Not in My Church You Don't
Historically speaking, the appearance of a Messiah in religious movements usually coincides with anti-religious pressures at their most acute. When all the heat was thrown onto Judaism a few thousand years ago by the Christian punks, a Jewish carpenter popped out of the woodwork named Jesus of Nazareth. Claimed he was the Messiah. Couple of stunts with the water and the wine, the Romans got a bit miffed -- out came the cross, the crown of thorns, huff up the hill, blah blah, you know the rest.
Now in 1995, an increasingly secular Zeitgeist has pressured many San Francisco neighborhood churches to give up the Holy Ghost and close their doors. Sounds like it's time for the Messiah to show up again. Guess what? He's already here. He came back, just like he said he would. Well, it's gotta be him. His name's Jesus.
Rabbi Jesus de Lopez Rubenstein runs his Church of Metamorphosis out of a post office box and a listing in the phone book under "Dial-a-Guru" (415-285-4652). If you're not running your own church in California, you're just not taking advantage of the situation.
Yet when you call up the guru, he always seems to be away from his desk -- or maybe he's on another line. In any case, anxious callers hear a recorded message, something in the way of ...
"If you are a sinner in urgent need of absolution -- for who knows when you may be struck dead by an earthquake or a bomb blast or some other sudden calamity -- you are urged to press the star key now, and to begin ticking off those reprehensible sins, one by one, in excruciating detail, immediately after the tone ..."
The 30-year-old self-described "founder and archbishop" claims he started the church in Louisville, Ky., in 1982, which would make him a mere peach-fuzzed 18 at the beginning of his spiritual journey. The church supposedly blankets the country with seven branches, including Texas, Florida, and New York, and Rubenstein insists he has 200 to 300 regular members in the Bay Area alone. Since the nearest chapel is in Lubbock, Texas, locals meet just a few times a year for outdoor retreats, occasionally nude.
After a European childhood, Rubenstein says he studied comparative religion and linguistics. When a series of his Saturday night lectures at a Baptist church grew to become his own flock, he purportedly loaded up the truck and moved to Californee in 1988, hoping to cash in on the New Age.
Borrowing from several sources, the Church of Metamorphosis apparently believes in what it terms its "humanist saints," such as Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin. An interest in psychology leads the church to also study the writings of Maslow and Adler. The foundation relies on an assumption that humans are divided into three separate selves -- the radical, the real, and the ideal -- and our personality is a result of interaction between all three selves.
Kind of an undercooked corned beef hash that went to college.
"We have to pick and choose," responds the rabbi. "It's not a regimen of one kind of thing."
Go ahead. They laughed at the guy from Nazareth, too.
Every few months, Rubenstein publishes a newsletter, in between working in air freight and doing language translations. (Religion can often be like show business -- don't give up the day gig.) Once a year, his newsletter runs a Sin Tax Report, a seemingly arbitrary list of no-nos that currently totals 775. Among the sins are tattoos, nose or lip rings, abortion, drinking, and drugs. The death penalty is favored, as is birth control and sexual freedom. Politics is considered a lost cause, but members are encouraged to vote.
As the founder boasts, "I just find new things that I think need to be corrected." Hey, it's his football, he makes the rules.
This annual Sin Tax list would seem to be an important document to the organization, but "a lot of people don't pay attention to it," admits the rabbi. "Not everyone in the church has a copy."
Many offshoot religious organizations have specific rules regarding diet and garments. Dial-a-Guru is no exception, but there are only a few things that stick in his craw.
"I think we would probably try to avoid eating blood," declares Rubenstein. "It's not really written in church law, but we think it's distasteful to wear mink. You can do it if you absolutely must, but it's frowned upon."
Dial-a-Guru. Periodic nudity. Polygamy and same-sex marriages. No tattoos or mink stoles. Somewhere along the line, he must have been called a fanatic.
"Not very often," replies Rubenstein. "I have been called a psycho."
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