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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Jumping Bubble

This post is inspired by and written for Gwen.

I grew up in a bubble; a thickly-walled, strong, soapy bubble, like the bubbles made from some kind of industrial run-off, with the swirled rainbows of contamination in them; transparent, but distorting everything outside of them.

Ours was a bubble of religion, enveloping us in a particular brand of millenarian Evangelicalism that my father became involved in upon my parents' divorce. This religion crept into our lives and, almost overnight, filled every crevice of neutrality, every hole of gray, every crack of on-the-fenceness, every fissure of the no-man's-land of morality, leaving no aspect of life outside of its comprehensive judgment. Things that were seemingly benign before like television, music, games and toys were suddenly reinterpreted and their intrinsic evil became prophetically revealed to our family.

When I was eight years old, our television was sold. My father was going to protect us from the evils of the secular world, you see. He read to us at night, when normal families were watching television programs. He read to us about the miracles of missing limbs growing back at worship services, about people who had been blind their whole lives suddenly seeing, about the economically troubled suddenly finding an envelope filled with cash with their name on it.

Religion encased us completely and the only oxygen allowed to fill our lungs, to run through our blood, was scripture. Our giant beautiful, truth-giving, enclosed sphere was a gift to be grateful for. And we floated beyond the world, only needing the word of God and God himself to tell my father what to do.

God told him to marry Pam, a widow with three small children, aged three, six and nine. Pam's husband Jim had died just a few months before from colon cancer. Based on my recollection, my father and Pam barely knew each other and I remember that when I met Pam and her children, their marriage plans were practically already decided. Apparently, God had spoken to them and told Pam that she didn't need to grieve her husband after all. Other members of the congregation confirmed the voice of God telling them that they ought to wed, despite the situation of sorrow and heartbreak that her three young children found themselves in.

So my father married Pam, a woman who just a few months before had refused to bury her dead husband, because she and other spirit-filled members of the church were laying their hands over him, waiting for God to raise him from the dead, because they thought they heard God say that Jim would be healed.

As it turned out, they heard wrong.

For days my step sister and step brothers' father remained unburied in their house. They waited, hopeful that Jesus would heal Daddy Jim and he would get up from where he lay and embrace them again. They believed. They believed so hard. My blood boils when I think of how those little three believed.

As our family grew by four people, our giant glistening ball of truth got even thicker, even harder, seemingly unbreakable as it floated through the empty space of reality. Pam made it so. She thickened our bubble somehow and made it rise far above the rest of the bubbles it had previously bumped into and reflected off of in similarity.

In our high flying globe I could look through to the other side, but what I saw was always twisted like a scary fun house mirror. I saw demon-filled people and lost people and underlying darkness disguised in a sham of false goodness. Occasionally the distortion would subside and I could see people out there that looked good and happy -- but they were not like me, I was told, because they were outside the bubble of faith, true faith. I was warned that if I got too near to them, I would be vulnerable to them pulling me out of our bubble somehow, unless I managed to pull them in. I shouldn't be fooled -- outside of the bubble there were no shades of gray, and there was certainly no light.

But I ached to poke my head through -- just to see. Followers stronger in faith didn't need proof, didn't need to see what was out there to know that the air supply was cut off and the oxygen of Christ would cease to reach the blood flow. But I knew there was something that wasn't right about our household being run like a fascist dictatorship, where I was under the constant control of the thought police. "Honor thy father and thy mother", was the only explanation for why I could not read Christopher Pike horror books for teens but could read other types of horror books that could terrorize me for weeks, months as I lay in bed at night. "It's worldly", was the simple reason why Debbie Gibson was not authorized audio entertainment. But this type of music was encouraged (Go on, listen to the lyrics. If you can control the shivers, like I am incapable of, I commend you).

Normal PG or G rated movies were also off limits because of "hidden messages from Satan" unless they had been previously approved by the rod-bearing parents/police or by other trusted members of the bubble. Even seemingly harmless movies, because they did not contain a Christian message, such as Disney movies, were all under suspicion because they might infect the minds of the children. On the other hand, movies like this were encouraged. When I see that clip my face becomes red with anger and shame. Knowing that they truly believed that they needed to prepare their children for the rapture does not make me any less angry with them for allowing me to see this as a young child.

There was constant discussion among my parents and their closest friends about what was and was really not inside the bubble. Family members, friends, even entire churches that were once considered inside the bubble were suddenly proclaimed to no longer be, due to differences in the interpretation of scripture or due to God having spoken to my father and his wife. As I grew older and more anxious to meet boys, church youth group services and activities were suddenly suspect. Such co-ed activities encouraged by so-called churches of God were actually the devil's playground where the demon of lust had fertile ground to blossom. My father and his wife had hopes that they would eventually find a man for me from within the bubble and we would court each other until everyone agreed we would wed -- at a very young age, of course.

And the bubble drifted and floated and got further and further away from other sorts of bubbles, like my best friend's Methodist bubble, or my grandparents Mormon bubble. Our bubble - the true bubble-- was increasingly less populace as good Christian schools were replaced by homeschooling (which I escaped thanks the protests of my mother who still had a say in my upbringing), and Wednesday night, Friday night and Sunday morning services became replaced by "home fellowship". We were officially weirding out the people that once shared a place in our bubble.

As I got older, and the bubble got higher and higher into space, the oxygen inside the confined space didn't seem to satiate my lungs any longer. I looked through its translucent walls and the images stopped looking so deformed and twisted. As my doubts about what I saw outside grew, I knew my bubble was becoming more permeable. My hand could just slip through to the other side and could feel the light of the world where religion didn't pervade every aspect of life, where demons didn't hover around every possibility.

I began to feel a world where people didn't have fits of crying and laughing on the living room floor during fellowship, a world where tears were not constantly rolling down their faces every time they had a Bible study session with a bunch of other strange bubble people, culminating into a massive mess of hysteria and emotion and tension. It was a place where people didn't scream out, "Praise Jesus. Shun duh duh hun duh maka laka dali shi shi maaaa....praise God, thank you Father. Shallalalalala malaki hunda mana chi ki laki. Blood of Jesus! Blood of Jesus!"

Soon enough I dared to stick my head through the soapy wall and saw all of the other bubbles floating around below.

I hung out on the edge of the bubble for awhile, stepping out completely but leaning up against it still, letting it support me and comfort me and feeling those family members gripping at my limbs with all their force and pulling to keep me inside.

"You stay away from those liberal universities," they hollered from within the bubble. "All they do is instill doubt in the minds of the faithful. Satan will get a grip on your mind there and make you doubt. You stay with us and you won't need to go to college because you'll find a god-fearing man to become your husband and you'll discover the joy of serving your spouse and giving him children."

But it was too late, because my mind already doubted, already wanted to jump and as I turned to take one last look inside the bubble I realized how very very small it was and how very dark.

I landed with a hard and painful thud on the ground just like the law of gravity said I would, from those science textbooks they tried to keep away from me. And I looked up and saw the bubble getting smaller and smaller and weaker and weaker among the millions of other tiny bubbles floating all around, all stemming from what I perceived to be the same effluent waste.

"Twisted World" by Jeff Kubina from Flickr.
"Lightness" by clydye from Flickr.
"Bubble symphony" by bricolage.108 from Flickr.
"Esferas doradas" by * Cati Koe* from Flickr.

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Anonymous July 12, 2009 at 3:28 PM  

Jesus...between this post and Gwen's last one, I've never been more thankful that my childhood was only fucked up by infidelity and alchohol. I'll tell you, as I've told Gwen, I wish your experiences had been in the sweet, mainstream Protestant churches where peope aren't judged, where God loves and forgives instead of damns and where hope is always there. Where the leaders are encouraging and supportive...not tittilated by confession. It's simply beyond my ken.

Blues July 12, 2009 at 4:10 PM  

Hereinfranklin - I wished for those kids of churches too when I was younger.

Mongoliangirl July 12, 2009 at 8:50 PM  

I just noticed the little quote above this comment box says, "Am I full of shit or what?"
Wouldn't it be fantastic if that sentence was required after each and every statement of a bunch of yakkity schmakkity bullshit?
"Your head's gonna burst into flames if you don't believe in the blood of Jesus! Am I full of shit or what?!!!"
I love this post. Aboslutley beautiful. I am more convinced than ever that everything is subject to revision, especially what we know about the "truth".

flutter July 12, 2009 at 9:00 PM  

This hit home for me in a way that I can't express to you. You are a beautiful, light being. I am glad you broke your bubble

Gwen July 12, 2009 at 10:06 PM  

Oh Blues...this post is the best gift. I have tears right now because I'm so moved by your words. You've articulated so well the distortion of reality experienced in the "bubble". Everything worldly was pronounced evil, selfish, ready to hurt you and take your virtue. No college because it would pull us away from the faith. My heart breaks for you but I also am in awe of your bravery to get away from that force which is so very powerful. I probably wouldn't have left my religion if my family hadn't left first. I wasn't brave at all. But you left of your own accord, of your own wisdom. I'm so glad that we're not under that tyranny anymore. Thanks for writing this beautiful piece.

Blues July 12, 2009 at 11:04 PM  

Ooops, i meant "kind" of churches. That was confusing.

@Mongolian - Oh, that should be an automatic response of our bodies, you know, for evolution purposes, to help the species eliminate certain types of insanity.

@Flutter - thank you. You know, I started thinking of this later, not that yours isn't a religious bubble too, but there are lots of different kinds of bubbles I hadn't thought of - political ones, educational ones. And also, religions aren't always bubbles, even though sometimes I think they are. I hope whatever your bubble you were able to jump from it too.

@Gwen, I think I gave it too simplistic of an ending which does not really reflect reality. It felt simple at times, like I had just come to some sort of realization and that's it, but it hasn't always felt so simple other times. As was said in your post, this stuff is deep-rooted and so early in our chilhood and so much a part of what formed us there are often remnants of it. And there are times when I'm unsure if I'm not just in another bubble, but think I'm on solid ground.

Xbox4NappyRash July 13, 2009 at 9:57 AM  


Honestly gripping.

I'm all kinds of fucked up from my glaze brushes with religion, how you stand upright today at all is impressive.

Lil July 13, 2009 at 10:20 AM  

I generally just lurkily read but this post was way too good to skulk about and not comment. Great writing. Thank you.

Not Afraid to Use It July 13, 2009 at 12:10 PM  

This was amazing. I can't look at the links because I know it will have me obsessed for days. You are right, there are so many kinds of bubbles. What a scary thought. Thank you so much for this post.

Denise July 13, 2009 at 3:10 PM  

"There are lots of different kinds of bubbles". I didn't have a very religious upbringing, but I can really relate to this because of the wall of total possessiveness my mother raised around us. She didn't even like us looking out of the window onto the street.

So I don't get homesick living in Spain, because part of the joy of living here for me is the escape it represents.

The Unbearable Banishment July 13, 2009 at 3:27 PM  

That was a GREAT read! Too bad it's true. You dad was a kook. Mine was too, but not in the religious way. He was a fucking kook in a different way.

The sad thing is that your pop probably meant well. He was just afraid, that's all. So was your step-mom. Did any of the other kids escape that asylum?

A Free Man July 13, 2009 at 8:18 PM  

Lovely post, Blues. Maybe not the subject matter, but certainly the writing. I know that bubble pretty well too. For me, though, it was self-constructed.

You know what struck me the most about this post, though? The thing about your Dad and the TV. I keep thinking about doing that, not for religious reasons, but still. Probably not a good idea regardless of the reasons for it.

Anonymous July 14, 2009 at 8:01 AM  

Holy crap! I remember seeing "Thief in the Night" as many a church service as a kid. It was the "Left Behind" of the day. "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" still fills me with terror.

If we ever meet, we'll have plenty to talk about as our coffee gets cold . . .

Thalassa July 15, 2009 at 7:26 AM  

that is a really gorgeous, well-crafted post, and i love that you credited the terrific photography. great work!

i stumbled over here from your comment on "Praying to Darwin" about the toothbrush.

~Mountain Lover~ July 15, 2009 at 11:05 AM  

The similarity in our childhood religion is eerie. With one important exception- mine was completely voluntary and not forced upon me by my parents. I could draw my own boundaries and I could leave after I realized it no longer met my needs and I had the courage to go against my friends and leave. I credit it as a spiritual awakening and I can see the value in it, I think mainly because it was never forced upon my.

It is so bizarre how people's faith can quickly become a competition to see who could be the most devout god-fearing person, and soon things start to get creepy.

I didn't have the good, protestant experience either, but my current church is absolutely amazing. I always wish I grew up in that church, but everything happens for a reason, I suppose!

neil wykes July 16, 2009 at 6:21 AM  

Wow. If you ever mention this to your Catholic Spanish friends their heads must explode. I get confusion and wonder at the revelation I was never baptised into any religion.

Beautiful, scary and so well written.

Blues July 16, 2009 at 10:03 AM  

@Xbox - Thanks. Standing upright? Shit, at best I'm hunched over.

@Lil - thanks for coming out of lurkdom.

@NATUI - they will seriously give you nightmares, especially if you are eight years old like I was when I saw them.

@Denise - wow, that sounds rough too. Yeah, I always meant that all the bubbles were the many bubbles of closed mindedness.

@Unbearable - I don't think he was a kook, just doing the best he could really. As you say, he meant well. I know my dad has a heart of gold and made huge sacrifices to try to raise us the way he thought he should, it just turns out that I don't agree with his philosophy anymore, but it doesn't mean that I don't recognize that he did everything thinking it was the right thing to do. As to my other siblings, they all have varying degrees of involvement still.

@Afreeman - there's a lot about the T.V. thing that I'm thankful for. Basically, I touched on the feelings of anger associated with all of this, but there were loads of other emotions associated with my upbrining. Yeah, my dad got rid of the T.V. and read weird shit to us, but he also read the Chronicles of Narnia and spent hours and hours playing board games with us and I have great memories of that. I love that when i go see them we don't have the tendency to sit around and semi-talk while the T.V. is blaring. We all sort of cuddle together and laugh and talk and that's all we've ever done. But at the time, honestly, I hated not having a T.V. Not so much because I wanted one, but because of how weird it may me and my Dad and my family for being without one. People thought we were absolutely nuts because of it. And maybe we were but I hated feeling like a freak and most of my feelings of freakishness was surrounding the television thing.

@Cheekofgod - I knew there would be someone out there who had seen it. Pretty scary stuff.

@Thalassa - thanks for the compliment and for telling me how you got here, it's good to know.

@Mntlover - that is exactly it. There is so much competition involved that people really start having to out do themselves and they become extremely judgmental because it reinforces their own decisions. One of the reasons I could no longer take being a part of it was because I hated how they tore people to shreds when they left the room about how they lived their lives (were going through a divorce or had a baby and weren't going to be a stay at home mom or kept their kids in public schools or drank wine occassionally or whatever). It made me feel horrible and feel like I would never ever live up to their impossible standards of morality. And so I just gave up and stopped trying.

@Neil - this actually makes very little sense to Spanish people. They only understand religion as catholicism as being a compartmentalized part of life, and not pervading every aspect of day to day life.

Xbox4NappyRash July 16, 2009 at 10:04 AM  

...Too many jokes....

Lil July 16, 2009 at 10:13 AM  

I found you via AAYSR. That site is responsible for the explosion of my reader. :-)

Noble Savage July 18, 2009 at 12:09 AM  

Blues, this is an amazing post. Your experience (and the similar experiences of others) is so foreign to me, so different from my own upbringing, that I find it almost incomprehensible, and terrifying. I'm glad you found your way out of that bubble. You are a strong, brave lady.

Florida Girl In Sydney July 19, 2009 at 3:32 AM  

As Noble Savage said, this is something I have never been exposed to-- at all. I'm so glad that you were able, and strong enough, to make your own way, with your own beliefs.

And just when you think having a gay fugitive father is a lot of baggage...

doesn't hearing other people's shit make you glad for your own shit?

Gypsy July 20, 2009 at 7:57 AM  

This was so, so good, Blues.

I'm like Franklin -- I'm glad I escaped the fundies. My mother had a brief experience with a weird group just after she divorced my father, but thank goodness it didn't stick.

Captain Steve July 20, 2009 at 8:40 AM  

I am familiar with a similar bubble, slightly lower than yours. This reminded me so much of it when I was younger. Thankfully, my bubble and the crazy bubble only touch, though at one time they were like a Venn diagram.

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