“I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.” ―William Sloane Coffin Jr.
Posted onJanuary 4, 2015
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“I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.” ―William Sloane Coffin Jr.
How This Jewish American Wiccan “Celebrates Christmas”
In the very near future, I will be spending a huge chunk of my time in Israel. It will be nice not having to explain holidays to anyone or explaining why Christmas is just another day to me. For now, in the suburbs of a predominantly Irish and Italian neighborhood with a good 20 churches in pretty much every direction I turn (I wish I was exaggerating), I am still explaining myself. I have no idea why people still think their religion is the only one that exists on this planet. I’ll never understand it!
I am completely respectful of other people’s religious beliefs and their holidays, so long as I am not subjected to them in a means to try and convert me, but my spiritual beliefs and holidays are often met with some extremely disturbing questions, as opposed to the few I have received recently that were honest, curious, and filled with excitement for knowledge. They were by no means offensive. When a person is open and honest, and interested, it makes it so much easier for me to be me, as opposed to feeling like I have to repress my thoughts.
A few weeks ago someone wished me a “Merry Christmas” and received my usual response, which is that I do not celebrate Christmas. This is someone whose establishment I frequent once or twice a month, and not only did she look like I’d just kicked her, but she came over to make sure she hadn’t offended me. I had to explain that I celebrate Chanukah and Yule, and that I am not Catholic or Christian. She was incredibly confused, but she came over to make sure she hadn’t offended me with a wish for a good holiday. Me, I simply like to be clear with people. I am not trying to offend anyone, but if you’re going to wish me well, wish me properly. Don’t make assumptions and please, don’t tell me I “don’t look Jewish”. I don’t even know how to answer that one without telling you off, and because I come from a rich ancestral well of knowledge and an incredibly deep DNA pool, I can assure you that we come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. We are all distinctly unique, some more than others.
Growing up, Christmas was not a word used much in our home. Not for any other reason than the simple fact that we’re Jewish. We had many Christian and Catholic friends, some who understood and some who did not, that we ourselves did not celebrate the same holiday, nor did we share the same spiritual or religious beliefs that they did. It is extremely disturbing to me that in 2013, any Jew still has to explain themselves.
People like to quote the Bible at me, and they are generally New Testament folk. They’re the kinds of people that don’t realize exactly how “new” the New Testament really is. I, myself, do not adhere to anything outside of the Old Testament. Even that kind of loses me at times. Prayer is an amazing thing, but I like to stick to my own path when it pertains to anything of a spiritual nature. I am not trying to change or convert anyone.
Today is simply December 25th to me. It’s not a holiday, but it IS my Great-Uncle’s birthday. He passed away 15 years ago, but I still remember him very clearly. I remember the last things he ever said to me, and I remember how silent this time of year became after he passed away. For several years prior to his passing, myself and two other family members would try to spend the day with him. Even though he had long since stopped acknowledging his own birthday, he still loved going out to a nice restaurant and enjoying good food, good company, and he told stories like nobodies business. They’re the kinds of stories you want to hear from someone over the age of 80, because you know that no matter how much time passes, you will never hear such stories again.
After he passed away, the tradition maintained in my home on Christmas Day was movies and good food. Either we went to the movies and came home to a really great meal, or we stayed home with a pile of movies and made a meal together. Almost always, it was homemade Italian food from scratch, or Chinese food from the best place in the area.
To know me is to know that I make killer Italian food. It’s something I love doing, but I am just as comfortable making Asian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, and pretty much anything else that I have mastered in all my years of cooking. Nothing is impossible, but I am an epic lasagna failure. It’s the only thing I make that falls apart, so I’ve stopped doing it. It is never inedible, it just never does what it’s supposed to do. Despite a family recipe for veggie lasagna that has been passed down for four generations, I completely and utterly suck at it. It’ll probably be another ten years before I attempt it again. It takes time and patience, and we all know I have no patience.
Over time I have found that people really seem to be offended whenever I clarify that I do not celebrate Christmas. They look at me like I kick puppies, torture kittens, steal winning lottery tickets, and am just, on a whole, not a good person. I look at them with the knowledge that, for over 5000 years, my people have not celebrated Christmas. It’s not on our calender and it’s not in our religious texts. It’s perfectly ok to not share the same religious beliefs. If we did, we’d be living in some kind of bizarre utopia. That’s not a world I can imagine functioning in. Differences make the world go ‘round. We can either choose to come together and learn from one another or we can continue fighting in the name of religion. The choice, however, is generally not ours to make because those that govern our respective countries are a huge part of why organized religion is failing. I could go on, but I won’t, or I assure you, I will offend you.
One year a family friend (one of my brother’s best friends at the time), on leave from the Army, wanted me to convince my brother to come to midnight mass with him. I, personally, do not spend time in churches. It has never been my thing. My brother politely declined, but as his friend became more insistent he finally said “Look, there’s a Jew hanging from a cross in no less than 7 places in there. With that track record, I don’t care to be the sacrifice sometime between midnight and 2 a.m.” We ALL laughed, and no one was offended.
This very same friend asked us about Christmas trees, genuinely wanting to know “If we put up Christmas trees, what do Jewish people do?” Never one to miss an opportunity, I turned around and said “We put up a Chanukah Bush, John.” He nodded and said “Oh, ok.” I said absolutely nothing for a few minutes, everyone was in on it because they’d heard me do this little bit before. Finally, after suppressing serious laughter to the point where I almost hurt myself, I admitted to him that I was just fucking around with him, that there was no such thing as a Chanukah Bush (though I admit, I know some people that put one up because they love Christmas trees, but don’t celebrate Christmas). Again, laughter ensued. You have to really know me to know that I will joke like that with the people that know me best, and that, while inappropriate to some, I am careful what I say in mixed company because I don’t go out of my way to be hurtful to others. I do like to be very clear though, that’s just my way. Humor and clarity.
Approximately 11 ½ years ago, Wicca was introduced to me. It is the perfect blend of a nature based religion steeped in Kabbalistic teachings. Kabbalah is Jewish Mysticism. If you don’t know what that is, use a search engine. That will explain it more clearly for you.
For me, Wicca was like coming home. It was pretty much everything I had been raised around, especially a love for animals and nature, and the elements. Part of the Wiccan Rede is “An it harm none, do as ye will”. There is no governing body, you govern yourself, and the Wiccan Rede tells you “So long as you are not harming anyone, do as you will. Live your life.” It is laid back and calm, and it brings an extra level of peace to my life. Even my Rabbi is comfortable with my spiritual beliefs. He’s one of the most open people I have ever met, so I feel supremely comfortable being myself and speaking my mind around him. Until I met him, I had NEVER been in the presence of a man of God and not felt judged. However, my Rabbi is unique. He too, is from a foundation of “You’re not harming anyone by being you. Live your life.” In this, I always feel incredibly blessed.
Almost all of my friends are religiously different than I am, and that is beyond ok. I am not sitting in judgement of them or their beliefs. I want them to be their authentic selves, and I can only hope they want the same for me. I have friends that are Jewish and friends that are Wiccan, so I don’t feel spiritually deprived in any sense of the word. We should all celebrate what we believe in and do so with those we love. We should wish the people in our lives well EVERY DAY, not just during the month of December.
So Lisa, exactly how does a Jewish American Wiccan “celebrate Christmas”? Simply put, I don’t. I ignore the insanity of my neighbors, all of whom DO celebrate Christmas, and I go about my day. I will bake Cranberry Orange scones for breakfast, I will do laundry and maybe enjoy a movie. I will play with my fuzzy little Princess. Later on, I will be making a nice meal for the family I am spending my day with. I might even get some writing finished, if I’m feeling up to it. Basically, anything goes. It’s just another quiet day for me. After years and years spent taking care of others, quiet days are something I really treasure.
Wishing you & yours a beautiful holiday season.
Through The Rain
For those who maybe haven’t picked up on it yet, I am Jewish. 100% through and through because, even though I disagree with varying viewpoints at times, I believe in a spiritual deity, and it’s drastically different from the church and its teachings.
I am not posting this in an attempt to convert anyone, because that’s not my deal at all, but I am posting it to share and explain.
In late 2002, while studying Psychology & Comparative Religion, I stumbled upon Wicca as a 2nd “faith”, if you will. Growing up with Kabbalistic Judaism, which is Jewish Mysticism for those of you who only hear Kabbalah and think of Madonna or Demi Moore, Wicca sort of brought it all home for me. It made sense out of all the things I’d been raised to believe and it made sense for my every day life. It brought me to a peaceful, calmer, happier place. A place I really needed to be considering how difficult my life had been up until that point.
Obviously there are differences between the two religions. You have a monotheist belief system, but because I grew up believing in duality of God and Goddess, Wicca, as a polytheist belief system, makes sense to me even within the confines of Judaism. I see them as being incredibly intertwined most of the time.
To be clear, I don’t practice either faith for shock value or to attract attention. I do it because it’s my spiritual path and it’s part of what makes me who I am. I’m spiritual as opposed to religious, but I have members of my family that are Ultra Orthodox and barely acknowledge my existence because I’m not “Jewish enough” for them and their way of life. We pretty much all grew up Reformed, yet they are now somehow superior to the rest of us. You can’t help, but roll your eyes. I respect their faith, but they can’t respect mine. It’s a good thing they haven’t seen my tattoos, they’d probably drop dead and spit.
My wish for this New Year is for my family & friends all over the world to have a better, happier, stronger, more secure year than the one we are leaving behind. Less struggle, more happiness. Less pain, more days where we can feel like we’re truly part of the bigger picture. More healing, less torment. More listening, less ignoring. More compassion, less negativity.
To my Rabbi, thank you for being there for me over these past six years. It has made such an immense difference having you be a voice of reason. To Shani (my sister from another mister) in Israel, I love you and I’m thinking of you.
For those of you who do not celebrate this holiday, my wishes for you remain the same.L’Shanah Tovah!
Once Upon A Time…
Once upon a time, in an extremely bizarre reality, I was in a relationship I should not have been in. The warning signs were there, but some people burn so brightly that you don’t seem to notice you’re going up in flames and turning to ash. Immensely large red flares of danger were being sent up so I wouldn’t get burned. Did that stop anything? Not so much.
He was the quintessential “bad boy”, complete with a Harley Davidson collection (the actual motorcycles, not memorabilia.), tattoos, multiple drug addictions, and a one million foot yacht chock full of issues. Maybe the maternal, nurturing aspect of me wanted to fix or heal him. I don’t know, but whatever it is, I’m thankful every single day that it is no longer a part of my life.
Initially there was no reaction or emotion from me towards him. He was just a guy, a guy all kinds of women fell for, but I prided myself on not adding myself to the throng of fools. Until one day, when I was seemingly drawn in like a moth to a flame. Except I wasn’t a moth, I was a butterfly, and yet, I suddenly had to have him. The pull was intense. He was crazy about me; The only person who challenged him, who questioned everything, and who was not impressed by anything. The problems though, they were simmering under the surface, just waiting to come out, one by one.
They started relatively early. I had never been told I was “too skinny” before. Even as a former gymnast that had experienced bouts of bulimia on & off for about two years after realizing that I’d never be an Olympic anything. I did not consider myself “too skinny” or “too” anything, really. I had the mouth of a Marine on leave, a writing career that had taken off in an amazing way, and a guy who told me he loved me, but to this day probably doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Someone send that man a dictionary. You’ll find him in there, somewhere very close to the word “Douchebag”, providing you’ve opted for a Webster’s upgrade.
His job allowed me the independence and space that I like in a relationship. I can’t have someone in my face 24/7, nagging, and standing over my shoulder like a watch dog. It drives me insane. He respected that, until the possessiveness became more than just one or two phone calls a day. At first it simply seemed like he was going out of his way to surprise me and brighten aspects of my life, but that wasn’t it, not at all.
The man could spit out promises just as quickly as he broke them, I just didn’t know he was trying to break me in the process.
The criticism I endured throughout the course of this relationship was actually harsher than what I dealt with from my family, and even though I had a comeback for everything he said, the words still haunt me… I went from being vibrant, smart, confident, & 100% in control to depressed, unhappy, paranoid, angry, & jealous. I was reduced to questioning why I was somehow not good enough for him. It was irrational and insane. Logically there was always an inner voice telling me “He’s not good enough for you. What are you doing?! This man is poison. Tell him to go to hell and walk away.”
I remember crying one night to my best friend at the time, after a particularly shitty thing he’d lied about. Here I was, the strongest, toughest, most direct chick people knew, asking “Why would he lie to me like that? Why would he lie about something so important? Why aren’t I good enough for him?” I was devastated by the pathological way in which he’d lie.
My best friend consoled me quietly, basically saying she didn’t know why he had lied or why he would, but eventually, months later, she told me I was “Too smart, too pretty, and all around way too good for the likes of him!” She meant it. She’d had enough of him hurting me. She was furious that he would hurt me in such a manner and then behave as if all was right in the world, and her anger continued to fuel when he showed up at a work event we all attended with a married woman on his arm. “A friend”, he’d called her. More like a drug supplier he’d hooked up with. He was spiraling and wanted to take me with him, but I would not allow that.
For the record, I was already ass deep in alligators when I realized just how big an issue the drugs actually were because they weren’t an issue at the onset. It went from being an old football injury to being an all-consuming, problem-inducing, complete lack of grip on reality. It started out small, as many addictions do, and escalated until it had to be confronted. I did not condone it in any way and refused to support the habit. I was not going to be in a relationship with an addict, period. I was the catalyst to get him into rehab, explaining in list formation all that he would lose if he did not get clean. But as most people can tell you, 30 days in rehab will detox you, it might even get you to talk about why you got into it in the first place, but it’s every single day after leaving a protected environment that matters most. If you have people that love & support you, you have a greater chance at remaining sober. You might slip up, recovery is going to be a constant for the rest of your life, but the effort you put forth is SO important. However, if you return to the exact same lifestyle and friends you had during the height of your illness, it will revert you right back into it at some point, especially if you have no real desire to be clean, no willpower, and no real desire to live. It’s a way of committing suicide slowly, secretly hoping that one day it’ll all be over and you don’t personally have to do the heavy lifting, or deal with the aftermath.
Part of what saddens me about the relationship itself is that I defended, protected, and shielded this man. I was the epitome of devoted and loyal to the Nth degree. My love was genuine, and yet I was constantly criticized, going as far as to be told that I wasn’t good enough to be introduced to his parents, who for years, he told me were dead (I’d later find out he only wished they were.), because of our differing religions. Who the hell were these people? England’s Monarchy?! How isolated and ignorant were they to think their religion was the only one that existed in this world?! This was not the first time someone had taken issue with my religion and tried to make me feel guilty for it. I was considered “not Jewish enough” by one guy’s family, and now I was being made to feel like I was somehow inappropriate and shameful.
Suddenly, after years of knowing our religions were different, it became this big issue, and we fought about it a lot. Would I be willing to convert to Roman Catholicism for him? HELL NO. Would I sign a pre-nup? Whoa, where the hell did THAT come from?! You want to marry me, you’ve asked, I’ve accepted, but now you’re afraid I suddenly want to be with you for financial gain? Seriously?! Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always taken care of myself. He knew that. I don’t expect a man to pay for my lifestyle. I’m fully capable of making my own money, buying my own clothes, jewelry, etc. I think you should want to take care of your partner and be a provider, but relationships are give and take. I did not expect to just sit on my ass and be given anything, so I waffled back and forth on that little tidbit.
The ever present “Would you please eat?!” grated on my nerves. He’d bring me food for several years of our relationship, but not in a loving, caring, concerned way (I do like it when I’m sick and a guy has the sense to bring me soup or Italian food. There’s something very nurturing about that.), but in an extremely controlling manner. As soon as I gained about 15 pounds from this constant influx of food, I was suddenly told the exact opposite. Now I wasn’t thin enough, I was becoming the woman who he didn’t want anyone else looking at. What was so shameful about being curvy? He’d have a fit whenever we’d be somewhere and someone else would check me out. I was not the one doing the looking, yet he was suddenly paranoid that anyone who checked me out was somehow going to end up in my bed. It was eye-rollingly ridiculous.
He’d do something shitty, and I’d be “rewarded” with jewelry or flowers, sometimes both, depending on the situation. It got to a point where I began to loathe the pink & purple roses I loved so much. To this day if someone sends me roses, I cringe inside. He would promise to be somewhere I needed him to be, but was almost always off feeding his drug habit, or as I would later find out through a friend, a habit for other women.
It was demanded upon me that I be 100% faithful. That was not a problem because I’d never cheated on someone before and wasn’t about to start, but because he was the one doing all the cheating, he started having people follow me to find out what I was doing every time I left the house. Stalker much?! It was sick. It was also an excuse.
I’d had enough after confronting someone he often had tail me, and I put my foot down. I’m not big on ultimatums, but he needed to hear what his behavior was doing, that it was unhealthy and damaging, and completely unwarranted and unacceptable. It came down to this: He needed to return to rehab, fully commit to it, and he then needed to be clean & sober for a year before I would agree to marriage. It was high time for him to prove that he was worthy of me, not the other way around.
He went to rehab for a few months, coming back apologetic, and for a while things were simply tense. We talked, but clearly he was refusing to hear me. He was about to do something he’d probably been considering for quite some time, and simply hadn’t been man enough to say to my face. The ring on my finger probably made me believe a slew of lies I was actually too smart to actually buy into in the first place, but there was something slightly blinding & intoxicating about it. But the truth of the matter is, it was just plain toxic.
The problem with relationships slowly turning abusive is that, initially, we think we’re in the right relationship with the right person, until suddenly we’re not.
For years after this relationship ended I’d hear “Oh, LET IT GO!” whenever I mentioned how hurt, angry, or betrayed I felt, as if emotions could be turned off like a faucet. How could I not feel all of those things?! Saying “I love you” is not a cure all. Actions speak louder than words. His actions were atrocious.
With a ring still solidly on my finger, he married someone else, just weeks after saying we were good and moving in the right direction, that he was trying. I had to find out via an announcement his new wife was sending to friends & family. He would go on to have several children with her pretty quickly, each time choosing names we had decided on for our future offspring. That was the icing on the cake. I seriously worried about my ability to be around him in any capacity after that, so I disengaged. I made sure that whenever he’d be around, I would not be present. Hurting someone you claim to love in such a manner is vile, but to then go on living your life as if said loved one never existed is even worse. I started to think I was losing my mind. If it had not been for the fact that I knew the relationship had occurred, and exactly what I had endured, I’d have felt like I was being erased.
He & I continue to have mutual friends. I’ve stopped speaking to all, but three of them because I’m tired of hearing the lies. “He asked about you.”, “He hopes you’re all right. He just wants you to be happy.”, “He cares about you.” PLEASE! He never cared in the first place, it was a fucking game to him. No matter how many times I would ask these friends not to relay anything he said about me, it would come up in conversation, until I finally changed my phone number and said “No more.”
Not one to eat bullshit politely with a knife and fork, I have gone out of my way to avoid him since all of this went down. In truth, I have nothing to be embarrassed about. I didn’t do anything wrong, except believe in a person I shouldn’t have given the time of day to, but hey, we all make mistakes. Avoiding him is my way of remaining a healthy, non-toxic human-being. I know that eventually, at some point, we will run into one another, and I pray that I am not carrying a loaded weapon that day or wearing particularly high heels because even though people tell me I’m not a damaging, harmful person to be around, and that I’d never willingly hurt someone, I cannot promise that the desire to harm him won’t be there. Some of the rage goes away with time, but any time the relationship is mentioned or I come across something from that time period, I am flooded with everything I thought I’d already moved past. For me, that lets me know the damage runs deep. It does not, nor will it ever, mean that I care about him. I don’t. I wouldn’t spit on this man if he was on fire.
Once I no longer love/respect someone, my emotions will often turn to pity, anger (at myself & the other person involved), & my anger is a burning rage that can simmer and bubble for years until it is truly out of my system. If the anger is unjustified, it eventually dwindles and the flames put out, but if it IS justified, stay the hell out of my way. I can go from zero to bitch in about half a second.
Unfortunately, there are so many different kinds of abuse in the world, that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint if you are the abused or the abuser. Sometimes you are simultaneously both, even if you don’t intend to be.
Writing this makes me feel a bit like I’m back in Psych class, but I’ve been revisiting certain things lately, which is why I am writing about such a personal, private matter, but if what I’m saying helps even one person get out of a toxic relationship, then that’s important and necessary.
If you’re in any kind of relationship where your words and feelings are being defined in an incorrect manner, where you are constantly insulted, and berated, it is time to take a closer look at this relationship. Thinking this person is “the best you can do”, having low, little, or no self-esteem, or coming from a “people pleasing” type of family are all potential signs you’ve probably overlooked. Most people do. When you’ve been taught that everything around you is “normal” and a part of your daily life, you stop questioning things. You begin to lose your inner voice. Once you lose your inner voice, you start to become everything the abuser has defined you as. Your thoughts, feelings, actions, everything is now completely defined by someone else. Moreover, you question yourself and promise yourself you’ll be better for them, that you will do everything right, not realizing that your life is your own, it is not owned by someone else.
Believe it or not, I am a product of abuse. Not just from the relationship I am talking about, but from my childhood. I am very forthcoming about that fact when approached, but generally I keep such things to myself. However, when a person comes to me and needs help, I am the first person to listen, and the first to say something.
For many, many years I handled the abuse (verbal, emotional, and physical) by throwing myself into my writing and my singing. One day I snapped, I’d had enough. I was 100% committed in the fact that I’d kill the other person and spend my life in jail, but I believed in my cause because I was protecting two other people. I took the brunt of everything so they wouldn’t have to. To this day, one of those people denies that 99% of the abuse ever occurred. It must be nice living in such a warped bubble of false memories, but I know what I lived, I know what I saw, and it is sad for me to see this person deny the abuse and become the abuser themselves. If you correct this person, or disagree with them, they will say YOU are abusing THEM. It’s a vicious cycle, however, I know that by standing up and saying ENOUGH, and being committed to putting a stop to it, that I did the right thing. If I hadn’t, I’d be in jail right now. Or worse.
People are often shocked to learn that I’ve been through such things. I don’t deny being strong and confident, and I don’t deny that I will say something is wrong when it is wrong, regardless of who is saying it. I will admit to being wrong on the rare occasion that I am. But I will not allow myself to live a life of abuse. I won’t allow someone to define me, to disrespect me, to use me, to tell me what I think, to tell me where to go, or tell me what I am allowed to do. When someone behaves that way around me, I am very happy to show them the door. I know I deserve better.
I look for different things in people now, and I always pay attention to my intuition. It is an immense part of who I am. If someone or something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. If something feels innately wrong, re-evaluate it and follow your instincts. Intuition will never lie to you, but the heart will. If your relationship involves young children, get out NOW. You do not want your child/children to be affected by the abuse inflicted upon their mother in front of them. I know people that have stayed in these relationships because they believed that taking their children out of the home during the formative years was the worst possible thing they could do. It’s not. The worst thing you can do is stay and allow them to think that what they’re hearing, seeing, and living is normal. If you get out early enough, you will save yourself and your child/children a fortune in therapy bills.
Once upon a time, I was a moron. It won’t happen again, because I am firmly committed to not allowing it. No one defines me, except me.
*If you need help getting out of an abusive/unhealthy relationship or are living with domestic violence and don’t know where to turn please go to any of the following organizations for assistance: http://soarinri.org/ http://leavingabuse.com/, http://www.thehotline.org/, http://www.nrcdv.org/dvam/, http://www.teendvmonth.org/, etc.
Do not be afraid to search the Internet and Yellow Pages for additional resources available to you in your area/country. If your abuser uses the same computer, always be sure to delete your browsing history to protect yourself from additional harm, or go to the library if available and search for information there.*
“Once Upon A Time”, and all material herein, unless otherwise indicated and credited to its owner(s), is copyright © 2013 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Editor’s Note: This is about two relationships that I combined into one story. It’s about a 70/30 split between the two. I was engaged to both of them. I can say in clear truth that the second person was a far better person than the first, and he did not verbally or emotionally abuse me. He simply wasn’t the right person for me because we wanted different things. He thought I wanted a lifestyle, which was not the case. I do not believe in giving up love, respect, loyalty, and fidelity for “things”. He wanted the “little woman” at home raising the kids in the amazing house, and yes, he would have been a great provider and a good father, but he didn’t realize that meant he’d have to be loyal, committed, and most importantly, faithful. I won’t settle for a half-life, no one should.