Let me start by saying this: I am not a Christian, because I don’t believe it’s the only path to God. I believe in a lot of things, many of which are weird by most people’s standards. (I live in LA, remember?) I actually believe a lot of the Christian teachings, but that “only way to God” bit is where I part company with the church. And since that’s a pretty crucial part of BEING Christian, I cannot in good conscience call myself one.
I interpret the Bible (and pretty much all religious texts) metaphysically. In this case, “take up your bed and walk” means to leave behind old perceptions, habits and attitudes that no longer serve you. It means to disconnect with your tribe, your culture, sometimes even your family, in order to find what YOU believe and value.
When we are born, we immediately begin the process of enculturation. We are imprinted over and over as we grow up with ideas of what is “normal” and “acceptable” according to our tribe. Even when we become adults and think we have moved past these beliefs, they are still more deeply entrenched than we know. Our tribe teaches us things like at what age it’s appropriate to become sexually active, to get married, to have children. It teaches us about finances (“save for a rainy day”) and love (“love means never having to say you’re sorry”). We learn gender roles (“someday my Prince will come” and “Here I come to save the day”) and patriotism (“truth, justice and the American way”). We are indoctrinated.
And that’s not a bad thing, per se. In order for there to BE order in a society, we all have to play by at least a few of the same rules. The tribe survives because of the members’ conformity.
But sometimes, as you grow up, you find that you no longer believe the same things your tribe does. Maybe you grew up hearing that homosexuals were perverts and sinners, but you discover that you don’t think that anymore. Maybe you grew up hearing that girls were bad at math, but discover that you’re actually pretty GOOD at math. (In my case, for the purposes of this blog, I grew up hearing that if I wasn’t thin, I wasn’t worth anything. Luckily, I didn’t hear that from my parents, but I heard it from my ballet teachers, from schoolmates, from the media at large.)
When you encounter that experience, that withdrawal of a certain part of yourself from the tribal culture or sub-culture you grew up in, you often go through a period of feeling like you suddenly don’t “fit.” The streets you grew up on suddenly look different somehow, your old friends seem somehow distant, maybe you suddenly feel like you don’t quite relate to your family – it’s not anything you can put your finger on, but things are just . . . different. You may notice things you didn’t really notice before: if you are studying Women’s History for the first time, you might start noticing sexism in the media. If you are thinking about becoming a vegetarian, you might notice more articles on the meat processing industry. Etcetera.
Often that experience is accompanied by great strife within the tribal unit. Remember, you can’t expect your tribe to be happy that you are changing; that isn’t how a tribe survives. It survives on your conformity. (When a daughter brings a girlfriend home and announces she’s gay, her mother may wail, “How could you DO this to me?” But what she’s really asking is, “How could you be so DIFFERENT from us?” As human beings, we fear change, and we will fight it every step of the way.)
This is the process described in the phrase, “Take up your bed and walk.” It is the process of learning who we are, what we believe, what we value. It is something we do over and over throughout our lives, in small ways and in large ones.
And in those moments when your tribe turns against you – whether that tribe is your family, your friends or the culture at large – your task is to be grateful to them for being exactly what you DIDN’T need, so that you could learn to be who you are.
Then, you take up your bed and walk.