Instead of Our Fear
It all began with Jesus. We went to Sunday school when I was little. Mostly, I remember snacks. Volunteer moms knew the bible would be easier to digest with treats. Graham crackers go a long way when you have to explain Cain murdering his brother or the implication that Eve pretty much ruined everything.
At the very least, sugar kept the questioners quiet.
I liked Noah. Building an arc for all those animals seemed like a pretty noble thing to do. And I liked pre-Easter Jesus. He seemed like a real person with real struggles trying to do the right thing, follow his heart and be true to his beliefs. Me too.
Post-Easter Jesus, on the other hand, left me with the distinctly dubious feeling that everything previously presented as truth, was all a lie. I had a LOT of questions. The answers all sounded like Santa Claus and Easter bunny bullshit.
I felt like I was being hood-winked, even at eight.
Why did death make him a god? Who got to decide? Why couldn’t he be a god while he was alive? What exactly was the criteria for becoming a god? Why was he The Only one? Why couldn’t other people be one? And what about girl gods? Or daughters of god? Why couldn’t anyone write a bible? Why couldn’t it be revised like all my essays had to be?
I needed more than graham crackers, but that’s all that was on the table.
I got the distinct feeling I should just shout up and be grateful.
For Christ sake, he died for my salvation. What more did I want?
The lessons seemed clear. You will get crucified if you stand up for what you believe. Becoming great is completely out of your hands. Some OTHER undefinable entity will decide who gets to make it. If you must question authority, for God’s sake, accept the answers.
If you still have questions, feed your curiosity with food. As much as it takes to keep quiet. Swallow the uncertainty. Stuff down the rage. When you are bursting with self-betrayal… throw it all up–to God or Jesus or any man-god you can find.
We stopped going to church right around 4th grade when my parents party life made Sunday mornings more conducive to coffee and the New York Times. We became Christmas and Easter people. I had learned NOT to speak up. But I still couldn’t stomach the idea of parroting things I didn’t believe.
That’s when I discovered how to use the power of silence to my advantage. I stopped singing passages of songs I didn’t agree with and answering the call and response with anything that seemed bogus to me. This made my dad outrageously tense and angry. He would aggressively mumble, aren’t you going to sing. The implicit message was…
There are certain things we must do because that is simply the way it is done.
One Christmas morning it came to a head. My younger sister Kristin had been confirmed and my abstinence from the bi-annual communion ritual would no longer be tolerated. It was our row’s turn. Everyone stood but me. I signaled to him I would be taking a pass.
He helped me up and guided me into the aisle. His smile was crystal clear. We would do this as a family, with ‘joy’ in our hearts. And I would ‘get over’ this ridiculous wafer and wine boycott.
I felt panic, rage and then… the sweet taste of revenge ahead.
As I made my way toward the diocese, my dad right behind me, I noticed the little kids going up. They would kneel and bow their heads. The priest would bless them. As I got closer, I could hear the blessing. My memory is poor, and Google proved useless, but it went something like this, May the Lord keep you and may the Holy Spirit watch over you.
No mention of Jesus as my savior. No need to partake of the sacraments. I had a plan. My turn came. I knelt down on the red velvet knee rest, hands clasped humbly behind my back and bowed my head. The priest paused when he got to me, unsure how to proceed.
I felt nervous but resolved. I kept my head bowed and finally, not knowing what else to do, he blessed me.
It felt wonderful in a way I hadn’t expected. I felt loved and seen by this priest. His blessing felt genuine, comforting. Perhaps I didn’t need to conform to feel accepted. I did not care anymore about the micro-rebellion I’d won. I’d won something much bigger.
Knowledge that I had the power to choose.
That the choices, contrary to all indications, did not boil down to giving up or giving in. The choice was not: Obey or be orphaned. Comply or be ex-communicated. The stakes were outrageously high, but not as advertised. It wasn’t about the fallout for refusing to fit in. It was about the power of stepping out.
The only real risk was self-abandonment.
That’s not to deny the patriarchal authoritative box for how good Christian girls behave in church. NO ONE is offering alternative paths. In fact, warnings are posted everywhere: Do NOT bite the apple. Consequences are DIRE. Do NOT ruin it for the rest of mankind.
But my hunger always felt so big. So uncontrollable. So completely insatiable. I was ashamed of it. What kind of girl is that hungry? There was obviously something wrong with me. Too hungry for attention. Too hungry to be heard. Too emotionally hungry. I was starving for permission to climb out of my box. To be wild. To be free. To be me.
The kind of freedom I imagined Eve felt after biting into that delicious apple.
I had tasted it.
But the world is overflowing with boxes. It’s hard to stand up and fit in at the same time. So, I gave up and gave in.
Fear triumphed over the next several decades. I was left with a closet-full of unbitten apples gone bad. The good news from MY book of revelations is that when a woman hits her fifties, she is given a one-way, first-class ticket to the queendom of her own resurrection. There’s only one caveat.
Sacrificial truths are forbidden.
No matter how seemingly small or big.
Take something as innocuous as Instagram. Perhaps you undiscriminatingly heart everything, like my husband. No overthinking involved. Or, perhaps, like me, you feel overwhelming love for certain things but decidedly less so for others. You feel pressured to either chug the Zuckerbergian Kool-Aid or be a heartless social media party-pooper.
You feel stupid for not just being able to roll with it. Resentful for spending so much time stressing about something so stupid. Just heart the goddam green juice post! Yet somewhere inside, you know this tiny little lie sets off a dangerous domino effect.
Imperceptibly you begin disappearing one compromise at a time.
I no longer heart posts. I heart the people who post them and the bravery it takes to do so. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it is actually the courageous act of consciously claiming MY OWN truth within the context of someone else’s community.
The world is full of boxes and rules. Outliers are never invited in. But they are out there– everywhere. Blazing the path forward by refusing to fit in. By having the audacity to interrupt the silence with their voice.