Out of Bounds
Out of the clear blue sky, my friend Philip confessed that his first impression of me, when we met years ago, involved a peek at my naked breasts. This revelation surprised me, not only because I did not recall ever exposing myself to Philip, but also because my breasts are nothing special. Hardly memorable, I would say.
Philip explained that I’d been sitting under a tree, nursing my nine-month-old baby when this incident occurred. He sounded as if he'd been shocked. Was nursing so casually in public tantamount to overstepping some tacit, societal boundary, I wondered? Had I inadvertently crossed over the acceptable amount of breast one could expose before it became an obscene display that infringed upon others’ rights to live their lives without being forced to view a strange woman’s body parts?
Over the intervening years, Philip’s casual comment has continued to spark an ongoing mental dialogue on boundaries: the ones that society and God impose on us, as well as those which are self-imposed. (I don't think Philip knew it, but one of the names of God is Shaddai, which evokes the word shadayim: breasts.) Some boundaries are necessary for safety, of course. Others imprison. How do these personal, political and cosmic boundaries shift and change? And what in this world is truly without boundaries? Time and space? The imagination? God?
I crossed international boundaries at the age of 19 when I boarded my first airplane on a flight bound for Israel. Out the small window of the plane, the wings dipped and swelled, transporting me beyond Indiana’s skies. When I landed in Israel, home to a people who had wandered around the globe for the past two thousand years, I remember thinking how Jews had long derived their identity not from national borders but from within the pages of an ancient book.
I was raised in a small, fundamentalist Christian faith, the Worldwide Church of God, which observed Saturday as the Sabbath, eschewed Christmas and Easter as ‘pagan,’ and instead celebrated the Jewish holidays – Passover, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and Pentecost. We didn't eat pork or unclean meat or fish. We believed that Jesus came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.
This church also taught that the world was soon to come to an end. Saturday after Saturday, I sat on hard, folding chairs in a rented hall, and through innumerable two-hour sermons listened to the minister explain God’s Divine Plan. The minister’s voice rose to a shout then dropped to an ominous whisper, “Many are called but few are chosen and these are the end times we are living in. We will not see this millennium out! Probably not this decade! The devil has a hold of this world,” he hit the pulpit with his fist for emphasis, “and brethren, we had better WAKE UP! Look at it: Drugs! Pornography! Women’s lib, which is one of Satan’s very sly ways of getting at the American family. Women are the most susceptible and that old devil knows it. Jesus is soon to return, like a thief in the night, and we cannot slumber, we cannot sleep! God has chosen us, brethren, many are called but few are chosen. But we need your tithes to preach the gospel. Your money is not yours! It is God’s just as the Sabbath belongs to God. These are the end times we are living in and as the bride of Christ, we must be prepared to accept the Bridegroom when He returns to earth.”
When the world ended, we were told, we would be spirited up in the sky and transported ‘on wings of eagles,’ according to the Book of Revelations, to a place in the “wilderness.” That place was believed by the church founder, Herbert Armstrong, to be Petra in Jordan. Those who were not chosen would remain behind and undergo the Great Tribulation.
Neurotic Visionaries & Paranoid Jews
April 7, 2005
Jews on Stage
Out of Bounds
Messianic Troublemakers: Jewish Anarchism
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Zeek in Print
Spring 2005 issue now on sale!
From previous issues:
Abba Kovner: The Warrior in Old Age