How a Pepperidge Farms cake revealed that everyone is obedient to something, if they realize it or not

My friend “Sally” has a brother who openly belittles her for being “blindly obedient” to her religion. Privately, Sally struggles to think more charitably of “John” who she thinks is a jerk.

One summer their parents invited Sally’s family and John’s family to share their condo at the beach. They agreed until they found out—too late—that each other’s family would be there. So Sally, her husband, and three kids decided to try to be cordial to Jon, his wife and two kids.

But things started off rocky, because while John and his family arrived at the condo on Saturday, Sally and her husband has responsibilities at their church and didn’t want to miss it. Normally they avoided travel on Sundays, but to keep the family peace, they left after church and arrived at the condo that evening.

It wasn’t good enough. John greeted them with, “You and that stupid church of yours. I swear, you’re so blindly obedient to it that you fear to miss even one day? Check-in to the condo was yesterday, you know. You were supposed to be here then.”

Sally was determined to be kind, even though it was silently eating her gut. She had called the condo earlier and they told her check-in started on Saturday, but they could check in at any time that week.

However, Sally gritted her teeth and said, “Thank you for getting the place for us.” She decided not to further ruin her Sabbath by getting in an argument about her “blind obedience.” Jon had quit religion when he was a teenager, and thought Sally was ridiculous for giving up her Sundays.

The next morning, Sally got up to make her kids their favorite muffins. She dumped the mixes in the bowl and proceeded to whip the contents into a froth.

“Whoa!” John exclaimed as he came in the kitchen. “That’s not how you make muffins!” He snatched the bowl out of her hands, picked up the box with instructions, and said, “Look—it clearly says, ‘Mix gently until just moistened.’ Can’t you follow directions?”

She grabbed the bowl back, trying not to feel like a twelve-year-old again. “I know what the box says, but some months ago one of my kids made muffins, overmixed the batter, and we discovered that we much prefer that texture. Whipping improves the recipe, and this is how we like it!” She purposely whipped the batter even more, just to shock her brother who stormed out of the kitchen mumbling, “She can’t ever get things right . . .”

The muffins turned out exactly how Sally and her family liked them.

That day the weather was rough, so instead of spending it at the beach, the families hit the shops. Sally and John took their kids in different directions. One store on the boardwalk was particularly aggressive in trying to get parents to buy their children an overpriced stuffed animal they “made” themselves, then paying an extra $10 for that animal to wear a t-shirt from the beach. They advertised loudly that the bears were the item to have that year, and the employees went so far as to herd families into the store.

Sally and her husband purposely steered their kids away. They had a budget for the trip, and told each of the kids how much they could spend on them. “That bear, all by itself,” Sally’s husband told their kids, “would take all of your souvenir money. One toy for all of you? But instead of a bear that wears a t-shirt, how about each of you get a t-shirt for school? The shop over there has a deal, and you could each get three shirts and still have money left over for churros.”

The decision was easily made, because churros are the best, and when they went back to the condo at dinner time they had a dozen t-shirts for the whole family. They’d stopped at the grocery store to buy supplies for dinner—grilled cheese sandwiches, carrots with dip, and a favorite cake for dessert.

Sally wasn’t surprised when they entered the condo and found John and his family already there, each of his kids with one of those bears, each with the extra $10 t-shirt.

One of Sally’s kids said to her cousins, “My parents said those were too expensive. We bought us t-shirts instead.”

As the cousins examined each other’s purchases, John smirked at Sally. “Too cheap to buy them stuffed animals?”

“Not at $50 each,” Sally scoffed. “Our kids would stick them on a shelf then never play with them. I thought it was a useless purchase for us.”

John scoffed back. “But it’s what you do at the beach! You buy them expensive souvenirs. That’s what credit cards are for.” Sally and her husband didn’t believe in using credit cards.

John also predictably made fun of their grilled cheese sandwich dinner, (“But it’s our favorite!” Sally defended) and when someone knocked at the door, John announced, “There’s our dinner from the ‘Happy Harbor’.”

John’s kids frowned as his wife paid the delivery boy. “But we hate seafood,” they complained.

“Seafood is what you eat at the beach,” John told them, and set out their elaborate dinner of shellfish on the table on the back porch, so that any passers-by at the condo could see the bags advertising the most expensive restaurant in the area.

Sally quietly made two more grilled cheese sandwiches and slipped them to John’s kids who wolfed them down before their parents announced that their seafood feast was laid out and ready.

Sally’s family sat at the table indoors, not needing to show off their sandwiches, and perfectly satisfied to not have to dig their dinner out of shells like their cousins, whose complaints could be heard from outside.

When it was time for dessert, Sally pulled out of the freezer their favorite: two frozen Pepperidge Farms cakes. John came in from the porch and frowned at the cakes she was removing from the boxes. “You’re not cutting those up frozen, are you?”

“Of course I am,” Sally said. “They taste like ice-cream cake like this.”

He grabbed the box and pointed at the words. “Look, right here. You’re supposed to defrost it in the fridge, first. Man, you can’t get anything right, can you? I’m taking my family out to the Ice Cream Shack for a proper dessert.”

“But that place is pricey!” Sally exclaimed. “One scoop of ice-cream costs more than an entire cake.”

“It’s supposed to be pricey. It’s the beach and it’s supposed to be the best! And don’t cut that cake while it’s frozen!” Enraged, he took his family—and his credit card—out for the evening.

That’s when it hit Sally, and she told me later, “I realized at that moment that John belittled me not for my ‘blind obedience’ but because I wasn’t obedient to what he thought was important. His fury at my cutting a frozen cake was only a hint at a much bigger problem:

He, too, was exceptionally obedient—to what the world expects of him.
His insistence that I follow the directions on the boxes?
Obey the boxes.
His buying those expensive bears because everyone else was?
Obey the crowds.
The ice-cream?
Obey the marketing.

“The trip became easier after that, because I finally understood my brother; he was scared of what people would think of him if it found out his sister wasn’t obedient to the world he worshiped, and he was terrified to not be seen what he thought it demanded he be doing.

“I realized that all of us are obedient—wholly devoted—to something: maybe it’s a team, or a political party, or a religious organization, or a movement, or even ourselves that we set on a pedestal and worship.

cake

That’s not necessarily wrong or bad. But it is if we don’t realize it, or if we didn’t make that choice consciously.

“John didn’t recognize how blindly he followed the trends of the world, and worried that everyone was watching to make sure he did everything he was ‘supposed’ to do at the beach. But I doubt anyone even noticed him and his family’s ‘obedience.’

“Yes, I’m obedient to my church, because I’ve researched and lived by its teachings, and have discovered for myself that it’s the best way for me to live my life. That’s how we’ve done everything, from muffin mixes to how we spend our Sundays.  There’s nothing blind about my obedience. Nothing blind at all. I’ve chosen what I’m obedient to, and it’s brought meaning and peace to my life.

“Unfortunately, I’m not sure my brother can say the same thing.”

But Jaytsy knew what she did love, and it was glorious to no longer worry about the world’s opinions. ~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

Book 5 Teaser–I take comfort in my delusions!

An acquaintance once accused me of being “delusional” because of my religious convictions. They didn’t mesh with his beliefs, therefore I was wrong.

But as I thought about all that I believed, I realized it gave me immense comfort and hope. Without that, I’d crumble and die.

So here’s my philosophy: Perhaps what I believe is delusional (and when you get right down to it, all of us are delusional at some level and in some way, such as hoping everyone thinks that is your natural hair color). But so what? If my delusions don’t harm you in any way, then don’t worry about them.

My acquaintance insisted that my beliefs in an afterlife were spurious, and that when I died I’d “be surprised there wasn’t anything there.” (I won’t deal with that illogical logic right now.)

I countered with, “My belief of what lies ahead make me happy, today. If I gave that up, I’d be despondent for the rest of my life. I’d rather be delusional and happy, than be ‘right’ and miserable.

He rolled his eyes at me, but I grinned back. I never wanted to live as self-righteously as he did. The poor man’s confidence only in himself and his brilliance made him absolutely wretched.

 

High Polish Tatra mountains

“Make your decisions as to what to embrace, but let me embrace my belief.”

In 1836 a prophetic man wrote the following words which we still need today: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege: let them worship how, where, or what they may.” (emphasis added)

The idea of allowing all people to “worship how . . . they may” is vanishing. The definition of worship, like so many words today, has shifted to mean: whatever you spend your time, money, and thoughts pursuing. The implications reach even beyond worshiping Deity (although an argument can readily be made that just about anything can become one’s “god”).

The quote above is a declaration that each person should choose how they will live and who they will follow. Many cultures believe in a judgment day that will eventually evaluate the correctness of one’s life. But we mere mortals don’t make that final judgment. Nor should anyone force another to live a life that feels dishonest.

I’ve written this book series to speculate what may happen to a society when beliefs and ideals are eliminated to allow for only one point of view, and where people are restricted to only one location. Forcing a belief or behavior works, albeit only temporarily, as fallen political regimes—and rebellious teenagers—have demonstrated throughout millennia. A person’s individual belief is an intimate and even sacred thing. It’s also vulnerable, subject to enlightenment as well as destruction.

Beliefs can strengthen and unite us, but they don’t necessarily have to divide us. You don’t need to agree with all of my beliefs, nor do I have to agree with yours for us to still value each other.

You may not believe in a god, or you may believe in a different manifestation of Deity, while I believe in a Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
But we can still talk together.

You may believe in redefining the definition of marriage, while I feel that only God can do that.
But we can still be Facebook friends.

You may disagree with me on gun rights, or trends in schooling, or the nature of the family, or evolution, or which chocolate chip is better—Nestle’s or Hershey’s.
But we can still eat cookies together.

We don’t have to agree on everything, but we must agree to respect each other.
And we can.

In fact, I grow when you challenge my ideals, and I appreciate the opportunity to evaluate further what I think I already know.

I’ve worked with people who were diametrically opposed to so many of my beliefs that it was difficult to find common ground, but we found it. And worked together effectively.
And even called each other friends at the end.
Because we respected each other.

Then again, that was about 20 years ago.

Our world doesn’t seem to want to embrace mutual respect anymore. We used to call it “tolerance,” but even the definition of that word has been skewed to mean, “If you don’t agree with me, it means you hate me, therefore I get to call you names and bully you.”

This all-encompassing preoccupation with the self, instead of concern for others, creates a me-above-the-world mindset that promotes the individual before anyone else.
And that creates tyranny.

All the “great” dictators of the world started as bullies, or were bullied. But we all learned back in grade school that once you allow the bullies to get power, no one feels safe.

The bullies are winning now, in much larger venues and with much higher stakes. Incivility has become acceptable and even trendy, and it’s forcing people to retreat to different sides and take up arms.
But when did an all-out war ever really resolve anything, except to prove who’s the better bully?

Now, I readily concede that what I attempt to paint as a clear picture of mutual tolerance becomes murky when one person’s belief begins to affect the life of another. What I strive to maintain in my life may infringe on what you believe, and likewise your ideals may harm me.

But it’s also a very large world, with a great diversity of cultures, ideals, and peoples.
The point is, there is room for everyone. There’s no need to force every person into the same spot, the same box, the same belief system.
There’s room to explore, to change, to grow, to move.

Diversity is good. Diversity makes us think and reevaluate. Diversity reinforces our beliefs, or it can even lead us to a better, higher ideal.

Even the topography of the world is vastly diverse. How dull would the earth be if we had no deserts, no forests, no plains, but only ocean? The oceans never invade deserts, and forests stop so that plains can exist.

People are even more varied than topography. I don’t see that as a problem, but as a solution. The ocean doesn’t insist the desert changes for it; it simply resides where oceans reside best. Nor do the beliefs of others need to invade the corner of the world I inhabit, forcing me to change. Allow me to live how and where I choose, and I promise I won’t try to transform your section either. We can even visit and learn about each other, and there may even be some shifting of minds and hearts.

But there’s no reason to angrily insist that all the ocean water needs to go, or that all of the sand needs to vanish. We need both deserts and oceans—there’s room for all of the earth’s diversity, and room for all of our diversity, too.

We can still allow everyone to coexist, without choosing to feel threatened that others are different. I appreciate the sentiment of the coexist bumper sticker, symbols of differing ideals combining together to create a diverse whole.

coexist

Having met earnest believers of other religions, I’ve felt myself enlightened by their depth of soul and sincerity of heart. Goodness, like cookies, comes in a variety of sizes, colors, and flavors. I’ve learned to not label individuals with the slurs of generalizations. That’s what bullies do—shove individuals into groups, then attack the whole to promote only themselves. Some days it already feels that the world is out to get us, because the bullies are winning.

Sometimes it’d be nice to retreat to the very edge of the world, where few people rarely venture. But now’s not the time to run away, but to take a stand and ask, “Why does civility, equality, and freedom mean you have to destroy me?”

I started writing this book series four years ago, and have been grimly surprised to see elements I worried and wrote about initially are manifesting in society today. Books seven and eight will describe a world which frankly terrifies me, and it seems we’re running headlong towards that end in real life.

I also decided some time ago that I can just drift with the current like an apathetic fish and float to whatever dismal end there is at the end of the river, or I can swim against the current and insist on staying right where I choose to be.

I’ve chosen to fight the current, and to live at the Forest at the Edge where I can still speak my mind and follow my heart.

You’re more than welcome to join me.

IMG_5601edit   Trish Mercer