Having walked away from the all-consuming fire perspective on God, that his love and his message were absolutely the most important thing, the true defining factor of a Christian, I can begin to see where I stopped caring about Jesus and kindness as much as caring about achieving absolute conversion. We started considering ourselves “true Christians” because we didn’t want to only do church on Sundays and drink, curse and fornicate every other day of the week. It was presented as a push back against the hypocrisy that appeared to be so prevalent in Christianity. We believed the right way to interpret the Bible, everyone else came close, but we actually understood it’s message, they came up short. It was a strange feeling, in retrospect, to compel myself to evangelize knowing my friends believed in God, believed in all of it. The God I was taught by the new youth pastors to worship was primarily unrelenting. He expected everything. He didn’t want my leftovers, in the Old Testament, people were swallowed up by the earth for lesser crimes against his holiness. It was important that we truly showed the world that we stood for something better, our Jesus was the Lion of Judah, growling and prowling and taking down the demonic forces that dared to stand in his way.
It was about healing, showing the broken a place for lasting repair. It was about compassion, we starved ourselves (fasting) for a couple of days, so that we could empathize with those who were anorexic and bulimic, and so our prayers would be better recognized. It was about the true reality: spiritual warfare. All the other youth groups played games, did Bible studies and goofed around. We got together to pray, to soak (listen to repetitive music as we prayed), and to fight against Satan. There was also a lot of goofing around, much of it at the expense of others, and, unfortunately there was a large amount of favoritism by the youth pastors that left myself and quite a few others feeling slighted, unimportant, and ignored. Popularity contests have very rarely tended to favor me. That’s something I’m actually glad for. Because I was ignored despite tremendous involvement, I made friends who were justifiably hurt by the extreme way the youth ministry was run. This instilled in me compassion and kept me strong enough to later walk away from the cult of my adolescence. Thinking back now, it’s not that those chosen were not strong enough, but I tended to question a lot when I was there. I have always worn my heart on my sleeve, that’s not the kind of thing for which people seeking moldable, pliable personalities are searching. Truly, that was a trend in the different extreme religious perspectives I learned over the years. The question was always “Are you teachable, moldable, can I help you become like me?” I tend to hold very tightly to myself. I have very little interest in doing what everyone else is doing, or being who everyone else is being. I figure that God made me the way that I am for a reason.
Still, being in this mindset that I should be listening better and obeying the advice of pastoral counsel, I put away a lot of the things I cared about before the cult. Because it was focused upon the idea that God needed to be visibly way more important to me than anything, I stopped pursuing art, music, writing and all of my dreams. I ceased reading everything except for the Bible and recommended books by Christians. Honestly, spending time listening and thinking upon God and all that he is, letting him speak to me was very peaceful at times. It did help clear my head, but there were presuppositions with which I was subliminally expected to approach my prayer life. Everything else I was learning was entirely wrong, a lie from the pit of Hell. Evolution, abortion, biology, psychology, friendship, sex, politics, homosexuality, the list goes on, and all were in contention with the perspective I was being trained to believe was Truth (with that ever-present capital T).
Everything, everywhere felt like an attack on beliefs I was expected to hold. This perspective was so much my life that I could not hear other perspectives without praying for God’s protection from the evil inherent within the hearts of those sharing their thoughts. My freshman Science teacher was a crazy man, crazy about science, and just about everything else. He was confrontational and the kind of man we had been warned about in our coming to high school as trained campus missionaries. After many direct challenges of Christian and Creationist beliefs, he started talking about “the fact of evolution”. I shook my head violently in response, in the middle of the class. The teacher called me out “Ms. Ritchey, see me after class.” I stayed after. He had seen. He told me basically that whether I believed in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior was not an issue, he expected me to get over my reaction to the word “Evolution.” Really, looking back, who wouldn’t? His speech made me cry. I felt attacked. My world as run by my cult, was built upon the idea that persecution for Christians was everywhere, but that here, in America, it was subliminal rather than overt killing and torture as experienced by Christians in some other countries. I see now how ridiculous this all sounds. Needless to say, I’m glad to be out and glad to be here, away from it all. Still, in my journey to the past, this is only the first chapter.