In Last Sunday’s NY Times Review section, there was a wry piece by Anne Lamott. She has always been one of my favorite nonfiction writers. Her humility and humor as she searches for meaning and faith have always been an irresistible combination for me. (She currently has a new book out on prayer called Help. Thanks. Wow.)

In the essay in the NY Times she gives thanks for having an unconventional family. She grew up wishing she had been born into a ‘normal’ family that said prayers and went to church, but now she appreciates that instead God gave her a family of leftwing intellectuals. She goes on to describe her upbringing as filled with books and reading. Her parents ‘worshiped at the temples of Dorothy Parker, John Updike and John Cheever.’ She and her siblings were read to every night from the canon of great classics. Wine and books were the grace at their dinner table. Well, Anne, much as I love you, I feel you, too, have fallen into the either/or trap. Church-going pray-ers vs. lefty intellectuals is a false dichotomy. I grew up in a house with both!

My dad was the young liberal Episcopal priest, freshly-minted out of the social justice seminary education at Yale Divinity School in the early 50’s. But it was my mother’s do-good Mennonite upbringing and her love of education, ideas, and books that infused the intellectual life of our household.

My mother read aloud to us every night before bed. I credit the distinct voices and dialects she gave each character as sowing the seeds for my first vocation as actress. Long after we learned to read, the bedtime ritual continued. It was too important to all of us to let it go. I vividly remember one night at our summer house in Vermont with all the cousins lying in sleeping bags on the living room floor. Just the flashlight beam and my mother’s voice illuminated the world of The Hobbit. The darkness came alive with the holy gospel according to Tolkien.

In our house, the NY Review of Books shared space on the coffee table with Ebony magazine and the Book of Common Prayer. I was laughing at cartoons in the New Yorker before I could read them, just as I had picture books of Bible stories before I could read them. I learned to sing harmony in both church choirs and my lefty summer camp run by Pete Seeger’s brother. It was all one glorious ratatouille of mind and heart, reason and religion, tradition and revolution, fantasy and faith.

I have never been sure why intellectual freedom and critical thinking have ended up on one side of the trench while religious faith, church-going, and praying ended up on the other. Yes, Christianity has been used as a tool for oppression and incarceration, but paradoxically the message of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ was at the center of all the great revolutions in history. In our current public discourse, right-wing, fundamentalist religion has so co-opted the Christian mantle no wonder my children in their various high school and college settings were afraid to identify themselves as Christians. They did not want to be associated with their peers who were anti-gay, anti-abortion, judgmental, and exclusive. Even liberal Christians like Anne Lamott give power to the great divide when she sets up the opposition of thinking/intellect vs. faith/church.

At my dinner table as a child, we had conversations about women’s liberation just after the Advent candles had been lit and just before the wine was poured. In my house, we sang our grace, often the words of the doxology to the tune of Hernando’s Hideaway (Try it!) We were given the gift of Broadway and the bible.  So on this eve of Thanksgiving I am here to say, you can be an intellectual liberal and a committed Christian. I know. I was raised by two of them and I am so grateful for that!