A long history of wandering

Outside of my bizarre stint with a group of local Born-Agains in high school led by people who should maybe not have been born the first time*, I have never had a religious tradition. I’m half Jewish and half Catholic. I'm told you can’t be half of either one. You’re either Catholic or you’re not. Also, I'm Jewish on the wrong side (father). So that leaves me both and neither. On ethnic pie charts in high school still I insisted on those halves. I could technically have put 1/4 Russian, 1/4 Polish for the Jewish side, but my relatives felt no affinity for those countries, as clearly those countries felt no affinity for them.

By the way, did you catch the Empire State building tonight? I stared out the window drinking a Jubilation Ale our neighbor had left for us. It was blue & white, red & green all at the same time! Hallelujah Melech Ha-Olam!

Agreeing to join Acton's local Born-Again chapter was probably the clearest manifestation of my inability to say no to people growing up. I had a good friend who would repeatedly ask me to join her at Monday Night Live meetings. She wore me down week after week. I caved finally and agreed to go. Saying yes was easier than thinking of yet another excuse.

Then it turned out one of the leaders, TT, lived down the street from me. Once we discovered we were neighbors there was absolutely no way out of the meetings--TT could drive me to them. TT also used to ask me to invite my friends to McDonald's after school and she'd read tracts to them. That's what they called them -- these little illustrated booklets with a clear triangle: You--->Jesus--->God. You were down on earth. God was up in Heaven. Jesus was floating somewhere in between. You couldn't get to God except through Jesus. That was the only way. My friend M. is still mad at me for those French fries sessions where she got bullied into not going to hell.

Tracts -- yes, I'm googling them now. You can get 100 in full-color for just $6 with flat-rate shipping. Hurry! You can also go on Access-Jesus.com. "No one else can save you. Trust Jesus today!" Emergency prayers. Step-by-step illustrations to disprove evolution. Time is of the essence people. And this isn't that far off. Three of today's Republican candidates for PRESIDENT do not believe in evolution. On climate change the scorecard is even more alarming. I think Jon Huntsman is the only candidate who agrees with 97% of the world's leading scientists about global warming.  People should be taboo-d off the stage at the debates, you know beeped when they say something blatantly untrue. Is this Galileo's trial again? What on the it's-not-f*cking-flat-you-as-hole earth is going on?

** (deep breath)

My parents once came across my secret stash of tracts in my bureau drawer. They had bookshelves full of Elie Weisel, Darwin, Bertrand Russell, and Sartre. My mom, with a degree in library science steeped in a humanist tradition, told horror stories about the nuns that taught her growing up. For fun my dad poured over papers on existential psychotherapy. Neither one willingly brought me to a service of any kind that wasn't a wedding or a funeral. At the Christ-o-Rama Festival we stumbled across in Canada once Dara and I had to peel them off the floor because they found the pile of crutches people didn't need anymore hysterical. But here it was, plain as day, a teenage daughter with a secret drawer stashed full of tracts. Where had they gone wrong?

Yet, even if I just joined so I could avoid the anxiety of saying no, wouldn't a get-out-of-jail-free-card would appeal to anyone? Flipping through channels the other day I heard a daytime talk-show preacher telling people they didn't have to worry about their sins, they just had to turn and face God. God doesn't care about your sins. He just wants you to accept Him. 

That's just weird. Why don't sins matter? Yeah, you shouldn't beat yourself up every mistake, and you have to forgive yourself, and it's great to show mercy to yourself and others, but you should try to live according with your values. You can't just be that classroom menace who has perfected the art of the apology and can get away with anything.

It always pisses me off how the Born Again world has such disdain for the "good works" central to Judaism. They say "good works" with this snarling kind of dismissiveness --" doing good doesn't matter, it's what you say you believe, that's the ticket. Words, not actions. WHAT? I really can't see a convincing argument for the life-raft - hey - I was a complete d*ck my entire life, but I believe in You now, it's all good--Beam me up!--
theory. My dad doesn't agree (though he can't point to anything that suggests otherwise) but I think tThe Jewish faith to me is super-vague on the afterlife stuff, if there's a promise there, it's iffy. The emphasis is on how you live your life, here. The practice of Tzedakah (giving 10% of your income to charity) is fundamental. The word  Tzedakah itself translates to justice. 

Yet my father reminds me that the Catholic church--leader of the crusades, protector of child-abusers, champion of anti-semitism, and long-time denier of the earth's roundness and of the fact that it circles the sun--has an extensive and powerful history of social justice as well. And on that Jesus site I just looked at, there was a scary warning. Catholics need to be missionized to as well. They're not safe because they're putting too much faith in actions; they're distracted, they're missing the free pass. 

**(another deep breath)

In the entrance to St. Michael's church where as I mentioned last night I've been stopping by, there's a picture framed with part of a speech by the late Bishop Frank Weston called "Our Present Duty" . The passage goes like this:

“Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”

These messages--from priests, ministers and Rabbis, and more directly, from The Bible, are very clear on giving to the poor. From Exodus: "Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien."

From Deuteronomy: "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing." 

"Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns." 

From Proverbs: "If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered."

From Matthew "Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" 

From John "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

There are literally hundreds more like this, in both the old and new testaments. 

So even if you hate the occupy movement, and for some reason you just cannot support Obamacare because you don't think people with cancer deserve health care (come on, there's just no profit margin in chemotherapy), if you're a member of the Christian or Jewish faith, you don't need to be confused about the question of giving to others. And if you say, okay, I'll do it, I want to do it, but let me decide where I want to give, not the government -- that doesn't hold water either, not the kind that turns to wine and not the good-old fluoridated stuff that comes out of the tap (and is cleaner and better-regulated than the bottled stuff, too). Because if the government has to make major cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, more people will go into poverty. It's just a fact, and it doesn't matter if the Koch brothers give another million bucks to The Natural History Museum. In a single month, they'd owe more than that in the taxes they don't pay.

And what's weird is that despite all this, and how much I love reading Zen and Tao and Buddhist teachings, I'm still drawn to the Catholic church, perhaps because of the beauty and the solitude, hard to refute that, if you can block out the fact of so much money being taken from the poor and hoarded in the richest city in the world. But there's something else, too. Something spiritual that calls to me, and I can't even begin to explain what it is. Okay maybe I can begin. I have tonight. The occupy movement, ironically or not (don't forget Dorothy Day), led me back there. You can't believe in Jesus--believe in even the idea of who h/He was--and not be affected by the call to join a revolution against the status quo. He is the ultimate rebel.   

I have a long history of wandering. I've been wandering into the church, lately, feeling some greater purpose call me. Many accuse the occupiers of not having a point. Of wandering. Wandering Jews -- you just need one word or the other, not both. They're practically synonyms. (If you get kicked out of every place you ever go, save Hollywood and Florida, you don't have much of a choice.) But anyway, wandering suits me these days.

*Stole that from my dad in comment about George W.


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