SO I meet this Rabbi and…
it turns out he loves jokes! He also loves people…sincerely, and is changing the world–one person at a time! His success of adding love to the world has been achieved by turning the world of religion upside down, asking more questions than he answers, and starting a project —
“RELIGION OUTSIDE THE BOX” (www.rotb.org).
I would like to introduce you to this young Rabbi and my dear friend–Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer! He lives in Portland, Oregon and started an outreach like nothing else I have ever seen or experienced. I want to begin by telling you how I met him, June, 2019, just three years ago.
TO WHOM SHALL I GO?
Three years ago, that question was my only question. Lord, to whom shall I go?
My spiritual life and path is the most important part of my existence. My legacy traditional path prior to meeting the Rabbi was rooted in Roman Catholicism. For many, this path is perfect. For me, it has been, at times, what I both needed and wanted — and then I changed. My transformation began in 2003 when I enrolled in theological studies which led to a Masters’ degree and an awakened new self. I tried negotiating my way with my new thoughts and understandings within the Roman Church. It proved troublesome. It seemed a female with scholarly wisdom and updated abilities to think and discern was threatening to the patriarchy of the well-established Roman Church institution. It became, what I now know, death of one self and birth of a new one. I hoped, naively, I could find somewhere to be authentically me and be welcomed as a thinking and searching and educated me. I was wrong. It took me years (2009-2019) to finally surrender to the realization that the belonging and community of like-minded folk I needed to continue to grow does not live in St. Louis.
One Phone Call- Changed Everything and Nothing
After a decade of shopping and seeking, I was ready to give up and felt sad, lonely, isolated, and defeated. I had found an organization online called Progressive Christianity that was wonderful but not local. One of the newsletters from this organization featured a podcast — the Bible Resistance Podcast, featuring Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer. It struck a chord. I wish I could say that I heard that podcast and immediately called–I did not. What I did do was subscribe to his newsletter and watch him for several months. After a last-ditch effort to remain connected with my home tradition which, again, failed, I sat in my living room chair, hopeless. I turned to my husband and said, “Honey, there is this Rabbi in Portland”, “he says that if you call him he will answer his phone”. “He also says that if you email him, he will always write back”. “I don’t know what else to do”. June 24, 2019, I made a phone call and immediately I heard a voice, a real person, that picked up a call to talk to me. Remarkable-and terrifying.
The wise Rabbi asked me if I wanted to schedule an introductory assessment session for the following day, June 25,2019. Without stalling to take time to talk myself out of the invitation, I said yes. And, that phone call changed everything and nothing. I was still going to have to confront the new me, learn to love the new me, and learn to trust that this Rabbi was real.
THREE YEARS LATER
It is now June 9, 2022 and not only is the Rabbi very real, he is one of the “rock the world” game changers. I have learned that every story counts, all people count, and all deserve love-including me. Over many conversations and spiritual direction sessions, and phone calls and visits on zoom, and my attempts to quit, I am, without question, the best and most relaxed, loving, and authentic Josephine I have ever been. We have cried together, laughed often, challenged each other, grown to become dear friends and I will forever be grateful I made that phone call in 2019.
Some concrete examples of what I was “then” as compared to “now” are in order. Let’s start with “before” the Rabbi. I was depressed, lonely, confused, beaten down by years of guilt and shame, compliments of organized religion, and somehow sensed the organized religion institutions were incomplete, at best, but had no idea what to do to find my way. I could study the bible in a scholarly manner. I could read books by other scholars. I could feel I was a misfit but did not understand why or what had created this dilemma. I knew truth was out there but I sure did not know how to connect with it much less with other humans who sought truth too. It was messy-I was messy. I had a truckload of tools and no knowledge or people to help me figure out what to do with those tools. I felt like Harry Potter in the closet before he went to Hogwarts and realized he was special. I was not special, I was broken. And I was. Broken.
Today, three years later, I continue humble growing yet know I am special and loved and beautiful and kind and lovely and loving-and fun. How did this Rabbi walk me to this place? The most important way he has accomplished this is be being honest-and I mean very honest. And-as importantly, he has not once, not one time, ever given up on me. Believe me when I say, I gave him lots of reasons to consider wanting to give up on me. I have asked deep and difficult questions. I have processed traumas and incredible hurts and I have railed against truth and resisted growth at times. I can be a stubborn little missy sometimes. And the Rabbi has never given up on me, especially when I have been more than ready to give up on myself. He would tell you, I am not magic. I just am me. In being “just me”, however, Brian Zachary Mayer is magic. Literally, he does magic as a magician. More importantly, though, he does magic with grace and patience and kindness and compassion towards others.
I recently tried to explain this to a friend who identifies as a biblical literalist and is struggling with my growth out of the cave of organized religion. I finally told her a story. I will tell you the same story.
Brian is active in standing up against the bullied and in support of the oppressed. One particular time, he was standing up against the bullies that promulgate Hitler’s Nazism. He was in the peaceful protesting group. There was also a raging hate-spitting group across the street. Brian, solo, went over to the raging group. It was a risky and potentially extremely dangerous decision. He had a conversation with one of the representatives of the hating crew. No, the person did not hug and welcome him, he rebuked him. Yet, Brian did not waver. And no, he did not convert the hater to join the peaceful group. What did happen, however, is that the hater did acknowledge Brian as a brother in the same cause. A “brother”! The significance of this is that this is not, by any means, a singular story about Brian-this is the way he lives his life-all the time. No, he is not perfect. He is human like the rest of us. However, I believe he has been gifted and thus called to help adults learn to love and be their best selves. I am only one you are hearing from right now. However, check out ROTB.org and find out for yourself. My story is my most concrete way to share who this man is and yet, my story is not singular.
I don’t know where this story will end or how. What I do know, though, is that somewhere out here on this planet is this Rabbi or a version of him for you. We do not live on this planet alone. We are not meant to be solo. I know that now and I know I am worthy of the love of the Rabbi and ROTB.org and my family and my neighbors and most importantly, I am worthy of the love I give to myself.
What’s your love story? I would be exc