JEALOUSY: GOOD FOR GOD, BAD FOR NEIGHBORS

We were in the car driving home and I was trying to remember all ten of the commandments. No special reason. I just thought I should know them, what with all the fuss about them all over our landscape. In theory at least, they are the basis of law. So how come I don’t know them off the top of my head?

After dredging up seven or eight, depending on how I divided the “How to behave to God” sections which contains a lot of run-on sentences any of which could be interpreted as two or even three commandments but I suppose for convenience have been lumped into one, I was lost. I needed Google.

72-marilyn-marina_063

I asked Garry if he knew the ten commandments. He replied, with irritation, he had to pay attention to traffic. There wasn’t any traffic, except for one slow driver in front of us but I suppose Garry needed a lot of self-control to not ram him. I don’t think there’s a commandment pertaining to slow drivers, but feel free to add one.

Finally, Garry admitted he didn’t know all of them either, at least not in order.

“A sad state of affairs,” I point out, “When two educated souls such as we cannot recite the ten commandments.”

“There’s a lot of stuff about not making idols and coveting.”

“Yeah, and taking one day off each week.”

When I got home, I looked them up.

It turns out there are quite a few “how to behave to God” commandments. Not all Christians — much less Jews — divide them up the same way. You can count as many as fifteen (à la Mel Brooks in “History of the World, Part I”) or as few as eight. It depends on how you look at them and punctuate the sentences.

Following are the Big Ten according to most Protestant sects, plus a second list containing my streamlined, easy-to-remember set.

Note: This sequence was removed from the film in Israel when I lived there. The Rabbis had no sense of humor.

Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 NKJV)

  1. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. “You shall not murder.
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.
  8. “You shall not steal.
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Modernization is all the rage, so here’s my take on them. Not etched in stone. For the sake of today’s prompt, jealousy is mentioned once in the second commandment where it is good because it’s the Lord’s prerogative. In the tenth, it’s covetousness which is not good because jealousy is good for God, but not for us.

A Streamlined Top Ten

  1. I’m God, the One and Only. Don’t forget it, or me.
  2. Idols are O-U-T.
  3. Don’t swear using my name. Maybe don’t swear at all.
  4. Take a break on the seventh day of your week. It doesn’t matter what day you choose because when I started making the world, there were no calendars. So take your pick, then stick to it. Everyone gets the same day off, including your family, guests, slaves, servants, and animals. No work. Got that?
  5. Respect your parents. Take care of them.
  6. Don’t murder anyone.
  7. Don’t cheat on your spouse.
  8. Don’t steal.
  9. Don’t lie.
  10. Don’t envy other people’s stuff. You’ve got your own.

I’m just here to help.

GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME RELIGIOUS MUSIC

For a woman who is essentially religiously neutral, firmly clinging to my position of “no opinion” like a limpet on a wet rock with the tide coming in — I really love church music. I cannot help myself. Play me some Christmas carols and I am singing (croaking?) along with heartfelt enthusiasm.

Blame my elementary school teachers, not to mention all those little Christian girls with whom I grew up.

rhyming HallelujahMy parents neglected to mention I was Jewish. They failed to mention religion at all for the first 8 years of my life. I knew we didn’t have a Christmas tree. I knew my mother didn’t eat ham or bacon, but the rest of us ate it and my father cooked it.

I wanted Christmas and felt deprived every year when my friends had millions of presents and a big tree and we had Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, two electrified plastic statues in our front window — the family’s nod to the holidays.

No menorah. No synagogue. No indication of any kind of holiday in progress except for our two plastic friends.

I didn’t know what a Jew was. I knew what a Catholic was because several friends went to St. Gerard’s, the nearby Catholic school. I knew what nuns and priests were. I could say the rosary, because Mary taught me.

I knew what Lutheran was, because Carol got time off every Wednesday afternoon to go for religious instruction. I had heard about Sunday School. And Mass. And services.

One day, at school, they showed a series of films designed to teach us to not be anti-Semites or racists.

It was a strip film with sound. Joe was on a trapeze trying to do a flying somersault. The catcher, clearly Jewish because he had a big star of David on his chest, was the catcher. But Joe, a blatant anti-Semite, wouldn’t take Joe’s hands and fell to the floor. Splat.

“Don’t be a shmo, Joe.

Be in the know, Joe.

Be in the know, and you won’t fall on your face.”

Then we got a lecture on being nice to Jews. I went home and asked my parents, “What’s a Jew?”

Mom turned to Dad and said these immortal words, “Albert, we have to do something about this.”

Shortly thereafter, my peaceful Sunday mornings were interrupted by boring classes at the nearby synagogue. I would come home pumped up on bible stories which my mother, the atheist, would promptly debunk. It wasn’t long before I was allowed to stop attending. It was clearly not “my thing.” If they’d let me out on Wednesday afternoon at 1 pm like the Christian kids, I’d have gone with more enthusiasm, just to get off from school early.

That being said, my enthusiasm for church music remains unabated. I love hymns, the organ, choirs. The blending of voices tugs at my heartstrings. I sang my heart out in the glee clubs of childhood and the All-City Chorus (Mozart’s Requiem — I was an alto) in High School. And of course, in college I was a music major.

It made my mother more than a little nervous as I wandered around the house singing the Mass in Latin. I did explain to her that the history of Western music is church music. From plainsong, to Hayden, Bach, Mozart and all the others who have followed.

Organized religion is the primary consumer of choral music. I am by no means the only person who can be lured into church by a choir.

little church 33

If Sunday morning services were all music without the rest of the yada, yada, I’d be there. From gospel to the local children’s choir, it’s all beautiful to me.

I suppose finally discovering I was of Jewish origin should have grounded me somehow, but it didn’t. Not really. It set me on a much longer path that I am still walking. Forever the seeker, I have learned it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

IF YOU’LL BELIEVE IN ME

I have an equal number of religious and non-religious (and non- traditional) friends. That probably means I’m doing something right. If you get right down to it, I believe in you. And me. I believe in human intelligence. I believe we each have the right to exercise our intelligence as we see fit.

I am not an atheist, but I’m not religious, either. You can not prove there is no god. Nor can you can prove there is a god. I will defend to the death your right to believe whatever. It is your right to believe, disbelieve, question, argue. It’s my right too.

I draw the line at anyone telling me what I should believe.

Steeple and sky

I dislike dogma. Religion by itself is not a problem. It’s the systems, the rules, the dogma that messes up the world. Dogma categorizes everything, puts it all in boxes.

I don’t want to be in a box.

Since no one can prove the existence or non-existence of god, we’d be better off if everyone would stop trying to prove it. If you believe, good for you. Just let everyone believe what he or she wishes. Maybe if we let others do their thing, they will be let us be crazy in our own way.

It has to start somewhere.

I deeply believe in everyone’s right to do their own thing. It’s the last vestige of my optimism, my hope for humanity. The last non-cynical piece of me.

It’s fun to debate big ideas, complicated concepts, but when the last cookies have been eaten, the last wine drunk, it’s time to pack up the arguments and go home, each to our own beliefs.

THEN, SHE SAID “CHRIST DIED SO WE WOULD BE NICE TO EACH OTHER”

IN MEMORY OF MARILYN BAKER, MY FRIEND WHO IS GONE

I had a very dear friend who recently died. When I first wrote this, she was going through a terrible time. The thing she feared the most had come to pass. Her husband was sick, never likely to get better, and her children were pulling them out of the home they’d shared for more than 60 years.

marilyn baker 2

Her Christian faith never wavered. She remained calm, unshaken, even though her world was being disassembled. I was heartbroken. Inconsolable. I knew I’d never see her again. We both knew.

She once told me you could sum up Christianity in a sentence.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Christ died,” she answered, “so we would be nice to each other — even before morning coffee.” Then she smiled, and sipped from her cup.

Marilyn Baker

Be kind to everyone. Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially then. Because maybe you’ll never see them again.

 

ANOTHER SIN FOR OUR NEW WORLD

I did a some quick, shallow research on the original seven big ones, known lovingly as “the seven deadly sins.” Here is a quick reminder for those who didn’t do Dante, or who have forgotten:

Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride.

istock-editorial-license

istock-editorial-license

The original sins are more than words. They are concepts.

Starting from the top, we find Lust. It isn’t merely having indiscriminate sex. Or doing it with people to whom you aren’t married. Or with sheep, for that matter. Lust is not just for horny teenagers, starlets, or white-collar men having a midlife crisis.

Lust is an intense desire. It is a general term for desire. Therefore lust could involve the intense desire of money, food, fame, power or sex. In Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks in flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings. Perhaps ambition fits nicely into this category? Just a thought.

On this earthly plane, there’s a lot of lusting going on and sex is the least of it. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say sex is the best of it. Possibly the only piece of the “lust sinology” that’s fun and might do somebody some good.

So how about Gluttony, eh? If you think it means you eat too much, you’d be right, though eating is a just one of many gluttonous activities in which you can indulge.

Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony (Latin, gula) is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. Gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness; essentially placing concern with one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.

As far as I can tell, our whole society has been doing a lot of gulping … of natural resources, of fancy cars, houses, gadgets, widgets. We also eat too much, but in the overall scheme of things, food is the least of the problems.

Moving along, we get to a perennial favorite: Greed. You can’t go wrong with greed. For thousands of years, greed has been on the “most popular sin” list for most people. It’s probably the single most motivating of the sins, having lost its evil connotations and been enshrined as something wonderful to which we all ought to aspire. Greed rules the “bottom line.” It is idolized, enshrined, canonized by corporate America. It is not a sin, but a goal to which everything is in service. Yet it’s one of the seven deadly sins. What a world, eh?

Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. (Like money and profit?) Scavenging, hoarding materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are actions likely inspired by greed.

According to Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good.” Not to worry. If Hollywood promotes it, it must be good.

Sloth is charming. It hardly seems worthy of mention in such awe-inspiring company.

Sloth (Latin, acedia) can entail different vices. While sloth is sometimes defined as physical laziness, spiritual laziness is emphasized. Failing to develop spiritually is key to becoming guilty of sloth. In the Christian faith, sloth rejects grace and God. Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.

Wrath is a big deal, the cause for much of what ails America these days.

Wrath (Latin, ira), also known as “rage”, may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath can persist long after the person who committed a grievous wrong is dead. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide. And ranting on social media.

We seem to be in the middle of an epidemic of wrath in the U.S. Politically and socially, we are an angry, hate-filled people. Scary stuff.

Ah Envy! The motivator of crime, the inciter of ambition.

Like greed and lust, Envy (Latin, invidia) is insatiable desire. It is similar to jealousy in display discontent towards someone’s traits, status, abilities, or rewards. The difference is that envy also desires the entity — the thing or person — and covets it. Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically, “Neither shall you desire… anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Stop staring at your neighbor’s ass.

Pride is the downfall of smart people. If there’s a sin to which I am devoted, it’s pride. It pops up in so many ways. Believing one is smarter than everyone else, that one is really in control of ones fate (yeah, right!). It is the sweetest of sins, the most comfortable sin, the beloved of the educated and sophisticated set. My personal favorite.

If it turns out a Judeo-Christian God is truly in charge, this sin guarantees I will not make it to heaven because that particularly wrathful deity was firmly again anyone’s pride but his own.

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins. It is the source of all other sins. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, and failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, as well as excessive admiration of the one’s self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). 

What could I add to this prestigious list?

Allow me to suggest Willful Ignorance, a determined blindness to facts, reality, and knowledge. Willful Ignorance comfortably works in concert with Wrath, Envy, Lust, Pride to virtually define the modern era.

I have been offered the opportunity to become the President of the International Internet … sort of a virtual uber-President of Everything.

As a devotee of pride, I’m definitely qualified for this job. What could God possibly know about computers? They were not part of the original creation, so I’ll take the job.

Speaking of greed, this comes with a gigantic paycheck, right? And, sloth speaking here, I’ll have assistants to do all the real work, won’t I?

DON’T COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S ASS

So there we were in the car driving home on a lovely spring day . I was mentally shuffling that the heap of miscellaneous stuff that passed for my brain, trying to remember all ten of the commandments.

sunlight in new leaves Route 16

Why? Because I thought I should know them. They are supposedly the basis of all moral law, right? Why don’t I know them? Why aren’t they all on the tip of my tongue?

I found myself at a full stop around seven or eight, depending on how I divided the “How to behave to God” section which contains a lot of run-on sentences that could be interpreted as two or sometimes even three commandments but have — I suppose for convenience — been lumped into one.

Chestnut Street Magnolia

I ask Garry if he knows the ten commandments. He replies, with irritation, he has to pay attention to traffic. There wasn’t any traffic, except for the slow driver in front of us. I suppose Garry was trying to not ram him.

Finally, he admits he doesn’t know all of them either, at least not in order.

“A sad state of affairs,” I point out, “When two educated souls cannot recite the ten commandments.”

“There’s a lot of stuff about not making idols and coveting and all.”

“Yeah, and taking one day off each week.”

When I got home, I looked them up.

It turns out there are a bunch of “how to behave to God” commandments. Not all Christians — much less Jews — divide them up the same way. You can count as many as fifteen (à la Mel Brooks in “History of the World, Part I”) or as few as eight. It depends on how you look at them and punctuate the sentences.

Following are the Big Ten according to most Protestant sects, plus a second list containing my streamlined, easy-to-remember set.

Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 NKJV)

  1. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. “You shall not murder.
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.
  8. “You shall not steal.
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Heston-Charlton-Ten-Commandments

I’ve always wondered how come we need laws from God to know that murder is not okay. Aren’t we born knowing this? Don’t we know without being told that stealing is bad? That we should take care of our parents and show them respect? Do we really need laws to tell us?

Modernization is all the rage, so here’s my take on them. Not etched in stone. For the sake of today’s prompt, jealousy is mentioned once in the second commandment where it is good because it’s the Lord’s prerogative. In the tenth, it’s covetousness which is not good because jealousy is good for God, but not for us.

A Streamlined Top Ten

  1. I’m God. The One and Only. Don’t forget it, not for a moment.
  2. Idols are O-U-T.
  3. Don’t swear using God’s name. Maybe no swearing at all. I’m not sure.
  4. Take a break on the seventh day of your week. It doesn’t matter what day you choose because when I started making the world, there were no calendars. So take your pick, then stick to it. Everyone gets the same day off, including your family, guests, slaves, servants, and animals. No work. Got that?
  5. Respect your parents. Take care of them.
  6. Don’t murder anyone.
  7. Don’t cheat on your spouse.
  8. Don’t steal stuff.
  9. Don’t lie.
  10. Don’t envy other people’s stuff. You’ve got your own.

I’m just here to help.

DON’T FORGIVE, DON’T FORGET – HAND IT OFF

Christians have a handle on the forgiving thing. They understand there’s no “human” forgiveness involved. Your job is to recognize you can’t forgive and no one can really forget. So you say, “God? I give this burden to you. Apply your justice and take this bag of rocks off my back.” And voilà, he does.

spring woods

The important lesson — whether or not you buy into Christian theology — is you don’t have to like the person you “forgive.” You don’t have to invite him/her/them over to hang out or feed them a meal. Or even talk to them civilly.

You dump your pain, grief, obsessive reliving of whatever happened, into the lap of your higher power, Karma, or whatever you call it.

It works. You don’t have to sign up for the whole package to recognize a good concept when you see it.

Carrying around a ton of anger and pain kills you. It grinds you down, makes you obsess on injustice. Plan revenge — which most of us would never really actual execute.

The most important point is simple. The person at whom you are angry is not suffering. You are suffering. You are not beating him/her/them up. You’re beating on yourself. So not only were you wronged, but you’ve taken over their role by proxy and continue to hurt yourself.

People who’ve had abusive relationships (child, adult, both) are particularly prone to defining themselves by the worst stuff that ever happened to them. To the point where can’t remember anything good.

fuchsia and woods

You don’t need to forgive or forget. Recognize Karma, God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Chronos — something or someone greater than yourself. Hand off the pain, the anger, the hurt. You don’t know how much weight you’ve been hauling until you let it go.

Alternatively, you can hire a trained assassin and burn the bastard. That works too. Just don’t get caught.