You Can Totally Follow All These Laws

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.

Deuteronomy 30:11 (NIV)

I have been fired twice in my life.

My county allowed teens as young as fourteen to get a work permit, so my Mom signed me up to teach swimming lessons with the local Parks & Rec department. Classes began every Saturday morning at 8 am and took place in the High School’s balmy natatorium. Since I went to church around the same time every Sunday morning, this meant that I had 0 days a week to sleep in. On this basis alone, I had a problem. Also even in eighth grade, I knew that my life’s calling was not swim instruction. Needless to say, I did not enjoy this job, and thus I did not put in all of the required effort to help hapless toddlers stop from drowning. One day, in the view of my superior, I pushed a friend into the pool as a joke; my boss said that I was not cut out for this line of work. What a relief. Fired.

The second occurred many years later after I had graduated college. I charmed my way into an assistant teacher position at a private school for autistic children, and from the get go, my lead teacher and I did not see eye-to-eye. We just had different philosophies – she wanted to “keep the peace” in the room while I wanted to push. Also, as I found out after my dismissal, she actually wanted a female assistant as she felt men just did not have “the instinct.” I was not cut out for this position – my superior had laid all her forces against me – but nonetheless, I wanted this job. So I started scrambling. I altered my approach – much more “maintaining” and less pushing. I changed my demeanor – softer tones and a more delicate touch. But it didn’t work. The teacher just did not want me. They gave me three weeks to improve. I lasted one.

This experience unsettled me in a way that resonated for months thereafter. In this circumstance, I was not some angst-ridden teen forced to wake up early on Saturday mornings; this was my dream job. And in spite of 100% of my efforts, I was simply inadequate for the position. I came just as I was, and they rejected me. It stung like the most intimate of break-ups.

And now it is time to break away from the Torah. I spent the past three weeks reading and cataloguing the Law, and what have I learned? Well, there are 553 laws total – on my count anyway. I provided a list of statistics in the previous entry, such as the most repeated law and the category with the highest total, but what does that tell us?

Not much.

Did you know The Law has a Wikipedia page that catalogues each and every rule? My friend sent it to me, perhaps as a way of discrediting my count of 553, but also to say, “Why did you do all that work when so many have done it before you?”

The answer is simple. Because I wanted to know first hand how God views me.

And according to the Law, I am inadequate. I am inadequate just as I am. Not because of the homosexuality thing, but because of all the things.

Near the end of Deuteronomy, Moses states that we are all completely capable of following the Law. He says it is not like flying into the heavens or crossing the seas; it is simple. Be adequate. You are completely capable of being adequate.

But we all know that we cannot possibly be adequate in God’s eyes; He placed a curse on us for the sins of Adam and Eve due to the fact that we were utter disappointments in our very nature. And the Law further cements this idea, because – and hold on to your hats – it was designed to be completely impossible to follow. Yes, that is what I have learned. God bestowed a standard that no one could ever meet so that we would fully remember our place. We are inadequate, even at our best.

Unlucky enough to be born with a disability? Never enter the presence of the Lord.
Brash enough to have your period? Sit alone for a week.
Gather yourself some firewood on the Sabbath? Lie down and watch the stones fly.

Is it any surprise that about 2/3s of the behavioral laws use negative language?

You want to do something? Asks the Lord, Well, do not do it.
It is your choice, says Moses. It is well within your reach.
You are not enough, says the Bible. You are not enough.

After reading the Law, it is my recommendation that no one ever go near it again. Exactly 0% of the rules still apply in our modern culture, and if Christian theology is correct, it all goes out the window anyway. Stop putting these verses on placards. Don’t reference them in your arguments. Frankly, never quote them again, unless your quote begins with the words, This isn’t true, but…

You want to know what I learned? The Law is dead.

The Full Law (Jesse Is Thankfully Done with the Law)

As Jesus will say approximately six months from now (according to my blog schedule at least):

It is done.

I have finished cataloguing all of the commandments mentioned in the Law and came up with a few interesting statistics. First things first, let’s see our final graph and tallies (alternatively, you can view this info by clicking on “The Law” tab):

FINAL TALLY: 553 LAWS

Final

Final

 


 

FINAL TOTALS

Gods & gods : 47
Sexuality & Relationships : 38
Ritual : 99
Money & Property : 58
Food : 51
Behavior : 121
Sacrifice : 66
Health: 29
Miscellaneous : 44


SUPERLATIVES
(you know… like in high school)

Category with Most Laws: Behavior with 121 laws (22%)

Most Repeated Commandment: “Keep God’s commandments.” (18 mentions)

2nd Most Repeated Commandment: TIE “Remember Sabbath” and “Do not worship other gods.” (13 mentions each)

Number of Laws Forbidding Gay Relationships: 1

Number of Laws Forbidding Lesbian Relationships: 0

Number of Laws Requiring Us to Not Pollute the Earth: 1

Number of Laws Requiring Us to Have Tassels on All Our Garments: 2

Number of Laws Forbidding Various Forms of Incest: 13

Tomorrow… a little analysis. But in the meantime, go up and check out the “Law” tab to see the complete list of entries.

Put Me to Death (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 6)

 Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.

Leviticus 24:14 (NIV)

westboro

Westboro Baptist Church

Defiance has never been pretty.

Leviticus 24 takes us on a horrific aside involving one of the first examples of the rigid endgame to God’s laws. An unnamed man blasphemes God, and so the Almighty himself retaliates by ordering his death by stoning. He commands all the witnesses to lay their hands on his head while the rest of the community carries out the heavy lifting. And so in order to remain obedient, the people carry out the will of God. They drag this man out and stone him according to the words of God.

This passage speaks to one of the most brutal elements of life in this culture – public execution with group participation. Those that viewed the crime with their own eyes are required to hold down the head of the accused, while the rest of the community grabs the boulders to do the rest. This notion of communal accountability was mentioned in an earlier law, when God commanded men to speak up when they witnessed a sin. It is no wonder that groups as severe as the Westboro Baptist Church carry signs at funerals and scream at passersby. If they are to understand the Law to be completely relevant… well, God commands them to do just that, to carry out the punishment themselves. I would never make an excuse for the criminals who participate in such hatred, but their actions do warn us to the potential of taking these Laws to their most literal extreme. Here is a group of individuals who believe wholly in the word of God, most especially the ugly parts. Sure, even the most conservative Christian would probably agree that the Westboro folks certainly pick and choose their theology, but isn’t that most people’s modern approach towards religion – to take what applies and leave the rest? These haters just took all the negative parts.

So modern LGBT individuals have learned to be defiant in the face of discrimination. Extremist Christians might have the WBC, but gays and lesbians have drag queens. Take, for instance, Mama Tits – the affectionately named drag queen who argued with Christian protestors outside of Spokane, Washington’s Pride parade. I am embedding a video below, but here is a transcript of some of what she said:

“Why don’t you read your own book and actually follow the teachings to the letter of God and learn to support and love. You need to drop the hate. You are a sad, sad excuse for a human being. Once you learn to drop the hate, you too can find happiness because we will welcome you with open arms if you learn to open your minds. Not today Satan, not today!”

…Transcribed by Towleroad.com

This falls in line with a ton of the LGBT defiance that I see. Some people like to bring up the fact that Jesus never specifically mentions homosexuality (which is true). Other pundits like to bring up the archaic nature of the Laws in the Old Testament, and how it appears that we’ve tossed some out while grapple holding a few others (also true). But these simplistic views of the conflict between homosexuality and theology fail to take into consideration the nuance of the human condition.

At its core, I truly believe that Christian-bred homophobia is a product of intense fear. Yes, there is certainly a heavy measure of “I don’t like thinking about two dudes making out,” but it most definitely goes deeper. Most religions offer one of the best coping mechanisms for the problem of mortality by offering believers a way to achieve eternal life. But Christianity specifically calls its followers to minister to those around them. However misguided it may seem, when Christian people tell you that they are “praying for you,” it just means that they honestly worry that you will be going to Hell by acting on your desire. Before, I was enormously offended when friends of mine said, “I’m praying for you throughout this whole situation.” I felt like responding to them, “Pray for yourself, I’m just fine!” I had that rush of anger, because underneath that sentiment, they were really saying, “You are wayward.” I hated that feeling and still do. But now, when someone says that to me, I view it as a sign of love; or at its worst, arrogance. At least that person is not holding up a “God Hates Fags” sign. At least there is that.

I am not suggesting that defiant drag queens and outspoken queer people are getting it wrong in their approach. I just wonder what other strategies there may be – what other conversations are left to have. If God is listening to all of this, He doesn’t seem to concerned with stoning the infidels anymore. We don’t drag out sinners and hold their heads during their much-deserved capital punishment. Instead, we talk.

So let’s see where talking gets us.


Here’s Mama Tits on the front lines:


 

Gay is Bad (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 5.2)

(This is the second part of a two-part entry. Check out the first part here)

If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Leviticus 20:13 (NIV)

No desire goes unpunished. Enter my headspace at 16-years-old, and recall that my worst nightmare was being queer in any way. What I wanted more than anything was to marry a woman and start a homegrown life. The normalcy of it all attracted me. The predictability of knowing the ins and outs of the suburban life – the 9 to 5+, weekends off, vacation weeks piling up. I dreamt of being a tenured college professor or a mathematician slowly uncovering the sheets of Chaos. But nothing too fancy. Just a life to live out with the warmth of companionship and the love of legacy – meaning children and lots of them. I wanted just that and nothing more; my dreams were altogether unselfish. Desire was never really part of the picture, because I had no concept of what it meant. I draw a heavy distinction between these two driving forces: want and desire. To want is to consciously decide where you would like to go and what you would like to have. To desire is something much more primal. It is to yearn for something in an uncontrollable, animalistic way; to become drawn to something like your life depends on it. I wanted a woman and all that it meant. But I desired something else. And from an early age, before I had the language for queerness, I knew that my want and my desire did not match up. And I started fighting to correct it.

Dan suggested it. It will be perfect: the nor’easter, the snowstorm, parents stuck in Boston. We’ll drink to keep us warm and watch shitty TV. He was right – it all appeared to be working out perfectly. He trudged over as the snow began, with a saddlebag filled with gin and a base supply of snacks. He arrived just as the weather started to get bad, so he stripped off his soaked outer layer and retreated with me to my house’s affectionately named “play room.”

Teenage seduction is either rigid and painful or loose and drunk. We chose the latter, because the former would require weeks of slow build up to achieve. This needed to happen, and most of all, it needed to happen tonight. Time for a shortcut. Let the gin flow. My memory gets fuzzy around then. We watched some tv show, we drank gin or maybe whiskey or vodka or scotch or skunked wine, we moved in on one another at sunset or 8 pm or after the TV fell asleep or as the snowfall crusted from the wind. I don’t know.

The language of sexuality is spoken completely in subtext. And even after we transitioned from drunken friends to stumbling quasi-lovers, we still could not muster the strength to speak the words out loud. Instead, we thought it and looked at each other until the shame knocked our glances off kilter. And by the end of the night, when we had spent all our energy in making this feel right, we acquiesced and passed out.

I struggle to recall the details of that night: what we watched, who touched whom first, and how we ended up from the bottom floor to the bedroom. But I do remember the desire. And I remember the cost.

The cost: no wife, no kids, no stability. I could forget all the want, because now I was a rebel. Instead I had my desire, and it was something I could not avoid for long. But the cost, the cost, the weight of ditching one dream in hopes of a tangible reality (the reality of life as a queer man), that cost. The cost of life was an eternal death and societal castration, that cost. The neon lights pointing me towards freedom also put me on a conveyer belt straight into damnation, that cost. The cost of touch, the cost of desire, that cost.

It was 100% worth it.


Today is a light day when it comes to new laws, as we have only added 30 odd statutes. The majority of today’s reading, which ended at Leviticus 24, outlined the punishments for some of the laws previously mentioned. Not surprisingly, most involved death by stoning or burning, but some only required banishment. My only astonishment came from a law forbidding anyone with a disability from entering holy places. Talk about a condition that is incontrollable…

UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN! (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 4)

Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!”

Leviticus 13:35 (NIV)

Let’s talk about cleanliness.

emloyees-wash-hands-signMy mother always said that my brother cared “too much” about his looks and that I cared “too little,” and we could do ourselves a favor by evening each other out a bit. You may not think that I give my mother much credit, but I have to say, she was certainly correct about that one. My hair frizzed like a dandelion, so I shaved it off. My brother, on the other hand, took those same hair genes and managed to sculpt his into the glistening curls of David. I disliked clothes shopping (and still do), so I had no issues wearing styles that were years old. Alternatively, my brother stayed up with the trends (and still does). He was always right on track with the slick phraseology and pop culture icons of the moment. I just never could care any less. Our styles and lifestyles are just vastly different, despite our one glaring similarity.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, my mother used to say (and probably still does say, but I don’t live in her house, so I don’t know). How original, Ma.

Much ado is made about cleanliness in the Law, particularly about what makes us ceremonially unclean and how we can go about once again restoring our holiness. Barriers are put up between those who are clean and unclean, and we are told not to associate with those on the other side of the border. Women particularly seem to get the short end of the stick, as their “natural flow of blood” makes them unclean for a quarter of a month, every month. Most fascinatingly, the majority of bodily actions that make a person dirty are entirely compulsory. Why punish someone for having a rash? Because the Law says so. And that punishment will include wearing torn clothes, letting your hair be unkempt, having a veil over your face, and shouting “Unclean!” over and over again.

I am mighty glad my mother did not go that far.

I get it. This is all meant to be symbolic of how we are separate from God. Because we are sinful, we are held accountable even for those facets about us that we cannot control. Prone to eczema? You’re about to have a tough time living in the fifteenth century Before Christ.

I am starting to get a feeling, and pardon my status as a layperson… Maybe these laws are set to be absolutely impossible to follow. Maybe they are designed to make sure that Man always knows its place in the world, which is far, far below that of God.

Or maybe God just wants us squeaky clean. I don’t know yet.


CURRENTLY ON MY THREE PRIESTS

A series of defiling skin diseases have knocked up the Miscellaneous section. And no love yet for laws on sexuality. Now, if the most inflammatory Christian rhetoric taught me anything, it was that The Law was filled with smitings over deviant sexual behaviors. I’m a bit disappointed. Hopefully Christmas will come early this year.

Grotesque Imagery (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 3)

If the offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, you are to offer a dove or a young pigeon. The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He is to remove the crop and the feathers and throw them down east of the altar where the ashes are. He shall tear it open by the wings, not dividing it completely, and then the priest shall burn it on the wood that is burning on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.

Leviticus 1:14-17 (NIV)

emloyees-wash-hands-signLet’s walk through a burnt offering.

Take a perfect male ram from the herd. No defects – pure. Take your son’s hands and place them on the head of the goat. Behead it while he holds it. Splash the blood. Now, it’s time for the organs. Remove the kidneys. Slice off the tail at the backbone. Burn it all, except for the fat. Take the fat and the other organs and dispose of them far away. If no ram is available for the sacrifice, you may offer some birds by twisting their heads off, ripping off their wings, and draining their blood (if you need a more detailed explanation, read the verses quoted above).

This type of ritual, if performed today, would not only seem archaic, it would be deemed wholly sadistic. I can wrap my mind around some customs changing over the centuries, how we pray and worship and the language we use to address holy figures and even God. However, I have difficulty understanding how a practice can go from the utmost holy act – one which is required for atonement – to something grotesquely evil. If I watched a reenactment of one of these sacrifices, I would believe I was observing a tradition of the occult.

A recurring theme throughout my first month of entries is the seeming importance of community over individual. God frequently allows the suffering or even death of an individual in order to enact some other part of His plan. He allowed the Israelites to be enslaved for over 400 years, and those that lived and died during that time saw no benefit from God’s plan. Today, we like to think that our suffering exists to strengthen us for some future personal gain, but in reality, if we are to believe in the thoroughness of God’s plan, then maybe we never will see growth. Maybe it is for some other greater good.

God demands the most beautiful and pure animals for these sacrifices. Why is the destruction of something blameless pleasing to Him? Why does He seem to view mankind as a collective soul, forsaking one for the benefit of others?

This section was difficult to read and even harder to stomach. I realize the narrative of Jesus acts as a game changer, but what about those people, those individuals? Did they matter?

I don’t know.


 

CURRENTLY ON CHARLTON HESTON IN THE OTHER COMMANDMENTS

166 laws and counting total (check out the pie graph here). And with the advent of these laws today, it looks like a large percentage of our total will end up belong to sacrifice.