After writing The Man in a Dress at a Simcha (which I later removed to protect him and his family) and acknowledging my bias from my pre-conversion Christian past, then being confronted about it, then considering calling in for backup a Jewish guy with more sources than me (a Boss for truth who frequently gets himself in trouble socially for being too bold), I smiled thinking how I respect extremists.
In a light-bulb flash I learned something new about myself. I realized the order from religious extremism comforted me during the emotional turbulence of my childhood. My parents divorced when I was three years old, and I began the back and forth from her house to his house to her house to his house every other weekend. They were as different as night and day, and their differences confused me; only much later would I see their similarities and understand what attracted them to each other.
After the divorce, my mom and I joined what I would later believe to be a near cult, a tiny Christian school and church that taught “THE BIBLE”, and she trusted them to help give me a spiritual foundation, which they did. Despite their “cultness” they gave me a safe space and ultimately gave me a love for G-d and a love for the actual written Bible. They would probably be appalled that this love for the Bible would eventually lead me to Judaism. So amazing how pros and cons are intertwined and how Hashem uses both for his purposes.
Mom and I went three times a week for church and five days a week for school. Meanwhile on his weekends, Daddy would sit in his big country yard and drink beer and let me make dirty mud pies and roam the woods with my older step-siblings (awesome experience!). He went to church a couple times, but I can count them on two fingers. The church made me worry for his salvation, which I now find abusive to put that kind of pressure on a child, but what they didn’t know was that Daddy was giving me his own brand of salvation – the gift of freedom and exploration and tadpoles and wild country roots the “Good Lord” would be proud of.
My mom got me everywhere on time with perfect lipstick and gleaming white teeth. She made sure my hair was brushed and my grades were good and my friends were good and my life was on a straight path with every opportunity a kid could have. My dad showed up smoking a cigarette, when he got there when he got there. He didn’t worry. My mom’s over-protection made my dad’s parenting feel negligent. My mom’s holiness made my dad’s lack of it feel scandalous. They were two sides of a see-saw, and I was going up and down all the time.
Now I can see clearly what they both gave me and what they couldn’t. I can see their pros and cons, and how Hashem used all of it to make me Me. The gift I always had were two parents who I didn’t doubt loved me “more than life itself” as my mom used to always say.
But as a child, I was confused. I was in the middle. I was scared sometimes. I was little. I was without half of me all the time. The emotional life of a divorced kid can feel so scattered; being between two vastly different homes made mine more scattered than others.
And religion can be oh so organized. Religion to the rescue! This religious establishment gave me what I did not have in a family unit – order, boundaries, security. So of course I’m attracted to extremists. Extremism comforted me and gave me structure and answers from a young age. Who cares if the answers were right? They helped for a while. Now new ones are helping. (Not to negate the truth of these new ones; I’m just exploring here.)
Is Hashem extreme? What do you think?
What do I really need now? I don’t think it’s extremism, and I don’t really consider myself to be an extreme person.
So many questions!