I began writing here a few years ago, putting out my deepest spiritual angst for the world to see, and I always hoped, could benefit from in some way. As my need for therapeutic writing (processing) has diminished, I’ve had less to say, and have no intention of trying to contrive content in order to keep a blog going. This has never been about finding followers or selling anything. I guess my desire was to reach out – find like minds – offer a warning alarm for anyone seeking to take the detours I’ve taken. I didn’t come out of an unhealthy religion (twice) just to find a comfortable pew to spend out the rest of my days. The journey marches on with new challenges, disappointments, and a continued desire for more understanding. Having been born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist, and now being an ex-Adventist, makes up a part of my identity I can never truly erase.
I thought I’d moved on past this label, and gotten to where I can just be a human. But you really can’t cut off your formative years. They mold you for a lifetime in some way or another, a sobering thought as a parent too. What brought this back to the surface for me was a show I ran across on Netflix called Amish: Out of Order. Reality shows have their severe limitations, and I don’t know when it became necessary to format programming as if the target audience was five years old, but the sincerity of the people in this show sharing their experiences had me in tears myself. The show centers around an ex-Amish man, Mose Gingerich, who does what he can to help other young Amish people make their transition to the “English” (outside) world. He offers much counsel, encouragement, and finds ways to bring the ex-Amish together as a family to replace the ones they left behind.
In one episode, the focus turns from the young people to Mose and his own pain he continually carries from past abuse and being cut off from his family when he left. He goes back to attempt to reconcile and re-spark a relationship with his mother. His father has passed on. She won’t let him in the house for fear of what her community elders will do to her. She can’t even agree to correspond by mail. She can offer no relationship, because she has been given a choice between her son and her church. He chooses to forgive those who have hurt him and to pursue a relationship even if there is no response in return.
While Adventists are rarely (but sometimes) this extreme in their shunning of those who leave, the effects of growing up in a church that teaches salvation only within its own membership, creates fear and confusion that only those who have left one can understand. In this episode an ex-Amish evangelical minister mentioned that suicide is sometimes the preferred option for someone who can’t stay or leave. I also knew many Adventists who committed suicide.
As I look back on my life, I feel like my entire adult life has been an attempt to grapple spiritually with my original heritage, which has a culture all of its own. While not as secluded as Amish, and very worldly by comparison (more so now than when I was young), this church has a very distinctive culture of food, religious lingo, and a prophet that dictates nearly every facet of every day life, for those who take her seriously enough to comply. Adventist churches of my youth were close-knit and in my family where work/church/school all centered around the institution, we had little or no social connections with any non-Adventists. If we did happen to meet people on the outside, we felt it our responsibility to share our truth with them. Outsiders were a lesser class of human and seen only as targets for saving.
Since leaving, I have never found any other group that had the same close-knit feeling of community as we had growing up. (Our Hebrew Roots group came close for a time.) Sometimes I wonder if I’m not out looking for truth as much as I am looking for that type of spiritual family. American churches I have been involved with are not like this. I cannot even imagine the void an ex-Amish person must feel upon leaving.
Going from this closed system into a public school my senior year, I found myself lost in family dysfunction and grasping for my own identity. I felt like my new social world operated on a set of rules from a secret code somewhere, and I didn’t have any instincts or discernment about who to trust. I went into college continuing the reckless abandon I had begun the previous year – trying to prove to the world and myself I wasn’t a religious freak. I didn’t want to think about God, religion, rules, personal safety, or the future. I wanted to be seen as a wild child just like everyone else, and it’s much easier to fit in with a joint in your hand.
Decades later, I see that the main focus of my adult life has been trying to find a spiritual path and identity. I can remember shortly before our awakening out of the Hebrew Roots Movement, feeling so thankful I finally had found the truth and wouldn’t have to go through any more transitions. That’s pretty funny, because I’m still in transition. I don’t get to rest comfortably in correct knowledge, because the older I get, the less I know.
I don’t have access to cable or satellite television, but this week I was at a friend’s house and decided to check out 3ABN for the fun of old times. This Adventist television station plays a variety of programs designed to teach the church and also evangelize outsiders. The current program featured an evangelist we had watched almost 20 years ago. We used his videos to evangelize the community. In fact, one of my husband’s employers and now lifelong friends came through this connection as we reached out to our town with the “truth”. This evangelist, with more grey hair now, paced the stage selling the same rote speech on the Mark of the Beast as we had handed out umpteen years ago. He now has a more elaborate stage, complete with life-size golden angels and state-of-the-art multimedia technology, but the defining message of the organization marches on: If you do not keep the 7th day as the Sabbath, and keep it correctly, and instead worship on Sunday as the harlot of Revelation has taught you to do, you will be damned. At least I can watch it now without the anxiety, only sadness that people are still being led into this.
This month I am going to visit SDA family I love so much, and have learned to put down the sword of aggression toward their faith. I don’t think they are going to hell, even if they think I might. I no longer believe I need to save them from what I consider false beliefs. They are happy. It’s home for them, and they have contentment in their path. I envy that at times – being settled. I don’t know if I ever will be. The spiritual truths most precious to me now cross all barriers of sect and culture, so I hope this time around, we have more in common than not. Because after all, I will always have some Adventist in me too.