If a woman loves and trusts her husband and assumes the sentiments are mutual, what does she do when he arrives home with lipstick on his collar? I suspect she attempts to find any other reason than the most obvious one to explain this perplexing and surprising situation. Think Occam’s razor; if there are multiple explanations, the simplest is nearly always correct. But the easiest thing to do is ignore the lipstick. Doesn’t the greasy imprint look more like blood that might have arrived via shaving accident? Of course. What is there to be upset about?
Lipstick on Your Collar (song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Back in middle school, I was required to take an art class. Now most people would enjoy an art class as a break from more academic fare, but not me. I am untalented at art, and that is not false humility; that is perhaps putting it nicely; I don’t even do crafts. We had an assignment, and thankfully there was the option of doing a drawing or a decoupage, which doesn’t demand much artistic ability. We were given a stack of magazines to cut out pictures for our decoupage. After we finished, the instructor informed us that you could tell something about yourself by the pictures chosen for the decoupage. I had chosen photos mostly of faces, but also of nature. The teacher walked around to view our progress. “So, what does my piece say about me?” I questioned. “Well, see, you have beautiful faces and beautiful scenery; you are saying, “People are beautiful and the world is beautiful.” I’m not sure I meant that. Maybe that was just what the magazines I picked were full of. Anyway, that was then, this is now.
This story caused me to think about the topics I choose to write about. Mostly I enjoy writing humor and satire, and I even turn unfunny topics into parody also. So what does this say about me? I think it reveals that I see the world, people and institutions as absurd. This is especially true of those who fail to see their absurdities. Now this is true for existence under the sun, as Solomon in his wisdom said was empty and temporal, like what is blown away by the power of a breath, flimsy and weak. But there is a life and a world beyond this one that is eternal, and it is not even within our imaginings.
It occurred to me that is has been almost 40 years since I became a follower of Yeshua, right around the time I started community college just before I turned 17. What a ride it has been, 40 years in the desert, stopping at an oasis here and there and falling into a snake pit here and there and everything in between, moving on with the cloud and sometimes not, and perhaps getting off course at times. I can look back upon all these years and those before them and know that everything has a useful purpose, and all things will work together for good. I always tell people that it is useless and a waste of energy to go down the road of, “What if?” It is like sending good money after bad. We need to conserve our energy for the present and future, not regret the road not taken, as we could never know how that one would have turned out either.
In some ways, the world of the various camps of faith I have been a part of whether for short or long periods were a positive influence in my life: the friendships, the kindness, the help and support, the belonging, the meaning and purpose. It helped me to feel valuable, gain some confidence, conquer some childhood wounds or at least survive with them. But in some ways it has been negative: the overt or covert pressure for conformity and loyalty; the negation of my natural bent to creative thinking and scrutinizing questions and the safe world becoming a guilded cage. Now, I admit I might have not survived without it. At 16, I was a dysfunctional mess. The cage provided protection. I’ve often felt something was wrong, but couldn’t put my finger on it. People say the Body of Messiah/Christ is like a family. Well, if it is, it sure is one freaking dysfunctional family. I grew up in a dysfunctional family and I had no say in the matter; why do I want to voluntarily choose to join another dysfunctional family? Ah, the lure is that this family is not dysfunctional. But that is a lie that gets uncovered gradually, and perhaps we refuse to acknowledge the extent of the dysfunction, and by the time you begin to notice the spots and blemishes are much bigger than you thought, you are already in, and so tend to minimize and disregard much of what you see. But maybe that is also part of the attraction, in that we seek out and bond with what is familiar.
I thought my mother was crazy or just the self-deception appeared crazy as she insisted, “It says that if you fight a lot, it means you have a good marriage. We fight a lot – so it means we have a good marriage.” I believe she read an article in a women’s magazine (not exactly a paragon of peer reviewed research) surmising that healthy marriages allowed disagreement, conflict and open discussion of differences instead of the “don’t go there,” more characteristic of shaky relationships. I doubt even a psychobabbler “expert,” would claim that long, daily, profanity filled, degrading screaming matches were evidence of a healthy, positive relationship. But then I did the same thing in my denial of the sickness of the religious world and the self-deceiving lies it told.
As we are coming up upon Passover, it is time to remove the leaven, or the leaven will envelop us and we will be no bread; only leaven. It is interesting that I hear word of groups and movements that I have been a part of in the past. We had some leaven back then. But now the leaven has reached a whole new level; the little leaven has leavened the whole lump. No one removed the leaven and if anyone spoke of the leaven, it was in whispers. We are given a divine opportunity to clear out the leaven, and if we choose not to, we will be removed. Our feasts and offerings will not be accepted and will be a stench in the nostrils of the Holy One, as it was with our idolatrous and hardhearted forefathers. May this season be one of cleaning out the old leaven and preparing ourselves to then consume the bread of life, before it is too late. If you think in the puffyness of your leaven that you are untouchable, beware, your candle will be removed.
I remember how my grandmother cooked without recipes; in fact, she shunned the idea of a recipe as something for amateurs, akin to riding a bike with training wheels. You don’t fall over, but you don’t get very far or go very fast, and it isn’t much fun. She just knew the food was right by taste and by feel. Everything was made from scratch, and she had no use for modern women who leaned on conveniences, “Can she open up a can, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?” She delighted in revealing to me that her daughters-in-law couldn’t boil water as newlyweds, and that my mother hadn’t progressed much beyond that state.
So, perhaps religious structures are like recipes, for those who don’t have anyone who knows anything to teach them and would just end up crying with a fallen mush of cake, as my grandmother noted the inexperienced ladies in our family were prone to do. Last time I looked, nobody died from a collapsed dessert.
It is the glory of the Holy One to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search out a matter. It must be the role of religion and its leaders to block or limit the seeking.
In the past year, I have flipped though some books that I accepted as good and true without question in the past, and now I see subtle misleading, flagrant error and even fraud. The same is true with teachers and teachings. Cognitive dissonance kept me from seeing this, and many other things. One class I am taking asked the question: Which is better? 1) Ignorance is bliss. 2) The unexamined life is not worth living. Hmm, I think it might depend on what stage of life one is at. When I was a mixed up teen, or when I was a mother of small children, the priority was that I needed help and support that presupposed a common belief system and behavioral structure. At the time, I did not need to parse details and question; I needed assistance. Following the assassination attempt on President Reagan, it was reported he quipped to surgeons working furiously to save his life, “Well, I hope you are all Republicans.” “Today, Mr. President, we are all Republicans,” answered one of the surgeons. And for that day, I had to be whatever it took. But sometimes it doesn’t feel so benign, such as one lady who admitted to me that she married her older, well-heeled husband to provide a better life for her daughter. Not that she disliked the guy or was unhappy with him, and she had a kid with him too, but she wouldn’t have pursued a relationship with him if she didn’t have both a child and lack of adequate funds to raise her as she desired. We do what we have to do, and by doing so, we convince ourselves we have done the right and good thing.
We are told that thousands of messages come at us daily and it is impossible to examine them all. So cognitive shortcuts cause us to accept those messages that already agree with our own, discard what is considered useless or in contradiction to our beliefs, and if we have time and emotional energy, we might put a few things aside for examination.
With all the positives, I’ve realized that the world of formal religion is toxic for me and will quash my gifts and derail me from my divine destiny. Self-censorship is rooted in fear, even if it is unrecognized. Who can fault people who are kind, loving, caring, sacrificial and helpful? It is subtle, and even though no one says anything negative, I believe I need to seek out kindred spirits, not just those who I share common values and beliefs with, but those who get me and can affirm and release me for the purpose I was put on this earth. And if I don’t have these people in my life to push me forward, at least there won’t be anyone to hold me back. Sure, some camps are better than others and some are worse. But they are all the same, whatever the brand or rhetoric to the contrary. Resistance is futile; you will be absorbed. You might not even know it. This is the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and it syncs with what we know of human behavior and cognitive science. We will see what we desire to see and be blind to what we do not wish to see. Once we make a decision, we will likely view it favorably. Most people don’t have the time and energy to question their worldview with the same scrutiny and effort they would put into buying a car. Once in, the people we associate with and media we consume reinforce our worldview and close off considering otherwise. Plus, fear is added to shut off relationships that might test unproven or disproven theories spouted as truth. And there are other cages and windowless boxes besides the religious ones. King David said three thousand years ago that all men are liars. Do you think anything has changed since?
There is a story. An observant Jewish man decides to forgo the long fast and longer services on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. After the family has left for synagogue, he tells them he will be along shortly. Then he gets in his car and goes to a drive-thru where he picks up an Egg McMuffin. After enjoying breakfast and finishing his coffee, he heads over to a golf course, which is unusually empty as this is a mostly Jewish neighborhood. God looks down from heaven, and his angels join in the spectacle. The man puts the ball down and takes his first shot. He hits a terrible shot and it lands in the water. The man is dejected. But then, the ball pops out of the trap and careens straight to a hole-in-one. Now the angels are perplexed. “You see what he is doing, flagrantly violating the holiest day of the year, eating tref, driving and now golf. Why did you reward him?” God answers, “So, who can he tell?”
Now I haven’t done anything really bad, or willingly violated precepts of torah, the teachings of Yeshua or the law of the land. Well, perhaps the law of the land on occasion, especially when it comes to driving, as my kids will tell you. Comedy driving school was so much fun; at the first meeting, we all went around and gave our names and what caused us to end up in the class. “My name is John and I was caught driving 45 miles an hour in a 25 mile an hour zone,” was topped by, “My name is Susie and I was driving 70 miles per hour in a 25 zone and I ran a red light and made an illegal U-turn.” It felt like a 12-Step Group, except we were all proud of our exploits.
But I have thrown off the weight of expectations of religious systems, including those designed to keep women in their place. Please don’t give me that crap about how you have freed women and this is not so; you know it is. Yeshua treated women as equals; you don’t. I read about one MessyWorld group that states that they have no women on their Beit Din (religious court) due to the fact that even discussion of the matter created such rancor, despite the fact that Deborah was a judge and a military advisor, so you can’t argue she only dealt with women’s issues. According to scripture (the real meaning, not your biased, agenda driven translations) a woman can do anything except act as a priest in the mishkan (tabernacle) and not all men can do that either, only those born to this task. I’ve dumped a lot of doctrine and a lot of don’t touch, taste, handle – this or that person or this or that idea. However, I do feel like the guy who made the unexpected shot. I want to tell someone. I don’t want to keep things to myself that others might not understand or find threatening to their neat and tidy place. I am not criticizing their place; perhaps it is where they need to be right now and I have no business interfering. There were times I needed to be blind, because this blindness allowed me to be where I needed to be at the time, both for my well-being and that of others in my sphere of interaction.
One thing is that I know the history of my people. Many don’t. They accept a reconstructed and whitewashed history without question, and all they might need is a basic history book to sort this out. I believe people need to know their history, and the history (however dark) of the things they believe and live by. Some are so sincere. History is not destiny, but I believe it can be if left unscrutinized. Once you know your history you can decide what to reclaim and what to discard.
I was all prepared to go out alone into the desert, the bear his shame outside the camp, even though I didn’t relish the idea, but I didn’t see any other choice. One problem is that many see the problems of their particular camp, and then jump from the protection of one camp to the safety and security of another. Part of the self-deception is to exaggerate the problems of camp A and ignore its positive qualities, while ignoring the flaws of camp B and overreaching its good. But we who are used to the camp feel exposed, almost like we are unclothed, when we are outside the camp. Have you ever had a dream where you found yourself in public in some stage of undress? Most of us have, and it suggests our discomfort and fear of embarrassment of someone discovering that we are not who we think we are or present ourselves to be. I’ve learned that the greatest talents even fear being a failure and being exposed as not up to standards, or not up to snuff any longer. So, being outside the camp is like those dreams of public nakedness. Camp members provide a shield while they shoot arrows at their competitors, but if one is outside the camp, all you will get is arrows shot at you from all sides with no cover. However, this campless state is useful, as one learns to duck, run and develop tougher skin and greater faith. He who trusts in princes is a fool, while he who trusts in the Holy One will be kept safe. When we need less, we can love more, and love in truth.
Then this disparate group of ladies welcomed me into what I now call, “The Panera Five.” We meet every Tuesday morning over coffee, with no plan, no agenda and no leadership. We discuss whatever we like, laugh a lot and nothing is out of bounds, including stuff and people we are upset about, crazy, outside the box ideas we have and occasional bad words. I remember when C. first invited me, I asked, “Well, are they going to say, ‘she must think she knows everything because she is Jewish.’” “Oh, no,” came the reply. “We already have someone like that.” My first experience was rather unusual. One lady began to share urban legends and conspiracy theories. I’m sure they didn’t know that one of my pet peeves is urban legends and conspiracy theories and the people that make them go viral without bothering to check them out. In some instances, this can be slander, as one is sharing something about a person, business or industry that is false. So, I know it isn’t polite, but I had to speak up. I did, and then the other lady who also is in the, “know everything,” category validated my words with some of her own. Its difficult, because I don’t desire to hurt or denigrate a person, but feel it is difficult to just ignore it. However, I am not in the place of some sort of divine auto-correct application. When it was time to leave, the person who I corrected with my oh so superior knowledge gave me a big hug and told me how happy she was that I came. Wow. That was humbling. And that was unusual, not expected at all. I expected this person to be uncomfortable with me. But I am learning something that you don’t see on social media and in superficial relationships: There is so much more to a person than this or that thing you know about them and don’t agree with. It is easy to put someone in a category and then those categories go into a bag and the bag goes in the trash.
Last year we went up to L.A. to see the premiere of an Indie film that number two son had a small role in. There was something about the atmosphere that was electrifying and attractive to me; it was bursting with excitement, thought and creativity. At the same time, this is a highly immoral world with much deception and dirty dealing. All memes aside, I am sick of the suburban mommy ghetto. Being around creativity sparked my own juices and made me feel alive, where a part of me was dead. But when I was younger, I could never have survived that tough, dangerous world; they would have eaten me alive. I picked a safer place. But I no longer want to live a life of quiet, not quite desperation, but not quite fulfillment either. I don’t want to die with the song still in me. Just let me release the song, and let it live on after me.
When people seek to love God and love each other, who can argue with that? I certainly wouldn’t think of arguing with these things. But I need to dump the doctrine, the expectations and the restrictions on being who I am and expressing it openly. Perhaps at 56 I have finally decided what I want to be when I grow up. Yes, I am aware that some may seek to hear the right buzzwords to allow them to relax and surmise that I am still, “one of us,” and not, “one of them.” And those who like me will need to think that I might be a bit eclectic, but have not stepped over the line. But perhaps I have. Have I left Yeshua or am I even considering it? No. “Will you leave also?” “No, Master, you have the devarim haolamim, the words of eternal life.
I wonder if I will make it to the promised land in my life, if I am worthy, or if I have missed my opportunity, like my ancestors who saw the giants in the land rather than the milk and honey. If I die in the desert, it will be okay. I may not merit to enter the land, but my children will enter therein, and my grandchildren will be born there. This I have been promised.