Music

In the Worldwide Church of God, there were two ways to prominence in a congregation. The first was to be on the ministerial track: Go to Ambassador College, get a ministerial assignment, and take classes in how to put a gun on a lectern and say “there’s a new sheriff in town” (yes, that really happened). The other was to be good at music.

Because I was incapable of ever pushing my true self back enough to swallow the copious amounts of bullshit they would have required to in becoming a minister, the only thing I had at my disposal was the second track.

See, it was very clear from the very beginning of my life that those who were good with music in a WCG congregation were greatly – sometimes even unhealthily – respected. By “worldly” standards, they were rarely really good, but they were at least, for the most part, competent.

When I was a teenager I was desperate for attention and acceptance, so I decided (not actually consciously) that this was the path I would take. I started studying piano. I was very smart, so it didn’t take me long to become proficient enough that I could start doing small performances for “special music”, etc. That’s not to say I was very proficient, but it was good enough for the WCG.

Then I imploded. Not much later, so did the WCG.

But somehow I got it in my head that I was competent to attend music school. I became a piano performance major at the University of Toledo, and for somewhere between two and three years, I threw myself into the study of piano.

I rank this amongst the worst and stupidest decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

I did not have the emotional depth required to be a competent musician. What was competent in the WCG was not enough to succeed anywhere except in a WCG congregation. And I was only doing it because I saw it as a path towards acceptance and admiration. Which, as it turns out, was very much not true.

I had no business even stepping inside the Center for Performing Arts.

Sure, knowing how to play piano has opened a few doors. Not many, but it’s provided a few interesting and even memorable experiences. For particularly gullible women, it seems to even be mildly attractive. But honestly, if I had never set foot inside the UT CPA, I think I would be far better off. I had many negative experiences there, and few positive ones – and most of the negative experiences were entirely my fault. Not all of them were negative, but about 95% were, and that might as well be all of them.

The WCG destroyed everything it touched, and I remain convinced, in fact more than ever, that this has been the case from the very beginning.

I should have been in the sciences. My education should have been in computer science, mathematics, or any of the other hard sciences. I would have excelled, and it would not have demanded emotional competence and maturity out of me that I was unable to provide. But I chose music, and while some of the results were okay, I will regret that decision until the day I die.

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Steadfast

There is one thing the WCG – quite unwittingly, I might add – trained me to do that is proving itself very useful in this culture.

They taught me how to stand in the face of some pretty awesome pressure without flinching.

See, the WCG culture was in opposition to the dominant culture of the world in some very specific and immediate ways. Since we did not celebrate most of the holidays that everyone else did – in fact, thought them evil – we had to answer for our faith in ways that sometimes approached actual persecution.

(of course, in the American culture, the word persecution is greatly misused, which is why I say sometimes approached. Ask the Apostle Paul what he would think of our persecution and he’d laugh in our faces).

But we had to answer for our faith. Every time we sat out a birthday, or a Halloween party, or a Christmas celebration, it cemented the fact that we were different, and we were faced with a choice. Give in, or stand our ground.

We stood our ground.

It was not easy sometimes. With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say we did a pretty crappy job of picking our battles most of the time. But you can’t get that kind of training in a school. I learned not to care what other people thought, and I learned that some things are worth standing up for, even if everyone else in the world believes you are insane.

The things the WCG stood up for were, generally, not these things. But it’s the principle of the thing, as Little John said in “Robin Hood, Men in Tights”!

I am center-right. I am not in any way liberal, though I don’t agree with many of the things that conservatives believe in either. But this culture puts a tremendous amount of pressure on people like me to “tow the party line”.

I don’t care what they think. I mean, I literally, and with no exaggeration, give no concern whatsoever to what they think.

I don’t care what they tell me about the social issues of today. For example, the idea that men can be women is laughable on its face, and I don’t care what they think of that! The only thing they can do to me is maybe (maybe) impact my livelihood or make life a little more inconvenient for a short time.

Big whoop.

On balance, I consider this perhaps the most invaluable thing that the WCG taught me. Because most people seem to be under the delusions that most social activists (and, frankly, on both sides) have their best interests at heart.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I was trained to stand for what I believe in. By a cult who believed in things not worth standing for. That’s how it works, isn’t it?

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Festival of Tabernacles

Possibly the thing that I miss the most about the old WCG is the Festival of Tabernacles.

As an adult, I’m aware that there were many unsavory things going on behind the scenes that I only ever got a glimpse of – they didn’t call it the “Feast of Booze” for nothing – but as a child, it was and remained the highlight of the year for many of my formative years.

In fact, some of my earliest memories involve the Feasts. I remember dragging the suitcases out of the closet a full two weeks ahead – we couldn’t wait to start packing. Even making the list of things to pack was a special time.

I remember the big white building at Wisconsin Dells. Looking at it now it’s just a utilitarian pile of tin, but back then it was really something. I remember the administration building, the tram that would take people back and forth from the immense parking lots. At one point, between services, my parents packed a picnic, and we had it on a small hill overlooking the site. There were a whole lot of small yellow flowers. I couldn’t have been more than two or three, and I still remember this vividly, and with an intense feeling of nostalgia.

I remember playing “Little Professor” on the floor with another, slightly older, kid from my congregation. Basically, I remember a lot, and I miss most of it.

And there was such an atmosphere of celebration! It’s like the entire city just became.. happy. Whereever we were. Occasionally I’d be at a site when the feast was not in session, and it was not the same. Something was missing. You could feel it in the air.

It’s never coming back, though. For a while, earlier in my life, I actually used to stay in a local hotel – at some expense, actually – for a couple of days in a vain attempt to recapture even a small part of the experiences that I remember. But it’s all gone. Even if the church existed now and the Feasts were still going strong, the world has changed out from under them. There’s no smoking section at Denny’s anymore, so the smell of stale cigarette smoke mixed with coffee is gone. (You might think that a terrible smell, but it’s terribly nostalgic to me). The freeways are different, the drive would be different, the cars would be different… it would all just be so different. The experience would be gone, ruined, just as it’s already ruined by memory.

I don’t miss the sermons, or the ministers, or the theology. But somehow, that never seemed to matter. It was fun. It was one of the few good experiences I had as a child. And it, like everything else, was ripped away. Either by the loss of childhood innocence, the destruction of the WCG culture, or other familial situations that were also very destructive.

What can replace it? The problem is, I fear nothing. Nothing has ever come close. I’m not convinced anything ever can. For all of the WCG’s flaws, the feast was… unique. Unique, and irreplaceable. The experience can never be relived, but there isn’t a whole lot I wouldn’t give if it could. Because, honestly, there is little to nothing in the culture I find myself in now that even remotely comes close.

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I Have Returned

I grew up in the Worldwide Church of God. This was a cult that had a strong impact on me and many others.

Years ago I was a blogger writing about this church/cult. My blogging at the time was angry and I had a lot of bridges to burn. I don’t regret doing that, as it was what it was at the time. I don’t feel that way now. I’m not particularly angry anymore. I don’t care to discuss or debate the theology of said cult – either whether it was right or wrong. I don’t really want to out people, like ministers or other members. I’m not particularly concerned about being a part of the “exit and support” community either. All those ships sailed years ago. Some people are still stuck in that world. I decline to follow suit.

But some aspects of the cult still affect my life, and probably always will. I’ve come to realize lately that I am, in almost all respects, a “third culture kid” – having been raised in the US but not having been a part of the dominant culture of the US at the time. The culture I was a part of was different – it was the culture of the WCG.

Some parts of it were good. Some were even very good, and I have some fond memories of many aspects of the cult. Some were bad, and some were very bad. Some were just there. But all are a part of me, and most are things that no one outside of that culture would ever understand.

So no one knows what makes me tick. No one understands why I might react the way I do to some things that others would not react to in that same way. I have been single for all my life, and I remain convinced that this is partly because I am so divorced from the dominant culture of the country that I am incapable of identifying with another person enough to maintain a relationship, and also the other way around.

I don’t fit in this culture. I go through every day and every night knowing that I am in a culture in which I don’t belong, even as it is partly the culture I was raised in. My home culture is gone. Everything I knew is gone – destroyed by the ravages of time. I am floundering in a world that is becoming more and more incomprehensible to me, and I don’t see how that will ever resolve.

In this blog, there are times when I may be complimentary to the cult. There are times when I may be scathing. There are times when I will call people out, and there are times when I will be discreet. I simply want to talk about my experiences – for good and for bad. That’s all. Because I think there needs to be a record. One devoid of anger, of recrimination, of bitterness. It is history. It was history. I want to share it. I want to see if I can help the world understand. I want to see if I can help the world understand who I am and why.

That’s all.

We’ll start now.

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