Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Memory

This morning, I woke up thinking about something that I hadn’t thought about it years. Maybe it was the influence of writing this blog, or maybe out of the recent feeling of needing spirituality in my life. Maybe it was Lilith Saintcrow’s new entry about her religious group experience. (Aug. 29th entry.) I have an experience I would like to share with you, as maybe it will help to get it out of my mind.

First, a little background. Growing up, I lived in a home that didn’t participate in regular religious activity, even though my Mom is religious. My first remember church-going memory was when my neighbors across the street invited me to go with them when I was about 8 years old. I was excited, as I really didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous, as I was very shy when I was young. This first day led to my young feet walking to this Methodist Church every Sunday for the next two years, almost always by myself as my neighbors had soon moved away.

At the age of ten, my family moved to an area where there were no churches within walking distance, so my church experience was cut short at a young age. I would not step inside a church again for another five years.

When I was 15, a group of friends in high school started talking about the upcoming summer trip they would be taking with their youth group. It sounded like fun and I kind of missed the whole church-going experience. They would be traveling through many different states that I had never been to, such as California. I wanted to go. I decided to join the youth group, which also turned out to be a choir. They were going to tour the southwest, singing in churches and at Disneyland.

About halfway through the tour, a certain feeling fell over the group. Suddenly, what was ok before (such Red Hot Chili Peppers Music) was not. People started to become more critical of certain actions that were deemed un-Christian, as if a sudden revelation had come over the group. I felt like everyone was tip-toeing around every issue, but still criticizing things they didn’t like as un-Christian. I started to feel uncomfortable and wanted to go home.

It started at a church in California. One girl, the daughter of one of the ministers, started this feeling with a frenzy of activity, running around screaming and crying about nothing, as far as I could tell. A boy started crying hysterically and wouldn’t move when the leaders tried to get him out of the room. Another girl ran out of the church we were in and into the parking lot where others followed her and started praying around her and anointing her with oil. Soon there were little groups of people crying, screaming, praying and anointing all over the church grounds, as the “Holy Spirit” over took the group.

As this activity was somewhat disturbing to me, I went to find a corner of the church which wasn’t occupied. I remember thinking most of the intense feelings that were being experienced were due to their own guilt, specifically due to how nasty they were behaving towards certain group members as the ones who were making the most stink were the “popular” kids.

My quiet moment didn’t last that long. I was soon found and was accused of being taken over by “evil spirits” because I had run from it all, and was not helping out with the calming and anointing. Soon I was being anointed and prayed over. That was a terrifying experience as I didn’t know what they were doing at the time. And the fact that it was done without my consent.

After about two hours of this, we got back on our tour bus and everyone started a new flurry of activity – throwing out anything that wasn’t Christian. Books, music, clothing that had a theme that was now deemed “bad.” I remember being particularly sad about that Red Hot Chili Pepper (Blood Sugar Sex Magic) tape that was destroyed, as the music was no longer considered “good.” I remember trying to hide it, and was accused of still being under the influence of “the devil.” I soon became the scapegoat on the trip because I was not conforming to the inner-group brainwashing that was going on.

I soon parted ways with this church; not going back to it until just this year. My Mom wanted to go to church at Easter and dragged me with her. I was curious to see if it had changed, so I went. It’s not one of those small everyone-knows-you type places. It was a huge church with about 10,000 members and 13 services between 4 sanctuaries on two different “campuses.” Even with that many people, I still saw some familiar faces; some of my old high school “friends.” Needless, to say, we didn’t talk. They watched me walk by, shaking their heads. And I realized the place hadn’t changed.

Now, I am not trying to trivialize their experience by any means. That group of about 120 kids had a deeply religious experience that day in California. But it was one that I did not share and looking back, glad that I did not. Their world view and mine just didn’t mesh and still doesn’t to this day.

While writing this, I am trying to figure out how I feel about this, years later, and I still have a mixture of horror, sadness, uneasiness, anger and pity that I had years ago. Why pity? These kids, at a young age, were worried that they would be cut from their friend group and not so much about religious conviction so they fell in with what was going on instead of questioning why and what they were feeling. What I see as intolerance of differences within this group, was praised by the leaders as bringing us closer together. The leaders encouraged this intolerance and same-ness under the context of being “more Christian.” I feel that these kids were brainwashed during an important turning point in their lives. They were taught to believe irrational things about what religion is and should be. Blame, hate, and intolerance are what they came away from this experience with. It didn’t have to be this way.

I still have uneasiness, not with Christianity, but with some of its followers. I still go out of my way to avoid someone preaching to me in that highly evangelical way that does not allow for other points of view. I dislike conversations where the person is trying to tell me that I need to come back to God and Jesus, sometimes even before they ask me what I believe. I will never go to a church that tells me what I have to believe rather than giving me information so that I can decide for myself what I believe.

It is our experiences that make us who we are. Some of the experiences have more influence over whom we are and who we become. I am now starting to realize that this was one of my life’s turning point experiences.

1 comment:

TurtleHeart said...

That sounds like a terrifying experience. And also very sad... "group think" is a scary (and dangerous)thing, IMO. I think you hit the nail on the head in your observation that blame hate and intolerance was what those kids took away from the experience.