Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Word is Given: And the Word is Love (Let's All Get A Tiny Bit Naked)

Many of us knew pretty early on in our church life and Christian upbringing that we needed liberty.  Thing is, we got it, many of us, but we're feeling that something's still missing.
  It has been very hard for many of us to learn about liberty, and harder still to gain it.  We grew up, many of us, with the merest smidgen of individuality crushed out of us, soul shoehorned into a meek, quiet, sheepish, self-effacing, reserved, detached kind of non-life defined by negatives.  What we didn't do.  What we resolved not to enjoy.  We were like normal people, only without swearing, movies, premarital sex and alcohol. Ultimately, not normal at all.  For us, being a Christian was about a bunch of things we were, unlike our nonChurch peers, not free to do, and also unlike them, which we weren't to love or even want.  
  The "positive" element was nothing more than getting fired up by sermons about negatives.  About how wrong certain things were.  About "taking a position" against them.  About "standing against" certain people and things.  "Warning" everyone about bad stuff you might miss the error in.
  But many of us went to work on that problematic approach to life.  Some of us rebelled outright, breaking those rules and demonstrating that a bit of freedom made us more, rather than less, healthy and happy.  We'd been told that death and ruin lay down that road, and we'd been raised to fulfil that self-fulfilling prophecy.  Some of us did that too.  And some became atheists, because they never knew Jesus, but only knew church and its walls.  And for many of us, church just didn't work. 
  We needed more than the negatives church was giving us.  Anything presented to us as positive (many confused "cheerful" with "positive") , anything about Jesus, just failed to hit home.  We couldn't really feel it enough.  Either it wasn't quite real, we suspected, or maybe it was poisoned, or else something was wrong with us.  Something was wrong with us.
  And the agenda of the church was more about keeping bums on seats and controlling the outer appearances of the possessors of said pious bums.  Control.  Power.  How things looked.  There was a lot of shame and bullying and peer pressure.  Just like high school.
  Many of us, though, had some kind of spark of something that made us seek the Lord instead of becoming atheists or church folk.  Yet we kept getting that tangled up in the church stuff.  Took a lot of work to be able to deal with God only, and let the church take care of itself.  To be and do church, rather than have it done to us, to have it rule and define us.  Some of us have little or nothing to do with church stuff nowadays, either because we needed something more than all the shame and control, or because we needed something more than a bunch of talk.

We Got Free, So What Are We Missing?
And many of us are pretty free, now.  We have a connection to God. But we're missing something.  We can feel that.  Church people taunt us, demanding to know where our "positive" Christianity is.  Are we happy?  Like, really happy?  No, really, really actually happy?  And being badgered by them this way makes us far less able to be happy. 
  And those badgering us do not "count" what actually works for us: the casual, natural comings together of we few church casualties who eventually recognized that our church experience was crushing our heads, hearts and souls, but who didn't toss God out too.  The church badgers want to hear how much time each week we spend in a church setting.  And we want something deeper than we find when we go to those places.  We want something we can believe. 
  Many of us have almost never believed any Christian activity that more than about two people were doing.  Many of us have no faith in committees.  Some of us are using the Internet and trying to track down someone, anyone, we can connect to about Jesus.  Some of us find ourselves travelling much farther than the nearest church to  meet up with them and find, quite often, that despite having never occupied the same room before, that we're the same.  That we're accepted.  That we've got each others' backs.
  This weekend, talking to other church casualties/graduates, I was forced to see what actually is missing in my life.  When I was younger, I fought hard, and read books, and prayed and worked through my church stuff.  I did this until I got liberty without simply rebelling.  Most rebels follow up empty, stupid, reckless acts of rebellion by repenting in sack cloth and ashes and forever after teaching church folk not to do like I did.  I got to the point where I could breathe, feel, think and live more free.  But something remains unsatisfied.
  God is love, right?  I don't "get" that the way I should.  Because love is the missing thing.  And without it, the bible says, we have nothing.  I need liberty if I am to live and connect to Christ and Christians.  But if I can't feel and give and recognize love, it's like I'm dying in a bubble of my own devising.  Suffocating in there.  Keeping the rejection and enforced conformity out.  Getting nothing in.  Growing my own doubt in there.

What Does Love Even Look Like?
Many of us have troubled relationships with parents who don't get us.  Our coming out of the familial church was treated like a particularly acrimonious coming out of the closet.  There's a rift.  Some of us have parents and friends who, in their "real" minds respect and accept us (kinda), but in their "church" minds, we are failures.  Reprobates, even.  Scum.  Useful in cautionary tales to point to and say "aha! aha!"  Good for scaring church children.  "If you don't listen and fall in line, you might end up like him."
  One pastor said to me that I believe in a God who's always going to jump out and "get" me.  He wasn't completely wrong about that.  I thought about this and noted that I had a Dad who could always be counted upon to come out of nowhere, when I was a child, and remove any new thing in which I took pleasure, with some kind of church argument behind it (books and music and games and friends being ever disappeared at his decree, my life shrinking to the size of a walnut).  And I did tend to believe in a God who was that, and little else.  A devourer of pleasure, a ruiner of joy.  Someone who yanked the happy from your grasp and handed you some shame instead.
  But my Dad was there for me too, to make sure I was safe, and getting to work on time, and stuff like that.  And so I could believe in a God who was almost as good as my Dad in that way.  But I couldn't believe God was any better than my Dad at joy.  At letting me be happy, and pursue things that mattered to me.  Certainly not Someone who would bring me anything that would give me joy.  God was Someone who would toss monkey wrenches into my life to make me learn.  He's make me suffer.  For my own good.  Nothing good came without effort.  There would always be pain.  And His face was always on it.
  That's not a very insightful portrait of the source of all love.  You have never loved, without that love pouring through you, your having become a mere conduit, pouring that love out from whence it flows to begin with.  God is love.  Lovingness.  And acceptance is just the start of that.

  My understanding of love is so limited.  Sure, I believe that God will quite probably make sure the scary turbulence on flights to visit other people from my faith background isn't going to actually turn into a plane crash.  (Or He may not make sure of that at all.)  But I struggle to believe in a God who delights in us bruised church folk getting together to begin with.  And that's dumb.  Because if I look, although there's certainly enough trouble and complication in getting together, God's in our time spent together. It is natural and deep and fulfilling. I can believe in it. I can't not.  It's so deep and obvious.
  "Water seeks its own level," my father always said.  So easy to think that us church dropouts, who weren't hard-core about the rules, who played along only for a time with the crushing of our heads ever more tightly in that church vise, are lesser.  Are failures.  Are manifestly people who "made bad choices" and "couldn't cut it."  The disciples were competitive about who would be greatest.  Competition is inevitably part of any Christian community. And there's no place for it.  And we are cast as the failures.  What my dad called "light-weights."  
  Thing is?  My failed, light-weight church folk friends, whether they attend or not, don't feel to me like they failed.  At all.  They feel like they graduated.  When I talk to them about God, I can hear and feel and understand and believe them when they talk about their life.  There is struggle.  They have screwed up (having been tossed to the grievous wolves of the church scene, and then cut loose and left in the ditch to die, everyone passing by on the other side).  But whether they attend and have little status, or have walked away from that as not useful to them, they're "going somewhere" they could never otherwise have gone, so long as their heads and hearts were clamped in that church vise.

  And some of them do like to go to some church or other.  Some of them still go to the one we were raised in.  Invariably, they have no status.  They don't dazzle the masses.  They don't put show-off pious Facebook statuses.  But their hearts and heads got liberty at some point.  Sometimes I wonder how on earth they did that.  They can approach God and live a life for Him, rather than being programmed by their church, unable to think and feel unassisted and unchaperoned, with a control panel built into them with big red buttons almost anyone can push.  Most of us had that control panel.  With the buttons.  Some of us still do.
  But what's missing for people like me?  Love.  Many of us have parents who can't exactly make us feel they love us.  For many of us, it's not helped by the fact that in their "church" heads, they can't include and accept us.  Because sometimes, their natural parental affection and protective and supporting feelings get offered to church Moloch gods, and they let their children "pass through the fire" as Bronze Age parents did when they offered their own children in sacrifice to their religion.  Angry god religions are like that. They eat the lives of kids.  They ask mother and father to turn on their kids and offer them up to be hurt.
  I know about getting someone out of my face when they try to shame and guilt and reject me, when they question that I even know God at all, when they climb up the piety ladder, using my head as a rung, or when they see that I'm different from them, so they desperately need me to be wrong, and admit it or suffer the consequences.  I know about that.  Even if it's a parent or someone I grew up with doing that, if they do it, I will likely rip them a new one.  And I've got enough knowledge of the bible to go to war with scripture in my hand, too.  But that just makes more war. And I am so tired of war.

What I am slowly learning about is the essential role of vulnerability in anything to do with love.  With being a little naked.  "C'mon, baby.  Show me.  Let me get a look at your heart.  Just flash it quick, okay?"
  What is with us and our shame?  Acceptance is what we want more than anything else. But we make sure we won't ever get any, because we don't want to give anyone the chance to reject us.
  Don Miller has been going on in his blog entries a lot lately about vulnerability.  About how leaders of any kind who can be genuine, open and vulnerable are the only ones who can be trusted.  About how you can't trust ones who only show you a persona which is all about them being awesome (with perhaps a bit of "safe" showcasing a token flaw. Something that turns out to be as contrived as the awesome, once the sex and drugs and extortion scandal fully happens, or they have their nervous breakdowns).  Many put out an awesome persona, and then top up the awesome by being "gracious" or "humble" about how awesome they have convinced everyone they are.  Pro.
  I have noted that many people genuinely think being candid, open and forthcoming is dangerous and foolish.  They think that "being vulnerable" isn't safe. Well, of course it isn't.  But here's a more subtle reality: never being vulnerable will kill you.  You can't let anyone in and you tear yourself into pieces inside like a car engine with a handful of steel ball bearings poured randomly into every oil, antifreeze, water, electrical and fuel port.  Like a window fan with a ball of yarn thrown into it.  Being emotionally constipated will poison you.
  It's a high standard to talk one-on-one with pastors and other maybe-Christians, and insist upon seeing their faith credentials, if they want you to connect to them and trust them to advise and support you.  Often they will happily show their divinity degrees, or their church attendance, or their doctrine and bible knowledge, their sparkling wife, kids, dog and plastic-fish-decorated minivan.  Stuff that makes them look good. (And then can top that by trying to look humble about it all.  Humbled and blessed.)  But if they actually show you that they are as much a person, as convincingly human as you are, and are vulnerable and open and forthcoming with you, suddenly you can connect.  What are they like in their own living room when there's no audience but you?  Have you ever seen them without their shoes on?  Do you know what their worried face looks like?  Have you ever heard them change their mind, say "I don't know" or "I'm sorry"?  What's not working for them right now?

  I started something a couple of years back, where I offer to pray for Christian people about something specific that they want.  To do that, I need them to tell me something that troubles them or something that isn't working.  Stuff like that. I guess that's a tiny bit naked.  Thing is, I'm seeing that the vast majority struggle to admit they even have anything real for me to pray about.  And some don't seem to struggle with my request at all.  They just deflect the offer entirely.  Like I was suggesting something untoward and perverse.
  And when I want to see what Christians act like at McDonalds or a pub or in some other nonChurch setting, stripped of the coating of buffering churchfolk?  When they've shown up to connect, rather than as part of a church thing?  Well, they pretty much have never done that.  But when they have I find something troubling: an awful lot of us are "real" with our real friends, who aren't Christians.  A lot of us have Christian acquaintances we are seldom (or never) going to allow in the same room as our nonChristian friends. We are protecting them from each other.  The question is, what exactly are we protecting our nonChristian friends from?  Another question: "Why does letting Christians meet our nonChristian friends feel like we walked out of the house without our pants?"

We Need Love.  Like, Actually Need It.
We need love.  We need connection.  We need to be vulnerable, a bit naked with someone, and be accepted.  (I say "a bit naked," conscious of the fact that many of us are, emotionally, rather like the old-order Mennonite girl in the black Converse sneakers I saw texting at the airport, when it comes to "naked."  Neck to ankles to wrists, concealed in a garment made to hide, rather than clothe her.  The Converse shoes actually revealed who she was, more than concealed her.  Because she'd chosen them.  Don't think I'm trying to judge her.  I'm trying to say we need to show a bit of forearm or calf or clavicle sometimes, emotionally.  Or get some shoes that we relate to.  And be made to feel totally accepted for that.  Especially when it's not identical to everyone else.)
  Because the negatives aren't enough.  Not doing and loving stuff, so no one will be negative about us?  Not good enough.  We need more.  We need to show someone a bit of who we are, and have that someone know how to make us feel that acceptance. We really do.  
  But instead, many of us prepare for rejection, plan for it, and armour ourselves up against it.  And then we walk straight past any acceptance that's on offer, pretending it's not there.  We do this until we find someone who we can trust to reject us properly. 
  And maybe it's a fancy dress ball.  And we're wearing a suit of armour.  Over our evening wear.  And wondering why we feel afraid and alone and left out.    We're doing that, many of us.  We really are.  (and when I say "we" I mean me.  That's how I know we do this.  Because I'm trying to learn better.  To be a bit naked rather than very armoured up.)

  I'm learning by trial and error that when someone tries to hurt and reject and judge me, if I turn the other cheek, so to speak, dropping my rapier to the floor and pulling my shirt open so they can get a good thrust in if they're that determined to wound me, that something Jesus-backwards happens.  Suddenly they are helpless to hurt me without clearly doing more harm to themselves, their relationship with God and their precious reputations.  (People are watching.  Angels too.)  Suddenly something at first subtle becomes obvious: if you are locked away in your suit of armour, you can't hug people, you can't let anyone in, you can't dance, you can't run, you can't move freely.  You can't ace job interviews, or create art.  And ultimately, you can't have sex properly while wearing it.

  (and, of course, if you "turn the other cheek," this is vulnerable in a way I hadn't thought of: it reveals that you feel attacked.  It invites people to take a leaf from the Pharisee bible and say "You're crazy!  No one's attacking you! You're paranoid!"  But still, Jesus did this. They were trying to trick him into saying something subversive sounding like he was always doing, so they could have him arrested and executed, and therefore, removed from the piety chessboard.  He'd been knocking around it, clearly not playing the piety game at all, saying piety shouldn't be a game to begin with, and that they were playing it badly anyway. So they were trying to get rid of him. 
  Nowadays, people aren't actually trying to kill most of us, but still, I take comfort in Jesus' cutting through the crap in the way only he could, and instead of answering their trick question at all, asking them a question in return that they couldn't muster the honesty and self-awareness to answer: "Why do you seek to kill me?" 
  The honest answer to that question was as damning as anything he could have accused them of.  And it immediately made them flee.)
  If you find yourself getting pulled into a fight with some kind of zealot or tyrant or bully, you can count on one thing: if it becomes a vulnerability fight, they are always going to be totally unarmed.  Suddenly, if you are vulnerable, they can't answer that.  They will be completely overthrown and out of sorts.  
  It's almost like vulnerability is a kind of weapon, useful for dealing with tyrants and monsters.  Jesus and Ghandi, and every passive-resistant protester ever, all seemed to work this way.  And yes, you might well end up hurt.  But the thing is, that tyrant who hurts vulnerable people?  Isn't going to be in power very long.  You can be Hitler, but only for a few years.  And if everyone knows you hurt innocents, that's it for you, forever.  You will have lost all status and power.
  Anger is often a fake feeling that is hiding more vulnerable ones (shame, hurt, loss, betrayal, fear).  But if you've got it, sometimes you can even share that in a way that makes you vulnerable.  In my parents' marriage, my dad always had to be the right one, and my mother was always vulnerable.  Guess which always won in the end?  Guess who's the real power in that situation now?
  Love.  What will happen if I love my parents as people rather than power figures?  What happens if I show love to church people who won't talk to me unless I'm willing to attend their church regularly?  What happens if, when someone sets him or herself up as my enemy, determined to slander me and take me down, I look behind those unconvincing, cumbersome suits of armour, and see through to the hurt, to the sad little child?  What happens if, when I love someone and they retreat, I keep loving them instead of turning my hurt into anger and spite?
  I just might change my world.  That's what Jesus did.  And that's exactly how he did it. 

[the "armour" would be to put something at this point like "Of course I will probably never make any headway at this. I suck I need you to realize that I know that.
But what if I reject that?  What if I just put the intention, the idea out there, by itself, nakedly unswathed in per-emptive shame and judgment, insulting and doubting myself quickly before anyone else can, like Kevin Smith does?  Kevin can't do one interview and feel comfortable unless he's hidden in his giant hockey jersey, making jokes about how fat he is.  This is me. Learning to learn.  Love is missing.  I'm telling everyone.  Acceptance would be awesome.  Especially if I learned of it.]

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Boring Chaos

Caryl has always been very nice to me.  And I haven't done a whole heck of a lot this summer.  So when Caryl said I should come visit her and her family in Texas, I thought that sounded like a plan.  I asked Bethany to help me get a cheap plane ticket, and waited.  Because Bethany's good at stuff.
  Bethany found that getting a cheap ticket from Ottawa wasn't happening.  It looked like $620 was the best one could do, which isn't really a deal.  So she asked me if I'd be willing to drive over the US border to Watertown, where they have a little airport which does connector flights to Chicago and places like that.  I was, so she hooked me up with a ticket for just over $300.  
  I booked a hotel room in Houston online, as my flight was arriving around midnight, and Caryl lives about an hour from Houston and I didn't want to keep her or her husband up so late, picking me up.
  I crossed the border with no trouble apart from my nasty ear infection (left ear) making me have to ask the border guard to repeat himself a few times as I couldn't hear a thing out of it.  
   I arrived in Watertown and went to their airport with several hours to spare before flight time.  When I arrived they told me that the connector flight from Watertown to Chicago, where I'd fly to Houston, Texas, was canceled.  And that there were no other flights.  And that it didn't look good.  Severe thunderstorms over a bunch of airports.  The Windy City, in particular, was particularly windy.
  Then they said that the airport in Syracuse (an hour south of Watertown) might be able to get me on a flight, but only perhaps in a day or so, if I drove down there.  And they put me on the phone with a 1-800 number.  
  I was on hold a long time.  Then the lady at the other end said she'd just managed to rebook my itinerary, but I would have to drive really fast to not miss a flight out of Syracuse to Newark, New Jersey.  If I left right then and drove like Batman, I would arrive with about twenty minutes to spare before the plane left.  I agreed, thinking it might be possible.  
  The rain was really aggressive.  I drove like Batman.  I put my car in a long-term parking lot.  And found that the entire airport was in a knot.  There were huge lineups everywhere with irate and stressed people suddenly not headed all over the planet, messed up by a cascade of flight cancellations.  Was I not "supposed" to go?
  It took them an hour to even "process" me, and they had no idea if or when the purported Newark flight would arrive.  A young guy shook his head repeatedly over my itinerary,  saying it hadn't been done properly, and a seat hadn't even been reserved for me on a flight that wasn't coming anyway.  He gave me a coupon to save money while staying at a hotel in Syracuse for a day or two.  But then he managed to entirely redo the itinerary, and felt proud and lucky to have been able to salvage it at all.  After about an hour and twenty minutes, I was able to go upstairs and enter the boarding area.
  I ate a Coney Island chili dog with cheese up there, but the signage did not reflect my flight coming.  The flight time came and went and the harried airline employees rushed back and forth, trying to answer a queue of passenger inquiries.  One woman tried vainly to control an oversized armload of hyper and anxious children.  An angry and determined two year old ran behind the desk and a very large staffer rumbled in that way they do, carefully looking past the person he was talking to instead of making eye contact: "Ma'am, you need to keep better control of your children."  I'll bet that made her feel better about herself.
  Eventually, a little guy came and told everyone that basically, Syracuse airport had no flights available to reschedule any of today's problems into, and wouldn't for a couple of days.  The flights out for the next couple of days would occur, but were all full, every one.  No one could reschedule anything for anyone, until about three days.  And me with a hotel room booked in Texas, and car parked in a lot in a different city than the one I would be returning to.
  But then the little guy said there was the one flight to Newark, which was there right NOW and we had to decide to get on it, or not.  There was absolutely no guarantee Newark would be any different, or that there would be any flights to anywhere, really.  But if all went well, I might very well arrive just in time to possibly catch a plane to Houston.  Maybe.  
  So, leaving my car an hour's drive away from the airport I was booked to return to at the end of my journeying, I took my geography in my hands and got on a small double-prop plane. I was sitting next to a really talkative ex-military young guy who explained the rationale behind the naming of his various kids (second marriage).  He was very nice.  One of those big, beefy, sociable guys who's probably not thirty yet, but he's already been married twice, served in Iraq and Afghanistan, had a bunch of kids, and bought a house and things.  
  Arriving at Newark airport in New Jersey (it was the biggest one thus far) I managed to find my way across the enormous Terminal C to the counter where the flight was to leave from.  It was to leave at 9:28.  It was 9:02.  Just in time.  I stood around in front of the counter, and by 9:15 was worried.  I asked "Is the 9:28 flight leaving on time?" and they said "Oh, it's gone," looking past me.  
  I was sent off to customer service to see what could be done and got ready to see about a hotel room in Newark.  Suddenly someone came out of nowhere and said "Are you on the flight to Houston?  We've been looking for you..."  and ushered me onto the plane, with everyone looking at me, because at 9:20, I was "keeping" the 9:28 flight from departing.  I had been standing in front of the desk the passengers had just boarded from, about twenty minutes before it was to depart.  Somewhere around 9:45 it actually took off and I read the first half of Susan Isaacs' Angry Conversations With God on my Kindle. 
  We landed in Houston at midnight and the airport was huge but pretty deserted.  I had the hotel room booked, and didn't know if I needed to get a taxi or what, so I went to the kiosk and asked and was told "Oh yeah.  You just go out there and wait.  They send shuttle buses every half hour."  So I went and stood in what looked like the back of a shopping mall.  A giant shopping mall.  A mosquito tried to bite me.  It was so much smaller than Canadian ones (not everything's bigger in Texas).  I laughed at it and it flew away, dejected.
  After about half an hour, getting pretty exhausted by this point, my ear in agony, after popping repeatedly during my flights, a guy hopped out of a shuttle bus and said "Which hotel you want?" and when I told him, he said "Ah naw, they don't send any shuttles after midnight."
  So I went back in to the kiosk and told them of this.  I asked "How far is the hotel from here?" and the young guy who'd told me there would be a shuttle said "Aw, not far at all."  I asked if it was like, a mile, and he said it wasn't even a mile.  I decided I would just walk, then.  "Yeah.  You can just walk.  It's not for," the guy assured me.
  Then the girl sitting next to the guy said "Probably shouldn't walk."  The guy switched views instantly and said "Yeah.  Shouldn't walk.  Not safe."  
  I asked "Like, crime?" and he said "Oh yeah."
  "So, what should I do?" I asked them.  
  "Aw, there are a bunch of guys out THOSE doors, with taxis.  Just walk right up and one will take you."
  So I walked out and a guy leaped forward and said he'd take me.  Like everything in Houston, the taxi was chilly with air conditioning.  It was also loudly playing a live Michael Jackson concert CD.  Sounded like a bootleg.  We drove a few miles to my hotel, and I said "The guy behind the desk actually said I could walk this, because it was less than a mile.  Looks like a few miles, to me."
 "Oh, yeah.  A few miles," the taxi driver said.  "And those woods all along both sides out there?  They have a lot of rattlesnakes and other poisonous snakes."
  Then I got my room, bought Tylenol for my ear (well, my whole head, actually, by that point) and sat in bed, read more Susan Isaacs, then emailed Susan (we email occasionally) to tell her I was reading it again, and she emailed back and joked around a bit.
  The next morning, Caryl, who (when wearing shades) looked uncannily like Mary Louise Parker in Weeds, picked me up.  And it's been nothing but beer, tacos, music, funny kids and conversation since.

Thursday, 15 August 2013


A few years ago there was this girl at the high school where I teach.  When she was 15, she could write far better than I.  She graduated and went on to University, where she's studying.  Last fall, she asked if a few of us could proof-read her book for her.  It wasn't her first book or anything.  But it was personal.  She changed the names, but part of it was about being repeatedly sexually abused by her step-dad, and about moving away and trying to escape the man.  So we proof-read the book for her and stuff, and then a few months went by.
  Apparently she wasn't getting any immediate nibbles on her first attempts at publishing it (neither did most authors we've now heard of, I'm told) so I suggested she put it up on  She did.  Paperback and hardcover.  A bunch of us got copies and read them and lent them to people.  It was pretty cool.
  But then her abuser found out and reported her to Lulu for defamation of character, even though she did not use his name.  What Lulu did was immediately take the book down, no questions asked.  Because how they make money is they are a printing and distribution company, and if anyone complains, rather than check out the complaint, they just stop distributing the book to stay out of it all.  Thing is, what they've done here is side with the abuser of a child.  Took the side of the pedophile over the victim.  I think a newspaper story or two may get published.  I sure hope so.  I have a headline or two in mind.
   I get that Lulu can't afford to hire more lawyers than they already employ, and set them loose to examine every single complaint they get.  But still.  This sucks.
  Here's the cover of the book.  No longer available in paperback and hardcover.  Available as an eBook in two formats, free of charge.
For Kindle e-Readers Click Here
For Kobo e-Readers Click Here

  I mean, if someone did this "tattling to Lulu" to me (one's thoughts fly instantly to one's self), little would change.  I would just move to and then other presses such as Snowfall Press, and if I couldn't keep the book distributing online, anywhere at all, I'd print another hundred copies and have people PayPal me and I would mail it to them.  And I would call my publishing house Wasp Tent Publishers (Bee Teepee).
  But all in all, I hope that doesn't happen to me.  And I hope Em gets some kind of justice, somehow.
(here's a report of the events on a widely read online blog.)

Monday, 5 August 2013

My Greatest Enemy Was My Self

This is hard to write about.  It's a story without really any clear beginning or end.  Nevertheless...
I keep on meeting Meeting people (Plymouth Brethren people) afflicted with something I was once far more under the spell of than I am now.  It was a specific kind of self-defeating, paralyzing, life-halting shame.  Fear of hoping.  Feeling like life was just here to mock me.
  I remember always speaking of myself as the exception.  I deserved special bad luck.  And I also didn't deserve it, but I would have it, wouldn't I? (because I was me).  Other people deserved praise.  I didn't.  Well, sometimes I did, but I wouldn't get it, no.  I'd say "Oh, but of course I [and then something bad]."  No hyperbole was too much for me.  I had no shame when it came to self-loathing. I would start any number of sentences with "I am the worst..." or "I am the most..." depending on whether it was something good or bad, respectively.
  I tried to literally expect only bad stuff in order to try to not be upset by it.  I pretended good stuff wasn't coming, so if it fell through, I could supposedly soften that (not that that ever actually works.)  I did this all the time.  
  If I did something good, I couldn't handle praise, but pointed out the defective parts, or how far whatever it was fell short of ideal, or else I overemphasized any slight help I'd gotten from anyone else, and generally presented the success as a blip, as a fluke, as something no one should expect me to be able to repeat.  
  If, conversely, I screwed up, or if anyone accused me of anything, I approached THAT with a resigned "Of course..." attitude.  Of course I screwed up, because I was a screw up. And also, of course people were being unfair to me and judging me too harshly, because people do that to "someone like me." It was so unfair.  (Also, I kinda deserved it, I felt.) I was the most horrible person in the world, but did people have to be so mean about that? I actually had to live it.
  I presented myself as two very different bad things: an unfairly put upon person with the luck of Charlie Brown, and someone who was a misfit, a freak, who didn't belong, who was thoroughly unlikeable.  I told this to everyone who said they liked me, or acted like it either.
  Now, one could have accused me of just fishing for compliments, but it was more like I was trying to talk myself into the horror that I believed was me.  Like I was trying to remind myself lest I forget to accept that I was a horrible person, an abomination, a misfit, just plain defective in most ways.

No Amount of Compliments Made Me Accept Myself
When I was 22 I had a job working with the developmentally handicapped.  The secretary at the main office there was about ten years older than me, and she was very nice to me, as older women invariably are with me.  One time, after she'd heard more of my self-loathing talk, she came in with a list she'd written up. She had done her best to write down all of my virtues.  It was a fairly long list.  She said I was a "sculpture," for one thing.  I think she meant a "sculptor" (Thing #3: I could spell things)  because I'd been making some things out of clay and wood, but as I'd spent a summer doing landscaping work, I was more sculpted than usual.  I know that now. Of course then I was filled with the conviction of how hideous and stupid-looking I was.  And not a single thing she wrote, or even her effort to try to make me see that my view of myself was as flawed as an anorexic's, had much effect.  (I don't think.  Not immediately anyway.) I knew, you see, that I was hideous and horrible and bad.
  I knew that I had moles, some on my face. I needed glasses.  I could be clumsy.  I stammered when I got nervous and said the weirdest things.  I didn't like sports.  I did like science fiction.  One of my ears was slightly lower than the other.  My legs were short.  And I farted.
  If girls hit on me, I panicked, because they were obviously mistaken.  If girls I liked didn't like me back, I told myself I should have known better than to hope.  If I got a job, I expected to lose it soon enough.  If I didn't get it, I'd been a fool to hope, of course.
  Altogether, I felt like God had made me to laugh at and toy with.  I probably read the story of Job too much.
  I wish I could tell you the tale of how I beat all that and got better, one blustery week in fall of the year.  Can't.  I just know that I gradually grew out of it.  Mostly.  And it was absolutely essential that I did.  I think slowly having people's acceptance (I mainly had to go outside Christian circles to enjoy that, I can tell you) trickle into me, and my having those small life successes, helped.  Keeping jobs.  Getting a place to live. Learning to play guitar and record.  People pestering me to help them with stuff, a sure sign I was competent at something.
  On the other hand, I really think that seeing just how unfair truly judgmental people were with me, and my being accused of any number of unfair things, oddly, helped too.  They overstated their case until even I couldn't take them seriously.  I mean, when I worked at the Christian school, of course I knew that I was a Joke of God, an abomination, a Freak of Nature, an abortion of a man, a human hemorrhoid, but when someone told people I was gay and insinuated that I was therefore, a pedophile, as the two were to him perhaps somewhat synonymous, I knew for certain that I was better than that person's view, anyway.  I might have been the Beast of the Apocalypse, but I wasn't a gay pedophile.  I just wasn't, and he'd told people basically that.  That kind of thing lends perspective, I guess.
  I think I started doing more things, if the opportunity arose, and thinking of myself more in terms of someone who was doing the things, not someone who did or did not deserve to do the things, or would or would not succeed.  I just made sure I did succeed instead of predicting that I wouldn't and that it was no use.  And as I was doing various things with various people, increasingly one failure or setback was only one thing, and other stuff was going on too, so it kind of blended.  All of my eggs, increasingly, were not in the one basket.

Figuring Out Who You Are
I believe that defining an identity, and knowing who one is, is something that begins in adolescence, and in my case, was being systematically thwarted.  Piaget actually believed that the "job," developmentally speaking, of an adolescent human is to forge an identity separate from parents and culture, so as to interact with both them and it as a distinct personality, not wholly controlled or defined by them, but able to connect when beneficial to all.  I know my church lifestyle made this take not only my teens, but my twenties also.  So long as I was living at my parents at age twenty-two, and not making enough money to really succeed at looking after myself, so long as no girl was terribly clear that she liked me when she likely, in retrospect, did, so long as random church people could treat me like dirt and there were no nonChristian people treating me like a normal person, it continued.
  But when I was twenty-three, I could afford to get my own place.  I found increasingly that I was becoming someone, and that no one knew who that was, and that it didn't matter so much that they understand, or even whether that someone was good or bad, but that I be that someone.  There just wasn't anyone else around who was going to be me.
  So I guess the shame thing just gradually became less of a problem.  Not none of a problem.  But less of one.
   Good thing.  Because I think I used to live a life that strove to keep all the bad stuff away, often by not risking bad stuff in order to get good stuff.  I'd habitually not pursue (or hope for, more importantly) a whole lot of good stuff.  Wasn't safe.  Because things could go wrong, and really seemed to. I thought not hoping would make me safer.

What I Learned From The Bottom Of A Beer Bottle
The story has often been told (by me) of how one time I went for a walk at night and asked God if my life had to only suck. I mean, I told Him that I understood that it was life, after all, and it was my life, all too true, and that He was Him of course, and that pain is certainly the best teacher naturally, so it had to suck of course.  I mean, I knew all that.  But did it have to JUST suck?
  And then someone walked out of a house and smashed me in the face with a full beer bottle.  The beer bottle shattered.  Glass and beer all over me.  My face somehow got not a single scratch or cut from that.  It was seriously weird.
  And the lesson I learned from the bottom of that bottle seemed to be that I wasn't actually keeping the bad out of my life at all, by all the not trusting, not hoping, and not pursuing good.  The bad would find me, even two miles out of town in the middle of nowhere.  And yet?  I was completely fine.  Couldn't hide from the trouble, yet hadn't been hurt by it.
  Of course I was worried that if I hoped or went after good things, that I'd be "punished" for it.  God was like that, wasn't He?  Or was He?  Well, it was clear to me that I was being punished anyway.  So I started not only gratefully letting good come into my life, without fearing it, but actually going after good.  I feared some kind of blowback, but I did it anyway.  And the blowback never came.
  And I started to be more afraid of the nothing than the bad, too. I'd thought before that bad things happening would hurt me, but I came to realize that too much nothing happening was an even bigger problem.  For me, anyway, given where I live.  I thought I could live a careful, zero-sum life, no good let in, no bad let in either.  But of course, bad always comes in anyway. And the good doesn't always come in quite so easily.  I could keep the good out a lot better than I could keep the bad out.  A whole lot better.  So I simply quit trying so hard to avoid bad.  I stopped being careful for everything. I stopped trusting in fear to keep me out of danger.  Too much caution, too much fear is dangerous.  It was time to fear fear itself.  It was time, in fact, to laugh at fear, because it was dumb, and to have something to do besides it.  You can't really feel fear and any other emotion at the same time.  Fear requires 100% of your emotional focus.  So if you feel anything else too, the fear loses its grip on you. Try it.

  I spent far too many days (weeks) sitting in my room, as if if I did absolutely nothing at all, that nothing at all bad would happen to me.  Like Will Ferrell as Harold Crick in Stranger Than Fiction.  Well, depression, despair, spiritual starvation, a thirsty mind and loneliness, paranoia and self-loathing found me there.  Easily.  They came from inside, so I couldn't keep them out.  And these inner dangers were (and are) some of the very worst bad things that have ever happened to me.
  And the more I pursued and consumed and enjoyed and collaborated upon and created and celebrated and was grateful for all the good, the more I saw that no correspondingly extra large portion of bad ever came along with it.  Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.  The good?  We have to try harder with that. 

The Nothing Will Kill You
But that beer bottle story doesn't "explain" how awesome I am now.  (I am not awesome.  And if I'm fair, I don't suck either.  People seemed to agree with a Facebook graphic I shared that I'm an asshole alright, but that they get used to it and don't mind.  Too many people liked that graphic for my liking, when I put it on my Facebook wall.  And I got the distinct impression that me being a bit difficult is part of how they think I should be.  Part of the whole experience, so to speak.) 
   I still have a problem with the bad "nothing" stuff that wells up from within, even if I somehow mostly keep all the bad stuff from outside away.  But the more I have learned about other people, the more I have learned how the same we all are inside.  You'd think that we all look fairly similar on the outside, but inside, each person would be terribly distinct.  I'm finding that often the reverse is true.  
  I thought of this idea one time as I stood on the sidewalk at night, thinning long hair needing a trim, a single, middle-aged Plymouth Brethren man who didn't get along with his birth culture and has an uneasy relationship with his parents and their religion, talking with the wife of a friend I went to high school with.  She stood there too, thinning close-cropped hair quite at odds with her middle-aged Sikh upbringing.  But then, she didn't get along with her birth culture, and has an uneasy relationship with her parents and their religion and was married to a white guy after divorcing the arranged husband her folks had arranged for her.  Outwardly our lives were in different hemispheres, quite literally.  Inwardly, we totally "got" each other.
  And I know lesbians, atheists, pagans, Catholics (lapsed and otherwise), pastors, poets and produce clerks, and I find that if you go down deep enough inside us, we're more alike than we think.  It's the outside stuff that seems to cause most of the distance and complication.
  You know?  How we worded something, if we paid a bill, how we dress, what we're doing for a living right now, where we're living right now, indoor or outdoor "plumbing."  Stuff like that.

When I went to Teacher's College, one of our profs had a "no disclaimers" rule.  It saved an awful lot of time when we did presentations.  Every time any one of us prospective teachers took our turn to present something we had to take turns presenting to everyone in the class, we'd want to do a little preamble.  "Okay, this isn't really finished.  I meant it to be a lot more... I didn't have much time and I have the flu right now, so it...This is supposed to be in colour but I didn't have the right markers..."
  "No disclaimers!" Dr. Lucille Waterson would kindly snap.  And we'd feel just how naked it was to agree to be so naked as to not be allowed to quickly "point-out-our-flaws-before-someone-else-did," to make sure everyone knew we knew, so they wouldn't think we thought we were good, and in need of getting shot down.  So they wouldn't shoot us down.  So we wouldn't be that wounded.  Pride came before a fall, and we were afraid of falling, so we always lay down and hid under things and felt as much shame as we could.  So we wouldn't fall.  Because we really thought shame and pride were opposites.  (They're not even mutually exclusive.)
  I see a whole lot of standup comedians have actually made a routine out of these things Lucille called "disclaimers," out of the self-loathing.  Maybe that's therapeutic.  Maybe if they keep saying it, they feel it less. I dunno.  Didn't really work for me.  But Louis C.K. is a huge success because of going on and one for years about being fat and old and gross.  People like when he does that.  He makes a living at it.  Kevin Smith, when interviewed about a movie, will happily talk about how fat he is for fifteen minutes at a time.  He will talk at length about the time he had an anal fissure and made, first his wife, then a doctor, look.  Because he doesn't feel unacceptably exposed talking about his anal fissure to a crowd.  
  No, but there is something that does make him feel horribly exposed.  And he  does anyway: he tries to make something he actually cares about (with him it's movies) and then he lets people choose to like that thing he's done, or hate it.  Still, when he introduces his movies or does audio commentary, he goes on and on about how much he sucks, and how bad he is at directing, and how it's really Ben Affleck and Matt Damon or whoever who made it work, to the degree that he'll admit any of them worked.  Just like when Steve Taylor and Don Miller did the commentary track on their little Blue Like Jazz movie, Don wouldn't stop making fun of and pointing out any tiny, imperceptible flaw in it.  You know, pre-emptive shame. Before anyone else did.  Very 90s.  Steve is more 80s and wanted him to quit that.
  But the difference between those guys and twenty-something me?  They do comedy sketches and shows.  They do movies with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. They do movie adaptations of their books of essays.  And I think that helps.
  Eventually, though,  I sang in front of people.  I became a teacher, who people have to listen to all day, so I'd better deliver.  Shame doesn't help either of those activities.  I think either all this helped me let go of the shame, or that all this became possible the more I let the shame go.  All I know is that in my twenties, the more I made something creative and people were kind about it, the more I hoped and then didn't die for it, the more I applied for jobs and got them, the more I looked after myself and got places to live and made mistakes and made what Jordan Peterson calls "micro-corrections" on the fly, the more things slowly re-calibrated to work better and better. Eventually the habitual disclaimers ("This book I wrote didn't work out quite how I meant it to.."  "Well, it's only a 2010 Dodge Charger, three years old now and I didn't buy it new anyway and there are some scratches on the bumper..." "Well, at the festival I sang part of the words wrong and played a wrong chord at one point..") got a bit weak.  Eventually success in some degree must be deemed to have happened.  Eventually "close enough" becomes good enough, and I don't agonize for long over the flaws.
  Eventually a man who stands up and whose actions say "Listen to me. I wrote a song and I'm going to sing it for you and I hope you like it" yet whose words before singing say "Look, this isn't really very good and I suck and shouldn't be singing this, so try not to throw things" is going to have his words ignored and his actions listened to.  And he might as well just stop saying those words and just show everyone his vulnerability so they can have the chance to be appreciative or at least kind.

For some reason I just pictured if strippers were allowed to do disclaimers before their performances.  (peeking out from behind a curtain) "Oh, hi.  I'm Lacey.  I'm going to come out and take off all of my clothes, but I feel I should warn you that I don't look very good naked. These aren't my real breasts, I have cellulite, my ankles are thick, it's very lucky the lighting is dim and flattering in here, and I have a cold and am leaking snot from my nose, which, by the way, I had done too. I'm really far too old and ugly and stupid-looking to be getting naked in front of a room full of paying customers. But, sit back and try to enjoy my show!  Not that you're going to be able to!"

Distancing One's Self From One's Own Work
One time I went up in a bar, and like I do sometimes, I sang one of my weirdest songs, written when I was at my weirdest phase of being a weird young man who wrote weird songs, and I distanced myself from the song by a disclaimer.  I said it was a weird song.  I said I'd written it a long time ago.  Stuff like that.  My tone of voice said more than the words, too.  And then I sang it.  And a woman came up to me afterward.  She was offended.  She was offended that I had tried to dismiss that song, because it spoke to her.  It wasn't just a song for weird young men.  It was, she informed me, a song for everyone.  "Because we've all been there. And we still go there from time to time," she said.  She wanted me to respect my song.  And I guess she was right.  No disclaimers before being naked.
  I am older than I used to be.  In fact, I am twice as old as I was when I hated how I looked twice as much.  It doesn't get better with age, so you have to lay off a bit, and forgive yourself for being human and for aging, and delight in compliments as they come, and value good and nice stuff.  You start remembering to appreciate sunsets.  You start utterly discounting first, your own ability to recognize and deal with how flawed you are and aren't.  And you go on from there to utterly discount everyone else's ability to recognize and deal with how flawed you are and aren't. We're so flawed we can't even be trusted not to miss our good points.  Or our bad points.  We're operating blind.
  So you start looking for good things to maybe come into your day.  The kind of good, or at least interesting, things that you can't control, predict, or order from eBay.  And that's, kind of, hope.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Thoughts on Shunning

Shunning is powerful.  Some people have studied it as a human phenomenon, and very often, they've done it in places just like the one I work in: high schools.
Groups have lives of their own.  They literally function like organisms.  One of the things groups can unthinkingly do is activate their own equivalent of "antibodies" or a "rejection" response, just like the one that can happen when someone gets an organ transplant.  Sometimes groups reject something bad, but groups can also reject innocuous, or even valuable things as well.  So, in a high school, a group of girls may reject a member who buys the wrong kinds of clothes, or says "hi" to the wrong person.
  A book I'm reading indicates that groups of females are far more likely to shun someone than groups of males.  Shunning appears to be one of those sophisticated female social dynamic things, primarily.  Teenage males are more likely to swear at someone, shove him into something and have basically forgotten all about it soon afterward.  The research indicated that even before they've reached teenage-hood, school girls are unthinkingly shunning other girls who've offended the group, with the ostracizing typically lasting a couple of weeks or even months, at an age when a couple of months truly seems to last an age.  Boys, by contrast, tend to resolve disagreement, not always in better ways, but certainly much more quickly.
  The woman who did this research (Deborah Tannen) was quite confident about all of this.  I know it meshes with what I see at school and in churches.  And in my experience, churches are deeply feminized, whether women are allowed to be clergy or not.  A lot of singing and talking about feelings.  A whole lot of concern about pasta salad, or jello with bits of fruit floating in it, and weddings and babies.
  School officials never seem to shut up about "peer pressure" and "bullying," but groups enforcing their will upon their members seems to be a very natural thing. It doesn't really seem to ever die, despite having a whole lot of assemblies and posters decrying it.  We're supposed to accept everyone, but we won't.  We divide by all the usual lines.  Style, income bracket, intelligence, attractiveness and all that.  We are unrepentant "respecters of persons."

Like a lot of people, I didn't comfortably fit into a group at school, nor at church, and so was shut out of them. I was supposed to fit in at church and didn't, and I was definitely raised to NOT fit in at school, and that worked.  My church youth group, particularly when at school, had this things of standing in closed rings, backs turned on everyone.  I found that if I'd been missing youth group, or was for some unexplained reason particularly out of favour, or if the people in a ring were getting particularly smug or zealous, that I'd walk up to the shoulder-to-shoulder barrier rings, and try to stand with the kids from my church while waiting for the bus, and though I could call "over" their backs into the circle, they could and often would, simply ignore me and keep those backs turned.  Sometimes, without facing me, a comment about "haven't seen YOU at Young People's for a couple of weeks..." could be grunted over a shoulder.
  One time I said "Are you seriously going to punish me for not attending young people's by turning all your backs on me and not letting me in?"
  They gave no response and started carefully talking about something else, leaving me "out" there.
  For this reason, I often ended up standing with my school friends.  My school friends didn't do the tight circles. They stood side by side, or leaned on things, or formed loose shapes with holes.  You could always just walk up and step into a conversation.
  At youth group, I would follow my school habit of leaning on a wall or standing with my back to something, and I'd watch the circles/rings form.  People would come up to a tight little circle (I'm imagining teenagers standing around in the room behind the main church room at the Rideau Ferry Meeting Hall here) and seek entrance to it.  Often the circle would open up.  If the person was in favour, there might even be some nervously apologetic joking about having shut that person out for a moment, by virtue of not seeing him or her at first.
  One time when I was about twenty, my friend Michael Vedder, who seemed very much at the time like something out of a Dr. Seuss book (still does), was visiting, and we were standing watching the circles at the church in Ottawa/Nepean.  Right before the Division happened there.  Suddenly he marched over (literally), shoved his way roughly into the middle of a circle, and now that it was a circle formed around him, marched around and around in it.  They all laughed, a bit nervously. It really seemed to confuse them.  Usually Michael wasn't around.  He lived far away. So mostly I just watched the circles like some people watch hockey.  Like some people study tribes of apes.
  Sometimes things in a circle would go slightly sour, socially speaking.  Someone would clearly not enjoy something that had gone on socially or which had been said, and would break from the circle and wander across the room, temporarily unattached.  Often they'd come stand with me and talk for a while, looking away from me while sizing up which circle to join next.
  I had a lot of good conversations with people who probably found there were laxer rules as to what was okay to say when it was just me there to talk to.  But they'd always eventually tire of the one-on-one and seek entry to a circle.  More diluted interaction than one-on-one.  More status.  And I mostly remained outside the circles, watching them. All a circle had to do to get me to leave was for everyone to all stop talking at once and stare at me together.  Or someone could laugh condescendingly when I'd said something, drawl "ANYway..." and pretend that I'd not just said the thing I'd just said that they just didn't like.
  I sometimes had a friend or two stand with me, but we didn't form circles.  I made sure of that.  I thought they were dumb.

Getting Vetted
Nothing much has changed, really.  I find that Christians mainly still operate socially in tight circles, and I have a lot of trouble getting them to reliably be willing to chat outside those.  I prefer to talk one-on-one, or in small groups, and I find most people "hide" in those bigger groups, or something like that.  (I dunno.  I'm still just seeing a lot of backs.)
  And whenever someone invites me to a church thing, I'm pretty impossible.  I did it again today.  Ravishing, charitable young woman invited me to a church thing (admittedly, she tried to conceal the nature of the event so I'd maybe go) and I was a jerk.  I did what I always do: I check and see if that person has spent any one-on-one time with me, or can be convinced to do that, before making myself a congregant.  And if that person won't go out for a beer or a sandwich, I won't go to his or her church.
  Now, I realize that for many, you invite someone into your church activity, to "dilute" the intensity of the interaction, to hedge your bets, and if they wind up gaining group acceptance, and the consensus is that they're okay, then you might go for coffee or a beer or a sandwich.  After you've put them through those hoops.  I don't do well with group acceptance auditions.  I make a bad first impression.  Famously.
  But I'm quite stubbornly insisting on doing things the opposite way.  It's not generally working out very well.  People in groups do what they do.
Editing People Out of Your History
I often chat online with people about them being excluded or shunned from various church groups.  In the Plymouth Brethren, a couple of verses in the New Testament are being taken and used as pretty much the only tactic for dealing with any problem at all: these verses are about not keeping company with, or eating with certain extreme types of unrepentant habitual sinners.  But some Brethren groups seem to have built an entire culture of this one idea.  It's eventually all about who gets to take communion, and who loses that right and gets shunned.
  It's about having members live under the threat of people pretending they never existed, editing them from history like Big Brother, punishing people by it, and leaving them perpetually in a state of shunning if you don't want to deal with them again.
  When I went to the Montreal Conference last fall, a number of people I went to both church and high school with refused to look at me and turned away as much as possible when they walked by.  They did not hiss or cross themselves, for which I was grateful. I was much more grateful for all the people who treated me just as if I were a real live human being with feelings and everything.  And there were a whole bunch of those. I didn't go to high school with any of them.
  Now, the New Testament is pretty clear that central to Christianity are love, liberty and unity.  Obviously, you can't really do those and shun to perpetuity at the same time.  I mean, my church peeps always say they're shunning us because they love us, but I don't really believe that anymore.  They always claimed we were free also, but I found that our living under that threat of being kicked out and shunned quite neatly negated anything Christ had done to set me free.  Made the freeing work of Christ to none effect, as the apostle would say.  And Plymouth Brethren groups abound all over the world, many of which display no connection/unity with any other Plymouth Brethren groups at all, even if they meet in the same town.  They don't even drop over and ask how things are going.  Like, ever.

Shunning, High School Girl Style
I was taking a chilly walk under the stars last night and some thoughts I'd been kicking back and forth with Keith in a private message exchange started to gel: shunning is a very powerful thing for a community to do, there is no doubt.  It messes people up to have their own birth culture act like they were never born, and if so, certainly not into it.  But I decided that shunning takes the cooperation of absolutely everyone or else it just won't work.  If even one person doesn't get with the program, it soon falls apart.  Everyone needs to "submit" to it. (Plymouth Brethren groups insist on that.)
  To make this point, I'm going to use the high school example.  I spend several forty minute periods each month standing and watching a few hundred teenagers eat.  My main job is to make sure they don't start food fights.
  Let us imagine that Jessica has committed that cardinal of teenage girl group sins, and has shared a secret told her in confidence by the girls in the group, with her sister Lyssandra, who is outside the group, because she is older and dresses wrong.  It is lunchtime and Jessica walks into the cafeteria.
  Jessica goes to sit down next to Natalie, and Destiny intercepts by sliding across and taking Jessica's accustomed place.  Neither Natalie nor Destiny acknowledge Jessica is there by any eye contact, but their shoulders are set very tightly in a clear posture of elaborate "What?  We're not doing anything."  Jessica stands, horrified for a moment, then tries shamefacedly to take Destiny's usual spot but Destiny gives her the evil eye, so Jessica goes and sits by herself.  Jessica sits by herself at lunchtime each day for a week or two, and is eventually allowed to sit with the group again once a few weeks have passed. It is hoped that she has learned her lesson.
  Imagine if it had gone like this: Jessica goes to sit down next to Natalie, and Destiny intercepts by sliding across and taking Jessica's accustomed place.  Jessica stands, horrified for a moment, then tries to take Destiny's usual spot and Destiny gives her the evil eye, but beside Destiny, Sarah moves slightly to one side, indicating Jessica can sit next to her.  Jessica sits next to Sarah, and now the group has to allow Jessica to be part of it, unless it is willing to shun Sarah too.  They may decide to actually do this, depending on how much social clout Sarah possesses.
  Ironically, in groups of this kind, the "queen" at the top gets there, not by complying, but by the opposite.  She forces an unwritten set of laws, which are ever-changing, upon the other girls, but makes certain she demonstrates that she gets to break them a little bit herself.  Because she's the queen.
  Imagine, conversely if it had gone like this: Jessica goes to sit down next to Natalie, and Destiny intercepts by sliding across and taking Jessica's accustomed place.  Jessica puts what is being done into words, and says "Okay, so you're seriously going to be little bitches about this?" and can likely force her way into the group, just by showing contempt for their contempt, unless they are willing to turn a bit of musical chairs into a full on verbal argument.  If Jessica simply refuses to be so easily dominated, they may give up on trying to dominate her.  She may actually gain status and respect through this.
  Girls operate very much upon each other "taking a hint."  And if the target of their social punishment is clueless and oblivious, or doesn't care and ignores it, hints don't work.  So that bluff can be called.  (Ladies: saying guys are "horrible at taking hints" and then communicating with us solely through the language of hints is actually pretty hard to respect.)

A Division, Told In Terms of High School Girls 'Having Drama'
Here is the Plymouth Brethren version of the cafeteria drama:  Jessica goes to sit down next to Natalie, and Destiny intercepts by sliding across and taking Jessica's accustomed place.  Jessica's sister has said she heard Jessica say that she just didn't think Justin Bieber was actually that cute.  Jessica claims Lyssandra is lying.  Something must be done.  Obviously they cannot eat with her.  Forgiveness or tolerance are not options at this point.  So her seat is taken, before she can do any more damage.
  Jessica stands, horrified for a moment, then tries to take Destiny's usual spot and Destiny gives her the evil eye, but beside Destiny, Sarah moves slightly to one side, indicating Jessica can sit next to her.  Jessica sits next to Sarah, and now the group has to allow Jessica to be part of it, unless it is willing to shun Sarah too.
  It most certainly is willing.  The situation is dire and their only choice is to do what they do next:  Natalie and Destiny meet after school, allowing Nykayla and Lafondra to attend too, once they have indicated they are all of like mind.  (Raven isn't informed of the meeting, because you never can tell with Raven.)  A note on a Justin Bieber Post-it is drafted, informing Sarah and Jessica that they may no longer sit on the west side of the cafeteria, as sadly, it has come to "everyone's" attention that Jessica and Sarah are clearly weak little sluts.
  Outraged, Jessica and Sarah meet after school, and on One Direction notepaper draft a response saying that Natalie, Destiny, Nykayla and Lafondra may no longer sit at the tables on the east side of the cafeteria, as they are clearly all fat, stupid bitches.
  The next day, there is a small note attached to every table in the cafeteria.  It announces that everyone in the cafeteria who does not text Natalie or Destiny with a clear statement supporting the necessity of the action taken against Jessica and Sarah by 4pm will not be welcome to eat in the cafeteria for the rest of high school.
  Oddly, obscured underneath the dire note is another (scribbled on) note that was posted there not thirty minutes prior to the "west side" one.  It announces that if anyone in the cafeteria allows Natalie, Destiny, Nykayla or Lafondra, or for that matter, their boyfriends and siblings, to sit at their table, that that person will not be welcome to eat in the cafeteria for the rest of high school.
  This is going to be awkward.  Jessica and Destiny are both on Students Council, which is doing a Tolerance Fundraiser next week.

(note: this portrayal is unrealistic in high school terms, as it involves girls writing on paper, the profanity has been toned down significantly, and it does not end in a restraining order or anyone going to an alternative high school)  

Shunning: A Game Everyone Must Play Or It Dies
Basically, what I decided is that when it is "time" for someone to be shunned by the group, every single person must play along, or it doesn't work.  Including the victim.  The victim's role (to slink away in shame) is perhaps the most vital and the most arbitrary.  I am often deemed offensive due to not playing that role, which has been assigned to me for life.  My job is to slink away.  Sometimes I don't want to.
  One encouraging thing I'm hearing about Brethren groups, and their mania for shunning, is that when they get too many new members who weren't raised among Brethren people, weren't taught from their mother's knee the special, loving, holy, Christian nature of shunning those folks unworthy of grace, that the shunning sometimes just stops working.
  If there are enough people in a group who just don't "get" the whole shunning thing, at first they screw up, because they don't know how to do it right, and then they may eventually balk at it entirely.  It may not seem to them to be quite what they're coming out to church to do.  (Of course, I have often seen the opposite, where a newbie realizes that, for full group acceptance, shunning is vital, so vigorously shuns people so as to gain solid group acceptance, which a newbie so keenly desires).
  I grew up hearing how we had to seriously shun people who were idolaters, extortioners, alcoholics, or adulterers or adulteresses and things like that.  (Because we love them, and we need to keep the Lord clean from them. Well, His Table, if not His Day, His Name and His Person.)  There's a list in the bible.  We had a couple of adulterers.  They didn't get shunned, oddly.  Once they and a whole bunch of other people left and formed another Brethren church, then we shunned them.
  But then many of us started to really question the piety and the "need" to permanently shun people who suddenly start attending another church group, or who said they disagreed with what a church elder had said or done, or, eventually, the global shunning of entire personality types (questioners, rationalists, discussers of things, people who take notes during brother's meetings and bring them out to future brother's meetings, malcontents, really anyone who wasn't sheep-like enough) no questions asked.
  Because I know of any number of old people sitting in the back of Brethren Meeting Halls for the last several decades of their lives with no one being really terribly sure anymore why they needed to be shunned and excluded from taking communion.  I'd ask my folks.  They wouldn't be sure anymore.  In several cases, it was clearly being hinted that these old folks were perpetually "out" because they'd had personality problems. Or so someone said.  And they never got back in.
  And now they're dead.  I'm picturing a couple of faces right now.

Final Thoughts
Increasingly, people like my parents are getting shunned for the rest of their lives, wholly over a refusal to shun certain others.  My dad is shunned right now for refusing to agree to shun a guy who complained about all the shunning.  Their church has, it seems to me, become all about shunning and about little else.  About who's in, who's out, and who's "about to be out, if things keep on the way they're going."
  If those Christian obligations/joys (love, liberty, unity) are brought up, as they clearly just aren't about toeing the line to avoid being shunned, or shunning people for picking the wrong people to shun, they no longer seem relevant to what those Christians have gathered to do anymore.  I mean, without threat of shunning, how can you keep young people believing in God and agreeing that it is morally defiling to listen to Taylor Swift or spiritually dangerous to play Go Fish or Old Maid?
  Some would respond to this line of inquiry by asking me how I "get around" the bible verses about not eating with someone who is an adulterer, and I don't feel I need to try to do that.  I don't like to eat with adulterers, so I avoid doing that already, myself.  Because ew.  I just think something's gone very wrong as to what's being emphasized.  It's very possible to do a right thing and miss lots of other right things. It's very possible to do a right thing so hard that you break stuff.  You can do a right thing wrongly.
  1 Corinthians chides some Christians for not shunning a mofo that went to church in Corinth.  2 Corinthians then chides the same people for not going to him and working with him to "restore" him to fellowship.  I could give you quite a list (out of my head) of people that groups of Brethren had to remember to shun, but I cannot name hardly a single person who was ever "restored."   The shunning's the thing, it seems.