Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spiritual Peer Pressure

I loved to read and to be read to as a child. I particularly liked any kind of fairy tale. One of my favorites was The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson. This story is about an emperor who is very silly and self-centered, and who loves to flaunt his expensive clothing. He hires two tailors who claim that they will make him a fine suit of clothing that would be invisible to people who were either stupid or unfit for their job or position. The tailors are crooks, of course, but the emperor does not realize that. The emperor is afraid that he will not be able to see the cloth himself, so he sends his ministers to go and look at it. They are not able to see it, either, but act like they can so that they are not deemed as stupid or unworthy. The tailors continue with their "sewing," and when they finish, the emperor dons his new clothes for a procession through town. Everyone raves as he walks by, acting as though they can see the garments, when he actually is not wearing anything. Then a child yells, "But he has nothing on!" The crowd realizes that this is true and begins to laugh, but the emperor goes on as though nothing were wrong.

I always remember being able to relate to the child in the story, and I have seen it played out many times throughout my life since then. I have never been good at hiding my feelings. I will not fake my approval of someone. Sometimes I was a little too honest growing up, and that got me in trouble a few times. I grew up in a home where my mom and dad respected and admired me. My dad always told me how smart I was, and, whether it was true or not, I believed him. He taught me that it was important to form my own opinions about things, and that my opinions mattered. He encouraged me to think for myself. My dad was a good, honest, respectable businessman, and he could spot a phony a mile away. I don't like phonies, either.

There have been many opportunities over the years when I could have said what I really wanted to, just like that child in the story. But I was hindered from doing so by spiritual peer pressure. I had some misgivings about the Word of Faith movement, but we were ready for a change from the status quo of stereotypical religion. It was new and exciting, and it seemed like the right path for us. We felt, in a sense, like pioneers of faith. We ended up in a place, however, that once we were there, bewitched us and held us captive. Not literally, of course, but in a psychological way, like we were emotionally beholding to a church and its controlling leadership. That's where the peer pressure came in.

There were so many things that I didn't feel good about. One of many was the concept of giving to get. The saying went,"If you have a need, sow a seed." Lots of things rhymed like that. One year, in the fall, all the ladies were asked to give money to buy a wealthy minister's wife some of her favorite artwork as "seed" for everyone's upcoming Christmas money. I didn't understand why more emphasis was placed on giving to people who had money than giving to people who didn't. I had never heard of such a thing. We just kept being told what "good ground" they were. A few months later, that same minister's wife came to visit and spent an entire church service boasting about how expensive the playhouse was that she had built for her grandchildren. My husband and I knew that there were people in that service who could not even afford a house to live in, much less a playhouse. It was supposed to create a "vision" in them. All it did was create frustration. That situation, which was repeated in many different versions over the years, was something that we remained quiet about, because we didn't want to be perceived as not being "hooked up."

I never liked or understood the fixation on designer clothes, purses, shoes, or even linens and towels. I was puzzled why anyone would pay $1000 for a purse that had a designer's initials scrawled all over it. Could it be so that everyone would know that it was a designer purse? Hmmm... And how would anyone know that you had only Ralph Lauren towels unless you told them so? Isn't that why you have them, or do they actually dry you off better than regular, normal towels? Please don't get me wrong. I do not think there is anything wrong with nice clothes, shoes, and fluffy towels, but the haughty pretentious spirit and boastful attitude that came with it was what was so disgusting.

I also didn't like laughing in the spirit, dancing the money in, running the money in, or pulling an invisible lever and yelling the money in. I thought it was all totally pointless, ludicrous, and unbelievably selfish. Jut downright embarrassing. I didn't actually say much about it except to my husband, but it was obvious that I was not into it. Like I said, I don't hide my feelings very well. Because of that, I was accused by the leadership of "denying the power of God" by not going along with it all. I actually was criticized and ridiculed many times for what was perceived of as overly conservative behavior. I grew up Baptist, and I found myself longing to study about Lottie Moon, go to January Bible studies, and be able to sing again without having to frolic on stage and follow insanely strict rules and regulations.

These stories are just a drop in the gigantic bucket that ended up being full of all our regrets. We are endeavoring to look at it all in a positive way, however, and are learning from those experiences, as well as hopefully helping others to not make the same mistakes that we did. One thing I have learned is that I can trust my instincts. If something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't, so I will question it. If those questions are annoying to the powers that be, then I will go somewhere else. I will stop if I see a red flag. I am never going to blindly accept a man's interpretation of the Bible again. I will read it and study it out for myself. I challenge you to do the same.

Be the child in the story and call it like it truly is. From now on, I know I will.

- V