October 31, 2010

Jesus judgments turned to tolerance: Was I brainwashed? {My story}

My story...

Really, Shara? Are you GOING THERE?

Yes. Today, I am.

Here’s why: Yesterday on twitter I was clicking around a bit (we had a sitter here and I had TIME on my hands!). I came across a little chat between two non-Christians. One statement was along the lines of, “They can believe whatever crazy illusion they want to – LMAO!!” I often see people slamming Christians on twitter – it’s a pretty regular occurrence. Nothing new. The thing that really caught my attention, though, were the tweets that went like this: “I don’t care what they believe. They have a right to believe what they want. Even if they were brainwashed. But don’t tell me to believe something that isn’t real.”

So what this person is saying is that they don’t want Christians to tell them Jesus is real…but they want to have the right to say he ISN’T.

Got it.

Okay. I’m going to share my thoughts (imagine that) and opinions on this matter – take it or leave it – keep following my posts or don’t. It’s your choice.

My Story:

I was born into a faith-filled home. My grandfather was a Presbyterian Minister, my father a Baptist Minister and I’m now married to a former Presbyterian Minister (although we consider ourselves Non Denominational). I was taken to church, potlucks, church picnics and BBQ’s, church camps, youth groups, AWANA meetings and more.

During my tween/teen years I decided that Jesus-lovers were all pretty stupid. Brainwashed. “Turn or BURN!” stuff. My parents were never like that but I had heard enough of my friends badmouth religion and faith that I figured, “Yeah. It’s probably just a load of crap, anyway. Who cares? Party – live – die.”

I did just that. I partied – got high many times – drank – slept around – smoked – and more. I won’t go into details here (maybe another time) but I wasn’t a nice person. I was one of “those girls.” The ones that other girls needed to worry about (which they did). I didn’t care who I hurt or who I stepped on. As long as the head games I was playing ended the way I wanted them to.

And when they did, I was happy. For a few minutes. “Yeah! I made that happen. Puppets on a string – all of them. See my power?”

Then it would hit me. I’d go to sleep at night, my head would hit the pillow, and I’d cry. I’d weep. Man, I was lonely and sad. My heart would literally hurt inside my chest. I would wonder how I’d become so ugly and so angry and so bitter. My parents certainly didn’t want me this way. But I was in control – me. I was running the shots! I was playing the games and calling the names and NO ONE was going to tell ME how to live.

Especially not those brainwashed Jesus Freaks.

Fast forward through years of turmoil, abusive relationships, smoking FOUR PACKS a day, stress, sickness, losing all of my weight until I was barely recognizable and my hair was falling out. Young motherhood, lost friends and parents who disowned me for quite some time. I wasn’t allowed to speak to my baby sister for months.

I was a single mother when everything changed for me. I had been attending a tiny church in Phoenix (long story about how this came to be) – the pastor, at that time, was the Chaplain of the ASU men’s basketball team (Larry Pettiford – a former convict who spent three years in prison for attempted murder). Several members from church went to watch The Passion of the Christ movie and weeks later, it hit my heart. I fell to my knees and cried out, “I don’t know if you give a *&%$ about me or not, God. I certainly haven’t cared about you. I don’t even really know if you’re there or not. I REALLY don’t know about this whole Christ thing. Your son? Seriously?” After a good long prayer – and cry – I felt something happen. It was like the black cloud and rain that had been sitting over my head all those years just vanished. My entire life was falling apart around me (financially and emotionally) but out of nowhere – the future looked bright. As though scales had been over my eyes and they finally lifted and fluttered up. The sun was shining more brightly than I had ever known it to shine.

You know?

Everything was clear and I could see. I could see in front of me. I knew I had a long road ahead and bridges to mend with many people…but I could see a path in front of me. I knew I had a future. I felt hopeful. Hopeful that the life I was living wasn’t all there was to it.

Not everyone has a conversion story like mine. So I can understand why some people won’t believe me. And that’s okay – it really is. I used to be on the other side of this fence, calling names and hating the Jesus Lovers. But I’ll be totally honest with you here. I was jealous. I wanted to know what they had that I didn’t have. I wanted to feel as sure as they were that something bigger was in charge. That it wasn’t all about me-me-me. That I wasn’t the master of my own universe and the one in charge of my own days. There was always a piece of me that wanted to have peace of mind. A trust in something stronger than me.

Some people say that this is where the brainwashing comes in. That we are “programmed” to want this because of our parents, or the Bible Thumpers, instilling fear into our hearts. That the really strong people are the ones who say, “To hell with it all. I’m cooler than that! I’M THE ONE IN CHARGE HERE! I make my own heart beat and I created my own body and mind. No one else.”

Brainwashing:

—–> coercive persuasion, mind abuse, thought control, or thought reform

  • If someone is told, during childhood, that they must believe something – or rot in hell for all eternity with bugs crawling from their eyes – that would be a form of brainwashing, yes.
  • If someone is told, during childhood, that all religious people are crazy and that Jesus is a made-up character and a figment of nutty people’s imaginations – and they’ll be total losers for ever thinking anything differently – that’s also brainwashing.

Being told what NOT to believe is no less a form of brainwashing than being told WHAT to believe.

For me, it had nothing to do with brainwashing of any kind. It was a heart change that came when I was all alone in my bedroom one day. I went from being angry, bitter, enraged, hateful and self destructive – to believing in a higher power of the Jesus-kind.

If people want to call me names, they can. If they want think I’m crazy, that’s okay. If they choose to hate me or mock me because I believe something different than them – I’ll get over it.

I know what happened to me and I’m glad for it. I’m a different person now. Although I don’t pump Bible passages on twitter all day long, I hope to come across as someone who loves Christ – because I choose to. Because I want to. Because He changed my life and turned my bitterness and loneliness into contentment and peace of mind.

I wasn’t brainwashed. In fact, I studied various religions for many months and wrote a 14-chapter book on the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. I read about other religions, too, and went so far as to interview people from varying faith groups, trying to get inside their minds and figure out what made them tick.

Here’s what I found: Most folks want peace. They want some kind of assurance that it’s not completely up to them to make their universe understandable. We all want to feel loved, needed and valuable. Some folks find that in the Mormon church and some in the Catholic church. Some people find it in religion and some, in faith (like me). Some folks rely on Buddha while others look to our president for the answers. Some people read self help books or new age material, seeking that inner peace. Others turn to Oprah or another TV personality for answers. And of course there are the folks who rely solely on their own ability to sleep soundly at night: “self gods” if you will.

We all have a right (and are protected by law) to believe that which we choose to believe. To not believe that which we choose not to believe.

By saying that all religious people were brainwashed into accepting something must, by reason, also imply that others were been brainwashed not to. I no longer judge the Jesus Freaks because I’ve become one of them. Nor do I hate/mock the people who believe something different than me, as they have as much right to their convictions as I have to mine.

As a wise friend of mine stated, long ago: “Any time you point a finger at someone, remember – there are three pointing back at you.”

Careful how you judge. You may just end up pitching your tent in that very campground some day. I did.

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