I grew up in a religiously, culturally and gastronomically Jewish home in Willingboro, NJ which is a suburb of Philadelphia. Our family went to synagogue weekly, practiced holiday rituals, lit the candles on Friday night, but kept kosher only when my paternal grandmother lived with us. I attended Hebrew school until I was 16. […]
This has been a question that has been knocking at the double door of my heart and mind for as long as I can remember. Growing up in the Jewish tradition, I was taught about a God of love and judgment. It puzzled me to think that (as is part of the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur ritual), we ask to be “written into the Book of Life for a sweet new year.” Did that mean if someone died in the following 12 months that somehow they didn’t measure up? If pain, illness, death or some other loss occurred, did that indicate unworthiness? The Christian paradigm of not going to Heaven if you had sinned, or didn’t believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, didn’t exist in my home. I wasn’t indoctrinated about hellfire and brimstone. None of that made any sense to me. If religious doctrine was all that prevented hateful, hurtful acts, what did that say about conscience? Can I simply do good because it helps to heal the rifts that occur in the fabric of the world because of millennia of wear and tear?
On Saturday, February 2nd, 2o19, I was honored to attend an event as part of what was called the Wall of Love. What prompted it was a hullaballoo over the Drag Queen Story Fun Time With Miss Annie at the Lansdale Public Library in Landsdale, PA which is a suburb about an hour from Philadelphia. A local performer who refers to himself as “Annie Christ,” requested to use the library for reading books to children about diversity and anti-bullying. Sounds great, right? Not so, for some who felt it was harmful to children and flew in the face of their religious beliefs. A group of protestors made their opinions known, quite vehemently and announced their plan to stand outside the library, signs in hand. As is so in our area, when something like this is brewing, we gather in solidarity for social justice. The Wall of Love was meant to be, not a barrier, between ‘us and them,’ but support for what was to transpire inside the library. On a frigidly cold (low double digits) morning, a group of a few hundred huddled together, chanted, walked around, sang, danced and hugged. I showed up in my persona as Hugmobsters Armed With Love founder and did my FREE HUGS thang, as I call it.
Hugs warmed hearts and bodies. It took so much dedication for us all to be there together to take a stand for love and diversity when the weather was in the deep freeze. I’m grateful that it was peaceful. I had a conversation with one of the protestors who really believes they are acting out of love. They don’t see that what they are expressing is hate rhetoric. The man told me that his sister is an out Lesbian who is married to a woman. He says he loves them and referenced “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” I wonder how you can love someone and hate who they are at their core. I then told him the origin of the word ‘sin’ is Hebrew and it means to miss the mark like in archery. It is about do-overs. I reminded him that he could change his mind at any time. He asked me if I knew Jesus. I told him that the Jesus I know wouldn’t be carrying the kind of signs his compatriots were and wouldn’t be shouting the things they were. I then asked if he had ever been to the Mummers’ Parade (a Philadelphia New Years Day tradition) where until maybe 30 years ago, those who marched were men, some dressed as women. I asked if he had ever been to a Shakespeare play since all of the actors were men, even the female characters. “That was a different time,” according to this man. He then went on to say that what Miss Annie was doing was attempting to indoctrinate. I asked, toward what? Had he actually been in the library and hear what she had to say? No, but he had heard what it was about. We parted peacefully, wishing each other well. A little while later, I did go in and watched as a group of kiddos and their parents, listened with rapt attention. One little girl, when asked what a drag queen was, said it was a man or woman who dressed up in costumes with wigs and makeup. Simple as that. Not about sex. Not about indoctrination.
When I consider the reaction of the protestors, I recall that there were no beatific smiles, there was no softness expressed as you would imagine there would be if someone was immersed in the love of God. Instead, there was glaring, posturing, yelling, bullhorn raging, signs bearing words of hatred, hellfire, and brimstone. Not representative of the God I know. I can feel compassion for them since it must be so dark and scary in their minds for them to be expressing what they truly believe is the love and the word of the God of their understanding. They claimed to speak for God.
That had me posing the question on my Facebook page. This is the context. I was thinking of all of the religious zealots of many stripes who claim to know what God wants and have no problem attempting to impose it on others or use it to justify hate and abuse. As an ordained minister, I tell people that I don’t have the right to tell anyone what to believe spiritually.
Here are some of the responses I received:
“What gives anyone the right to assume you believe in one in the first place?”
“We all do, every time we open our mouths, whether we’re aware of it or not.”
“So many of my spiritual acquaintances seem to think so when they divinize their words by prefacing their piece with, “spirit tells me”, or, “source told me”, and they expect no questioning.”
“One may speak for oneself but not apply it to others. As in, I may discover divine truth for myself but not for others, especially if it projects, imposes or harms, as many “absolute truth” dogmas tend to do.”
“I don’t think anyone can speak for God. First, he wanted Abraham to kill his son and at the last minute changed his mind. Jesus, on the other hand, was pretty clear about what he thinks. It just so happens that people who claim to be His followers twist or ignore His words to meet their personal or political agenda.”
“At Burning Man last year I got to be God for a couple of hours. Some distance away, there was a phone booth that says, Talk To God on it. People would pick up the phone, and we’d be connected. I found I needed to move into the highest expression of myself and to be as kindhearted and loving as I could. It was an amazing experience, I heard both praise and anguish, and I left glowing. 10/10 would recommend.”