Embroidered tallit bag

Religion in The Remainders

My novel The Remainders will be published by Black Rose Writing on September 2, 2021. I will describe my book in this series of posts. You can read other posts in The Remainders category on my website. Also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as I reveal the book’s cover.

I live a few miles from Saddleback Church. Its world-famous pastor Rick Warren recently announced his retirement. He’s the author of the Purpose Driven Life series, and he gave the invocation at the first inauguration of President Barack Obama. Saddleback Church plays a prominent role here in Lake Forest, even for those who don’t go to its many services and programs. My daughter performed at concerts there. They provide food banks and other services to the community. And you don’t have to go far in Lake Forest to find someone who is an active member. There were a few times during our family’s moments of spiritual exploration that we went to their services.

I write about religion in The Remainders and how it influences characters in both positive and negative ways. Both of these appear in this passage (spoilers and strong language removed):

We joined one of those megachurches near our home. I liked it at first. I liked the singing and worship. I liked how the pastor told us how much Jesus loved us, that he died on the cross for us, and that he would forgive us for our sins…

But the more I knew [this other person] and other Christians, the less I liked church.

After service, we would go out on the patio to have snacks and hang out. It was called fellowship, but there was nothing fellowship-like about it…There was a pastor at another church whose son died by suicide. Instead of caring about him and his family and praying for them like a Christian should, they’d talk…about what a big phony and a lousy father this pastor was.

I guess that’s what Jesus meant by hypocrites and Pharisees. And after listening to [this person] and his friends diss that poor pastor who was grieving for his son, I was so done with church.

But in a way, I still missed church. It was the only thing outside of getting high that silenced the hateful voices in my head.

Judaism also plays a key role in The Remainders. One of the major characters struggles with his faith. Another Jewish character, whose mother survived the Holocaust, gained positive insight from her faith and experiences as shown in this passage (again, spoilers removed):

I set the plate on a side table and smiled. “Why are you so good to me?”

I realized that was a corny question, something that was usually said as a compliment and didn’t require an answer.

But [she] gave one anyway. “Why shouldn’t I be good to you?”

She was indeed Jewish, answering a question with a question. But I wanted an answer.

“But really. I’m just some guy off the streets. Why would you be so good to me?”

“Because of Mamá…She survived Auschwitz. She saw the worst in humanity, but she never lost faith and never stopped loving. She told me, ‘[T]he world will crush you if you let it. Your only defense is kindness. Always be kind.’”

Religion affects people in positive and negative ways, and it leads them to do wonderful and terrible things. This is one of the subjects I cover in The Remainders.