12/05/2015 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Jennifer ~
Looking back on my upbringing, I can relate to the movie, The Truman Show because I lived my life on earth in a bubble - this weird, unnatural “God” world. I was taught to shun the world and the things of the world. This world was not my home because “Heaven is better than this, oh, what joy and bliss. Walking on the streets that are paved with gold; living in a land where you’ll never grow old…” Another of those inane choruses hardwired in my cranium.
When I look over my journals dating back to the 80s, while I’m now filled with self-compassion at my suffering, I also cringe at just how brain-washed I was. I wasn’t even speaking English. My native language was Christianese. Boy, did I ever know the jargon and could I quote Scripture! My role models were all ancient bearded old dudes with weird names that slid off my tongue with ease – Jeremiah, Obadiah – puff, puff puff! That was a childhood rhyme.
I was an “on fire” ambassador for Christ. I prayed regularly and did personal bible studies for extra “Brownie” points. Here’s an excerpt from my journal entry : March 11, 1985 – study of the book of Zechariah. “The shepherd saves his people, (Zechariah 9:14-17)” I wrote. “The shepherd provides for his people. (10:1, 2) The shepherd purifies his people. (10:3-5) The shepherd gathers his people. (10:6-12) Just as Jesus Christ was the shepherd-king of Israel, he is also my shepherd and king because I put my faith and trust in him.” What a good and obedient, albeit misguided little lamb I was.
I remember being in awe of the Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV) Preachers frequently spouted this passage from scripture. I had no clue what it meant, but I thought it was the most beautiful and profound words I had ever heard. This, I decided was the foundation of my faith.
When I was 18 years old, I prayed for God to send me a nice young man to go steady with. For whatever reason, God duly answered my prayer. Maybe God has a “naughty and nice” meter on a special scale like in the movie Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and my “niceness” outweighed my naughtiness, who knows?
My new boyfriend was wonderful, but we ran into a huge glitch. I didn’t specify colour when I put through my prayer request. He is white and I’m brown. And this was South Africa in 1974. We were breaking the law – The Immorality Act that forbade sex and marriage between whites and non-whites. God was putting me to the test, I reasoned. “The bible says we must obey those in authority over us,” said my mother.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” [...] This, I decided was the foundation of my faith.I chose not to obey the law and loved this man who also loved me and chose me over apartheid. We were essentially forced into exile, lest we be arrested and jailed for up to seven years. (I tell our story in my memoir, An Immoral Proposal – available through Amazon.com)
We left for England in 1975, and immigrated to Canada in 1981. We found acceptance and friendship in the Christian community – thankfully not a whacky Pentecostalism community, but still fundamentalist –of the Baptist variety. The teaching still was about masochism - “crucifying” self every day in order to identify in Jesus’ suffering. And that meant, denying my humanity, desires, passions, and ambitions. I was put here on earth solely for the purpose and pleasure of God and his only begotten son.
So, how come “Every day with Jesus” wasn’t “sweeter than the day before” for me? The older I got, the worse my depression became, no matter how hard I tried to “resist” the devil. During one depressive cycle, I wrote in my journal, “My life seems out of control now, but God will put it back in control again. (Reference Psalms 77 and 86) “I just have to wait a while for God to respond. He’s just testing my patience. But for now, this cycle may have to continue. (Till God deems it fit to come to my rescue) What to do amidst the storm? Sing! Just like Paul and Silas when they were imprisoned. They sang songs of praise to the Lord.”
My clinical depression had gone undiagnosed for many years and all during that time, I flogged myself mentally and emotionally because of my weak faith. One Saturday, in the mid-1980s, at a women’s meeting, I simply lost the plot. I couldn’t fight anymore. I was sapped of every ounce of energy and began sobbing hysterically much to the bewilderment of my fellow “sisters.” My doctor referred me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with manic depression. My pastor told me depression was a sin because I was focusing too much on myself and not enough on God.
Meanwhile, I went to church, bowed and scraped, took the cracker, drank the grape juice until I figured out there’s no way I could win this lark. Which leads me to the late, great Christopher Hitchen’s brilliant line of reasoning in which he quotes Fulke Greville:
“Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick and commanded to be well. I'll repeat that. Created sick, and then ordered to be well.”
Hitchens went on to say, and I paraphrase, “Because it’s demanded of you to do the impossible, you'll always be guilty, will always fall short, will always sin, will always confess and will always be in the claws of the priest.” For me, enough was enough.