Poetry, Religion

Word of the Day – Holy Writ

I keep my head down and my mouth shut
It’s the only way I can pretend conformity
I am beaten down and broken
Forced into a box by the interpretations of some
Figuratively stoned by the Holy Writ until I am dead inside
I’ve ceased being a real person capable of intelligent thought
Surrounded by the brainwashed and robotic
Caught in the time loop of eat, sleep, pray
Has anyone looked in my eyes and seen this is not me
Seen that my actions defy my heart
It matters not so long as I keep up the farce
That’s what everyone wants
Free will was given for the purpose of making one “right”decision
To give my life to this hypocritic bureaucracy
I could live forever, maybe
Does anyone care that I might be unhappy in this promised land
Damn the audacity of it all

Religion

On Faith and Religion, Part 4

On Faith and Religion, Part 1

On Faith and Religion, Part 2

On Faith and Religion, Part 3

So, here I am – blank. I don’t know if I believe in God. I don’t know if I believe in anything spiritual. I don’t know what I believe in, if anything. As it turns out, and I wouldn’t recognize this until much later, I didn’t know myself.

I contemplated the idea of attending a church, just to explore different beliefs and see what I thought. I realized I still had that tendency to judge some other’s beliefs as wildly inappropriate or psychotic, not because I actually felt that way, but because that is how I had been trained. I knew, though, that my parents would disassociate themselves from me if I did, so I chose not to go because I decided I would rather have that relationship, strained though it may be, than explore my own mind.

I had become increasingly aggravated with living in Florida (I had never wanted to take the risk moving here, I missed my friends, and the heat was (is) oppressive). So, I moved back to North Carolina, thinking I was coming back to myself and all my glory. I bought a house and determined that I was going to meet a good guy, raise a family, be comfortable in my job now that I’d been away long enough to get out of a bad situation, and be happy there for years to come.

Sometimes, you have to go back to the beginning to get a true understanding of yourself and move forward. Sometimes you have to go back to let go.

I was miserable. Within four months, I realized I had made a mistake, albeit a necessary one. I fell into extreme depression. I had no identity. As many times as I had thought I had stopped this, I recognized the deeply ingrained behavior of making decisions out of fear, irrational ones that were not for me, but for others. I determined to get to know me.

I remembered that I had wanted to do wedding planning as a career. I had put the idea out of my head because it would require to me be in churches, places of “false religion.” I remember mentioning this and being praised for my astuteness here. I got in touch with a local wedding planner, started as an intern, and became an employee. It’s a stressful job, but when you have someone tell you that you’ve made the day they’ve been planning for and all of their wishes come true, it’s totally worth it.

I started volunteering at a local art gallery (Craven Arts Council and Gallery in New Bern, NC). I started out reading a poem for one of their events. I hadn’t done this in a very long time out of simple fear of judgement and shyness. The poem I read is Patchwork Heart. The compliments and praise I got inspired me to continue. I became a volunteer at the gallery and moved from docent to board member to Vice President to President in under a year. (See article here.) I got to know some people who had polar opposite and very similar views on religion and I embraced all of them. One of my fellow board members encouraged me to do a Pecha Kucha presentation. For those that don’t know, this is an event where you share 20 slides, 20 seconds each, on a topic of your choice. The slides are meant to be photographs, but I did something slightly unconventional. Finally, I felt comfortable talking about my religious experience and I decided to share that with the town. (Listen to and see the presentation here. You’ll hear my voice!) The response from the crowd was overwhelming. I will never forget this moment: A woman walked up to me, near tears, and said, “Do you help strangers?” She hugged me and thanked me for sharing. I had no idea that sharing my feelings could be so beautiful.

One other thing that came out of the presentation was that I was invited to a Humanist church. And I thought, why the hell not? So, I went. I was also invited to an Episcopalian church. I will say that everyone I encountered was very kind and helpful. But, you know what, organized religion is just not for me. That is what I finally realized. And I was ok with that. I haven’t been to a church since, but I’m happy to have religious/spiritual discussions with friends and strangers as I continue to explore what spirituality means to me.

So, there’s my story. I still don’t know what I believe. But, I think that the audacity to claim that one knows the truth is against what any God of love would teach and so I don’t pretend or claim to know. Is that pride? Maybe. Is that naiveté? Maybe. I don’t really know. I wasn’t there when it all happened. I’m content to go by what I see evidence for and wonder about the rest. It will be revealed in time. Besides, isn’t there excitement in mystery?

What’s your story?

Religion

On Faith and Religion, Part 3

On Faith and Religion, Part 1

On Faith and Religion, Part 2

I left off at the point where i had no desire to live anymore. I cannot attribute this solely to my issues with spirituality. But, I feel it necessary to discuss my mindset at all junctures of this journey.

After a year of virtually being shutdown, I finally convinced my mother to let me see a psychiatrist. She was pretty much the only person I was interacting with at that point. I say “let” because for some reason, even though I was 20 years old by this point, I felt like I needed my parents permission. I had always been taught that issues/problems were taken to the elders of the congregation to be solved, if they even made it outside the family. It never occurred to me on my own.

It was at 20 years old that I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (a diagnosis that’s evolved to Severe, Recurrent). I remember my father asking if it was because there was something wrong with me (chemical imbalance) or if it was because I didn’t like my life. I thought that it didn’t really matter in that moment; I just needed help. That relationship continued to deteriorate, of course (we currently do not speak).

I moved away from home three weeks shy of turning 21. A few days before that, I recall being yelled at for wearing a shirt that said “bad girl.” What would people think of me? Don’t ever wear that outside the house again! See what I mean about not feeling like a person.

In case you were wondering, my brother never came back home. Just wandered from one place to another making bad decisions. We had different methods of coping.

I remember the first Thursday night living on my own, well, on campus the summer before my last year of college. Thursdays were always reserved for meetings. I remember being annoyed at having to dedicate so much time to this religion. I had homework to do, friends I wanted to hang out with (but, I couldn’t do that anyway), other things I wanted to do that weren’t this. That first Thursday, I didn’t go. It felt weird. And I actually felt kind of guilty, but I continued to not go and I was ok with it.

Fast forward a bit to me trying to find a job after school. Due to my severe depression and, were I to hazard a retrospective guess, living at home, my grades were shit. I managed to get on the Dean’s list my fourth year, but it wasn’t enough for a decent GPA. So, there came the prospect of having to move back home. A prospect that terrified me because it would mean having to go back to what I now considered to be an oppressive religion that I had no desire to be a part of. Oh, and one of the stipulations was, “none of that head stuff.” Because it’s really that easy.

Luckily, I got offered a job as a DoD contractor. It never occurred to me that this would be a problem, despite the reservations my mother expressed. A job is a job, right? When I decided to take the job, I was informed that I was not allowed to come home. A job supporting the military was not in harmony with God’s principles. Why would congratulations be in order? Why didn’t I ever listen? I kept trying to maintain a relationship with my father (and I would for ten more years), but for the next three months, he wouldn’t answer the phone. This would be an ongoing cycle. For some reason, I decided to attend a meeting one Sunday, of my own volition. Oh, it’s not that there wasn’t pressure from the family. Just something in me wanted to go. I met a very kind sister who didn’t judge me and invited me to her home and parties. I went on Sundays for a few months. I don’t really know why, but I think I need to try one more time to make sure I was making the right decision.

Eventually, I got a job as a federal employee working directly supporting the military. I moved to North Carolina. Things were strained once again. As it turned out, I wasn’t living very far from a Kingdom Hall, again. I decided I would go. I usually went home when I visited my parents. Then, I thought… why? This was the first moment, at 23 years old, that I realized that I wasn’t doing it for me. I was still doing it for everyone else. I had lost interest in it long ago. So, I didn’t go. I’ve been minimal times since.

Enter onto the chaotic path of a journey still ongoing. I tried to convince myself that I was still a spiritual person. I don’t know if this was because I really believed it or if it was out of a need to prove the separation between religion and spirituality. I would try to pray, but was never sure what to say. I couldn’t even focus long enough to say a decent prayer. I would only think to pray in the worst of times, so I felt selfish. I couldn’t imagine that God would listen. I kept all my literature (I was always made to take some when I got home). I would try to read it from a solely Biblical standpoint. I would try to read my Bible. But, none of it felt right. Of course, some were already convinced that my rejection of religion equated to my being an evolutionist, atheist, apostate, or all of the above. I lost friends. There was a void between me and people I had known my whole life. There was judgment from family. There was disappointment and shame. There was sadness.

During this time, I moved to Florida with my job. I was still trying to be a “spiritual” person, but I had realized (and been told) that my religious experience had traumatized me. If someone even mentioned church to me, invited me to visit theirs, anything relatively religious, I would cringe. I would change the subject. I would emphatically, but politely, decline. I would rarely talk about religion outside of therapy and if I did, I couldn’t do it without crying and/or falling into deep depression. I still had a fear of entering churches – we weren’t supposed to do this. I still feared even being around a cross, because those are Pagan symbols – Jesus died on a singular stake with arms above the head. Over time, though, these are the types of things I realized I didn’t care about. Let’s say Jesus died for our sins. Does it matter what he died on? Or is it his sacrifice that matters? Does it matter what we call where we worship as long as it’s in accordance with the Bible? There were things that had been so deeply ingrained in my head that caused me to pass judgment against people and ideas, when in fact, when I actually thought about it, my feelings were completely different. I don’t care what color anyone’s hair is. I don’t think facial hair is a sign of unprofessionalism and unkemptness (did you notice JWs don’t have beards?) I don’t care who you sleep with at night as long as you are good and decent people.

And then one day, I walked out of my apartment into the Florida heat, 27 or 28 years old, and had a life-altering epiphany. It occurred to me that I wasn’t even sure that I believed in God. His existence had been another notion shoved down my throat, something I could recite from rote memory. Not something out of faith. Not something out of my heart. Just another thing on the list of beliefs I was supposed to have, of what was good and evil, of what was right and proper.

Mind blown.

Religion

On Faith and Religion, Part 2

If you read Part 1 of this to-be series, you’ll know that I’m not entirely sure how to write about this. But, I suppose the best place to start is the beginning.

I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness from birth. If you don’t know anything about JWs, Wikipedia has a surprisingly good description. If you’re curious, the organization’s website is here.

Caveat: My intent is not to disparage anyone;s faith or beliefs, not even JWs. If that’s what makes sense to you and that’s what you believe, all the power to you. One of my personal issues with religion is the lack of tolerance for differences in beliefs. I do not want to be one of those people. Due to my experiences though, it’s taken a long time for me to be able to say that. I’m simply going to tell my story and share my personal thoughts.

Most people are aware of some of the well-known idiosyncracies of the religion:

  • They have Kingdom Halls, not churches. Actually, church is only used to describe “false religion,” if used at all, but more likely, one will hear the term Christendom to describe all religions outside of the organization.
  • They do not celebrate holidays. There’s a reason for everyone, some of which actually make quite logical sense. I will certainly not get into them all here, but I’m happy to tell you if you ask in the comments. Yes, birthday’s are included. I had my first birthday party when I was 25.
  • They perform door-to-door ministry. They aren’t the ones on the bikes. Those are the Mormons. I spent many a Saturday of my life walking through the local territory, knocking on doors. Most people who know me can’t believe it.
  • They refuse blood transfusions. If you do the research, which I have, there are actually sensible reasons for this. But, to each their own based on their conscience.

Here are some of the lesser known idiosyncracies:

  • They are anti-politics. This comes from the Scriptural reference that all God’s things go to God and Caesar’s to Caesar. It is also based on Jesus saying we should be no part of the world. So, JWs do not participate in politics beyond having knowledge of them to recognize the signs of the times. They are law-abiding citizens, except in the case where they have to compromise their religion. They do not vote. They do not participate in the military. I’ll come back to that last one.
  • In keeping with being no part of the world, they do not associate outside of the organization beyond what is necessary.
  • They refer to the religion as “the truth” and to themselves as God’s one true organization on earth.

There are many, many other things I could get into, but that would take FOREVER. So, let’s start here. As I said, I’m happy to answer any questions.

Growing up, you couldn’t tell me anything about this religion was wrong. My father was raised in it from birth and my mother converted when she was 16. It was all I knew and all I had been taught to believe. In retrospect, I recognized that when I questioned certain things outside of simple child-like curiosity (“Do we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday?”), I was often met with somewhat harsh rebukes or incredulity (usually from Dad). Regardless, I always felt not like myself, though I didn’t know much about who that person was. I was very shy (shocking to most people), very quiet. People have told me I often looked sad. I attribute this, in part, to early signs of depression that didn’t get addressed for many years. Culturally and religiously, seeking outside psychiatric help is a no-no, so my behavior was usually attributed to a bad attitude.

Around the age of 13, though, things stopped making sense to me. I couldn’t articulate what that was. I couldn’t even tell you that the religion was wrong simply because it never occurred to me to consider that it wasn’t. I just knew it wasn’t for me. My parents slowly figured that out, the culmination of which came when Dad read my diary entry in which I complained about my f**ked up life. The answer to this relinquishing all outside activities and the continual shoving down the throat of doctrine and dogma. At 13, I didn’t really have a choice, but to go with the flow.

At 16 is when I decided to recognize the signs of depression and distress, something I wasn’t able to convince my parents of for four more years (I lived at home until 3 weeks shy of 21). I was a near-model elder’s daughter. So sweet. Such a good girl. Dying inside. I realize that back then, I never felt like a person, like an individual. I was always something I had to be. Model student, decent and ladylike. Inside I was screaming (remember when Rose said that in Titanic after saying she was everything a well-brought up girl should be?). None of this made any sense to me and I hated every minute of it. My brother had gotten baptized at the age of 12. Let me pause here for a moment to explain JW baptism. There are no baby/child baptisms. Baptisms are (supposed to be) done when a person has decided that they want to fully dedicate their life to God and become an active member of the congregation. They are performed by elders of the organization in front of the congregations as a physical symbol of this spiritual dedication. Well, I was getting just a little too old to not have done this yet. Sixteen and raised in “the truth?” What was stopping me. And getting further along in school, I needed that protection. So, I was feeling the pressure, hearing the lectures and whispers, seeing the questions in people’s eyes. So, finally, I made a conscious decision to just do it so that I wouldn’t be asked about it anymore. And I felt like I was lying to God. I was wracked with guilt over it. I knew I was lying to everyone else, but no one was listening to me and what I wanted to do. I got baptized and it was the most pride I’d ever seen some people have in me.

I didn’t lead a double life. I didn’t know how to. I just went through the motions and became increasingly depressed, repressed, and introverted. Of course, I had moments when I had friends and was momentarily happy, but those were fleeting.

Then, I met my first boyfriend at 18. Enter dipping a toe into the double life. We never did anything particularly crazy, just some making out here and there. My total lack of experience told me this was great. But, I still felt guilty. Even though I seemed to have this total lack of faith, I still felt like I was lying to God and everyone else. Again,  it was all I had known. I wanted to confess, but the boyfriend (ex by this time) didn’t. Well, not until a year later when he decided to confess without telling me first. Let me pause here again. Confessions are not done in a little box where one person hears it and it’s never heard of again. They are done in front of an elder and then again in front of several elders, called a judicial committee. This means I had to explain what and how much I did with my boyfriend in front of three middle-aged or older men and my mother. The elders then determined the extent of my transgressions and my punishment. There are three options here.

  • Private reproval – Loss of congregation privileges, private admonishment from the body of elders
  • Public reproval – Same loss of privileges, but a public announcement to the congregation that I had been reproved. This is the case if I’m repentant, but others potentially already know what I’ve done. They might need their personal retribution, if you will.
  • Disfellowshipping – This is kind of like excommunication. No one is allowed to speak to or associate with you. If you show repentance over time, you might be allowed back in the congregation.

I was given the second. Public shaming for making out with my boyfriend a couple of times. And all efforts I had made over the last year since being with him meant nothing. It was also about this time that my brother left home. I was given three months of no privileges, as they are called – commenting at meetings, other duties, though there aren’t many that women can participate in. Three months later, when I was to be given them back, I tried to tell my elders that I didn’t feel like I was in a good place. One said, “Don’t beat yourself up about it. You’ll be alright.”

This is the moment in life, at 19 years old, that I completely shutdown. I stopped talking. I stopped caring about school (I was in my second year of college and I was also tired of the flak I was getting for that since JWs do not pursue secondary education unless absolutely necessary to support family and ministry, so my engineering pursuits did not go over well). I woke up everyday for the next year trying to decide how to kill myself. It had to be better than not feeling like a person.

That’s enough for now.

Religion

On Faith and Religion, Part 1

One of the topics I wanted to broach with this blog was religion and my feelings about it growing up and now as an adult. I’ve lacked the courage to do so, so far. However, after reading posts by Ben of Life After Religion, Frank J. Peter, and Nowhere Tribune, I think I finally have the courage to do so. I’ll start with this poem I wrote on me feelings.

*****

I am looking up

What am I supposed to see there?

No answers in the clouds

In the gazing contest

The stars are winning

I don’t know who else is playing

The doctrine of some

And not a little nudging

Tell me to trust faith

It seems a hazy concept…

My systemic mind

Cannot process faith in enigma

I would look down

They would judge me

Blasphemy, they would say

Heathen, they would call me

Their perception of reality

Controls my reality

I must keep up the farce

If I just keep looking up

I can fool them into believing

That I believe in something

No one will know the truth

No one knows any truth

For my own sake

I must pretend to belong to the lie