Sunday, 29 December 2013

Ask A Wikkid Person

Dear Wikkid Person,
   How do you see grace now?

Desperately Seeking Grace

Dear DSG,
   I was raised to view grace (and love) as God giving us salvation free of charge, but wanting us to sacrifice all pleasure and joy for the rest of our lives so as to be worthy of it.  I was raised to view mercy as God being very, very angry, but promising, once His Son got between us and Him, not to actually torture us forever in never-ending fire/darkness.  Like most of us, I got my understanding of God's love, grace and mercy from my father, who definitely expected me to view him feeding me and not punishing me as mercy, and him punishing and correcting my foolishness and argumentativeness as the primary way I experienced his love.
   I am now viewing grace (and love and mercy) as things I don't really understand very well, but would like to start to learn about.  In fact, I always used to ask God for specific stuff, and then try not to resent Him when He (pretty much never) gave me what I'd asked for.  Now I'm opening the door to Him loving me, being generous, merciful and gracious in His own way, however much He has it in Him to do that, and I'm waiting to see if I can discern any of that, generally, in His dealings with me.
   I am determined neither to do a thing to try to 'be worthy' of or earn grace, mercy and blessing, nor to give a thought to deserving or not deserving them.  Grace and blessing and mercy are His thing.  I'm going to leave Him to it and see what He does.

With affection,
...that Wikkid Person

Dear Wikkid Person,
   Is there any way you will ever like PB and jam again?  Or is it all about the jam? (ming)
Sandwich Lover

Dear Sandwich Lover,
   I surely do love a good jam. I like Plymouth Brethren jamming and other kinds of jamming as well.  The next time Jon Martin is around, maybe he can be induced to jam once again.

...that Wikkid Person

Your Idol

I'm going to keep this simple: You have an idol.  Your idol is that thing you and your people made, that you look to for all the answers.  They used to build them out of woods.  Now we build them out of words.  It cannot save you, no matter what (or whom) you sacrifice to it. 
   Because you made it.  You and your people.  And you cannot save yourselves, even with stuff you think up and make.  You need Someone who can move around outside you and your stuff to do that. Someone who isn't locked into your feeling, thinking and life patterns.  Someone not blinded by your fears and agendas.
   But you really do need to be saved.  And your religion can't do it. Not your doctrine, your vision, your approach, perspective or strategies.  Yet you need to be saved.

The Wikkid Website Gets a Zippy New Look for Spring!

It's true.  I did the Wikkid Website in about 2001, and didn't really ever change it. Just kept tacking new stuff onto it without taking anything away.  A former student of mine who went on to design websites saw it and commented.  So I took a couple of days and built a new one from the ground up, as it were.  With a more unified vision.
   Go have a look.  It's simpler and cleaner and more focused.  It's about lines of communication and about connection.  It's about not arguing so much as understanding.  It's about being open rather than being right.  Or so it attempts.  My upbringing is strong. I learn but slowly.
   It's pretty sweet.  It's not entirely done yet, though. My favourite bit is how it has a box that displays new posts to this blog without me needing to do a thing but post new blog entries over here.
   I hope my online stuff leads to understanding and connection.  I hope I get some "Ask A Wikkid Person" questions.  Serious or otherwise.
  Normally people just take in whatever I put online and I never know a thing about that.  Inviting people to selfie in my merch was a bold step, today.  I feared that no one would be willing.  Several people stepped right up.  Everyone wanted the "Despair Creature" design.  I drew that, so I'm pretty proud, though I "stole" it from a diagram of a chicken embryo mostly.  It helps me to base my stuff on something else.  I'm a bit of a parodist, I guess.  Not everyone notices that the "Venus Buchannan" drawing is an homage to Botticelli:

Saturday, 28 December 2013

T-Shirt Selfie Offer

 If you're up for a selfie pic of you wearing one of my book merch shirts being up on the website (with other people's pics) to help market the stuff, I will have a free shirt sent to an address of your choosing: (you can get something other than a shirt if you like.)
   Oh sure, I could hire professional models, but that would leave you out of the fun.  And we wouldn't want to do that.  Several people have already spoken up, so don't miss out!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Breakdown of Survey Results

Forty people responded to it.  Of course if you want to be heard, or to add to my understanding of the phenomenon of people apparently leaving traditional Plymouth Brethren thinking in droves, feel free to answer it yourself. Here's what the respondents said:

1: To what degree have you stepped away from the Brethren life?
(Not a single person who hadn't walked away at least a bit answered this survey, obviously.) 
15 said they took some of what they'd learned there, but went to a different church.  
9 said they went through a tough time of re-evaluating everything and have a very different outlook now.  
7 said they retained their Christian beliefs but do not attend church anymore.
6 said they do not believe in God anymore.
2 said they changed their views only slightly.

For people choosing to comment in their own words, here are some of the things they wrote:
  • I walked away from the trappings, the form and formality, but still believe in the basic principles for the most part, just don't see how it can be practically practiced. I do not go to any church but retain Christian beliefs, and long for a place to worship and fellowship where I could feel I was truly worshiping and honoring the Lord with fellow believers. I get too tired of religiosity though, so haven't yet found that place.
  • 99.9% healed by God's Mercy and Love, committed follower of Jesus Christ, no 'denominational' affiliation
  • left but could not live without wife/family so back but it's not nice. (from an Exclusive Brethren man who can't see his relatives, so long as he stays 'out')
  • .....would I actually leave on my own? Don't know.....but I don't believe a lot of old school brethren stuff anymore.

2. Do you have a clear memory of a specific time when you feel you got saved?
18 said yes, with clear memories of it.
5 said yes, but not in childhood.
6 said they had vague memories only.
4 said "not really"
5 said just "no"
in their own words:
  • Over an over again. Afraid of hell. Not sure I "did it right."
  • I was very troubled about if I was actually saved or not until I was a teenager. I certainly had " asked Jesus into my heart"... But did I mean it? Was I sure he existed? In my teens, I finally felt peace.
  • vague memories at a very young age - then a clear specific time not in childhood when with that understanding I accepted what Christ had done for me
  • I remember consciously telling God that if I wasn't saved already, I would like to be...after a gospel given by Pilkington in our home assembly. I was 11.

3. Did your family enforce a Brethren lifestyle fairly firmly? (with abstinences such as movies, television, Christmas, alcohol, swearing or anything of that kind?) 
31 said "Yes.  Very much."
3 said "Yes, somewhat"
2 said "To some degree"
4 said "Not very much"
No one said "no." No one answered in their own words.

4.What kinds of things, if anything, were you once absolutely certain of, but now are not so dogmatic about?
This was only in your own words.  As it required writing/thinking/was personal, five people skipped this question, and a number of people bailed on the survey entirely at this point. The others said things like:
  • That there is "one place" where those who love Him "are gathered" and he is "in the midst" and nowhere else is He in the midst. AND that if I, as a woman, am "submissive" to my husband, God will make everything turn out "right" - even if my husband is in error. And while I'm there, I no longer believe that God is hung up on submission as the touchstone of a woman's godliness.
  • [no] Christmas, Worship, Dress/Clothing
  • That 'we' are right, everybody else is wrong. The MOG is sinless - rubbish  (the MOG is Exclusive Brethren talk for "Man of God" which means the world-wide ruler of the Taylor-Hale Exclusive Brethren, Bruce Hale, who teaches that he is sinless)
  • I left at a fairly young age, and saw people that I thought I had faith in crumbling around me even younger still. So I'm not sure I was certain of anything - I had a lot of doubts at a very young age. The more I explored, the more I was sure that I could not be sure of anything except who God is. Which, incidentally, turned out to be a very different thing that I had been taught."
  • Where the presence of the Lord is.
  • Submission to elders. Scriptural basis for church Govt. & Order. Separation from other denominations. Faithfulness to attendance of meetings.
  • [no] Christmas, [no] alcohol, separation from others
  • The "one place" doctrine and the narrow fellowship I was raised in. I am flexible "dispensationalist." 
  • Truth of the one body
  • Everything.
  • hats for women in church, skirts, solemnness
  • 1. Once saved always saved. 2. even tho I was saved, I was a bad person for letting the "old man" surface. 3. The brethren was the only true place that Jesus could show up and feel clean on Sunday Mornings. 4. That I could "give" my heart to Jesus. 5. Jesus has to love me...God too. 6. To marry outside of the assembly was lowering myself. 7. Music incites lust. 8. I am better than everyone else. 9. Other churches have demons.
  • By faith ye are saved.... taken to a meaningless extreme
  • That there is only one table and it is ONLY at a specific group of assemblies.
  •  The one place myth.
  • That everyone else was wrong but us. Now I don't care what anyone else does.
  • "one place", holiness defined but what i abstained from, sex before marriage being the worst possible sin, women not to speak in church.
  • One place. The way discipline is carried out. No music,etc.
  • The Lord exclusively in the midst.
  • Pretty much everything! The only thing I am certain about anymore is that water boils at 100 F but only at sea level!!
  • I used to think that people needed to be right about everything. And always needed to be corrected if wrong. Now i tend to just let some things slide
  • [not] Celebrating Christmas

5. What, if anything, do you feel was harmful or bad about your Brethren experience? Was this what made you step away from the Brethren way of thinking and living, or was it something else? 
This was also 'in your own words,' and three people skipped it:
  •  The grooming into a lifestyle of manipulation, obedience to all males, hypocrisy over living in freedom vs religion etc, my mother left and took all six children with her, after which we all underwent individual journeys into Truth 
  • Judging others! Feeling condemned, rather than feeling convicted! Pretending I was a "happy Christian", when in reality, I felt miserable, because of being forced into a stereotypical box! Pretension is what made me leave!  
  • Female oppression and physical and psychological abuse... It definitely made me question god and move away from organized religion. 
  • The most harmful aspect of my Brethren experience was the mandate that critical inquiry, especially regarding spiritual/religious things, was not tolerated.  
  • immense pressure to conform and bolster whoever takes the lead - deadens your conscience 
  • I think the biggest change for me, as above, was discovering God. Discovering a God who loved unconditionally, and realizing that the same unlimited grace that provided salvation is the very thing that allows us to give grace to each other as part of the body of Christ, the body that is in God's eyes one entity, although fragmented and divided here. Love that is not conditional on our walk with God, and a God who does not come and go dependent on our method of gathering together, I believe, is the single most damaging thing that is missing from the exclusive branch of the Brethren (remember that there are many factions of the brethren as well as the church - 'Open' brethren have issues just like any other church but this idea of the exclusivity of the presence of God is not one of them).  
  • Excessive control by "elders" - very harmful. Only partly why I left.
  • Bullying the flock collectively & personally. Domination. I could see high incidence of mental issues & could feel myself at risk if I remained. I felt my continuance was endorsing a bad system, and somewhat sustaining it. - our private lives were scrutinised & inappropriately made subject of public judgement. We saw injustice in treatment of others, and lies proffered to explain departures from fellowship, when we knew the facts to be otherwise. - it was very sick situation.
  • Treatment of others. Twas this.
  • The "pride of place" was extremely toxic. The lack if grace towards those who you disagreed with was very wrong!  
  • Too exclusive Too judgmental. They hold to a higherarchy of sins but claim they don't. They pick and choose what laws/morays/rules they want to follow. I found it hard to "drop the judgement" when I left. 
  • lack of love and forgiveness, which is central to the teachings of JESUS 
  • The fear they instilled into me as a child. if u dont do/live like this u will burn in hell etc 
  • The worst thing was it bred (and I fed heartily on it) feelings of superiority and condescencion in me...and these have proven extremely hard to shake off.  
  • Not practicing what Jesus told us to... but believing he we were more right than everyone on earth because we had "scripture" down more accurately than everyone... when really we built everything with and on Pauls doctrine... even though we should have built Upon jesus' words 
  • We stepped away when we realized how much pride it takes to think the Lord's table can only be located with a specific group and that the Lord needs our help to protect it.  
  • I stepped away cuz i knew it wasn't honest to stay. 
  • It taught us that there were certain doctrines you just weren't supposed to question or doubt, because if you didn't believe them you were a heretic. It's very difficult to have a healthy religious faith (which is inherently uncertain in nature) when you've been raised like this. Yes, this was the main reason I left the Brethren, and the whole evangelical Christian movement.  
  • Excluding other Christians. 
  • It was the unnecessary separation from anything outside of the Brethren.  
  • Overall lack of anything positive and loving. Everything seemed to be about following outdated rules. 
  • The lies and half-truths that were taught to me about other non-Brethren Christians  
  • Idealism and complete disconnect from reality, secondly massive misinterpretation of the bible as written. The bible is fiction anyway but I can also read what it says and see how it differs from brethren practice 
  • taught hypocrisy, taught exclusivity and superiority were good and right, taught not to question, to judge, to stay away from all non christians in every way except day/day biz or evangelizing, not allowed to feel i belonged anywhere except in the brethren circle (true body of christ not important).  
  • lack of real friendships
  • unrepentant lying
  • Pretty much all of it, but perhaps mainly that I was not allowed to be myself and was not encouraged to be myself. Love was conditional - a child does not thrive in such an environment. 
  • We never learned how to get close to anyone. Or how to truly feel love for anyone  
  • The narrowness.
  • Let me count the ways.... Not to sound too bitter. The totalitarian power and control that the distilled human ideology of "brethren-ism" gave to the select few who lived up to the lofty [brethren] image of godliness, giving them "moral weight" to exert undue and even ungodly influence, as those more honest and less proud cowered and believed, to some degree, that God Himself was finding them wanting, and expecting them to "submit' to the "elders" and the "shepherds of their souls" or else be even more unworthy. And the sexual abuse that was denied until glaring, then dealt with by "putting away" rather than prosecution by "worldly" laws and courts, leaving the perpetrators free to prey upon the unsuspecting, and justice waiting for a heavenly court. Those are extremes and I know not every group was guilty of either one, but I was in a couple that were. What was the final straw for me was the arrogance (I didn't see it that way until after I left, but the attitude I came to identify as arrogance) of believing that the Lord is only in the midst of an extremely select group of believers who have been hyper-educated as to New Testament Church ideology and live up to a certain standard and don't take a name, etc. After reading the book "They Searched for a City" I started the slow wake-up to the realization that God Himself led some believers to - gasp - sects!  

6. Did your association with the Brethren connect you to other, nonBrethren Christians? 
19 said "Not at all."
11 said "Not really"
8 said "Sometimes"
2 said "Yes." 
One commented:
  • Never. I was constantly surprised when I met a "christian" outside of the assembly - and did everything I could to convert them to my way of believing. I knew my husband 30 years ago and could not EVER consider him for marriage because altho he professed Christianity, he was not in the assembly and therefore a pagan. Thank you, God, for moving me past that stupidity!

7. Did your assembly appear to be mainly run by one person or family or school of thought, or was there room for healthy disagreement? 
22 said it ran according to one view of things with little room for disagreement
7 said there was some room for healthy disagreement
3 said everyone (male) got to speak up and have their ideas heard
7 said it changed over time and got more narrow
1 said it changed to get more open over time
  • there were core groups of families...I was never privy to how it really worked.  

8. Were you at any time aware of sexual or financial impropriety going on in your assembly or those nearby?
Two people skipped this one.
19 said "No."
9 said they had first-hand experience of it
8 said they had second-hand experience of it.
3 said there were rumours which never got proven
  • As an adult I found out about sexual molestation in the assembly I grew up in as a child. 
  • I didn't hear of that until long after I was gone.  
  • This is an interesting one. There were a few examples over the years, these were more one offs. A man cheating on his wife with someone not in the meeting or those not married having sex.

9. Assuming a belief in God, do you now feel that God moved you into or out of the Brethren system at any point in your life?
5 people skipped this one.
22 said "Yes.  Very much."
6 said "Maybe"
1 said  "Not really"
6 said "Not at all."

  • we moved from exclusive brethren to open brethren. We feel that the Lord lead us in this move. 
  • No, I feel he left that up to me and supports me where ever I go.  
  • Absolutely - God put people in my life for a reason and many of those in my life are due to my brethren roots - my family was shaped (good and bad) by the brethren...However God also provided a way out when the time was right...and I am forever grateful for that. 
  • I feel like God allowed me to go away from him to learn some hard lessons...He still does. 
  • I believe he allowed me to be born into it. Beyond that......I don't know. 

10. Did the teaching you experienced go very far beyond simply validating Brethren methods of doing things, thinking and feeling?
3 people skipped this one.
15 said "Not much, no"
12 said "Somewhat"
9 said "Yes. Definitely"
1 said "I don't remember what they taught"
  • I believe that the teaching I was exposed to, for the most part, represented personal opinions and interpretations that suited personal beliefs.  
  • What I heard and what I learned from the Brethren writings were often two different things especially in regard to interacting with other believers and the history of divisions. 
  • I learned to study the bible, and memorize, and have a deep faith in God and community from the brethren and my family - That is something I am very thankful for.  
  • It is always to bolster the MOG and his ideas 
  • In some ways I am more well-taught than most preachers I know who have gone through seminary. But there is a definite lack in some areas, probably owing to the fact that so much teaching was geared toward validating Brethren methods. I feel that Brethren tend to be educated and intellectual, and attract those likeminded. So there is a lot of knowledge, but not as much "heart" - teaching on love is very lacking, grace is an abstract, and mercy is something Jesus showed on the cross that we should be humbly thankful for, but nobody knows how to play it forward. 

Thursday, 26 December 2013


Christmas went pretty well this year.  The weather was appalling around here (cold, and blizzardy and windy) so I drove down south of the border to my friends' place in Pennsylvania like I often do.  It was so snowed in up here that the first couple of hours of my trip were on roads with not a square inch of asphalt visible, just snow from side-walk to side-walk, or from ditch to ditch, depending.
    Then I crossed into the States, and it soon turned to freezing rain, which can be bad, unless you drive down out of it, and it's just rain, which is what I did.  I gave my friends' kids a bad of assorted 1970s Star Wars figures left over from giving my nephew a set of "hero" and main villain figures.  Stayed down there for Christmas, as my own family Christmas gets delayed until the 26th, as my niece and nephew get Christmas gift opening twice already on the 25th, with their divorced paternal grandparents.
    So I stayed down where there was snow on the ground, but the temperature was hovering just around freezing and read a fascinating, well-researched but horribly-worded book about the life of Muppet creator Jim Henson.  (the writing style is rubbing off on this blog.  Seriously, the guys wrote sentences that sounded very Nancy Drew.  Too much thesaurus.  Too many adverbs by far.  Stuff that sounded like "Jim perched precariously on the counter that sweltering afternoon, pondering the conundrum wryly, and doggedly cradled the cup of coffee he was inexorably nursing and remarked, perspicaciously as always, with his characteristic twinkle, on the deplorable state of the abysmal collection of dishware adorning the slovenly sink used by the laid-back denizens of the Muppet Show staff.") 
   We drank wine and joked around and lay around reading while logs burned on the fire and deer walked by outside the cabin.  We played Cranium, and I managed to spell "psychology" correctly.  Out of my head.  Backwards.  (that was the task)
   Went to Wal-Mart and supplemented my already-half-bought niece and nephew present bags.  Got Jenga, some sciencey kits for making crystals and things, and a giant Darth Vader that didn't actually cost very much.  Noted Duck Dynasty stuff everywhere in there, and wondered if the current debacle will spell the end of the show and all of that merchandise, or if the one "character"'s merch will become more rare, or sought-after, or what.  They even had Duck Dynasty bibles and devotionals.  Green for guys.  Pink for girls.
   After a relaxing Christmas Eve, with the wine and the fire and the Cranium and watching British comedy and episodes of Sherlock, I stayed to see the kids open their presents, and show their parents the elaborate Minecraft fortresses the boys had designed for each parent to explore.  I drove home and today I picked up a few more things spent the afternoon and evening with my niece and nephew, parents and sister.
   What did I get?  When I was a kid, that was my first question people would ask me.  Well, as usual I got money and chocolate and leftover turkey, but I also got a cool skull bookmark and a telephoto lens for my camera.  I'd been making do with the 50mm all along, and now I can zoom.  Will keep me from having to walk up and down in order to frame imaged.
   Drove home, carefully passing a series of snowplows, managed to smash my Terry's chocolate orange a bit too hard, getting pieces of it all over the floor, and continued (doggedly, inexorably, perspicaciously and wryly) to work on a makeover for my main website.  I swear that thing's been like it is for about a decade.  Excelsior.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Cultish Behaviour (Additional)

In response to a comment on my Cultish Behaviour post, a friend of mine posted:

"Flawed and poisonous" as well as "every effort is being made to destroy healthy cultures" confuses you? Try living with the TW's. Wonderful, warm, loving, helpful people . . . until you cross the "we are special" line.

The [Plymouth Brethren] started as a bunch of people who realized that God does not recognize sects/churches/denominations. So they accepted everyone, and refused to take a name or be anything other than what scripture called them: Christians.

Then came the 'idiot' moment: "Hey, if we're the only ones who are meeting like this, we must be Special." Then they began the horrible process of examining how each other were meeting, and kicking out anyone who was not 'special' enough. They kicked people out for not being un-sectarian enough.

Suddenly those who had refused all sectarian influence became the tightest sect of all. Irony. Typical Satanism.

So... "flawed and poisonous"? Yeah. "Confusing and hard to understand?" Here's a test for you: do something wonderful and tell your church about it. If it helps them advance their name, you'll get accolades. If it is simply wonderful on its own, you will be sidelined.

A society that operates on control is not a society. There are roles for those within a society, and there are roles for the society itself. Control is not one for the latter.

Moral (for personal, or collective use): If you're totally special and unique, then no one knows anything about you but you, and no one can help. There's no sense talking to anyone or listening to anyone about you and your stuff, or about their life either. Not if you're special and unique, "the best/worst" person or group with the worst, special problems.  You can then always bear that burden of being unique, and simply not consider any wisdom anyone has.
   When our church had its divisions, it never considered reading a book or talking to anyone outside the Brethren movement (not special).  Not even people who'd once been in (special) and were now out.  Because of a division.  Nope.  This was a special case.  No sense talking to anyone about it.  It had certainly never happened before, right?  A Brethren division?
   Same thing with people for whom Brethren lifestyle isn't feeding them.  Has that ever happened before?  Only to people who aren't special.  No sense talking to them, though, if you're specialler.  Chaos might ensue.
   If, by contrast, there is a great deal of universality, or points of connection between us all, then keeping us all divided and not talking is a fantastic strategy to bring us all down and keep us that way.

  "Together we stand, divided we fall"1 and all that. If we want strength and health, we need each other.  We need to connect far more than we need to control everything to "keep it together."  We need to let people in behind what Roger Waters of Pink Floyd envisioned as a huge wall we have built, with parental and societal help, out of all the pain, disappointment, hurt, lost hope and alienation.  If connection is important, we cannot afford to be special.  We have to seek the universal, and find common ground. Somewhere.  With someone.

Hey You 1
Pink Floyd
Hey you! out there in the cold
Getting lonely, getting old, 

Can you feel me?
Hey you! Standing in the aisles
With itchy feet and fading smiles, 

Can you feel me?
Hey you! don't help them to bury the light
Don't give in without a fight.

  But it was only a fantasy
  The wall was too high as you can see
  No matter how he tried he could not break free
  And the worms ate into his brain.

Hey you! out there on the road
Always doing what you're told, 

Can you help me?
Hey you! out there beyond the wall
Breaking bottles in the hall, 

Can you help me?
Hey you! don't tell me there's no hope at all
Together we stand, divided we fall. 

Outside the Wall
Pink Floyd
All alone, or in twos
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall
Some hand in hand
Some gathering together in bands
The bleeding hearts and the artists
Make their stand
And when they've given you their all
Some stagger and fall after all it's not easy
banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall

Saturday, 21 December 2013

New Widgets/Gadgets on This Blog!

Because I am at Bethany's, she's put odd new thoughts into my head about this blog.  After us poking around to see cool stuff that I hadn't built in, and pondering what to add, it now has:
  • a Search function to help readers find stuff in old posts
  • an email following option, so when I put a new post up, you get an email notifying you
  • the all-new "Dear Wikkid Person," questions form.  You can ask me things, serious or otherwise, and I may well answer, either on the blog, or privately, if you request that.  For the blog, funny pseudonyms are appreciated.

Hey! I Hate to do Surveys! So I Made You One!

This blog is, by nature, very one-sided.  Just me talking.  Generally no response besides several porny spam comments daily.  Hoping it connects to someone real. That it provokes thoughts and feelings, anyway. I believe strongly in the need for that. I would love to sit down and chat with every one of you, but we Christians are really kind of "in it" for the separation, control, dividedness and resultant loneliness, aren't we?  (Sort of kidding)
   I made a ten question survey in Survey Monkey, designed to help me learn what the experience of taking a step back from, or outright leaving Brethren communities is like and how it was for people and stuff like that.  It's anonymous. I hope people use the "Other"/comments box a lot. Give it a try: 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Christmas is Coming

I've been getting delightful things in the mail.  I got two different boxes filled with 70s and 80s Star Wars figures to give to my nephew (he was more fascinated with my "old ones" than with any of the new Star Wars stuff in stores), and an exquisite coffee table book in the mail this week.  The latter came today, and is awesomeness.
   Today was the last day of the school year until January.  Shortened classes and then a Christmas assembly, with me up first.  And later.  I went up and did two songs, and suffered a flood of far more adrenaline than is pleasant or useful, like often happens.  How it works for me is, I go up, I hold back the tide of adrenaline, and perform, and then as soon as I'm done, I let go and my blood is flooded with it and I get the jitters and the shakes, I talk fast, my voice wobbles, and so on.  Usually it lasts for about five or ten minutes. Thing is, today it didn't go away at all, and I knew I had to go up and do two more songs.
  The first set went okay, though.  I'd had a premonition that my video "I Live Alone," (it's making the rounds at the school) might be fondly mocked, so I had done a big intro about how I was going to start things off by playing a traditional Christmas carol from the 1100s, in what is known as "old English," with a particularly difficult key and time signature, about a little shepherd boy who grows up to be an actual shepherd, and one day he meets Someone Very Special.  And then I sang "I Live Alone" about my cat peeing on my bed.
   There was much hilarity from students who knew the video and now got to see the song performed live, and even more hilarity from students who didn't know I did stuff like that.  Then I did "Do You Hear What I Hear?" more seriously, and it went okay.  I would have done "O Holy Night," like I've done in years past, but one of the exchange students from China was going to do it, so I didn't want to step on his toes.  I was nervous, so I purposely skipped the fourth verse in each of those two songs, and got down, with huge cheers.
   I saw that one of my students was dressed as me, which made me laugh.  She had a wig, and eyeliner all over her cheeks.  I waited to see what fun they'd make of us, their teachers, and as usual, they were pretty nice.  My mini-me mimed me texting on my phone off to one side like I do in class (I let kids use their phones in the threshold of the classroom so they're not doing that at their desks all class long, and I get my school emails and stuff and I walk over and use my phone there too), and she got a ukulele and sang the line "I Live Alone"  (which I'd already sang for the room, in case anyone was going to do that.)  Huge hilarity.  At the end of the skit, all the "teachers" danced wildly, and "I" stood immobile among them, with my hands clasped in front of me.  I looked down and I was, indeed, standing just like that.
   Then I had to go up for my next two songs and I was awash with an uncontrollable tide of adrenaline that built and built and built.  The shakes, chills, clumsy, talking double-speed, couldn't think.  Sang a passable version of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer," noting how many kids knew every word and were singing along.  500 pairs of eyes on me.  Then I butchered "So This Is Christmas."  Actually stopped twice and restarted the song before I could do it.  Third try I was just getting through it okay, and Mini-Me joined me on stage and pretended to sing along with me, which was hilarious and really made the whole performance.  I came back home and my book was waiting for me.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Cultish Behaviour

I wasn't raised in a cult.  I am certain of that.  But despite this, when my sister was at university taking an Abnormal Psychology course, we had to agree that some of the time, some of us in some of the Plymouth Brethren assemblies were engaging in some very cult-like thought patterns. Some of the time, anyway.
   Here's one way I could tell I was doing this: I had what I believed were my thoughts.  I kinda knew they'd been given to me by my culture, family and church, but I wanted them to be mine.  They were well-written.  Sounded soft and devout and proper and quiet.  And then I also had what I thought of as (my thoughts) which I knew were mine, but didn't want.  At all.
   They didn't match.  They did not line up with my culture, family and church.  They were exactly the sort of thoughts I wasn't supposed to have.  Doubts about God being good.  Doubts about our church being the only right one.  Doubts about the harm in rock music, movies and other pop culture.  Doubts that preaching to everyone was going to make a difference.  Doubts about literal seven-day creationism.  Doubts about gay people not being born gay, but having made an inexplicable, sinful choice, or having been led down a sinful path from nature to perversion.  Doubt, doubt, doubt.
   I hated my doubt.  I didn't want it to be mine.  I didn't pursue these thoughts.  Didn't take a good look at them in the harsh light of day. I buried them, uncomfortably.  I buried them deep.  I shat upon the place they were buried.  I poured buckets of water on them to try to kill them once and for all, to drown them, like a hole full of gophers.
  Like most plants, this just made them put down healthy roots and grow, always springing up into view embarrassingly, little thought tendrils reaching for the light right where everyone could see them.  I stomped on these little tendrils, but they keep growing, and in greater numbers.

Books About People In Cults
I have read a number of books about people who were involved in cults, and in cult-like situations as well.  The disappointing thing is how blank these people seem.  Before, during, after.  They don't seem to wrestle and get angry and get upset the way I did, or if they did, they don't really seem to express it much.  And they don't necessarily seem to have really, truly believed the thinking of their cult-ture so much as they just agreed to follow it, and not think other stuff.  They seem like they were a bit muted, a bit blank, to begin with, and then when they gravitated to, or got pulled into a cult situation, they got further muted down.  Blank.  Robotic.  Serene.  Part of a larger whole.
   I read one book recently about the Moonies in the 70s.  (The Unification Church is a cult which worships marriage and uniformity, teaching that Jesus Christ was not the son of God, and that his work on earth failed or was not finished, as he did not manage to marry before getting crucifed, which ruined his mission.  The Moonies teach that Sun Myung Moon finished the unfinished work of Christ, by marrying.)
   The disappointing thing was that the author simply goes blankly from not being a Moonie, to being a full-fledged Moonie.  Suddenly she's doing nothing but going around preaching the supposedly Christian, bible teachings of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and wasting away and lacking sleep and food and water.  Then she blankly moves discussing to having people actually abduct her in a van to deprogram her.  And she doesn't want to talk to them.  But they do.  And there's no huge struggle.
   She just blankly tries not to listen, and then has to, and has to (blankly) admit the truth about everything.  Has to admit that the Reverend Sun Myung Moon might not be the Messiah.  That he might just be a normal guy.  That maybe his interpretations of the bible served his own agenda of making his system water-tight.  That he might be exploiting her.  That her life might be getting sucked away from her by her affiliation.  That she was being asked to sacrifice everything for it, to give all of herself away to it, to belong.  All that.
   And she seems to go from blankly not admitting any of it (by not thinking about it and refusing blankly to discuss it), to, as soon as she starts thinking about any of it, pretty much having to blankly admit stuff she seems to have already known all along.  (In my case, whenever I have had to admit more of Reality is real, it is always equal parts terror and deep, warm affirmation.  Like thinking you're drowning after being shoved in, and having your feet hit solid bottom.)
  Finally, this author blankly reports becoming a sought-after exMoonie deprogrammer.  She talks about how she blankly spoke for weekends at a time with people, sometimes taken against their will by their heart-broken families who want their kids back.  And she blankly gets them to detach from the non-being they have been blankly embracing.  By having them take a moment, and then admit things, one after another.  There are no backslidings.  Once growth happens, it's a done deal.
   Not very dramatic.  She had been trained, and also "just knew" to protect her special, magic, headlong mapped-out retreat from the uncertain world into a fantasy place filled with false certainties.  All of those "thoughts" and "feelings" which she'd been given, and which she tried to actually have, had to be carefully kept from too much exploration, had to be kept from any situation in which they'd be placed side by side with the world of other possibilities, with all the real world uncertainty that was just waiting to bump up against everything.  She just had to make sure her mind wasn't touched by any unprogrammed ones.  Not really touched, anyway.
   I mean, she spoke with people on the street every single day of the week.  In fact, she had no job.  That's all she did.  Talked to person after person, being moved from city to city to city to do nothing but that.  But not a thought or feeling from anyone else ever got in.  That was the deal.   Her mind and heart were blocking reality out.  To keep what was inside from being revealed to be a sham.  From being manifestly someone else's ideas.  From admitting that she wasn't herself.  Wasn't who God made.  Was someone else's machine. 
   Why did she do this?  Kind of sad, really: She wanted to belong.  To give over the responsibility of making choices.  Of battling with life question and dilemmas.  She had a family and was getting an education, and she had a man in her life, but she wanted to belong in a deeper, special way.  In an exclusive way.  To belong only to the cult of the Moonies and to no one and nothing else.  And the cult told her what kind of things to wear, what kind of hairstyle to have, and what to eat and where and when to sleep, and provided marriage partners and performed mass weddings.  Even the marriages were for the cult.  They served Rev. Moon before all things.
   And underneath it all, she pretty much knew exactly what she was doing the whole time, which is why she knew to protect her fantasies from reality.  She was carefully fleeing admitting huge bucketfuls of the truth about everything to herself.  She was nonthinking and nonliving and nonfeeling for all she was worth, all for the acceptance and structure given by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and her co-followers.   And in return, a one-size-fits-all-Moonies life was handed to her.  A life that made sense.  Not like the one God gave her to live.  That one had been filled with ups and downs and uncertainties and imperfections.  So she shut that one out.  Ran from it.  Committed a kind of identity suicide and let go and let Moon.

How Cultish Was I?
I remember not thinking (my thoughts.)  I remember "thinking" thoughts that weren't mine.  I was a kid, after all, and a young adult.  I remember things coming out my mouth that were so obviously me quoting dead people.  Saying things that were supposed to be what we all thought and believed.  They sounded very well-worded, traditional, proper and sensible.  Self-sacrificing and devout.
   I remember when nonchurch people couldn't really talk to me about a whole range of things that I was programmedly blocking the whole World out on.  If they talked, I kind of made my brain immune to it all.  I didn't consider things.  I let them slide right off.  I never put one of their thoughts next to one of "my" thoughts, with the two sharing the stage at the same time, on equal footing, to see if "my" thoughts really were so much better.  I remember protecting my thoughts and my heart from letting anyone in.  It might have all worked too, but for two people:

a) me.  I wasn't good enough at being blank.  My thoughts and feelings were an endless, ever-changing torrent, needing to be expressed and let out, and needing desperately (I didn't realize) to butt up against those of many other people, so they could live, breathe, love and grow.  To partake of others and be partaken of.  To live in the world and have the world feel Actual Me, taking root and finding my way and actually living an actually alive life for actual God.  Not perpetually hiding in a hammock so my feet never really touched the ground, and never really got earth on them.  Not washing everything off me almost before anything or anyone touched me.
   And I wasn't made to have "Two modes."  I knew I was "supposed" to be like that, but it didn't take.  I was built deep,  but very, very simply.  I can really only properly be one me at a time, and increasingly, all my mes started to be all the same person.  And that personhood was flowing from the core of my being, not from training.  They unified.  Which made me strong.  Single-minded.  Quick to decide things.  Ideas sprang to me.  Focused of sight, without crossed eyes or double-vision.  And that made me stand out like a rhino at the ballet.  Surrounded by spiritual anorexics and bulimics, starving themselves of life-stuff, purging themselves things they'd indulged in, all in order to be Pretty for God.  Because God likes that, doesn't He?  Pretty Christians?  No one had the courage to ask Him.

b) God.  God was, it turned out, Real.  Very real.  The realest Thing/Person/Idea ever.  The Source of all persons, things and ideas, in fact.  No matter how eagerly and doggedly the blank, grey human systems "created" thoughts and positions and habits and traditions, schedules, careful guidelines and approved feelings, God kept creating actually real ones.  Kept bringing about life.  And God wasn't having with any spiritual anorexia or bulimia. He wanted physical and spiritual eating habits to match and work and make sense.  Regular flow of food in, of all varied kinds, textures, temperatures and tastes, and regular purging out of my system, but only after digestion had occurred, and only out the right "end," too.
   And God kept bringing random, unsettling stuff into my life.  And He meant me to let it in.  Oh sure, I wasn't to be all open like a cult-member, to take up any and all thoughts shoved in my head and heart just as if they were my own thoughts.  But I was supposed to have a place in my life, like a lobby or conference room or cafe in the front of my head and heart, where I could have honest dialogue.  Where what I thought of as "my" ideas had to share air-time with what I wanted to deny were (my ideas.)  Where as many ideas as I'd encountered recently all had to be allowed to be Real, if they had any reality to them.

You Can't Run From God
I never did grow to be capable of being placid.  I'm not built to be. I'm built to strive, to pick away, to build up, tear down, rip up, paint, sing, write, hector, woo, resist, accept, forgive and all the rest.  After all, God made all of us in His image, you know.  And we're supposed to be it.  Live it.  Pursue it.  And God's a bit nuts. He's not a tame lion at all.  There is nothing and no one wilder than He Is.
    When I was a kid, they told us about Jonah.  "You can't run from God," they told us.  And they were right.  And heaven help us, God is real.  We can't make stuff up, or install preassembled life and thought and emotion modules and block out Everything.  We can't live in The Matrix.  We have only this reality and it's a jumbled, tangled, living, growing, dying, breathing, shitting, spitting, singing, birthing mess.  It really is.  And there is no alternative.
   Sometimes it gets to be a bit too much, and we need to find a quiet place to gather ourselves.  Good luck finding it, but sometimes we need that.  We have, most of us, our dark country roads, our cafes, our churches, our beaches, our forests, our paths, our rocks, our cliffs, our streets, our whatevers.  And we go to them to be alone, and gather ourselves.
   I don't know about you, but when I go off to be alone, I come with me, and I've got all kinds of stuff I've not been wanting to admit I think and feel.  I'm quite chatty.  And God comes too.  He's never not around.  He can be quite insistent as well.  It's quite a party sometimes.
   I used to be more cultish than I am.  I used to protect my Brethren training from too much Reality.  I knew, deep down, that reality threatened it.  So I was very carefully not to do the thought-work on a lot of things I wanted to keep.  I used to try to make the Brethren methods and practices and traditions work.  I used to try to control absolutely everything (like any of us can really do that.  In fact, I think God's very wise to make sure we can't.)
   When things got to be too much, I used to try to shut everything out.  Just lie in my bed and try not to live a life.  Eventually I couldn't keep it out anymore.  It all poured in.  Like water when one's been shoved into the swimming pool because the patio's on fire.  It poured right into my nose and ears and mouth.  And you know what?  It was life.  It was everything.  And it was exactly as God intended me to experience things.  And often it hurt.  And sometimes it was awesome.  But it was terrifyingly, overwhelmingly, fascinatingly, revealingly, pointfully, amazingly real.  And I couldn't be blank at all anymore.

And here is the response of a friend to the above blog entry:

To continue your defence of the Moonies, when i look at it through the lens of maturity, i come away with a slightly different perspective. What the Moonies are doing to their followers in terms of control is the same thing we rightly do to our children when raising them. 

At a certain point, though, the child grows enough that the controls, which are akin to law, are not necessary. Yet there are many adults who are still children, and are attracted to that type of control. When deciding whether to deprogram a Moonie, ethical questions come up like "Are they actually going to proactively do anything with their life anyway?" If not, what difference does it make whether they're selling flowers at bus stations, preaching on street corners, or having a 'normal' life of being a mindless consumer tube-fed by the telly?

I see the value or danger of a system as how it does/does not encourage growth. In this respect, universities are extremely cultish. They are not there to encourage research except in relationship to what has already been established. This is what happened when I was at college.  I didn't back down when it was demanded that I toe the line. The political battles were ridiculous.

The Brethren had an overt claim that scriptural understanding was a good thing to pursue. In early years, this was helpful and encouraging to me. But once we began to actually make some progress in understanding the Bible, warning alarms went off across the board. No one, of course, had any idea what was being explored, they just freaked out because it was outside their control. At this point things begin to look a bit cultish. It's one thing to keep people protected from pornography and drugs, but quite another when you attempt to protect them from the scripture itself.

In healthy cultures, the growth process is marked by rite of passage ceremonies which give structure to the difficult process of learning to think on one's own. The only rite of passage ceremony among the TW's is "asking for your place at the Lord's Table," (Brethren membership) which turns out to be somewhat mismatched to the real needs of the child in question. 

The hope of a good parent is that the children will be "enabled", i.e., be able to take up everything that they have become and use it dynamically in a new direction. The obvious fear that this freedom will cause them to go astray reveals that the "parents" aren't parenting, but are in fact still children themselves.

One of the most revealing aspects of the cultishness of the TW's was shown to me by Kate. Not by what she did, but what people did to her. I could mix with the 'learned' brothers and get oodles of respect, but if i left the room and Kate walked in to talk to them, they would go for the jugular. She didn't have the "I'm holier than you" thing working like I did, and what had been an amicable conversation with a Shawn Rodd, Jim Mopp, or Toss James would turn into a full-out attack on her for just being who she was: free. 

I learned to hang around the corner when Kate was with these folk, and spring back into the room to defend her once the attack was on full force. The attacker always looked like he was caught with his pants down, which analogy is not that far off.

It initially amazed me; how could such "friendly" people turn so poisonous when left alone with Kate? Slowly i began to grasp that "friendly" was perhaps the wrong description of how they were acting with me. I was one of them, and could defend myself. They were looking for defenseless people to attack. 

Having Kate around, with her inimitable way of getting under these guys' skin, showed me that the system was severely flawed, and as such, I who bought into it was severely flawed. But one does not build a new culture overnight. And one is never fully divorced from the culture in which one is brought up, as Paul with his "constant uninterrupted pain for my brethren according to flesh" so aptly shows.

Freedom is dangerous (and wonderful) and requires some kind of culture to nest it, within which it can safely develop. Every effort is being made to destroy these kind of healthy cultures. This is a situation that weighs on my mind constantly.


Sunday, 15 December 2013

Get 'Em Out

As promised, here is a rough mix of the song "Get 'Em Out" which I've been working on this weekend.  It's actually missing the track from the kick drum mic, as George neglected to send that along.  I'll mix it in when he does.  It's a bit frenetic and odd for me, but I kinda went with that, having a lot of nervous energy.  When doing the drums a couple of months back, so did George.  I fought the temptation to make it all extremely distorted guitar, and instead hacked away on acoustics, mostly.
   The words are as follows:

Get 'Em Out
They've got the kids, they play no more

They gossip, gasp and tut and strafe

They've got the girls decent attire

They've made the guys neutered and safe

I'm in their walls, I'm in their cells,
I'm in the doghouse, on death row
Palliative care, terminal ward
The rubber room where bent minds go
   In ya go, in ya go, in ya go, in I go
   I'll start to attend, try not to offend
   (Not start to offend, try not to attend)
   But God, oh my God, get me out.

They're in my car, they're in my house
They're in my closet, they're under my bed
They're on my plate, they're in my cup
They're in my pants, they're in my head
   Get it out, get it out, get it out, get them out
   I'll try to attend, start not to offend
   (Not start to offend, try not to attend)
   But God, oh my God, get it out.

They're in my heart and in my mind
They're in my voice and in my eyes
They're in my dreams, they're in my hair
They itch and itch and itch and itch
   And squirm, bite and squirm, and bite, squirm and sting
   And sting, bite and squirm, and bite, squirm and sing
  I'll start to attend, try not to offend
   (Yes I will offend, but try to attend)
   Please God, oh my God, get them out.