Praise be to the olfactory gods.
One of life’s greatest epiphanies for me centers around deodorant. Yes, friends, deodorant.
I was a sophomore in college and taught several aerobics classes a week (think neon pink unitard, scrunchie socks, and white Reeboks). One evening, while hanging with my dorm roommate and a pint of Cherry Garcia, she kindly but bravely told me that I stunk. Not only that, she admitted that I had a stinky problem.
I told her that I didn’t understand how that could be the case. After all, I showered regularly and put on deodorant every morning.
To which she said, “Maybe you should put deodorant on at night, too.”
I countered, “But you’re supposed to put it on once a day in the morning.” And upon further reflection added, “Maybe I have a body problem,” feeling instant shame.
She said, “Rachel, you can put deodorant on more than once a day.”
The heavens parted and the angels sang! Rose petals showered from the sky. Lavender sprang forth from our carpet. My roommate sang praises to the olfactory gods when she saw the dawn of realization spread across my face as her words of truth sank in. I walked into the bathroom and felt the liberation of applying deodorant in the evening. “Wow,” I thought incredulously, “this can be done!”
What changed for me that evening (other than better personal hygiene practices) was the awareness of Do’s vs. Do Nots, Is vs. Is Nots, Yes vs. No, Black vs. White. My mother had taught me to apply deodorant once a day in the morning when I was 10. I’m sure my prepubescent self didn’t warrant more than that. But what remained in my mind for years was, you DO put deodorant on in the morning; you do NOT put it on any other time. That is called stinkin’ thinkin’! It is also called binary thinking.
Stupid is as stupid does.
This oppositional way of viewing things by definition is limiting yet all too common. Initially, it serves practical purposes like teaching toddlers how to navigate the world. Milk = good. Bourbon = bad. Raw carrots = good. Snickers = bad. But as they grow older, the conversation should evolve to include the nuance of moderation and context.
I have always been reticent about applying labels to myself. But I’m a hypocrite because the truth is, as humans, we are always labeling each other in order to plow through life expeditiously. We usually don’t take the time to dive deep into a person, issue or situation to understand the nuances, gray areas, and tensions that exist. Categorical, binary thinking undergirds this tendency. It is a rightful, necessary mental mechanism when judiciously applied for the purposes of maintaining momentum in daily living.
As previously mentioned, the notion of God that I reject personifies God with human attributes, which is typically an outcropping of binary thinking. But when God is understood as a Force, a Power, an unquantifiable Source, then articulating God’s attributes requires greater sophistication.
The study of mystical Christianity, philosophical Buddhism and Taoism elevated my awareness of such a way of thinking. It is best described as “Both/And” thinking and is quintessential in my understanding of God as Love. Let me unpack what this means (in the following three blog entries) by describing the attributes of God that make sense to me.
American None secular spirituality nones nonreligious exvangelical
This blog piece is an excerpt from Chapter 1: Confessions of an American None: A Credo of Sorts.