Let The Chips Fall Where They May: Jonah’s Story

Let The Chips Fall Where They May: Jonah’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Jonah” is a pseudonym.

“That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough”
–R.E.M., Losing my Religion

I’ve tried to write this more times than I can count. Each time it’s been something different to derail it. What is the point? How can it help someone else? Do I need to detail everything that happened to me? Is it for me to air my grievances? Am I still angry at my parents? These and more are all valid questions I’ve had to ask myself.

While outlining events and their details over the last few months in my private scribblings, I’ve come to realize a number of things. First, it has done me good to really look over my childhood with a fine tooth comb. So many things I’ve tried to understand about why I am the way I am have started to come to light. Second, there were things that affected me that I didn’t realize until I started thinking long and hard about them. Whether you plan on sharing it or not, I recommend you write out your story. Detail it, tell it to yourself. You may not realize how many things about yourself you never realized.

I was homeschooled K-12 in an ultra conservative Christian home (note when I say ultra conservative, I don’t mean biblical law over the top fundamentalism conservative). I was the good kid and my parents never saw anything bad coming. Then, at age 21 I slipped into a deep depression. It got bad to the point where I lashed out at my concerned parents and told them I hated them. This came as a complete shock to them.

How did I go from not a problem to this? It was something that was building for years. A combination of isolation, my parents’ emotional unavailability, religious guilt and other factors played into it. I didn’t have a traumatic childhood, at least not compared to what many have endured. However, depression can be incredibly crippling regardless of the cause.

My parents sent me to a Christian counselor. For the first time in my life I found myself admitting to someone (I had not even admitted it to myself really) how much I resented my parents for the years of being isolated and having few to no friends. I resented my parents for being unable to listen or talk about things like sex, relationships and so on. This was just the start, after several months of counseling I was just starting to unravel what was going on inside my head.

Coming out of counseling I was no longer in a deep depression. I could function, going to school and work. But, the darkness was still looming over me. I wasn’t at peace, I had not been for many years. I began to get my life back in order but I knew there was still a long ways to go. I had told my parents what I was angry at them for and had forgiven them

Why wasn’t I at peace? Isn’t that what I needed? To admit to myself what problems I had, forgive and move on? There was still an elephant in the room, something I couldn’t even think to confront at the time. Religion. Ever since I was little it was pushed on me. I was to be the perfect Christian with my parents perfect conservative Christian values. I needed to ask for forgiveness every day because I was a flawed sinner. There was a deep rooted guilt that loomed over my entire childhood.

I had my doubts for years. It always ultimately shifted back to me feeling there was something wrong with me. In spite of accepting Jesus I never felt like anything changed. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I wondered if it really mattered. Then I promptly got angry at myself for questioning Christianity. Then one day, I found my peace. It wasn’t with Jesus, or some magical prayer.

I was sitting in Church in October 2008. This was weeks before the 2008 election, in which Christians had a very big investment in prop 8 (banning gay marriage in CA) as well as getting McCain-Palin (Christian values!) elected. Obama is the anti-Christ and gays are the most evil, vile people on the planet! While I’m putting a snarky little spin on those things, that is very much the message coming from the pulpit. Spewing straight hatred and political propaganda. This wasn’t what I wanted to be. I couldn’t take it anymore.

I stood up quietly and walked out of Church. I was in no way demonstrative about it, I played it off like I was going to the restroom or something. The reality is I was done. I had found myself questioning more and more over the previous six months. Things from having my first gay friend to seeing my co-workers who were struggling to eat, to spending a lot of time with a buddhist girl I liked were changing my perspective on such things. I was done being a judgmental Christian. I was done thinking gays were evil people. I was done mocking people who used food stamps. I was done trying to judge others because they subscribed to a different belief system. Done.

Letting go of my parent’s ideology was the magic bullet. Years of guilt, anger and confusion were lifted in a matter of days. Was I rejecting the notion of God outright? No. I simply realized that I didn’t know. Nobody knows and nobody really can know for sure. Why should I spend my life trying to argue one way or the other? It was time to live my life for me and not to appease anyone.

That day was nearly five years ago. Since then I am still a work in progress, but I haven’t felt the ‘darkness’ that loomed over my life since. I’ve become my own person with my own opinions. I’ve done outrageous things like having a one night stand, exploring other religious philosophies and voting Democrat. I’ve found what works for me.

Sometimes I still feel the ‘darkness’. At times when I was detailing out for myself a recap of my childhood, I could feel those emotions looming over my head. But, it always passes. That is the past and I’ve moved beyond it. At times anger may bubble up, but I’ve forgiven my parents for the mistakes they made.

Today I consider myself agnostic, moderately liberal and I’ve been in a stable relationship for over two years. I have a job I like and I enjoy my life. I have a good relationship with my parents. I’ve never directly talked to them about my ideology, but I think they know. I don’t feel it really matters. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is I’m comfortable in my own skin.

The ultimate point I’m trying to make is this. Be yourself, do what makes you happy in life. It’s not selfish to think of yourself, it’s called self preservation. If something (religious guilt in my case) is choking you and holding you down, ask yourself if you really want that in your life. I’m not telling you it’s your religion, it can be different things for different people.

Many homeschoolers turn out fine as the prototypical conservatives that our parents always wanted. Many of us did not, for a wide number of reasons. That doesn’t mean you turned out wrong or should be unhappy with yourself. Embrace who you are, whatever you want to believe and let the chips fall where they may.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part Two, TeenPact And Me

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. Part Two was originally published on May 20, 2013.

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Part Two: TeenPact and Me, by Kierstyn King

Kierstyn King blogs at Bridging the Gap.

TeenPact is a christian conservative/evangelical organization that organizes government and civics classes and camps throughout the country. Their goal is to raise a generation of christian leaders (teens) to go and bring the country back “for christ” by encouraging activism and male leadership.

When I think about TeenPact and my time there, I don’t feel anger – like I do with most of my other past experiences. I feel confusion. Because I have so many good memories and experiences that are entrenched in environments that perpetuated the lies that enabled an abusive environment to thrive.

The thing about organizations like TeenPact and NCFCA is that their goal is to raise a new generation of leaders – thinkers, even – to do one specific thing: Take the nation back (for god!). What they don’t count on, is that by giving us the tools and resources to think critically, we’ll actually, you know, think critically and carry that on throughout our adulthood. Which is awesome and I’m really happy that I was allowed to learn that, because it’s served me well and enabled me to become the person I am today. Funny thing though, our parents and the people who head up these organizations get extremely grumpy and upset when we do what they taught us to do (or at least you know, the thinking part of that) without doing the rest of what they wanted us to do.

They teach us how to think, but then, they don’t actually want us to think, they want us to do their bidding.

And this, in a nutshell, is my beef with TeenPact. I’m going to be splitting this into parts instead of writing a book of a blogpost – because some things need to be fleshed out more, so for today, I’m going to concentrate on one particular event that happened while I was staffing.

I staffed one of the GA State classes in 2007. As staff, I helped oversee the voting process – a process which is designed to teach students about how elections work (assuming everyone is honest). The votes were tallied and my friend was a clear winner. I was pleased with this, and a little proud because he had really gone out of his comfort zone to even run. I was appalled, confused, and maybe a little angry when in that back room the Program Director turned to us and said, well, I don’t think he’d make a good governor, we should choose someone else. The founder was there and the high ranking staff wanted to impress him (by discarding the process?) and decided that my friend wouldn’t do it.

So in that back room, the Program Director, and the higher ranking staff decided to choose someone else from the 3 candidates to be governor and told us to be quiet about it. I was 15 (2 weeks before my birthday) and I had no idea how to respond – I was too shocked to say anything and too surprised to complain or dissent, so I stood there quietly, feeling as though my mouth was gaping.

When we left the room with the new results, and with the Program Director deciding that his vote overruled all, I was full of shame and guilt. We announced who won and there were many questions – because in the other room, everyone tells everyone who they voted for, so everyone actually knows who won. People asked me questions and I couldn’t respond. My friend asked me and I was crushed and had to give him the same line I had given everyone else:

“It’s just what the votes were”.

I felt helpless because everyone who I would have talked to about it, was in that room and made that decision. They didn’t expect dissent – honestly, I don’t even think dissent is allowed, though it’s never directly stated – it’s a very homogenous group and anyone who does dissent is instantly cast as weird/strange/anything you don’t really want to associate with.

The staff did what they did because they didn’t want to get in trouble with Mr. Echols. I don’t know what the staff meetings are like, but I imagine that choosing a good face was enough of a requirement to strike fear into the hearts of the interns.

To be continued.

TeenPacters Speak Up: Part One, Intro to TeenPact

TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. The following introduction was written specifically for Homeschoolers Anonymous to provide background on TeenPact as an organization.

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Part One: Intro to TeenPact, by Kierstyn King

Kierstyn King blogs at Bridging the Gap.

TeenPact is an organization that teaches students about government, political activism, and christian values. Their website says, “Our mission is to train youth to understand the political process, value their liberty, defend their Christian faith and engage the culture at a time in their lives when, typically, they do not care about such things.”

TeenPact started in 1994, founded by Tim Echols. When I was involved, the slogan was “TeenPact: turning students into statesmen.”  TeenPact is currently active in 39 States. Their introduction into the organization takes place at the “State Class” which is four days of training about how-the-government-works (not to say it isn’t saturated with conservative values) and one day of public speaking. After you have attended the State Class you are eligible to attend “alumni events.”

The alumni events they have range from being biblical man/womanhood camps (Venture and Endeavor), to camps specifically tailored to the individual branches of government — Congress, Judicial, and Back to DC which tends to be around the time that the Values Voters Summit takes place (students attend at least one day of the conference as part of the class — or at least did the two years I was there). The two most popular camps are National Convention and Survival.

The goal of every camp, but especially National Convention and Survival, is to “challenge” students’ spiritual walk. Every camp teaches students from an evangelical christian conservative (patriarchal) viewpoint. “Taking the nation back for God” is ultimately what TeenPact hopes its alumni will grow up to do.

For many homeschoolers like myself, TeenPact is one of our only means of socialization — and our only means of socialization outside of our parents’ eyes (because they trust TeenPact, and the group is relatively homogenous). TeenPact offers a seemingly innocent product — a state government class taught by conservative/homeschool-friendly leaders. They offer students an opportunity to meet other people their age, and they help teach students how to think (from their point of view).

To be continued.