What's it about?
Bible Study for Heathens is a one woman show about Yolanda K. Wilkinson's personal experiences under 10 different religions.
Heathen (noun, derogatory)
1. a person who does not belong to a widely held religion (especially one who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim) as regarded by those who do.
What'd I experience?
I knew this show had something to do with religion, but I didn't want to dig too deeply so I kept the research to a minimum. I did find it very fitting, however, that the venue for the show was a church. How... outrageous, to stage a show discussing religion in a space thought to be holy by many.
I entered the space with my best friend from high school, Veronica.
In order to claim our tickets, we had to show identification. Without thinking, I flashed my college ID, but the lady behind the desk was interested in proper identification to prove I was over 21. When I asked her why this was, she mentioned that the show contained alcohol.
What kind of show was this?! I was not a big drinker, but I was intrigued.
We eventually received gold wristbands which would act as our tickets, along with programs that would act as our missals. We were then invited to participate in a game before heading upstairs to the performance space. On a wooden table there was a sheet of paper with both an x and y axis. The x axis was labeled belief and the y axis was labeled practice. There was a selection of multi colored markers, and on each marker was the name of a belief system or ideology. Using any markers of our choosing, we were told to make dime sized drawings on the paper pretty much as we saw fit.
Veronica and I both took turns at this, myself using the Judaism marker, the new thought marker, and the non believer marker. We headed upstairs and were greeted with an intimate room with chairs lined up in rows (like pews). At the entrance was a rectangular table with what looked like dyed sand spread in artistic patterns. I was reminded of the stunning sand art I often saw artists create in Washington Square Park and Union Square Park.
A barefoot, bearded gentleman, who looked like a cross between Jesus and a monk informed us that this was a Mandala, a spiritual symbol in many Indian religions. It represented the universe and it was all about the ephemeral. We were invited to take sand (provided for us in a variety of colors) and add something to each side of the Mandala. I clumsily dropped red sand on each side of the Mandala, but Veronica, being the more artistic one, gracefully added her own design with green sand.
Yolanda came out to greet the audience, shaking my hand warmly, like a kindly teacher, before moving through the rows of chairs to shake everybody else's hands. She startled me, but it was a good kind of startled. I had never been to church services, but sitting there it felt like Yolanda was the pastor and I was part of the loyal congregation awaiting her sermon. She encouraged us all to turn and greet our neighbors, which I did. I shook about five hands, and I couldn't help but wonder if this was a part of most religious services.
Yolanda spoke about the religion of theatre, a concept that really struck me (as a theatre major about to graduate from college). I had been told more than once that pursuing a degree in theatre was not profitable, and was therefore a waste of my time. But I believed differently. I knew that in the aftermath of chaos, theatre was one of the first things humanity turned to in order to regain some semblance of normalcy. Yolanda got that, and of course she did, being a former theatre major herself.
Yolanda was christened into the Presbyterian Church shortly after her birth. There she learned the Apostle's Creed, which us audience members all obediently recited in unison from our missals. It felt strange to me to be declaring in a church that "I believe[d] in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ," when I believed not a word I said.
On page two of our missal was sheet music for a song called Onward, Christian Soldiers, then transitioned into a song called All God's Critters, which I couldn't get through without cracking up at the lyrics: "All God's critters got a place in the choir, some sing low some sing higher, some sing out loud on the telephone wire, and some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they got now." The song was made even better as grape juice and butter cookies were distributed to all of us. Christ's symbolic blood and flesh had never tasted so good.
Yolanda gave us a lesson on white witchcraft, which was built upon the power of "fuck it." The lesson involved us screaming out the words "Fuck it" in a church multiple times in response to hypothetical adversity, and it felt AWESOME. "Fuck it" was a doctrine I could definitely wrap my head around.
Before Yolanda would talk about her experience as a Scientologist, she required a donation. A super accommodating audience member donated ten dollars, which prompted Yolanda to talk for under a minute, before stopping in the middle of a sentence. It became clear that Yolanda would say no more without money, and to Veronica's and my astonishment, the lady to my left opened her wallet, extracted three bills, and proceeded to drop three one hundred dollar bills into the donation basket. Needless to say, this gesture got Yolanda yapping away.
Towards the end of our missal, we turned our attention to a page that listed the golden rules of various religions. For some reason, it was important to me that I read the Golden Rule for Judaism, perhaps because I was Jewish (at least culturally speaking), perhaps because I had recently traveled to Israel. I never considered myself to be religious, but I have always felt a strong connection to the Jewish people. And so my hand shot up before any of my neighbors, and Yolanda called upon me to read.
Judaism: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor"
-Rabbi Hillel Talmud Shabbat, 31a
Who could disagree with that?
Yolanda selected people to read the golden rules for Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Native Spirituality, Islam, and Christianity. Each of these golden rules had one major thing in common: They promoted good and were all inclusive. And religion was not something I ever associated with kindness or inclusivity.
The way I view it, the significance of religion lies less in the holy text and more in the happiness of those who practice. If a person is happily subscribed to a religion and is not harming anyone, then I consider that a good thing. Bible Study for Heathens made me realize the importance of finding contentment in myself, in my life now, because a life is meant to be lived, not spent stressing about what comes next.
As Yolanda made her exit, she scattered the sand in our Mandala.