Wear black. A little purple or green is okay, too. But just a little. As a joke, I’ve heeded Rodney’s sarcastic advice, and I’m clad in black pants, a lavender shirt and black vest. "I’ve never seen you wear … Read More
Wear black. A little purple or green is okay, too. But just a little.
As a joke, I’ve heeded Rodney’s sarcastic advice, and I’m clad in black pants, a lavender shirt and black vest. "I’ve never seen you wear black," Rodney says in the taxi down Columbus Avenue. "You told me to." I repeat back his fashion dictate. He laughs and pulls out a vintage, second-hand strand of peach and ivory beads and hands it to me. "I saw these and thought about you." "It’s lovely!" They are indeed my kind of colors and I’m touched that they reminded him of me. We’re on our way to a Broadway play, "Everyday Rapture," a one-woman, semi-autobiographical play with music about a woman from a Mennonite family who comes to New York City to be an actress and singer. Since Rodney grew up as a Mennonite, and I grew up in a fringe fundamentalist Christian group, we both spent every day of our childhoods fearing and imagining the "rapture," the time when Jesus would return and swoop us up to escape the Tribulation here on earth. Rodney remembers coming home after school with his sister and, on discovering the house completely empty, they feared their family had been raptured and they’d been left behind. I tell Rodney that to this day, when I don’t answer the phone, my sister Mary will leave a message, "Where are you? Did you get saved and leave without me?" Since I’d believed that the next world was just around the corner, and having a future was improbable, it had always been hard to commit to this world or to believe in the value of doing anything meaningful. "I think the church encouraged a kind of passivity. Wait until Jesus returns. Just – wait." Back then, I would never confess it, and I felt horribly guilty and conflicted about it, but I wanted to continue living in the devil’s world. I wanted to grow up and see the world and do something. Have a life and live in the world while, of course, not being of the world. In the theater waiting for the play to begin, we eat our almond M&Ms and continue the conversation we began in the taxi. We talk about how, within our religious traditions, wanting something for oneself, wanting to be recognized for our individual talents was considered prideful and thus sinful. Pride was the opposite of humility, and humility was what we were supposed to strive for. For we were really nothing – we were worms. Everything we did should be for the glory of Jesus. The lights in the theater go down, then come up to reveal a blonde-haired, 40′ish woman wearing jeans, a fuchsia shirt and a black vest. She opens by confiding that an old Jew once told her to keep two pieces of paper in her pockets: on one is written, "I am a speck of dust." And on the other, "The world was created for me." Rodney and I look at each other. Throughout the 90 minute production, we involuntarily turn to each other several times and exchange "How I relate!" glances. The actress, who says she is from a half-Mennonite family from Kansas, talks about how she yearned to follow her dreams and ambitions and be something, a desire that was at odds with her religion’s precepts. She recalls being told to harmonize as a part of the group, not attempt to belt a solo. Rodney is gay and an artist. He loves to gain recognition for his art, and he also wants to be recognized for who he is, individually. Like the Mennonite community, the New York art community has a penchant for black and an inexplicable faith in something ephemeral and unknown. But Rodney doesn’t view it as having exchanged one for the other: "They are two unique things. One is the soul community I can never leave completely; the other never really penetrates the heart. It’s like networking not even friendship, certainly not a sustaining community which will rebuild my barn! The Mennonites perhaps prepared me to become my true self in the world, though I did not move towards it because of what the art world had to offer. Yet they sought to do so with a mold and making the community inescapable. This in fact may finally be what creates people who appear to have a real sense of place (in their heart) which permeates their search as well, the search to leave and grow." The show is threaded together with songs, from Mr. Rogers’ "You are special" to Aretha Franklin’s "Killing Me Softly." The lyrics, "Singin’ my life, with his words" so clearly sing our lives. We, too, recall our Midwestern childhoods where the earth was dark at night, while the stars and the moon – God’s creation – lit up the sky; it is the reverse in New York City: there are no lights in the sky, but the streets glow with artificial, man-made light. We, too, felt we had to choose either/or. We had to walk the tightrope between this world and the next, between all of those seeming polarities in life. Though, in truth, we weren’t even supposed to walk a tightrope. We were either in or out. Our love for Jesus couldn’t be lukewarm. Being rebellious to God’s ways was as dangerous as pride. "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, brethren. Do not be like those who have fallen away from the church and are now of the world," I recall my minister exhorting. Pride and rebellion could bar you from the Kingdom. It took both Rodney and me a long time to disengage from our pasts, and then commit to the lives we wanted to live or, as the actress says to "live inside a song." Today, you will no longer find me trying to make sense of why, because of Eve’s disobedience in taking the forbidden fruit, all women are to blame for sin in this world. Instead, I attend a lecture in which a female rabbi asserts that, "Jewish feminism is good for God, for we’ve taken God off the pedestal," and a female scribe, who has written two Torah scrolls, declares that the Biblical text seems "irrelevant" and hardly the work of a Deity. After the play, we sit in a small restaurant off Broadway and over drinks, talk about how the "self" and one’s will is so threatening to some strains of Christianity. Rodney says that he’s come to a new thing in his art – he has managed to get himself out of the way. His will is central and present, but it’s not about him. "I believe in letting go and letting it change." He confesses, "I don’t know about you, but I have had moments of – for lack of anything else to call it, grace." I agree with him. "And I’m still trying to figure out the meaning of everything," he adds. "Me ,too." It hasn’t been a nostalgic walk down memory lane looking at the things we left behind, or at least seem to have left behind. It’s been a shared look up at the purple-black sky that is strewn with iridescent, whimsical, worldly, unique, silver-peach beads masquerading as stars. It’s been an evening of pulling out of our pockets crumpled pieces of the past: my will/Your will. Dust/the world. Blend-in-black/stand-out-and-be-seen-gold. We no longer view the rapture as one, big, orgasmic moment in time. Every day offers numerous opportunities to be enraptured. "You’re going to write about this," Rodney accuses, and I laugh and say, "Of course." "I expected you would. Or I should say…I was hoping you would!"