Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Road to Hell is Littered with This Entry

This is the paperback version
There's a meme going around on Facebook. Reach for the book closest to you, go to page 56, the fifth line down on the page, and post it in your status. Then post the rules of play in a comment.
           In my bedroom, where I was, and now sit, I have a bookcase with five shelves. Only one has books on it. The others have cameras, pictures, magazines with articles I've written, stationery, and a collection of leatherbound journals with blank pages. Most of my books are in the living room, which would be the size of a library in a bigger house. I even painted it forest green. Wood shutters give the place a Ralph Lauren look, if you squint your eyes and pretend a lot. Since I don't have a library now or in the foreseeable future, the living room has become the book depository, lined up two deep in built-in shelves across one wall, and a seven-foot tall, freestanding bookcase by the kitchen. About a thousand of them.
          Back in the bedroom, the book closest to me was The Company, subtitled: A Novel of the CIA, by Robert Littell. It's in my bedroom because I've been meaning to read it for years. Unfortunately, it's old school, in hardcover, almost 900 pages, so to slog through a tome of that size would not only be an assault on my mental faculties, but my physical ones, too. The result being that I haven't even cracked the spine, until this evening. And only because when I reached, it was, by about an inch, closest to me as I sat writing at my computer. 
          Page 56, line 5 reads: "This exasperated Leo. 'This pacifism of yours plays right into Stalin's hands.'" I think I've read that same line in twenty-seven other spy books. I googled an image of the book to upload, hoping to find one with the same cover as mine, but had to settle for a paperback version. I noticed there was a movie adaptation as I scrolled through the choices. Oh yes, I vaguely remember something with Chris O'Donnell and Michael Keaton. 
          The point of all this is that the book sitting right next to it, which I also could have picked, but decided not to, was the Bible. The only reason I still have a Bible in the house is because I think it would be bad karma to dispose of it. Plus, it is a good reference book, after all. 
          With karma in mind, and well aware of the irony, I decided to go to page 56, line 5 to see what was written in the Bible. The first thing that surprised me was that the pages were numbered. I didn't remember that.
          The next surprise was discovering that this Bible was the Revised Standard Version I got in high school and used in college, back when I used to spell my first name Judee. That's what was written with my maiden name on the inside front cover. Born again Christians, of which I was one for a time, read the Revised Standard Version [RSV], a translation into colloquial English from the stilted King James version. At least they did back when I was one of them. Now the Bible they use probably has a forward by Glenn Beck. And don't get me started on Billy Graham, Jr. 
          Page 56 is the first page of Exodus. Or as it says a the top: The Second Book of Moses, commonly called EXODUS. The fifth line just lists the names of three of Jacob's sons, not very scintillating, as Bible passages go. Certainly not worth a mention here. 
          Because all freshmen were required to take a year of religion at Duke, taught by professors who were also ordained ministers, there are passages underlined throughout the Old and the New Testament. Or first and second semester as we called it back then. So I have decided to share a different line instead, one from the same page, but underlined for its importance at the time. 
          Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live." An entire feminist tract could be written about that decree. By the way, the quotations aren't mine. They were in the Bible. For some reason, I don't remember page numbers or quotation marks in the Bible. Just who wrote down those verbatim quotes, Josephus?
          Curious, I looked up the King James' Version. And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive. Not as gobble-de-gook as some King James passages. 
         Either way, the backstory of Moses begins. 
         Remembering those religious days of yore -- mine, not the biblical ones -- I began to recall how so many of the Christian adults in my life were overcome by issues of sexual misconduct. One of the rock solid leaders from my high school days in Young Life, was an incredible man we all loved, who, one day, felt the need to confess how he was constantly fighting the demons of adultery in his marriage. TMI. As a sidebar, Young Life's successful fifty-year ministry in high schools across the country may be the main reason for the surge of fundamentalists who elected George Bush and insured the rise of Sarah Palin. I do know that telling the right people you were involved in Young Life is still as good as a password into a secret club.
         Shortly after high school graduation, the married minister of my Episcopal Church ran off with a Wrigley heiress, who was also married. A father of four, who bore a remarkable resemblance to Bill Clinton, he also had Clinton's appetites too. Many female members of the parish could only hope [and pray] he wouldn't write his memoirs. 
         A denomination not well known for taking Jesus as its Savior, Episcopalians tend to prefer the wine [usually a good sherry] and wafer route, intellectualizing their relationship with God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost with study groups and Dartmouth Bibles. Count me out.
         Later I married into the Catholic Church, thinking for some reason, how different could it be? Let's just say that pedophile priests are the tip of the iceberg. The human infrastructure of that particular faith is rotted out from top to bottom in my experience. 
         I knew my days in organized religion were numbered when I began to entertain notions that many would consider heresy. Was Jesus married? Was he gay? This was before all the Mary Magdelene questions. And jokes about Jesus being over thirty and unmarried. I even wondered what the deal was with Kaballah, since I have Jewish friends whom I admire and respect, although most of them aren't religious and couldn't tell me anything about it. 
         On reflection I have felt more spiritual standing inside a religious building, just being there, than I ever have when there were people trying to orchestrate the moment. Who doesn't get a better sense of a higher power, sitting on a deck in Montana, looking at the mountains? Or sailing past a beautiful city skyline at sunset, flying over the Grand Canyon, or holding a baby's tiny hand?
         Funny how taking a book down off a shelf can shake the cobwebs of your mind.
 The breathtaking Bahai Temple 10 miles from my house


Donna said...

I want to buy a magazine that has an article written by you.
One time I was sitting in a pretty conservative church when the preacher asked, "How many of us have had doubts?"
He was pretty much talking about all things religious. He raised his hand, and then about 75% of the people in the pews raised theirs, me included.
I think anybody who says they've never doubted is either a liar, or stupid. Because people who don't question what they believe are stupid.

Mrs. L said...

But you haven't left your church. I walked away a long time ago.