The following post will be split into two parts, so enjoy and check back in a few days for the conclusion.
This is a post about humanity. It is not about pitting belief against unbelief or liberal against conservative. It’s about living on this planet, as part of the human experience.
In the last post I mentioned that I grew up believing things about “the world” that preachers often said over the pulpit, and those things turned out to be, more often than not, completely untrue. After a recent conversation with a friend about a mutual acquaintance I realized that there is a lot more to that little blurb that I wanted to expound upon.
Before I go on, allow me to say that this is not going to be an introspective-lay my soul bare-tug your heartstrings post. Nor am I saying the world is safe and without danger. I'm simply saying be realistic when discussing it. I intend to get back to the roots of SAL with this post. Brace yourself, this could get grimy.
M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Village tells the story of an 1800’s group of people, living in a compound, located in a clearing, surrounded by woods. Occupants of this village are discouraged from venturing outside of its borders due to creatures dubbed ‘those we don’t speak of’ living in the woods. The creatures are scary. Wander outside the village and you will die, complements of the creatures, or so the villagers were told. When one of the villagers falls ill a request is made by Joaquin Phoenix to travel through the woods to ‘The Towns’ to get medication. He is told that the towns are "wicked places where wicked people live." There are a few more interesting scenes where villagers go to great lengths to scare Joaquin into not wanting to go to those places that no one should ever want to go. (note: it’s interesting to note that leaving the village was necessary for survival, and that beneficial things that could help were only found outside the set parameters) In the end we find out that the villagers are actually living in modern times and went to great lengths to form this colony and live in a ‘simpler manner’, so as to escape the world they grew to despise. There were never any creatures or danger, it was all just a ruse, devised by jaded people to create their idea of a utopia and convince themselves and their children that their way of life was better, using fear.
Growing up in church we often heard a term. This term was ‘the world’. Now, this term didn’t mean ‘Earth’, or ‘the planet’, or ‘the population of Earth’, or anything like that. This term was a pejorative. This term divided two very distinct and separate things. Its antonym was ‘the church’. You were either in ‘the church’ or you were in ‘the world’. Choose you this day which side you are on. The world or church.
Lucky for us, our parents had already chosen for us. And they chose the good side. We grew up ‘in church’. Basically what that meant was that you were saved, spoke in tongues, regularly attended church, followed standards, refrained from any controlled substance, didn’t curse, didn’t go to the movie theater and ate Applebee’s at least twice a week.
Example: “She was wearing pants and went to the theater? But I thought she was in church?”
See what I did there? ‘The church’ was the safe place. ‘The church’ was innocent, under the right hand of God (God help you if you’re under the left hand). The church was safe from all harm. It was blameless, spotless, pure, and holy. Not perfect. But clean and separate man. And when you put it like that, is there even a choice?
Now here’s where it goes south. The antithesis of ‘the church’ was…
So, what exactly is ‘the world’?
It was described in graphic detail through countless sermons and lessons for me.
The following is the picture that was painted:
-In the world, there is alcohol. Oceans of alcohol. Alcohol abuse is the norm. In the world, everyone drinks, usually excessively and if you drink at all you will not be able to stop yourself from going overboard. Most preachers admitted that, Biblically speaking, there was nothing wrong with a glass of wine but alcohol is so highly addictive and controlling that 99.9% of those who take a drink will not be able to just drink socially and responsibly, inevitably getting drunk and ending up an alcoholic.
-In the world there are drugs. Tubs full of needles. Illicit drugs everywhere. Drug addiction is rampant. Marijuana is always a gateway drug and will lead you to doing hard narcotics, whether you intend to or not. You will become addicted to marijuana, and you will do irresponsible things while high. Drug dealers are waiting around every corner, preying on you, seeking to get everyone in the world addicted and forcibly spiral you into an unchecked drug habit. Anyone who sells marijuana also sells cocaine, heroin, PCP and meth, and if you so much as smoke one hit of a joint you will inevitably end up on crystal meth.
-In the world there is inappropriate sex. All forms. All of it out of it outside of marriage. And if you are married and in the world, adultery is inevitable. Indiscriminate, promiscuous sex is normal. In the world multiple sex partners are average and deviant sex is now conventional. It is totally acceptable to have sex on the first date, or with people you don’t know. You will have sex with so many people that your spirit will literally be joined with all of them, and they to you, and since that wasn’t God’s plan you will begin to have psychological disorders and attachment issues. If you don’t have sex with someone in the world by your third date they will break things off because the world has created a normalcy of sexual expectancy and if you deviate from that you’re going to be outcast.
-In the world, crude, dirty, profane speech is normal and widely accepted. Cursing is just part of the language and if you don’t speak that way or are offended by it then you will not fit in and be ostracized.
-Morality and selflessness are Christian in origin and cannot exist outside of it. Thus, if you are ‘in the world’ you are the only one looking out for you. No one cares about your well being, no one will help you, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing doesn’t happen. No one can be good without God.
But the most important, and by far most inaccurate description of what the world is like is the feeling of despair. The world is a bleak, hopeless place where everyone is very sad and miserable. They all are just longing for something more. I was taught that all of these things, and more, are rampant because people long for God, they just don’t know it’s God they long for, so they’re trying to fill that void. They lay awake in their beds at night, staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out why they hurt so much. They try to go about their lives as normal but there is a constant undercurrent of depression and confusion due to their lack of God. Not only does everyone in the world recognize that there is something missing from their life and they are depending on you to tell them that the reason they toss and turn every night is that they have a Jesus shaped hole in them. And you have to tell them. If you don’t tell them they’ll never know, and if they never know then they’ll go to hell. On judgment day, they will pass you while you walk into heaven. And when you walk past, their eyes will well up with tears, and through stammering tears and angst they’ll stutter and stumble over their words as they painfully ask, “why didn’t you tell me?”
Now, what I just told you seems a bit extreme. It wasn’t what was described in just one sermon, but rather the summation of the picture painted through many. It’s what I was taught growing up. The world, and everything in it, is bad and dangerous and you should stay away. Everything in the world is a slippery slope (a topic we’ve covered in the past), and hedonistic depravity is widely accepted as typical.
There’s a problem though. You could argue theories with me. You could argue that I’m being insincere and using hyperbole. But you cannot argue with personal experience. I know for a fact that drug addicts exist. Sex addicts exist. Pain, angst, addiction and suffering are real things in the world. Not ‘the world’, just the world. Like it or not we live on this planet and those things are real. The answer isn’t to stick our heads in the ground like an ostrich and pretend we can build walls tall or thick enough to keep them from getting to us, we can’t. The answer isn’t to scare our children into believing in a boogeyman, just to keep them in line. The answer is education and moderation.
See, I grew up with these misconceptions. I feared this mythical land of ‘the world’, without realizing I was setting foot into it every day. I grew up so fearful of what could happen to me if ‘the world’ got hold of me that I missed out on my teenage years. I was bullied a little in school, and while it was terrible it was nothing compared to what I suffered at the hands of religious indoctrination. I missed out on making friends in high school. I ate my lunch in the library. I attended one football game in all four years of high school, and I sat alone. (However one of the big, bad worldly girls let me use her blanket because I was freezing.) I didn’t attend a dance. I got a note from my pastor to be excused from gym class. I didn’t go on any class trips and I was forbade from playing hockey for school, even though I was good at it, because we all know high school sports teams spend their time between games getting drunk and blowing up mailboxes.
But none of the things I missed out on were actually dangerous. Our sports teams took random drug tests. No crazy parties took place after prom. There was no Project X. No one I went to high school with got pregnant, no one overdosed, and I don’t remember a single fight breaking out. I also never had condoms passed out in a class while a teacher encouraged us to have safe sex. All in all, high school was a lot more mundane and a lot less like what MTV would have you believe.
I was led to believe that the ‘creatures in the woods’ of my school would tear me to pieces, but there never were any creatures. Just kids. Some bad, some good, just like church. And I missed out, for nothing.
*Disclaimer – The next paragraph is NOT meant to criticize, tear down, call people out, condescend or anything like that. It’s simply meant to make a basic point*
An interesting thing to point out is that much of what is feared in the world goes on in the church on a regular basis. It just gets a blind eye and is only discussed in whispers. Fornication abounds in youth groups. As does sexting. Naked pictures of youth group girls are literally passed around like trading cards. I’ve seen as much adultery and divorce in the church as I have outside of it, if not more. I’ve seen many praise and worship leaders lead on Sundays hung over. I’ve seen pastors go on to pastor for years, despite being entrenched in illicit affairs, and I’ve seen pastors help in covering up other peoples adultery. I’ve seen drug abuse, alcohol abuse; you name it I’ve seen it, first hand, in the church. Like I said, this is not to criticize or justify. I’m simply saying it gets a blind eye turned against it. It’s treated as if it’s not really there, and if it is it's simply an uncommon fluke, an exception to the rule. It can’t exist here because it only exists in ‘the world’, and if it existed here that would mean we’re wrong, which is impossible, so we’ll just pretend we don’t see it.
As I got older and started asking questions, my questions weren’t met with real answers.
“Why do I have to throw away my CD’s?”
“Why can’t I spend more time with my classmates?”
“Why can’t I go see Passion of The Christ at the theater?”
“Spirits. And we have a bootleg copy for you to watch.”
My mom has worried for years when I joke with her about various taboo topics because I’m ‘entertaining spirits’. When I first told my parents I was moving to Los Angeles the most serious part of the conversation centered on ‘the spirits’ out here, and that ‘the spirit of homosexuality’ would get on me..well..behind me…and I wouldn’t be able to get loose. These are real worries that Apostolics have. I’m not going to launch into that, except to say this – there is absolutely no scriptural evidence, whatsoever, that such a thing as a ‘spirit of this’ or a ‘spirit of that’ exists. It doesn’t. One spirit of something is mentioned in the entire bible, and that is the spirit of prophecy in Revelations 19:10. There is nothing to indicate there are spirits of various sins. Not in the bible, not in real life, not anywhere, not ever.
Anyway, when I started realizing that my questions went unanswered because those answering couldn’t give it to me straight I decided to find the answer myself. I listened to secular music. I didn’t catch a spirit. I went and saw I, Robot at the theater. It was awful, but I didn’t catch a spirit. And I didn’t make out with anyone in the back row. (If I paid $10 for a ticket and $15 for snacks I’m watching this thing the whole way through) I started reading the books I was told never to read. And as I started realizing it was all smoke and mirrors, and there was just a little, insecure person behind a curtain pulling levers, I started asking more questions, trying to find out what was so bad. And everything I found consistently led me to the same answer – there is really nothing to be afraid of here.
I’ve been ‘in the world’ for a little while now. I’m still not in rehab. I haven’t got anyone pregnant. Haven’t OD’d. Haven’t got into a drunken fight. I haven’t been sexually promiscuous, and as a matter of fact my life has pretty much stayed devoid of sex altogether. And there’s no gaping hole in my heart longing for something. I don’t lay awake depressed or fearful of what will happen if ‘the Lord comes back tonight’. I don’t really think about it at all. My focus now is my purpose. I finally have one. I can do the right thing because it’s the right thing. I can love freely, without being told to. I have a life to lead, limited time on this Earth and I intend to make the most of it. In fact, it was in church that I used to sing about shackles and freedom, but it’s in the world where I truly feel unshackled. It’s out here that I truly feel free.
See, what people in ‘the world’ are actually like is this – they want to be happy. That’s it, just happy. Their happiness is contingent on their well-being and the well-being of loved ones around them. They don’t feel like they’re missing anything. They don’t lay awake at night, lacking purpose and direction. A lot of them don’t drink. Most of the ones who do drink, get this, drink in moderation. A glass of wine for dinner, a night cap with their spouse or partner. For the most part, cursing openly and publicly is considered in poor taste. Personal business is kept personal. What they do in their bedrooms is their business and no one else’s, and usually treated as such. Work and family are priorities. It’s rather mundane, actually. Get this, they have morals. Morals! I know right?! I thought the same thing. Even the icky gay ones, like Ellen Degeneres, who said the following: "I want to be clear and here are the values that I stand for. I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me those are traditional values. That's what I stand for." Crazy, huh? The most surprising part – they’re not a whole lot different from church people.
One of my best friends got married last November. He’s a youth pastor for a church that has recently made some tough decisions to abandon tradition for tradition sake and actually pursue Christ, and not just put the Christ label on a personification of their own dogma’s. At his reception there was dancing. No alcohol, just dancing. He danced with his mother. His wife danced with her father. And the new bride and groom danced with each other. And it was beautiful. After the sentimental stuff was out of the way he plugged in his iPhone and put on some 90s music and the attendees danced. They didn’t bump and grind, there was no gyrating or hypersexual moves, just innocent synchronized steps. During this a woman who had grown up in Pentecostal churches turned me and said, “can you believe for years we were so afraid of this that entire sermons were preached about it?” I can. I’m not so young that those sermons weren’t preached during my lifetime too. It’s why I couldn’t go to my high school dances, despite nothing sinister going on there either. While I’m happy with how far I, and some of my friends have come, I still mourn those being misled, and I mourn the time I spent being lied to. I mourn for lost time of others. I mourn for unnecessarily stifled thoughts, ideas and creativity. I mourn for the confusion and the stress that comes when you have to sort out the fact from the fiction that we’ve clung to all our lives. I mourn for the relationships that will break that don’t have to. I mourn for the emotions spent and the heartache caused by being misinformed. I mourn for those who will go through what I, and so many I know, went through, getting bitter, confused and hurt. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change it.
To be continued…