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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Stranger in a Strange Land

Today I was at work, and my boss came around. He started talking to me and a coworker about a movie that was coming out, something about an adaptation of a kid’s book about scary stories.

As he and my coworker were talking, I started to feel, strongly, that I fit into that conversation about as well as I would have fit into a conversation between two Japanese people talking about Shinto. In Japanese. It was a conversation with which I had absolutely no cultural reference. Finally I just wandered off while they kept talking. They never even noticed I left.

Thinking back on it, I have this kind of experience frequently. In fact, I have it constantly. I have not learned to fit in, but I’ve learned to pretend that it doesn’t bother me that I don’t. But every now and then I’m reminded – frequently, in fact – that I’m completely out of my depth in almost every conceivable way. It’s not that people don’t understand. Understanding is only the surface of the problem. It’s that people don’t even understand that they don’t understand. And sometimes I have the same problem.

I have spent most of my adult life trying to relate to other people on their terms, and it has never worked. I don’t even have the slightest idea what their terms are, much less how to relate to them. I look back at my previous workplaces, and that is probably the root of a large fraction of the anxiety I experience on a day to day basis. I’m walking a tightrope. No one knows how much I am pretending, and if they did, I’m not sure they would want anything to do with me. And I’m not sure they’re wrong.

This pretense has little to do with any deep, dark secrets – I have a couple, as I’m sure most do. But it’s mostly mundane things. What I think. How I think. My experiences. How I interact with people. The gulf is wide and has never narrowed.

I have had a few romantic relationships in my life. I enjoyed the physical companionship of a few of them. I loved a few of them. But I didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand me. The relationships were doomed before they even started, because the gulf was too wide. They would do or say something that should elicit a particular response (in their experience), and instead, the response was completely different. And vice versa. They didn’t know what to do with me, and I returned the favor.

Here’s the problem, though – I don’t think I can entirely blame the WCG for this, as I didn’t fit there either. I remember some disastrous YOU dances that I still regret ever going to. I remember some disastrous YOU Bible Studies – where I was ready to study the Bible and all they wanted to do was go over the next social outings. Honest truth was, I had no time for or interest in social gatherings. I considered them a waste of time. Frankly, I still do. I’ve gotten better at pretending, and even can tolerate them to some degree, but at the end of the day, I just want my quiet time.

People are exhausting. Everything about people is exhausting. Talking to them, listening to them, navigating their expectations… it’s just exhausting. I’ve tried many different approaches in my life. I’ve tried to treat it as a cultural exchange. That didn’t work because everyone else doesn’t understand that I’m not of their culture. I’ve tried to blend in. That never worked either, because one can only hold up such a pretense for so long (in my experience, about two or three years at top). I’ve tried to subsume my oddities in order to be more accepted, and that never worked, as even if if I succeeded, I knew better. And lately, I’ve tried the “I quit” approach. But that doesn’t work either, because unless one wants to become a hermit, camped out in a cave somewhere, one must support themselves. And that involves people.

I am a stranger in your world. I don’t understand your ways. If I want to survive, I must pretend, but that’s all I can do. And the cost of pretending is high. The cost of pretending is the destruction of my own identity.

But pretending is all I have.

And this – this, I have no one to blame but my parents and Herbert Armstrong’s tangled web. I am to blame for much. But not this.

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Japanese

I have been studying Japanese for a little over a year. Or, should I say, 私は一年から日本語を勉強しました。Over that year, I’ve learned a lot about the Japanese language and culture, and the more I learn about it, the more I’m suffused with a sense of profound sadness.

The Japanese are about as different from the US culture as one can get and still be developed humans. Their language is backwards from English, their religion is entirely different (in fact, they have two, bolted on to each other), their way of looking at the world is completely foreign to us, and, well, it’s not an easy language or culture to crack. I often wonder whether it’s worth the battle, but I forge ahead anyway, somehow.

But the honest truth is, American culture and Japanese culture are, to me, very similar in how foreign they are. The only real difference is, I’m fluent in English. I’ve learned a lot by immersion, I suppose, but at the end of the day, I don’t understand Americans either.

In some ways, though, Japanese is more appealing. In Japan, I am a 外人, or gaijin, which means “outsider”. I will always be an outsider. They may be outwardly accepting, they may welcome my money, they may appreciate the fact that I am making an effort to understand their culture, but at the end of the day, I am and always will be an outsider. As has been pointed out, this has some serious drawbacks in Japanese culture – but it has some rather cool perks, too. That’s neither here nor there.

In American culture, I am, as well, an outsider. I always have been. But the difference is, I have white skin, I speak the language, I was born here. So people expect me to understand and integrate with the culture, in the same way that the Japanese would hold a native Japanese to a different standard than a “gaijin” like me.

But I don’t. I’m an outsider.

I wonder often if I would be better off trying to move to Japan. At least there people don’t expect more out of me than I am capable of giving.

The thing the WCG took away from me that I can’t get back, and there are only a few things that fit into that category, is the ability to integrate with the culture amongst which I was born. I can’t. I never will be able to.

And then the WCG destroyed its culture, leaving me homeless.

Sure, I can go through the motions, I can pretend, I can try to act like I’ve integrated. But it’s exhausting, and that’s all it is. Pretending.

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Optimism

The WCG was actually surprisingly optimistic. Yeah, yeah, I know what they taught, and I know that they expected some really awful stuff to happen in the short term. I also know why all those teachings existed, etc. I get it.

But compared to many other Christian or Christian-like denominations, the WCG was actually surprisingly long-term optimistic. For example, they did not believe in hell or eternal conscious torment – something that many Christian denominations do believe in, and with which scares the crap out of people. Instead, they were annihilationists instead, who simply believed that those who didn’t “get with the program” would just be destroyed in a lake of fire. They never taught that they’d be conscious throughout. Just poof, and gone.

Compared to many Christian theologies, that’s actually a step up. In point of fact, this has made some aspects of my Christian journey really easy, because it’s a bit of theology I never had to unlearn. “Hell doesn’t exist”, they say, put forth a lot of scripture and expect a lot of blowback, and I just say “okay, that’s cool”, and move on. I’m not invested in that.

And the “millennium” was actually something to (generally) look forward to. A time when Jesus would bodily come back to earth and set things right? In general terms, who wouldn’t want that? Watching all of the things that were causing trouble in the world at the time, like famine, nuclear proliferation, rampant pollution, etc., all be fixed at the snap of a finger? It’s no wonder that so many people bought into the hype! Even now a part of me feels cast adrift, as the fate of the world, and the fate of me, is no longer ensured, or even known. It could all go to heck at any moment and there wouldn’t be a deus ex machina to fix it all anymore.

And there was an optimism in the community, too – those that were “saved” or “came to the truth” were expected to live up to a standard of behavior – and that was enforced, too. Sure, people were people, but you generally knew what to expect from a “church person”. Crime, etc., was so rare in that community that when it did happen people were genuinely shocked. Of course it’s true that this was all outward behavior and there were some very black hearts in the church (I lived with one), but there was still a great deal of comfort in the predictability of people.

The Festival of Tabernacles was such an exuberant example of that unbridled optimism. It was specifically designed to be a microcosm of the coming millennium, and it was so perfect at that! For a week, life was good! Good food, many people who were just as excited as everyone else. An atmosphere even came over the city of excitement and promise. I’m sure even the locals felt it! It was an amazing experience, and it was another example of the optimism that permeated the cult, at least among the laymembers. The feasts still remain some of the high point memories of my entire life!

When it all went tango uniform, one of the things that impacted me the most was the loss of community, and the loss of predictability. The wider world doesn’t operate to those standards – people are both better and worse. There’s no standards of behavior now – anything goes. People want to hurt you, they’ll just hurt you. There’s no reason for them not to! Navigating through the world now is like stumbling through a minefield – all of the certainty, all of the commonality, all of the predictability – it’s just gone.

And, to be honest, I don’t really know how to cope in this world.

Even as the rose came with a lot of thorns, I miss the optimism of the WCG. The sense that things were going to get better if we waited just a little bit longer. The sense that we were all in it together and things would be set right soon. That’s gone now. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know who to trust, and I don’t know who to rely on. All of that imploded with the WCG.

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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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