Saturday, 29 June 2013

Super Shovel Bros. Melee

That was quite the thing yesterday.  I have often written about how what we were taught at church, growing up, didn't work out for us, wasn't good, wasn't enough, didn't get us through intact, what God sent our way.  And how locally, the teaching was coming from three sons of a long-dead guy we'd never met.  Three guys who were men of the thirties, trying to stave off the troubling change that had come with the 1950s and 60s, when it was the 1980s.
  These men had wives with their hair done up like it was 1939 still, who warned my sister "don't marry a black man because it's wrong," when she was moving to Japan.  You'd pretty much never see these men without a jacket and tie, and there were interesting turns of phrase in their language that let you know you were listening to the unfiltered past.

The Shovel Tapes
  But it took more courage than I can even tell you to listen yesterday to a bunch of lectures by the man I called "Charlie Shovel" in my book.  I ordered them from the publishing company his son-in-law ran/runs, and they arrived, so I listened to a bunch of them. They go from the 1960s to the 80s, are of varying degrees of sound quality, but are pretty much all giving exactly the same message, despite there being about sixty of them.
  I must confess (note: this is a much older way of saying "I'm not gunna lie," and one which doesn't suggest that generally I would be lying, so am informing you of a sudden change in the direction of truthfulness) that I had a bit of an "episode" while listening to these talks.  It's been a long time since I had a panic attack/fainting spell, but I had one alright, right while I was listening to a few hours of this voice from my childhood, from beyond the grave he's occupied since 1982, when I was twelve and so much of my life and surrounding world turned to crap/was revealed to have been crap all along.
  But I lay on the futon and kept listening, soaked in hot sweat, shaking and feeling sick, once the attack was over.  If this stuff was so good, why was it my kryptonite?  I didn't feel a modicum of worth and health in it.  I felt something that hurt me.  I took out some sound bites which represented the sort of talk that went more or less unremarked upon back in the day, but which in retrospect, sounds somewhat dubious.

The Shovel Method
  The Shovel Method involved the following: fill your mind and your day and your life up entirely with "the things of the Lord."  Don't spend any time talking to anyone who won't allow you to talk exclusively about these things.  Don't enjoy anything besides these things.  Don't even go anywhere at all where you won't be allowed to preach unceasingly about these things the whole time you are there.  Take up no ambition or goal in life but one involving these things.  Anything else was an idol.
  So, if your daughter is dressing like those who don't love the Lord, or your church is doing horrible things to people, or your wife doesn't seem interested in reading the bible with you, just do it more and harder.  And be "unceasing" in shoving away at your daughter, your wife, and anyone nearby, to adjust them inexorably youward.  That's what you are in their lives.  Don't think about your troubles. Count your blessings. Think about the things of the Lord.  Insist. Persevere. And always stay out of This World which despises the very Name of the Lord Jesus. Don't connect to those within it, except to warn them of its depravity and the seat reserved for them in Hell.  And they'll hate you as much as they hate Jesus, who everyone hates.
  And likewise warn those at church whose dress or demeanour was letting you know that they were starting to love This World and the things that are of it, rather than the Lord's Things.  Warn them that, like Eutychus, sitting in the window looking out at the Things of the World, that they are in danger of a fall from that third loft room, where privileged Christians sat under the sound of the Word, elevated  beyond, and separated from, the normal folk below with their mundanely depraved, all-too-human daily lives.
  To be fair to him, I think what he was trying to say was "If you are a Christian, and you care about a job, your education, money, sports or things, more than the Things of the Lord, then you have Idols."  Fair enough.  But there seem to be, there, some hidden assumptions that if you cared much, had much passion, let yourself like and want things, then "the Things of the Lord" simply couldn't compete with that. Or that our heart, even benefiting from the work of Christ, wouldn't ever choose the spiritual things over the others so unworthy of our time.
  The very word "entertainment" is spoken by Mr. Shovel with disdain in many of his lectures.  Because there was an assumption that the two kinds of things ("normal people things" and "Christian things") were incompatible.  (Well, some of the two kinds of things were thought okay in moderation.  You might need a job. You might need an education.  It might be okay to play sports a bit.  It was not okay to enjoy "worldly entertainments" other than sports, of course.)  And Christ came first.

Using the Shovel Method
  How could you tell if you were doing this right?  Time spent thinking about it. You should be preaching at your job so much that people wanted to fire you, ideally.  Inspirational stories of people getting fired for this are recorded in those talks.
  I'm so trained in this, that none of this sounds very bad at all.  Sounds like it should work.  In theory.  If it doesn't work, it must be me, right?  Sounds like an inarguable thing.  And yet...
  God has yanked me from that warm, Novocaine nest and made me wake up and smell what was going on.  Trust me, I was much happier in there.  It was killing me, but I didn't feel that wholly.  At first.
  An idol, the Shovel Method correctly presents, is something that takes the place of God and His things.  According to Mr. Shovel, if you got discouraged, in any way, about anything, this was proof positive that you weren't thinking about the Lord, who has done nothing to discourage us, and that clearly you had gone after idols.  Was your life discouraging?  Why were you thinking about it?  Did other people around you have real problems?  Leave that with the Lord/Don't think about it.
  Mr. Shovel seemed genuinely to believe in bible characters who were going around smilingly building arks, sitting in lion's dens, touching lepers and killing Egyptians, delighted to be serving the Lord and positively rejoicing in doing His Will without a single complaint.
  And he equally seemed to believe that if a construction worker got angry and said "Jesus!," this was clear proof the man hated and despised our bless'ed Saviour, and delighted in the guilty pleasures to be found in blaspheming and demeaning Him who died for us (but not for him, unless he confessed the error of his wicked ways).

The Things of the Church = An Idol
  Well, the problem was this: for Mr. Shovel and many of us, we'd turned the Things of the Church into what we then called the Things of the Lord. We didn't quite want to admit it, either.  But this is the high pedestal upon which we put our bible translations, hymns, sayings, men, a specific style of speech and dress and life, along with always a disdainful abstinence from not only fun with regular human beings, but any connection with them that didn't involve us trying to "adjust them usward."  But the Things of the Church were an idol.  They were between us and God, and were being shoved in our faces and protected from being touched or changed by infidel Christians.  
  So the Plymouth Brethren system and style had, ironically, become an idol. It was supposed to be nothing, nameless, "just" a bunch of Christians being together being Christiany for Christ.  It was supposed to be an alternative to the "human religious systems and activity" around us.  But all this wasn't true.  Not anymore, anyway.  This much was clear.  It wasn't nothing.  It was everything.  It was the very air we breathed.  It was our week.  Like a lot of Brethren kids, to this day if I want to visit my folks, I have to remember to make sure it's not Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday evening, because that's "meeting night."  No point visiting them Sunday at all, actually.  Because the whole day is taken up.
  It is a system I grew up knowing.  It was a very flawed, very human system, it turns out.  No better or worse than most, I suppose.  However, "being occupied with the Things of the Lord" had come to mean "maintaining Plymouth Brethren attendance, lifestyle, modes of speech, group status and frantically guarded, always in danger, Brethren reputation."  This, one hopes, had been a change, and that there had been something more genuine in place at some point in the past which had been lost.  But this thing only grew in depth and all-pervasiveness throughout my childhood.
  This creeping change was so subtle to those of us in it, that it was like the proverbial frog put in a pot of luke-warm tap water on a stove which then heated the water up gradually until the frog boiled and died without realizing what was happening.

Growth Meets The Idol
  Here is how I discovered it: I found that there was growing within me a real need to pursue God, as an Idea, as a Force to be reckoned with, but most of all as a Person.  I wasn't in control of it, any more than a dandelion is in control of growing or not.  I could not through mental effort add or remove an inch to my stature.  It was growth, pure and simple.  I wasn't driving it.  It was the antithesis of "keep on keeping on."  It required branching out.  That's what was going on in me.
  The more this grew in me, the more it put me wholly at odds with my church.  I'd be told to read my bible, but then couldn't find anyone else who'd even tell me what they'd read, let alone what it said or possibly meant.  And I'd been reading it, and some of it was pretty weird.  I'd be required to attend church, but then I'd only annoy people if I wanted to think and talk about what had gone on there after the meeting was over.  I'm the sort of person who'd see it as an interplay, a bit of a glacially-slow drama, and would want to discuss it.  This wasn't how anyone else I knew was viewing things.
  I was seeking.    They were acting like they'd "arrived" and had only to remain, while I was certain something inside me was sending me searching for stuff from God.  So we didn't "match."  At all.  
  I'd be told to pray, but no one wanted to pray for me, nor me for them.  Not really.  Not about the problems in the church.  Far better to pray for old ladies, or people preaching the gospel on the other side of the planet on our dime.  Or if they told me they were praying for me, it increasingly meant they were praying that I be adjusted back the way I was before I started "getting confused."  That God would adjust me themward.
  I was expected to love hymns and sing them, but no one wanted to talk about what they were actually saying. We were just supposed to say we liked them.  When I started writing my own (at first very Hymns For The Little Flock) songs about God, I was told "I cannot believe you for some reason think you can just go ahead and do something like that..."
  I was encouraged to ask bible and God-related questions of older folk, but they started avoiding me if I actually did that.  I discovered that my questions didn't match their collection of answers, and that most of them weren't into learning new things, just because someone young needed to know things to live an actual, late twentieth-century life, where not everything, in the church nor without, was as expected/advertised.

Attempting the Method
  So the first thing was that I was, largely, doing exactly what they said, but it wasn't working out.  I know that if they had wanted to nitpick me, they could have pointed to my reading unChristian books and then later, listening to unChristian music and talking with unChristian people as "My Problem." They could have suggested that if only I bit my lip, crossed my fingers, spat over my left shoulder and read twice as much bible, prayed twice as much, and never enjoyed any other activity or had a non-preaching conversation with anyone at school, that then it would all work.
  But I have come to realize that all this would have made things far worse, rather than better.  As it was, I actually wanted to die when I was seventeen.  If I'd done the Shovel Method harder, I don't think I'd have made it to seventeen to begin with.
  And really, what was I to think of a church whose best teaching, whose best hymns, whose best social interaction could be shattered, could be shown up by such trivial things?  Batman comics and Star Wars books?  Seriously?  Commissioner Gordon could take Jehovah in a streetfight for my soul? Luke Skywalker could out-Jedi Jesus?
  I know, they'd have said it was not mainly the things themselves, but my own wicked heart that was being so easily led astray by them that was making the Shovel Method not work.  That it was my cold, dark heart's lack of love of the Lord that made it so easy to turn it from Him, whom it didn't love much anyway, clearly.  (Not if it liked Star Wars!)
  But increasingly I was seeing that the Emperor (ha) had no clothes, that what they were offering wasn't "the Lord's Things" so much as incessant nagging about "the Things of This World That Despises The Very Name of the Lord Jesus," giving cautions to separate fully from the Christians in the other churches, despite how harsh this might sound, if our minds weren't right about it, and always remembering and keeping an eye on each other, lest we fall from the privileged position that we had, as compared to those other Christians in the churches, the human systems around.  Because we didn't have a church or a system.  We were just right.  How privileged...
  Yet what I saw wasn't people "falling" from this privileged position.  I saw them being shoved by people who'd been waiting to do just that for some time.  And I saw these shoved ex-brothers and ex-sisters meeting other Christians from other churches, and positively thriving as a result of going outside those Brethren borders.  Of slumming it with lesser Christians.
  Well, it wasn't easy being right, we were taught.  Of course it was easier in those church groups.  Of course it was.  If you were willing to slum it, and actually reduce yourself to attendance there, of course.  The right way is the hard way, as we all knew.  There were sacrifices to be made to be righter.
  But "Charlie Shovel" died before all this stuff was really made fully manifest.  It's now only a matter of theoretical discussion as to whether, had he not died suddenly, due to an illness contracted doing missionary work, he would have stood shoulder to shoulder with his brothers, and brazened through pushing people out of that nest by the hundreds, or if there'd have been a Shovel on each side of the division.  (well, there were Shovels on both sides. But we never saw those three brothers fighting each other.  Their kids were a different story.)

Why Was Charlie Our Favourite Shovel?
But it was impossible to dislike the man.  He was like a grandfather to me.  It hurts me to disagree with his spirit or teaching in any way even now, and I've been trained that I have no right to do anything but venerate and seek to emulate the man, or else shut up and go away, having been shoved out of the aforementioned nest, and therefore fallen from the privileged position I once shared with him.  He is the sacred-est of sacred cows.  To write this blog entry is to defy a primal, terrifying taboo.  Everything in me screams against it.  (Is that because he was an idol?)
  I asked my friend Mark about this.  The man's brothers certainly did questionable things in the decade that followed, and some people did criticize them, so why was "Mr. Charlie Shovel" different?
  Mark talked of meeting Mr. Shovel time and again at their house, and how different he was in person.  When he was "on," speaking for a crowd, you got what is heard in these soundbites.  You got him toeing the party line his father created, you got him fighting a crusade against change of any kind, even though I believe God was demanding growth, repentance and a broadening of hearts and minds in a time when people were getting more and more narrow in their thinking and feeling.  You got him trying to work and maintain and manage that all-too human system.  Like all systems, it was anti-change, and was about keeping out anyone or anything it couldn't wholly control. (Holy control.)
  But then in person, Mr. Charlie Shovel turned that stuff off.  And he admitted things. And he was warmer, better, more intelligent, more heart-warming, more decent, more honest about doubts and fears and things that confused him. He was funny. He'd even say "I don't know."  Or "I'm sorry."
  I think that might be it.  Charlie seemed to talk more totalitarian than he'd have ever had the coldness of heart to act.

The Other Two Shovels
  With the other two brothers, it was the opposite, I believe.  They never turned that stuff off.  Not that anyone ever reported to me, anyway.  They didn't admit anything.  They were actually less warm, less all that good stuff, if you spoke to them in person, and they were certainly not as approachable as their departed brother had been.  I don't think in my whole life I ever heard anyone say "no" to any of the three.  Not once.
  When "Charlie's" brothers were "on," and addressing a group of people while giving a talk, they had a persona calculated to 'work' for public speaking, with them comfortably at the centre, as the authority, with absolutely all of the power.  When people tried to join them "up there" and disagree or take up an opposing side, they were, eventually, without exception, kicked out of the church and shunned for life as heretics and traitors.  By other people who venerated the Shovels. The Shovels didn't need to lift an ecclesiastical finger themselves.
  And when the Shovel Bros. found themselves in one-on-one social situations, generally they simply did not give up that pulpit, that privileged position, and have genuine conversations.  They did not really listen or respond with anything approaching openness or understanding.  Nor share in return.  They were the same as when addressing a room.  Nothing was revealed of their deeper selves.  "Pay no attention to the Self behind the curtain" they seemed to demand.
  To my knowledge, they did not confess doubts or fears or confusion to much of anyone ever, no matter how old they got (and they lived to ripe old ages).  They did not say "I'm not sure" or "I don't know."  They didn't say "I'm sorry."  They didn't say "I guess we'll all have to wait and see what happens."  For most of my life they were like lecture jukeboxes.  Questions triggered pre-recorded Edwardian sermons that increasingly did not address the very real concerns of the 1990s.
   But, almost like their brother Charlie, they each had a fairly warm, "gracious" public speaking persona.  It was, it is true, the persona of someone who knew far more than anyone else and was being terribly patient and takings things slow for the rest of us, who lacked the bible knowledge, the depth, the relationship with God, the anything, to be able to keep up.  They were known as being "gracious," simply for not coming across as quite so arrogant as they might have.
  But that was just a persona.  They got old and also, after years of their thoughts being preserved on paper and on cassette tape, things they'd actually said and done and which totally defined what happened in the Plymouth Brethren groups in our whole world, seemed increasingly to be at odds, both with that kind, tolerant, "gracious" persona, and with present reality.  The persona of caring began to clash with a policy of striding rough-shod over real people with real lives going on.
  And something became clear: the Plymouth Brethren, as entrusted to them by their father, had become an idol for these men.  (maintaining it, proselytizing for it, keeping its old-timey Edwardian style intact, fighting change and new ideas of any kind etc.)   If anyone had a need or concern that did not serve the Brethren, they got sacrificed.  The Brethren system came before the actual people every single time.  These guys were The Power, and this meant that we all felt everything they said and did.  It defined our lives.  And they did not share power. 
  I thought of them when I watched The Hobbit and heard the point about Saruman, powerful, white-haired old wizard corrupted by power that he is, placing his faith in great people and acts of power, rather than in the decency of common, ordinary people, who actually have to live workable lives in this uncertain world.  
  Of course the Shovels loved to praise clearly faithful, submissive acolytes, and they loved above all things to visit old people and tell you if they were dying happy or not.  If they were dying happy, they were success stories, testimonials, happy satisfied customers to the Method.  If they weren't dying with a happy hymn on their lips, if they were lonely and scared and bored, they'd clearly messed up.  Idols.  I listened to "Charlie" say that over and over.

The Method HAD to Work...
  Because it simply couldn't be the Method.  There was no Method. And it couldn't be the men in power.  There were no men in power.  And it couldn't be the lifestyle we had to live.  We didn't have a lifestyle we had to live.  And it couldn't be our church.  We didn't have a church.
  But the Shovels had become idols to us, the people of the Plymouth Brethren, just as the system and the power had become idols to the Shovels.  The people who left/were shoved from the privileged position were accused of pursuing idols of independence, rebellion and self-serving, self-pleasing self-indulgence.
  But those of us who so accused those shoved out simply couldn't see our own idols.  That the Plymouth Brethren system itself, and that second-hand, through the medium of the Shovel Brothers, alive, and preserved for our edification, was an idol to us was something we couldn't see.  Any more than fish can see the ocean.  This is water?  We never said "This is the Plymouth Brethren" or "this is The Meeting."  We couldn't see it.  We breathed it.  We were born into it and died in it.  If we left it/were shoved out, we were edited out of people's memories and lives as surely as Winston Smith erasing people from past editions of the newspapers of Airstrip One.
  Now if all this was not true, it shouldn't have done anyone any harm, it shouldn't have been a problem for anyone to pursue a relationship with, an experience of, knowledge of, dealings with the Almighty God without consulting Shovel-taught Plymouth Brethren people first.  It shouldn't have been socially punished to take a different path, a different view, a different tack, a different approach then they were thought to have.  But it was.  And the ground came up at me pretty fast.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Peter Grey Extras!

DVDs and Blurays have extras, so why not The Songs of Peter Grey!  You can hear a bunch of said songs, too.  It's all here, including links to related YouTube videos.

Sunday, 23 June 2013


  I was talking to my Mom on the phone.  She mentioned that, a while ago, my father talked to the only other two guys in his church about what they'd done to me in 1998.  They, along with some other guys who eventually did the same thing to the three of them, excommunicated me, put me out of fellowship, consigned me unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, put me on the "shun indefinitely" list.  This is old news.
  But my dad did something for me.  He told them he wanted to talk about it. They listened silently, apparently, and then changed the subject.
  My mother kept saying she didn't think there'd be any value in them staying home on Sunday and refusing to worship with those two guys who kicked me out of my birth culture.  She kept saying that until I eventually realized that this is what she thought I expected them to do.  Stay home.  Leave the church.  Cut off from those guys, because they disagree. Essentially: have a mini-division over me, their son, caused to pass through the fire those many years ago, an offering to what passes for Moloch among the Plymouth Brethren, whose feet are quick to shed blood.
  This made me need to know and tell her what I actually want.  I want someone who kicked me out (any of those guys) to communicate with me.  To reach out.  In that whole crew, only two people contacted me ever again after they kicked me out. I am going to name them, because I think they did a really good thing, and because they were the only ones in fifteen years.  One was Robert House, who phoned me three times, and the other was Ruth Smith, who sent me letters for years afterward.  Both eventually gave up on the correspondence, but both reached out to me, and I think they deserve credit for that.  Especially considering no one else did.  In this they are above reproach.  I see integrity there.
  So that's what I decided I wanted.  Contact.  An expression of regretting it all.  For someone to do that, who was involved in it.  It's not like I've faded quietly away, though I've certainly repeatedly been advised to by people who weren't involved.  I've not been quiet online.  Not with 300 and some views on many of these posts.  
  So I guess I need to clarify what I want.  I'm not out for blood.  I'm not out for an admission that anyone was wrong in any way.  I just want someone who was involved in the action to acknowledge that I'm here and am a fellow Christian, and that they regret what happened in our assembly and between us all.  That maybe it didn't turn out to glorify or even honour God.
  But yeah.  Just that.  I can't imagine it would ever happen in a million years.  So I'm not hoping for it.  But I thought I should make sure there's no doubt as to what I'd actually want.
  I don't want membership back.  I know they don't accept Christians on Sunday morning unless said Christian has been vetted, and has forsworn all ecclesiastical connection with the rest of the Body of Christ.  That's not my problem.  It's the sundered fellowship that I think is the tragedy.  How can we claim that anyone looking on could see that we love one another, that we display the truth that we are one with all Christians?  I don't need to be back "in fellowship," which can be Brethren code for "on the membership list with full Sunday morning communion-taking and social event attending privileges."  Just "will you acknowledge that I am?"  
  I can only assume that the start of a conversation like that one should start with both of us expressing regret as to how things went down.
  Of course it would be nice if I wasn't asked to not attend weddings and bible things.  But I'm just saying what I think would be a reasonable desire for me to have.  A "hello" and a shared expression of regret as to how it all went down.  Because I certainly regret what happened.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Razor Blade Song

In my book, I wrote about playing a guitar with a razor blade. I thought I'd record an old song of mine to demonstrate what kind of sound that gives.
  This is one of those songs that I felt worked because it was done so simply.  Just three chords over and over.  It was written about ten years ago, and it was written when I was incredibly depressed and wondered "Could I, even feeling like this, express myself in a song?"  And I could.  Which made me pretty pleased with myself.  Like running a marathon with pneumonia or something like that.  When I used to get suicidal back in the day, I'd write a song about deciding not to commit suicide.  Then I'd have to worry people would understand that it was about that. About not committing suicide, despite rather feeling like it from time to time.
  Typical of me, once the feelings started to be getting out, getting expressed in a song, I immediately started feeling better.  And very typical of me, if I pushed the feelings to the point of absurdity, I lost the ability to fear them or take them so seriously.  There is a very dumb pun in this song, like there are in many of my saddest ones.
  So, I've always recorded this song in one take, completely simple.  When I'd just written it, I recorded it on a twelve string with a missing low E string, strummed with my thumb.  Then I recorded it to put on the 'net recently, once I decided to try using the razor blade pick.  Then the next week I got fancy.
  What had been a simple song ended up having two voices singing a conversation, a pair of tracks with despondent breathing recorded, a heartbeat sound for the rhythm, a bass line, four acoustic guitar parts, all strummed with the razorblade, a harmonica played very much as a "mouth organ" and some girlie harmony falsetto vocals I did at the end.  I kind added some Pink Floyd to the start of my Neil Young-sounding song, and then put the girlie vocals at the end like something from Meat Loaf.
  I'd intended to play it to the best recording of a human heart-beat I could steal from YouTube.  But listening to those, I realized that really, a proper recording of a human heartbeat sounds rather like a man tapping his index finger on a microphone.  So I did that.
  That's why it's like this now.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

"Jim Christian" Laws

  I've been thinking and writing a lot lately about that thing I grew up with, where there were "us normal Christians at our proper church" and "those other Christians at all the other weird churches."  The arrogance of that.  I've thought it was a very unchristian way to think and feel for some time, but I'm moved to have another crack at shedding some light on exactly what's up with it.  What it might look like to God.  How it might feel like to be on the wrong side of.  What it might look like to other Christians, and dare I say it (of course) what kind of a "testimony" it is to people who are looking at how we respond to all "those Christians at all the other churches."
  We know that originally, the Plymouth Brethren movement was meant to be a coming out from all the churches and trying to do the whole New Testament thing up right.  People could be members in their churches, and go out Sunday morning to those churches, and Plymouth Brethren (not called that by their own people) halls would have worship services at separate times so as to allow people to go to both their own church stuff, and then also to what was meant to be a completely other thing, the Plymouth Brethren attempt at being "just Christians."
  Much was made of the Plymouth Brethren (so called) not being a church.  No name was taken, nor put up on the building or on a sign anywhere.  They were "just brethren," or "just believers" or "just Christians."  Their writings speak out strongly against doing or saying, thinking or feeling anything that would be "sectarian."  They didn't enjoy sects at all.
  But all of that changed in the first generation.  As Anthony Norris Grove predicted, they became more about coming out and being against and separate from all the other Christian churches, and no longer about accepting any and all Christians to gather in the name of the Lord only.  It was about what they were against, rather than what they were for. No longer gathering together with other Christians in the name of the Lord so much as gathering, as a correct group, away from the other Christians who were less correct.
  Soon it was a human system.  A sect.  What they'd originally feared.  The thing they'd started the whole thing to avoid to begin with.  Soon it had us people who were "in" and other people who were "out."  (Out of what, exactly, would have been J.N. Darby's question.  If they were "just Christians" and were gathered in nothing less than the name of the Lord, part of nothing less than the Body of Christ, then what exactly were some Christians "in" and other Christians "out" of?  If they weren't just another church, how did they have membership that didn't include the majority of the Body of Christ?)
  Obviously, the Brethren movement now had a membership list and an admission process.  Because it had lost all hope of claiming not to be another church, not a Christian sect.  It soon too had a rigid structure, involving who had power, and these men's policies and procedures manuals, administrative decision-making, judgments as to doctrinal orthodoxy and even predictable sequences of (supposedly spontaneous, "Holy Spirit led") events that nevertheless played out without variation Sunday after Sunday during worship service.  Every Sunday morning meeting followed basically the exact same schedule, yet the claim was that the Holy Spirit could and did do anything at all Sunday morning, unlike a church, with a structure planned out in advance.
  By end of the 1800s, all this was in place.  The concrete had well and truly set.  No changes would be made to the human-made structure.  No new hymns were added to the hymn book after 1881.  No new translations of the bible were permitted.  People had to sever all ties to their own church if they wanted to join ours, though we were uncomfortable saying they "joined" us, or that it was "ours," or even a "church/sect" in the first place.  But of course it was. It was structured like one.  It was run like one.  It wasn't allowed to be any different from one.  It quacked like that duck and looked like that duck because it was that duck.  Yet it still carried itself as apart and better.  As having been chosen and given a superior place.  As being not just another church.  As being something loftier and more doctrinally profound, more deeply rooted in scripture.
  But it was actually rather like the American South in the early twentieth century.  Only in our church system, you could lose your "Plymouth Brethren whiteness" fairly easily.  And once lost, increasingly, you never got it back.  I don't mean to demean the struggles of African Americans at all.  But I'm trying to convey the serious spiritual nastiness of my birth culture in terms that just might be felt.  And most of us are at least somewhat aware of American segregation, and it has been globally acknowledged as manifestly unjust, so here I go, claiming the same kind of narrow-minded, mean-spirited, Grinch-heartedness was afoot in the Plymouth Brethren as in the days of Jim Crow laws and segregated restaurants, bars, bus waiting areas and fountains:
   There was that Lord's Supper being "partaken of" on Sunday mornings by those of us who were "white Christians," so to speak, and then there were all the "coloured Christians" who had to go worship somewhere else, at their admittedly rather colourful church services.  If they came into our building, they were not allowed to eat that bread and drink that wine, nor sit with us, but had rather to sit in a separate, segregated minority section for "coloured Christians" in the back of the room.  There was a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins alright, and it was a segregated, "whites only" fountain.
  We didn't hate other Christians, we said, we just thought it was sad that we had the solemn scriptural responsibility not to mix with them.  The birds of the air didn't integrate, and neither did the fishes of the sea, and we thought it only right to be the same about other species of Christians.  We had to maintain the purity of our gathering and keep outside influences from it.
  If "coloured Christians" came out to bible study, no matter how "learn'ed" they were, they were not permitted to speak at it.  And just like in the American South before the end of segregation, none of us white Christians would have dreamed of going to a "coloured" church and eating the Lord's Supper with the people there, no matter what good singers they were.  If we did, we knew we'd lose our "whiteness."
  "Ecclesiastical connections defile us" said one of our most active missionaries.  The doctrine of "separation" was one of the most integral to Brethren teaching, especially when I was growing up.  There were no books by "other Christians" in our house.  And "separation" was a favourite topic of my father's, and one he thought less traditional, modern Brethren people were "letting slip."
  When we had those big stupid church divisions, as many as 60% of us were deemed "coloured Christians" and rather than sit in the segregated back of the room and see the communion stuff get passed right on by them, instead most went and formed what were then treated as "coloured churches" that we did not acknowledge in any way, and had nothing to do with.  We did not believe in miscegenation, you see.
    And now I know how it feels to be on the wrong end of that.  I didn't know how wrong it was until I landed here, either.  It seemed pretty normal until I lost my membership card.  I was officially deemed "not a white Plymouth Brethren Christian" many years ago, and I now have that "black man in Georgia in 1952" kinda experience whenever I "visit the South," so to speak.  If the Lord's Table is spread of a Sunday, I have to go to a "coloured church" rather than the one I was born into.  If they are going to socialize and have meals and fun times at the churches of my youth, it's "whites only."  It's not for me or for people like me.  We don't belong.  And heaven forfend I want to dance with one of their white daughters!
  And I write things and speak out.  Sorry to word it this way, but I am, to my church, the Christian equivalent of an "uppity nigger who ought to know better."
  According to the Urban Dictionary, that hate-created term means:

"An out of place black person who is out of line and thinks they are as good as or better than the white person they are standing next to."

  Yup, that's me.  I just don't know my place.  Like Rosa Parks, I, and all of those other "coloured Christians," for some reason don't know to just shut up and move to the back of the church, to the segregated section.  I mean, I know how it works, right?
  Yes.  Yes I do.

Plymouth Brethren People Didn't Used To Be Exclusive

I grew up knowing this. People would tell me that the "brethren of old," Darby, Kelly, Mackintosh, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, all found it proper on Sunday morning, if a Christian from another church or brethren group showed up and wanted to take communion/break bread, to accept them. 
   I'm beginning to suspect that one of the reasons people even still knew about this 19th century practice, which practice was generally no longer practised in the 20th, might have been partly because of Henry having written this article/tract/treatise on the subject, back then. He quotes those early brethren guys saying this outright. 
  You should be able to read about this, in case you ever wondered, here.  It's very clearly laid out, though in very Victorian verbiage.
  The dillemma looks like this: if it were the 1800s, and I was Baptist or Presbyterian and wanted to take communion Sunday morning in most Brethren groups, they'd have let me, and wouldn't have demanded that I "leave" that church I was a member of.  They would have been horrified at the idea that they were just another church (a sect, they would have called it.  Sects, sects, sects. That's all those early brethren talked about).  The way they felt they were different from just another church was that they had no membership list.  If you were Baptist, you could stay Baptist, but they certainly wouldn't say you couldn't take communion Sunday morning.  They'd have been appalled at the idea, in fact.  They would have said that they themselves part of the Church, the only Christian group, the same one everyone was part of, and would deny that they were "in" or "out" of anything smaller than that.
  But that's changed.  I've heard some people (like one of my favourite uncles) announce that, should a Baptist or Presbyterian show up at their door Sunday morning, that that person would be allowed to take communion, and wouldn't be required to get "out" of their own church, and "into" ours first.  That sounds great.  Fact is, though, I can't take communion there.  Anyone from another church maybe, but not me.  Because my church kicked me out under false pretenses nigh on twenty years ago, refuses to talk about it with me or anyone else, and would never reverse that decision.  So I'm screwed.  If I were Methodist, and got excommunicated for drinking a glass of wine one time, or something like that, my uncle's Brethren group might well allow me to take communion (with real wine) anyway.  But as far as he's let on to me, I'm screwed.  Forever and anon.  There is no way back "in". 
  Anyway, the thing Henry wrote.  It shows very clearly how that change has happened.
  Many have also pointed to a letter by a guy named Anthony Norris Groves who famously wrote early brethren dude John Nelson Darby a letter which predicted that, with how the brethren were changing in attitude, they'd soon be known for whom and what they were against, and not Who they had previously been for.  This, clearly, is what took place long before the death of Victoria.
  Now modern brethren fear this kind of letter.  Because if they believe it, it might make them into what are called "Open Brethren."  Heaven perish the thought.  Being closed is the point, isn't it?  The only thing that's worse than Open Brethren (some of whom might actually end up in Heaven one day) is Pentecostals. Don't call a Brethren person "Pentecostal," even if he or she raises her voice, gets happy about something Christian, or expresses emotions.  Because them's fighting words.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


I think I’m done helping.  I guess I need to explain that. Okay.
When I was young and my church youth group didn’t like my questions (or my bad habit of reading the bible and trying to figure it out, and also not helping them shun various people who sometimes eventually became my friends), something interesting happened. 
It all happened because I wanted to help out.  They’d had a big, stupid church division, and were now having a youth group weekend, though most families with young folks, and most of the men who'd done youth group stuff had long since gone in the division two years previous.  Due to the vastly reduced numbers of families in the church, they were having trouble finding enough places for the visiting youth to sleep. I was 23, with my own place, so I said if they needed to, they could send a couple of the older young folk to sleep on my couch/floor.  I knew they needed the help.
What happened was they wanted a different kind of help from me entirely.  They said they’d appreciate it if I didn’t attend.  They asked me to help out by not going.  Said they couldn’t stop me, but asked me to not attend, as a favour.  So I helped out in that way.
Now, I’d already helped out with the division they’d wanted to have. I’d helped out by being silent and submitting to it and continuing to attend the same street address.  I’d helped out by not standing up for any of the weak who were strong-armed by the powerful.  I helped by denying those folk the right to "be" among us.  And denying them just like Peter denied Jesus.  We never knew them.  Many of us did that. Betrayed them all like Judas betrayed Jesus.
Most of us eventually got to feel what that was like on the other end of the equation. At that time, some of us did want to speak up, make a fuss, shine a light under those rocks, and defend folks who were getting railroaded.  Those of us who wanted to do any of this even a little bit soon became "them" instead of "us."  They got excommunicated and shunned by us without exception. We did that to them.  It was the only strategy our Christian system used in “dealing” with anything or anyone much.  
 To this day, those of us who got kicked out have had to fight for the chance to attend things like our own relatives’ weddings, on occasion. We have no right to "be" among those who used to be our own people.  We will always be "them" to the "us" we can no longer move among.  But back in the day, I helped out with the division by not speaking up, and by letting this go on.  I got to keep my chair in that room.  For about five years.
As I said before, whenever some of the youth started openly listening to pop music, going to the movie theatres and to concerts and live sporting events, some shunning went on.  That's how we did.  Kids were forbidden to associate with these particular youth and their worldly habits.  Grown ups just did the same thing without being told.  It wasn't a culture where love and forgiveness got learned.  It was a culture where cutthroat, competitive piety was the order of the day.  When the sharks smelled blood in the water, we took the opportunity to move up that piety ladder.  It was ugly.  Who among us is least worst?
But simply doing these worldly things didn’t get you shunned, all on its own.  It was not trying to hide that you were doing them that got you shunned.  You could do them, alright. You just had to not admit to it, even if everyone knew.  You had to never mention that stuff.  You had to pay lip service to the idea that, say, rock music was evil and worldly and bad, while listening to it private.  If you (once) said that you liked Pink Floyd and thought it was good, that was it.  We had to deny many things we loved, and the people who'd created those works of honest, human reaching out to other people.
  Those among us who had the “decency” to lie or sneak weren’t fooling anyone, but at least they weren’t going to “lead the youth astray.”  I was expected to help out by shunning these people too.  I didn’t want to help, so I got shunned too.  And soon I was frequently asked to help them shun me too, in various odd ways.  They were looking to me to make it easy to shun me.  They wanted shame.
Because reputation was what bought you anything in that system.  It was your currency.  The devil does not buy souls, but my church certainly bought and sold reputations.  If someone blackened yours, that was it for you.  No friends, no dates, no inclusion.  Backs turned on your and you were abandoned.  You were cut out of the next generation entirely.  Your genetic heritage would die out.  Reputation was your life.  It was held hostage by the church.
When I was 21, I started having the occasional (single) beer or glass of wine at social occasions.  Because my conscience told me it was natural and normal and scriptural, and that how I'd been living wasn't.  It was then strongly (overtly) suggested that I needed to help out the church by abstaining from alcohol (and movie-going and live music and sports) for the rest of my life so as not to lead the young astray.  I wasn’t willing to help in that way.  I didn’t believe it would have been good to feed into that culture so focused on some fictitious, phony outer appearance of piety.  Others have made the opposite decision, abstaining for life from things they don’t feel are wrong (not meat, though.  Guns either), just to “help” not give the wrong impression. I don't think that kind of sacrifice is a good thing, though it seems terribly self-sacrificing and holy.  I think that because I'm starting to get a clear glimpse of the faces of the gods it is a sacrifice to.
There was even one young couple who’d never actually been church members, but because people disapproved of them, the church was collectively shunning them anyway, instead of trying to encourage them to become members.  Certainly no one was looking for good in them, to foster.  People wanted to judge, correct and shun them, though.  Because that always helps.  They were to attend church, then leave immediately afterward, to avoid anyone having to socialize with them. No one wanted their World Cooties.  In particular, if there were any church dinners or social things, they had to head out before any of that happened.  I was supposed to help shun them, but I didn’t.  I actually went out for supper with them and ate with them. Cheeky.  That kind of thing would not go unpunished, it turned out.
Then the church folk also wanted me to help out by (literally) informing on my friends.  Judas style.  Offering them up.  At first the interrogations were done informally, by private parties. Phone calls and such.  I was asked to confirm any number of spurious rumours.  Confirm, not deny.  Would I admit to it?  Because my denying any of the accusations would be punished.
Eventually this was done by a meeting with three elders.  They were supposedly meeting with me because the brothers' meeting had sent them, but they'd certainly not been sent to rigorously "mine" me for information on my friends, I don't think. It wasn't supposed to be about me informing on them and bargaining my "sentence" down.  but they sure enough did make me feel like they viewed us all as criminals.  Degenerates.  Traitors.  Dissident.  Commies.  Dirty hippies.  
And I refused to help inform on my friends.  What I helped with was I corrected all the misinformation that others were helpfully providing about my friends.  Ridiculous stuff.  Stuff about which I knew the sordid back channels through which the information got harvested, warped, concocted and spread.  So I denied it and corrected it and identified where it was coming from.  And I got excommunicated and shunned for life.  They made it very clear to me that I would never be allowed back in.  This meant I had to help them shun me by not offering to shake their hands, not trying to eat with anyone, and not showing up at any social functions.  Including wanting to eat at meals that were parts of the weddings of friends and relatives.
And that was just the beginning.  My helping certainly wasn’t at an end there.  I soon got the actual phone calls from my closest friends, asking me to help them out by not attending their wedding reception because an uncle, prominent among the church folk, was making a fuss about having to eat in the same room as people like me.  Some relatives simply didn't invite me and others like me at all.  But here was a chance to help out.  Would I help?  As a favour to my dear friends?
“Wait, a minute,” I thought.  He’s an elder.  He’s a missionary. He’s supposedly the spiritually strong one, the example of Christ-like living, the one to look to for proper behavior.  And I’m being asked to help out, by helping tolerate his Pharisee spirit because he can’t tolerate Thing One about me?  He’s unreasonable and inflexible, so the help I’m supposed to provide is in being the reasonable, tolerant one?  This seems backwards.  I’m officially the reprobate, and yet I’m being asked to help by being more forgiving and understanding than the Christian missionary power guy.  Maybe that well is dry.  Maybe that account is overdrawn.  Maybe it would be doing evil so good would theoretically come.” 
So I said I wouldn’t help. I said if I had to drive all the way around the Great Lakes to get to this wedding, I wasn’t about to help out with the stiff-necked “uncircumcision of heart” of one of our prominent missionaries by going to stay in a hotel room by myself in a strange city while the wedding reception went on, just to help protect his delicate sensibilities,  nor his precious reputation as one who did not eat with publicans and sinners. 
I am far from the only one who has ever been asked to help in this way.  I wasn’t even the only one asked to help in this way at that one wedding.  And unlike others, I'm not related by blood to bride nor groom.
To their credit, bride and groom relented.  I went, and got to eat, thought I wasn't (unlike the nonChristian guests and guests from other Christian groups) allowed to take part in the unconventional wedding ceremony by helping read scripture portions, nor sing a song or anything like that. Good thing I don't sing.  But I drank a glass of wine at the reception, because bride and groom also refused to help out the church by ensuring there'd be no wine used in celebrating their joyous event.
And what’s happened over the years is all sorts of examples of the under, mis and unfathered kids of the brethren movement have presented themselves to me for advice, or to learn stuff.  Mostly about the bible.  Sometimes about life.  They have needed to confide about abortions, or molestations (sometimes both), about rapes, about slander and all manner of tiny, deeply traumatic Brethren betrayals in their homes and assemblies.  I have put in over twenty years of helping with this kind of thing.  And I don’t think a single person has ever approached me for a conversation without being soon warned about me, and told not to talk to me.  People whose boyfriends had daily hash habits were warned not to talk to me, lest I corrupt their morals.  My reputation has been systematically blackened and kept blackened.  Whenever a good word has been spoken, it's been neutralized.  "You don't know him" is what's said.  By people who haven't spoken to me in about twenty years and don't read my stuff online.
I have helped people do their work for college and universities, sometimes editing doctoral theses, including ones in religious programs on more than one occasion (I’ve helped one person get a PhD in Divinity, and I hope another succeeds currently as well).  Often I have been asked not to advertise that I’m providing this help.  I have edited people’s entire novels for them, gratis.  I have recorded any number of people’s songs.  Not all of them were excellent.  Some of them were.  I seldom have gotten a name-check for my efforts.  Occasionally I have. Thanks to those of you who were not ashamed of the stake I was burned at.
But when I wanted to go to a bible conference last fall, I was asked to help out by not attending.  I was told they couldn't stop me, but they asked if I'd just not.  To help them have a nice conference for nice people. One without people like me there.  I refused to help in this way.  I went in fear and trembling. I was admitted to the room in fear and trembling.  Many of my childhood friends walked past me without a glance.  People who were welcoming to me have suffered in many ways.  Their reputations have been blackened in retaliation.
When I first put material on the Internet about the divisions, and my life experiences, I was asked to help out by removing it.  I have generally refused to do this, depending upon what it was. If I thought it was helping the weak and mainly only hurting those who don't need my help, I left it up, guilt-free.
As part of dealing personally, I wrote a few books.  I did this to help myself, but also to serve God and help the untold numbers of others with similar experiences; the kind of people whose ex-brethren memoirs have a special place on my shelf.  There are more ex-brethren memoirs than one might imagine.  To my mind, though, there aren’t enough yet.  And not the right kinds.  So I wrote another one.
I was asked to help out by not putting anything bad about the Brethren in my writing.  To not talk about the brethren guy who falsely told the parents of boys at the school where I worked that I was gay and shouldn’t work with young boys.  (And then refused to apologize when I confronted him about it.Not talk about the people I literally had nightmares about.  Not talk about what happened to my father, my sister, my friends.  Not talk about the hundreds of “disappeared” people.  I have explained that the very nature of the one book in question required this.  Then I was asked by friends to help them out by not depicting their association with me, lest family and friends disapprove of them.  I helped out with this.  I was also asked to help out by ensuring that only Brethren people read my book.  I drew the line there.
If I bother you with all of this, all you have to do is judge me. That would be traditional and no doubt it will make you feel a whole lot better about the situation.  Just call me bitter and tell everyone you know how very bitter I truly am.  Be sure to say how sad it truly is.  Be sure to express consternation about why I can't just...  be someone else.  Don't think about there being no natural emotion I can feel, no human reaction to my situation that I can have, that you aren't going to call bitter.  Don't think about the fact that there is no winning scenario, no way back for any of the thousands of people in my situation.
I know what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to depart from you, pretend I never knew you, and make or join a different church.  And then I'm supposed to be loyal to it, not let there be any hurt to its reputation no matter what it does or doesn't do.  I'm supposed to live out the idea that all the different Christian groups aren't one, that God doesn't bless us or get disgusted with us together as a Unity in our community, that we have nothing to do with one another. 
But I don't want to do that.  I have helped people whose first language is not English write official church correspondence.  I have helped people write religious tracts and pamphlets.  I help write them. I don't get to know how they were received at the other end, nor am I name-checked.  That might mean helping my reputation, which might get some tarnish on the reputation of the person, family or church that I'm helping out.
Because always I am to help out by keeping my very involvement a secret.  My skills are very welcome.  My reputation isn’t something they want to help me with by acknowledging me in any good way.  When people meet me, they say things like “You’re much warmer, nicer and kinder in person than you present yourself as being online.”  I tend to tell them that I don’t use my time online telling everyone how warm, nice and kind I am.  If my reputation doesn’t match me, I’m going to leave that up to others to worry about.  I’m not the one who made my reputation what it is.  Not really.  I didn't help with that much at all.  That was done to me in the houses of my fellow church folk.  And in twenty years not one of them or anyone even close to being them has ever expressed any remorse or regret over the "situation."  No one has asked to be forgiven, so as to see if I can do that.  But I'm not done helping. 
Am I being clear about the “helping” not being over yet?  My parents “helped” with a division in 1991, by keeping their seats and keeping their mouths shut.  In 2003, they couldn’t help with the next one.  There was another rash of kicking people out for not keeping their mouths shut about how many people were being kicked out, and my father said he couldn’t support it.  He wouldn’t help them have this division.  So they kicked him out too.  The bible verse they quoted at him was “My way or the highway.”  (okay, maybe that’s not a real bible verse, but it was what he was told.)
And where he goes to church now (because he did that thing I won't do), I knew for years that I wasn’t welcome.  I knew that I was supposed to help them shun me too (they’re a faction of the group who kicked me out to begin with, and they would never let me back in, nor does my conscience support helping that exclusive system by being an exclusive member of it anyway).  But I didn’t want to help. 
I asked if I could attend one time and got no answer to several emails.  I officially requested my previous request be (officially) brought up at a meeting of the elders (the guy I was emailing, another guy, and my dad) and rather than do this, they gave me very grudging permission to go.  So I did.  The man I’d emailed about this did not speak to me.
(In the New Testament days of the church at Philipi, which Paul and Timothy wrote to, there were "overseers," authority figures in the church to make sure it was orderly there.  Because of all of the people. It amuses me to see that, in many modern Plymouth Brethren churches, there are like three guys, all of whom are overseeing, though there aren't really any other people for them to oversee.  There are no men who aren't overseers, it seems, or perhaps less oversawn than overseeing.)
I blogged about this, and am clearly blogging here about it again. Thing is, I’m supposed to help out by going away and shutting up and dying alone.  I’m supposed to help by never sharing any of the bad things the Brethren do to people.  Even if sharing this stuff seems to help out wronged people immeasurably.  I think wronged people should be helped first, and church elders who wrong people, second. If they'll speak to me.  My concern is the people who have no one to speak up for (or to) them.  I want to do something for them.  So I do.  Makes them feel like they were bitten by the problem, rather than personally being the problem.  Every time I deal with a Brethren person, if they do something good, I can tell people, but if they do something bad, I’m asked to be a good chap and help out by never telling anyone.  Love covers a multitude of sins, after all.  Well, I am not loved.  If I am, it is by entire groups of church people who don't speak to me.  This makes it very hard to tell.
And last weekend, once again, I helped a Brethren person.  I completely rewrote something for a kindly gentleman.  Some “ministry.” Intended to edify.  A study of early Brethren stuff.  Darby, Kelly, all that.  And he asked me to help out by not revealing that I had helped with it.  By my name not being on it. My attitude, my skills and my time were very appreciated, but my name wasn’t. If I’d pushed, I could have insisted I get credit for it.  But I didn’t.  I helped him not help my reputation.
And it might have been the right thing to do.  I don’t think Jesus made a single decision based on what would improve his reputation and better public opinion of him.  He wouldn't have taken two steps to "make a good impression."  So I won't either.
But I feel resentment.  Quite a lot of it, actually.
I let him read this.  He says once what I rewrote for him is available online, I can maybe take credit for it.  Like, if it "flies," then he'd be happy for me to speak up.  But he's worried my involvement, as a bitter person, will guarantee people won't read it.  I'm not so sure.  You read this, didn't you?

Saturday, 8 June 2013


he aged patriarchs of the church in my area were three Hayhoe brothers, and the kind of teaching, the focus of the teaching, was very uniform between them, and was the bedrock we young Brethren plants were expected to grow in. 
The central preoccupation of much of their teaching was “self” and how bad it was.  The Christian life presented by them was a simple dichotomy: either follow self-will, doing what you thought was a good idea, what you wanted, what seemed to work out for you and make sense, or else to do what God wanted, which we could depended upon to always and only be the opposite of that.
These guys would go on and on about how self wants to sin, and so we must never, ever follow self.  About how we had no greater enemy than self.  About how, if we wanted to be happy, we had to put self in the place of death.  About how we had a formula in scripture, they taught, for joy.  J-O-Y.  Jesus first.  Others next.  Yourself last.  But they weren’t really teaching that there was any room in your life for enjoying yourself at all.  It wasn’t last so much as “never.”  I know people raised under this who can’t just enjoy a piece of raspberry cheesecake. They have to make it themselves and give it to someone else, before they can properly feel good about the experience.

The scripture assumes that we love ourselves.  Husbands are told to love their wives as they love their own bodies, and the summation of the law, Jesus taught, was loving your neighbor the way you loved yourself.  Now, for those of us who were raised to unthinkingly, uncontrollably loathe and doubt ourselves, neither of these two verses make any sense at all anymore, due purely to the unnatural thing that had happened to us.
  I have come to believe, years later, that there really was a great capacity for these mustached little Hayhoe men of Hugenot French descent to have been arrogant.  To have run everything.  To have gone around thoughtlessly, reflexively dismissing anything that didn’t sound like what they thought and felt.  I think that’s the kind of thing they were vainly combating with all of these “sermons against self.”
The fact is, they did run everything.  Inarguably.  The fact is, any and all thoughts that weren’t theirs got thoughtlessly, reflexively[1] dismissed.  They were pretty nice, but that still happened, especially toward the end of their lives.  For one thing, their personalities, their willpower, their passion, could not be denied, and most people[2] didn’t feel nearly as passionately about much of anything church-related as they did.  So things always seemed to go their way.  They never got told “no” and had to wear that.
The point is, many of us grew up hating our selves.  Ourselves.  Self-loathing was what we gleaned from these sermons.  Self-doubt.  Where these men were at church demanding that we not follow self-will, and not indulge a self that probably would want to spend Sunday morning in bed, snoring with its face pressed into a triple-decker chocolate cake, all shot up with heroin between its toes, this wasn’t the battle that some of us were really fighting.
Some of us were fighting to get out of bed at all, even to eat Cheerios and go to church to hear them.  Some of us not only didn’t rely on, depend upon or trust in self, we actually knew that we hated ourselves, and would not even be able to put our two feet on the floor to get out of our bed. Because we knew deep down that we weren’t worth it, weren’t worthy.
It would be nice to think I was the only one with this problem, or that this doesn’t go on today.  But this just isn’t true.

The scripture doesn’t teach the old “God vs. Self” dichotomy.  It draws that line between “Spirit” and “flesh.”  We can be the meatbag we are, which needs to overcome the problems we became aware of in Paradise, and which made it no longer paradisial to us (more on that shortly), or we can look God-ward to be enlightened, taught and inspire, and made more mature and spiritual.
We were taught how bad the fruits of the flesh listed in Galatians 5 were.  But we skipped some.  We were raised in fear of selfishly demonstrating fruits of the unedified flesh, such as fornication[1], uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, murders, drunkennesses, revels, and things like these.  How worldly!  Partying and having sex and listening to heavy metal albums with devil imagery on the cover! 
But we skipped rather lightly over the fruits of the flesh that caused every one of our church squabbles.  We never seemed to be able to gather for any five year period without being asked to support one group of people and condemn another group of people, all of whom were quite clearly very equally selfishly demonstrating the fruits of the flesh missing from our list: hatred, strifes, jealousies, angers, contentions, disputes, schools of opinion and envying. 
And have a look at the fruit of the Spirit, by contrast: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness and self-control.  In order for this fruit to be seen at all, there has to first be a “self” to control when it gets out of hand, and a self which is allowed to love, feel joy and peace, be long-suffering, feel and act in kindness, be good, be faithful and meek when it is inspired to do so. 
We were being taught to simply not be our self, rather than to look to God to transform us inwardly so that being our self meant being Christian.  “Christian” does not mean simply “not being yourself.”  It means being a self that is becoming ever more like Christ.

[1] We were taught that this Greek word pornoiea meant simple “sex outside of a legal marriage,” thought it is doubtful this is the full, or even intended meaning of it.
The good news now is that, despite my upbringing, I can no longer think of God as “me backwards,” wanting merely the opposite of each thing as I want it.  I can’t think this way without feeling silly.  I still feel it sometimes, but I feel silly when I do.  I guess I learned that God is so much higher and deeper and broader and more ancient, complicated and mysterious than I, that any bringing to the table, so to speak, my own concerns, interests and desires is a complicated and odd negotiation. But one He insists upon having.
 The idea that God made me to be a specific kind of tool in His Toolbox, as it were, and that I needed to resist the attempts of others, and their bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all systems, to make me uniform and typical, was new. 
Once I laid aside the ambition of sacrificing my self and being some kind of proper, typical, “fitting the mold” church Christian, once I realized that resolving to be “normal/typical” was foolish and was doing real damage to me, it was very freeing.  Also very responsible.
I was free to be the self, the myself, God intends, but this also meant I had to toss out the old maps and instruction manuals which referred to entirely the wrong continents and centuries, and had to work with God more directly.  Now, when people don’t understand me, because I’m different, I can neither claim to understand exactly who and what I’m becoming and where I’m headed, nor can I claim to understand why they are pretending to be all the same when they’re clearly not.

In Eden, the man and his woman were completely naked, and weren’t able to even be aware of this.  They were completely unselfconscious.  Once they tried to better themselves without God’s Hand being part of it (no doubt He intended a slower entry into self-awareness than the short, sharp shock that sinning and following the advice of the serpent brought them), this all changed.  They knew good and evil.  It wasn’t just that they “had a conscience that knew right from wrong.”  It was better and worse than that.  They didn’t just know that they’d done something wrong.  It wasn’t just about their actions, but about who and what they were.  They knew that God was good and the serpent was evil.  They knew that they weren’t good, and they felt horrible about that. They wanted to hide and blame others.  Their first-born son would go on to murderehis brother due to those same feelings of not being good enough. Rejection became a universal human experience. 
When God came to talk to them, instead of just doing that, they realized that He was good and they weren’t.  And they felt as naked as they were.  Exposed.  They feared rejection, and it was coming.  From themselves first, and their lover next and finally, God Himself.  Every personality, cognitive, emotional, spiritual and physical lack they possessed or developed would now be something they’d all know, and keenly feel.  And they’d feel the others knowing too.  And their standard for “good” was God created, and was up to His own standard.
It’s been said “hell is other people.”  I think that these two proto-people, having taken paradise for granted, as it was “normal” for them, experienced a kind of hell, then.  For them, hell was knowing what good and evil were, and seeing with terrible clarity their own position teetering between the two, with no ability to attain good on their own, and the very real risk of falling utterly to evil, just by continuing to live the way they’d been.  Hell was knowing themselves.  Being self-aware.  The thing God hadn’t wanted for them, at least at that point in time.  A thing God gave no other animal either.  A thing animals do not have to this day.
God had made a paradise for human beings.  Paradise wasn’t being perfect, spiritual enlightened, deep and masters of empathy.  It was not worrying about the fact that you weren’t.
In the New Testament, there is occasional reference made to self-judgment, or self-examination, but there is no encouragement or commandment given to Christians for self-doubt and self-loathing.  Because those things aren’t good, and we know that.
I remember being an older teen and young adult and feeling painfully aware of my own imperfection, my own stupidity, weakness, frailty, folly and generally lack of deserving acceptance, love or anything nice ever.  Where did that come from?  Adam in the garden?  My family?  My church?  Society?  The media?  I’m thinking maybe all of the above.  And it wasn’t good.
And I wasn’t a pretty young woman, so I didn’t get the compliments that people from that special subsection of humanity often get, and miss keenly when they are older.  Even so, sometimes people got sick of how much self-loathing and doubt they saw in me, and they tried giving me measured, strongly worded doses of compliments/reality. They would list my strengths or accomplishments for me.  And it would roll right off me like water off a duck’s back.  It didn’t work. Not even a bit.
For one thing, my father was never going to convince me that I wasn’t a big disappointment, and just plain weird and beyond his ability to predict or understand the motives of.  Ditto my mother.  Same thing my church.  Same thing what peers I had. 
Most importantly, though, there was me.  I was never going to let myself off the hook.  If every single one of these other core entities in my life had told me in no uncertain terms that they accepted me unreservedly, deeply appreciated a number of my abilities and interests, and that they predicted great things for me, and wouldn’t change a thing about me, it is possible that I might have been moved to contemplate believing them. 
But probably, I would have, in this very imaginary scenario, have done the far easier thing. The thing that wouldn’t have required any personal growth: I would have decided that they didn’t know, and were all wrong, and would certainly cast me out into the streets if they knew me the way I did.  I’d decide I was the only one who was right about my wrongness.
So what “cured” me of self-loathing and crippling, hellish self-consciousness?  What made me self-confident?  That didn’t exactly ever happen, I suppose.  But here’s what did:
I got skinny and my sister continued to call me fat.  I got friends and my father and sister continued to tell me the reason I had no friends was because I had such a problematic personality and no social skills.  I got a university degree and my sister still called me stupid.  I started drinking alcohol in moderation, never indulging in excess, and my church started to treat me like the town drunk.  I was kind to teenage boys who wanted to talk about playing guitar, or who had problems at home, and people from my church told others that I was gay/a pedophile.  I was a sounding-board/confidante to any number of troubled young women and wives, and people spread false rumours about me taking advantage of them and breaking up their marriages.  I decided to follow God instead of just being religious, and my church forbid young folk talking to me, called me a wicked person, affixed bible verses to me lumping me in with adulterers, rapists, thieves and drunkards, and banned me from all church activities, refusing even to eat in any room I was eating in, no matter if the event was a wedding, a funeral or job-related. 
And it wasn’t just me. They did that kind of stuff to literally hundreds of people, many of whom have gone on to be valued members of their (new) churches elsewhere.
So I didn’t learn that I was okay, exactly.  I learned that other people didn’t know a thing about me or who God wanted and had designed me to be.  I learned that they’d say pretty much anything. 
I’d like to say that now, when someone says something judgmental, unfair or untrue about me, I don’t feel it much. I can’t really say that, but I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned the difference between being paralyzed and tortured by self-doubt and self-loathing, and doing stuff.
And I noticed something weird, too.  I noticed that, listing off the huge number of accusations I’d collected, to clutch warmly to my bosom on cold winter nights for the rest of my days, almost every time anyone ever accused me of anything at all (ever), it was either something they were afraid they themselves were guilty of, or it was something of which they were apparently the only person left on earth still unaware that they actually were guilty.
I think that’s why people even have an interest in these judgments to begin with.  There is a personal connection to them.  I only get told I talk too much by people who want to talk too much.  It works for all my other vices as well.
So I don’t feel like nowadays I’m wonderfully, deeply aware of my own virtues and strengths.  Nope.  But I’ve gotten used to doing stuff without endless stomach-churning doubt beforehand and afterward. 
And there are any number of things that I’ve done before, so I can just say “I’ll do that again.”  Can I sing for a street full of people at a festival?  I’ve done that a bunch of times, so I can just say “I guess I’ll go do that again.”  Can I do it?  I’ve done it.  It’s not a theoretical discussion anymore. 
This gives something one could almost call confidence, though the act is seldom without a crippling rush of unhelpful, potentially bladder-loosening adrenaline.  Whatever panic, shame, doubt or self-loathing I may bring to acts of this kind, I have decades of practice just doing it anyway, continuing “through” them, without them disrupting anything much. 
And when I really start doing well?  It’s not so much that I can feel the “well” so much as I lose all track of myself and being someone who can panic, doubt or any of that.  I forget where I am, who I am or what I’d doing entirely.  And swimming in that moment when self-awareness gets ripped away by that powerful tide?  Feels like maybe I got ripped away from it all rather than it being ripped from me.  No self-consciousness.  No awareness of lacks.  And it feels like paradise.

[1] Graciously?
[2] There were a few.  They were given no place to be themselves, and they “left” or were pushed out.