—but otherwise there's very little evidence of influence or interaction between the essays themselves.
And yet, the “dialogue” between essay and epilogue can have an interesting connectivity. In “The Tic,” Scott reflects upon the trigeminal neuralgia, or facial tic, that has plagued him since childhood, relating it to St. Paul’s affliction of epilepsy and the irony that a physical weakness can often produce the flower of spiritual strength—as well as spiritual conceit.
When a friend of his bluntly asks, “Are you secretly excited for the pain,” Scott admits,
Peter responds in his epilogue with the equivalent of a tic in his life: his teetotaling.
I did question an important claim Scott and Peter make in their introduction: that it's very hard to find people of the intelligent and hip variety with whom you can talk openly about belief in God. Personally, I haven't found that to be the case; in fact, there are many young religious writers (among others) out there trying to articulate their belief in God with subtlety and intelligence.
Interaction with them might have been useful for Scott and Peter, because their limited frame of reference leads to one obvious problem that is a major distraction in the book: Scott becomes an atheist–and a "Catholic atheist" at that. (Surely that's a contradiction if ever there was one.) Unfortunately, he seems to think we readers saw this coming all along. This reader didn't, though, because the Christian spectrum can accommodate people (priests even) who are as uncertain of their religious beliefs as he is—people who don't at all identify with those who call themselves "believers," and who are less concerned with the transcendent and otherworldly than with looking for divine manifestations in this world and striving to live a moral life. Had he talked to some of us rather than just to Peter, he might have realized he didn't need to take such an extreme, and ultimately distracting, stance.
But I risk seeming too critical of what, overall, is a book very much worth reading, and one that forces us to take a closer look at the larger issues that are too often trivialized by the black-and-white evangelicalism that is the current scourge, it seems, of all religious denominations. In a particularly moving reflection, Peter shows how complex, and how shatteringly profound, the religious struggle can be.
“The Faith Between Us” is not a book about answers. It’s a book about questions—questions that many of us are afraid to ask, precisely because they may have no answers. And so, I’ll leave you with a question: Isn’t it only through inquiry—the more passionate, the better—that we stand a chance of arriving at our own truths?
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Astrid Storm, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of New York, is the vicar of the Church of St. Nicholas-on-the-Hudson. She lives in New York City. Her last piece for SoMA was Not Your Father's Chastity. Or Is It?
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