I will be what I will be; or, what you will

Franny Silverman
January 8, 2013
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MOSES

Here: I go to the people and I say something like, “Your parents’ god send me to you.”
And they say to me, “What’s his name?”
So?  What do I tell them?

GOD

I will be what I will be.
Say to the people, “I will be what I will be sent me to you.”

-Exodus 3:13-14

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Late night Christmas Eve, after everyone else went to bed, I sat up with my fella and his sister in my in-laws’ cozy country living room. Our faces glowing from the amber of the tree lights and fire in the fireplace, surrounded by the remnants that mark a full day of family and celebration: half empty glasses of eggnog and brandy, board game pieces and bowlfuls of empty almond and hazelnut shells, our conversation turned to what else but God.  Appropriate for the erev of the birth of God’s son.

It’s not a surprising conversation for the three of us: one professional Jew (by-birth and subsequent force-feeding) with a strong affection for Eastern philosophy, one baptized Catholic turned Jew-by-choice in a family of hethens-by-choice with a shared affection for Eastern philosophy, and one baptized Catholic in said family of hethens-by-choice with a sprawling tattoo of Ganesha on her back and a devotion to Atheism.  Who better to discuss god in all its blessed semantic confusion?

As it happens sometimes with  conversations among members of the same choir, I don’t remember any details from before, but only after someone introduced a bit of conflict via the word “agnostic.”  A spark was lit, launching us into a semantic discussion over the legitimacy of agnosticism.  Forget about tackling the existence of god – boh-ring!  We were going to debate Agnosticism!

The claim was made, essentially, that Atheism* includes the notion that one doesn’t know if God does or does not exist (Agnosticism,) and so those who call themselves Agnostics are really just (shamefully) closeted Atheists afraid to reveal their true disbelief to the world.

After some healthy debate, quoting of Christopher Hitchens, attempts at defining personal theology and a fair amount of Wikipedia recitation, we found ourselves not much further than where we started.

And big Jewess that I am, I thought of the first parsha of the new Gregorian year: Sh’mot.
In it, capital “G” God tells a reluctant would-be-prophet Moses to tell the people to refer to God as “I will be what I will be.”  God tells Moses this from within the flames of the famous unconsumed-yet-burning thornbush.  The original identity crisis?  Or God beating us to our own philosophical game?

I will be what I will be.
A lot of room for interpretation.

I will be what I will be— nonexistent; an enigma; a man with a big white beard; a blue elephant with 2-16 arms; the higher self; quantum physics; a jolly, seated, fat-bellied Asian man; the sun; a tree; a mother, a late-night Christmas Eve debate; a burning bush; or as Victor Hugo reminded us once again (this time on the  Hollywood screen) “To love another person is to see the face of God,” that is, love.

I will be what I will be.

You can say it with a shrug, with a confident air, in a whisper.
It can be sung or thought.
You can scream it.

I will be what I will be leaves all up to the reader (or audience)–
all possibility, all question, all right answers, no right answers.

Nothing is defined.
Nothing is set it stone or scroll.
The ultimate work-in-progress, all progress, never finished.

I will be what I will be.

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* – I could write an entire other blog-post on the capitalization (or not) of Atheism/atheism and Agnosticism/agnosticism and what the internet has to say about it.  That is not this blog post.  I made my own grammar rules this time around. Comment freely if you don’t like (or do.)

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Franny Silverman is a Brooklyn-based actor, theatre-maker and educator. She is a co-founder of warner|shaw, and received Indiana University’s Jewish Studies Program’s 2012 Paul Artist-in-Residence for warner|shaw’s The Latvia Project. Franny has created and performed numerous new work for stage and ritual settings around the country as a founding company member of both Storahtelling and Northwoods Ramah Theatre. Performances with other companies include Brave New World Rep, The Culture Project, Estrogenius, Terranova Collective, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Epic Theatre, Passage Theatre Co, the Ontological-Hysteric, Little Lord, CUNY Grad Center, New Worlds Theater Project, NY Fringe Festival and Jewish Plays Project. Franny’s interactive seder installation,UnSeder|DisOrder, was presented by Chashama’s “Process is Fundamental” and she is the director of Ayelet Rose Gottlieb’s song-cycle Mayim Rabim/Great Waters (BRICLab, PS122, Wexner Center, Chicago Cultural Center). Franny is the Director of Youth Education at Brooklyn's progressive synagogue, Kolot Chayeinu. She is also a new mom to Sunhillow Belle.

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