Molly Millions as Mary Magdalene
A few years ago after a shitty day at work I hit the diviest bar in my little beach town and drank alone for awhile. I started talking to this guy who was a private investigator. Dude was a mess. Kept disappearing into the bathroom and coming back with little smudges of white powder on his upper lip. He was incredibly engaging though and spent hours regaling amusing stories of his private eye life. Later he talked about what a shit show parenting was. One day, he recalled, his wife took their son to the beach. He was to join later with his little daughter. Before they left, the daughter cried for boots, boots, boots. He didn’t know what she wanted, and finally ransacked their attic storage for her big puffy winter boots. They walked the three blocks to the beach, the little girl wailing and red faced in a bikini and fur snow boots. The wife’s face fell when she saw them. The daughter had wanted her stuffed monkey. Named Boots. “Not a pair of fuckin’ snow boots,” he said. I laughed. It was hysterical.
He hit on me a little, and I rejected his advances. He later projectile vomited into someone’s lawn, and when he turned back around he was bleeding profusely from his nose, but none of this stopped him from continuing the train of thought he’d been on before the barfing. Blood ran down his lips, onto his chin and mingled with the vomit there, and the whole time he just continued whatever story he’d been telling. I dug in my purse and handed him a stack of napkins. I sort of patted him on the shoulder and tried to comfort him. Things got worse then, and he began to accuse me of … of I don’t even know what. Something like judging him. I assured him I was only trying to help for christsake! What else is there to do when a stranger spews (horizontally) and then bleeds from the face? You hand them some fucking napkins and do your best to console them, right? I’d called a taxi about twenty minutes prior. That’s why we stood outside in the first place. I started to feel a little scared, but soon a cab came by. It looked like it might drive straight past so I ran out into the street, practically right in front of it. I took my hurried leave and hollered, “DRIVE!” to the cabbie before the door was even shut.
When people talk about jesus, I sometimes think of that guy. He’s one of the few people in the world I wouldn’t mind seeing become a bible-toting born-again.
Jesus has been coming up a lot lately. It’s strange. I haven’t given jesus much thought, but suddenly jesus is everywhere. People who used to be perfectly normal are all the sudden mad jesusy. When jesus happens to normal people, I first feel pity for them, or some kind of benevolent remorse. Then I feel afraid. It seems to happen to people when they’re at their lowest, and I can get pretty low. I sure can. So if it can happen to those people, can’t it also maybe happen to me? Is jesus living in me somewhere and I just don’t know it? Am I susceptible to it? Might I one day wake up and feel the spirit? God, I hope not.
As the clever bumper sticker says: I’ve got nothing against god. It’s his fan club I can’t stand.
I once tried to pray to the Jewish god, because that’s what I was born into. Couldn’t find that fucker anywhere, certainly not in my heart. I stood underground, in the old city of Jerusalem, and took my turn placing my hands on a darkly painted cement wall. It was the closest possible point in the universe (at the time) to the Temple Mount, the holiest of holy places to Jews. Young twenty-something American Jews all around me sang Hebrew songs I didn’t know, and wept and wailed and one girl nearly fainted. I pressed my face up against that cold subterranean wall and dug as deep as I could for the slightest glimmer of something. In that moment, I would have taken anything at all.
“Yahweh? Dude? If you’re there, now’s good!” I scrunched up my face and sort of tried to cry, thinking that maybe if I let loose some tears the feelings would follow.
Nothing. Not a peep.
So I abandoned yahweh and instead looked for a connexion to the culture. When I look at the photos of the women in my lineage lighting sabbath candles, I become misty. Last Rosh Hashannah, with a houseful of thirty people and a shissel of gefilte fish waiting to be dished out, I stopped the show for a good twenty minutes to cry when my mom covered her head with my grandma’s scarf and lighted those candles. That can be explained by the ties to my very own lineage, and by how much I miss my grandma, who passed away more than ten years ago, but in all honesty, it feels like more than that. It feels a lot like suffering, or a connection to the suffering of my ancestors. Specifically, it feels like a connection to the suffering the women have endured, and I feel sure that it’s somehow connected to Judaism, but not at all to god.
Back in Israel our ultra-religious tour guides led us miles into a desert, then dropped us into a hole to crawl through catacomb tunnels so narrow my hips (which are, granted, wider than average) touched both sides. We pulled ourselves through these tiny lightless tubes of earth on our bellies, using our elbows, till we’d emerged a miserable while later into a chamber, an ancient natural cave. That chamber was a place where Jews four thousand years ago hid from Roman soldiers. Roots from trees up above passed through the ground over our heads and hung down web-like and beautiful. The guide, a devoted and practiced raconteur, described with terror and awe how the Jews would have hid down in this cramped dark space for weeks, all the while listening to the heavily booted soldiers (wouldn’t they still have been wearing sandals?) hollering in Latin to one another to Find! And Kill! The Jews! Then more singing of songs I didn’t know. More crying of tears I didn’t posses. It was a fascinating history lesson, don’t get me wrong. It just had exactly zero personal impact. After we’d heaved ourselves up out of the catacombs we walked back toward our buses through the plains, and we stopped at a fig tree. Everyone picked one. I bit into mine, and when I looked down, saw that it was crawling with maggots. Yep. Such was the stuff of my trip to Israel.
A year later at an upper west side arts fair, I stopped at a table filled with silver judaica objects and an Israeli woman struck up a conversation. I told her I’d been to Israel somewhat recently. She smiled brightly and said in a poetry voice, “Didn’t you feel so special there.”
I thought about just being nice, but instead I was honest and said, “No. Not really.”
It was as if I’d ripped off my cartoon mask and revealed myself as a secret Arab. And not a nice Jewish Arab, one of those non-Jewish, Israel-hating Arabs. I just stared at her for an uncomfortably long while trying to understand why it was important to her that I feel special in Israel. I wanted to explain that of all the places where I’ve felt special, and especially connected, Mexico for some reason tops my list. Followed closely by the Italian countryside. Then Tibet. Followed by not Israel. Israel is a dusty rocky hellhole, frankly, with nice beaches and rude countrymen. Not unlike this country, the fair skinned study and pray and write code, and the dark-skinned dig ditches and do roadwork and collect garbage. It’s not the most pleasant place in the world, though in fairness, I imagine it’s hard to stay friendly when everyone knows someone who’s been affected by a bombing, and it’s impossible to sip tea in a cafe (because the coffee there is dreadful) without pondering however briefly whether you’ll make it out alive.
A year or so later, I tried again with Judaism. I applied and was accepted to participate in a “think tank” in Los Angeles. An organization wanted to know from Judaism’s brightest up and comers what it would take to bring us into the non-profit Jewish sector. It was big meetings and small thematic breakout sessions. It was brain picking, and cocktail events, and every last utterance turned back to Judaism. At one cocktail party I suggested, probably not too tactfully, that perhaps we were hated all over the world because we mistakenly think everything that exists somehow relates back to our Judaism. I cleared that klatch pretty good, and found myself alone, poolside, looking across a monied lawn at this group of khaki-pants wearing, single-minded Jews with whom I had not a single thing in common. Especially not my very Italian last name, about which I was unpleasantly interrogated several times. I talked myself out of flicking my cigarette butt into that charitable donator’s swimming pool, and the next morning was told I was unwanted, and was then escorted from our fine four star hotel by two apologetic security guards.
That was my final hurrah with Judaism, as it pertains to god. I packed up my candlesticks, hid away the menorahs and gave my jewish star necklaces away. It was not, however, my final attempt to connect with some sort of god.
I do understand what it feels like to have certainty about a higher power. I have never prayed to jesus, or anyone else’s god. When I have prayed, which hasn’t been too often, it’s been to the great open unknown. Even before The Secret became so popular, I prayed to what I thought of as “the universe”. The “out there”. The big, endless, beyond-my-comprehension space, beyond the planets and the galaxies, to where the spirits live. I almost think of those spirits as the sciences. The things that make the sun rise and set, and the earth spin around properly and that allow us to continue to breathe and think even when life is unbearable. I’ve prayed for help before, and the crazy thing is, I have received help almost immediately. The atheist in me says it’s coincidence. The reluctant believer in me says that it sure does seem like I might have my own personal god committee, on my side, hanging around in wait. The agnostic in me thinks it’s something more like tapping the well of my own infinite inborn power. The putting-to-use of the unused parts of the brain. Something like an intuition/destiny casserole.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly how I feel about the born-again situation, because it seems to genuinely help people in need. People who struggle and fail to have manageable lives find jesus and feel immeasurably happier. They have better relationships, become better parents (by their own jesus-infused standards) and seem all around happier. So, great! Good for them. My issue is that they get all judgy. And fast. Plus, it seems like once CHRISTIAN is stamped large at the top of the file a thousand other principles and standards fall into phalanx-like order below. There’s none of AA’s brilliant “take what you like and leave the rest” system, and blind indoctrination into anything seems like it can’t really ever be a healthy thing. I’m understating to be polite. Really I think it’s tres bizzarro.
Like many things, I don’t expect to ever have utter certainty about what god is, or how it fits specifically in with my life. I guess that means I don’t have proper faith, because if I did I’d be able to recognize more specifically where and how god operates. I just have a problem with following other people’s rules; in general, and as it relates to god. It feels like a cop-out in some ways to throw your hands up and dive into submission, to follow the ancient rules, to step in so many other faithful footprints because you couldn’t figure it out on your own.
I mean, I often long to stick my head in the sand, too. To remove myself from the realities of our dark fucking world. Sometimes the endless pervasive brokenness of our whack world order comes together all at once in me and I feel like I might break into bits. Generally, I have a fair to moderate grasp at taking it apart and thinking about it issue by issue like a categorizable, solvable thing, but in those moments when it all gels as the single tangled ball it is, my insides go BOOM and I’ve actually had to find myself a chair and catch my breath. So in those moments, wouldn’t I like to lose myself in something else? Wouldn’t I love to ostrich-like stick my head in the hidey-hole of someone else’s fairy tale and trust that a magical all-knowing, all-loving bearded guy can make everything okay? No, I wouldn’t like that at all come to think of it because it’s a) preposterous and b) it seems, frankly, like a weak-willed tack to take.
How about this? What if I made Neuromancer my Bible and William Gibson my god? What if every morning and every night I closed my eyes and fell headlong into the sprawl and ran around in a Trinity-like pleather bodysuit? Molly Millions could be my Mary Magdalene and bff. Wintermute could be the devil, I guess. The after-death promise could be the matrix, where we’d all get to kick it for eternity with the Dixie Flatline. If I devoted myself to interpreting and living out an on-earth version of Gibson’s fantasies, how long would it take before I was committed and medicated? And how different is Gibson’s fantasy from the bible myths, written by men who had some serious ulterior motives.
I think it’s in the rule-following space that Christians and other religious get the “oh they’re quite stupid, aren’t they” treatment. In my limited observations of the deeply religious in their natural habitats I didnt find a whole lot of thinking-for-ones-own-self type behaviors. Christians are the first to point out that they turned to the bible, in fact, because they could not get it together on their own. Asking questions, challenging your brain, creating your own meaning, finding your own purpose, forging your own path in your own unique way…these elements are, to me, the symptoms of a healthy, intelligent mind. You know, regular old critical thinking. And it seems the religion conversation — not just christianity, but all of them — leaves these things out. Not only do religions leave critical thinking out, but by their very design are arranged to make them impossible, because if you’re challenging it you’re just plain doin’ it ‘rong.
In the meantime, I’m fairly content to put my trust in my understanding of karma. I understand that the more I give, the more I receive, and that’s good enough for me. I choose a heuristic approach to living. I am not always at peace, nor do I aim to be. I thrive on passion. I find blasphemy can be cathartic. I enjoy pornography and a good ice cold old fashioned. I am comfortable rejecting jesus as my god. I get a kick out of being treated like pesky satan-bait getting in the holy way of born-agains with my godless demands. Because as real as their faith is that poor jesus christ died on a cross for their sins (whatever that even means), I have faith in equal measure that he (if there even was a single ‘he’ and not many versions of ‘he’ wrapped up into a tidy single ‘he’ for the sake of the story) died like so many throughout history. Fighting as a man, being persecuted as a man, and ultimately dying as a man for his unpopular beliefs. Poor guy. Poor guy first because he had to die that way, and poor guy next because he can’t show up 2,000 years later to say: No, not the literal son of god! Or: srsly, with the dinosaurs? You’re embarrassing yourselves.