Number The Stars: Chapter 2

Who Is The Man Who Rides Past?

This chapter is basically exposition and background information. It’s a lot of telling, but it’s doing so in a way that is interesting.

Annemarie and Kirsti are in bed, and Kirsti begs for a story. Danish children,we are told, grow up with fairy tales. Hans Christian Anderson himself was Danish. (Annemarie particularly likes the story of The Little Mermaid, which probably tells you a lot about her character right there, as the original tale did not end anything remotely like the Disney version.)

But Kirsti wants one about “A king and queen and a beautiful daughter.” So Annemarie starts a story about a king and queen who have a daughter and live in a palace and wear fancy dresses and eat pink frosted cupcakes. No, we don’t get to hear the story and no, I wouldn’t blog about it if she did, because it sounds wicked boring. Eventually, Kirsti falls asleep, and Annemarie can think.

She starts by thinking about how King Christian X isn’t like the Kings in fairy tales who stand on balconies and shout orders. In fact, Annemarie has seen him often, as he used to ride through the streets of Copenhagen and greet his people. Once he even waved to Annemarie and her older sister, Lise. Lise told Annemarie that she was special, because she had been greeted by a king.

Lise is Annemarie’s older sister. Er, was, actually. She’s dead. Annemarie immediately jumps from thinking about her older sister being dead to thinking about a story her Papa had told her once shortly after Denmark surrendered. A German soldier had asked a teen boy “Who is the man that rides past?” Upon being told that that was the king of Denmark, the soldier was incredulous, and asked where the bodyguard was.

Papa said that the boy looked the soldier straight in the eye and said, “all of Denmark is his bodyguard.”

Annemarie asks if this is true, and her papa confirms. He would absolutely take a bullet for the king, just like any other Danish* citizen. 7 year old Annemarie promises that she would too, if she had to.

7 year old Annemarie asks her papa why the king couldn’t protect Denmark. Her father explains that the Nazis are a very big army, and Denmark is a tiny country. Norway fought the Nazis for a long time, but eventually they were conquered. Papa explains to Annemarie that the King of Denmark knew that if he and his people fought back, many would die, and they’d probably lose.

Sweden, however, managed to not get conquered. Annemarie has seen Sweden, though she’s never been there. Her uncle Henrik lives near the sea, and she can stand in his backyard by the ocean and look across to a strip of land that is Sweden. Uncle Henrik lives North of Copenhagen, near a part of the North Sea that is called Kattegat.

3 years later, Sweden is still free. King Christian X was injured in a fall from his horse and almost died, but he didn’t. Annemarie’s sister, Lise, did die, in an accident. Mr. And Mrs. Johansen don’t talk about Lise, or look at her things.

I don’t think it fully sank in when I was a child how awful that is. They lost a child. That is unnatural and shouldn’t happen.

Not being able to talk about it would be very, very difficult for the whole family.

Peter still visits, but he is no longer full of laughter and jokes. He talks to mamma and papa about things Annemarie doesn’t understand, and he never stays long. Papa looks tired and defeated all the time.

The whole world has changed, Annemarie realizes. Only fairy tales remain the same.

And they all lived happily ever after,” Annemarie finished, completing the tale for her sister.

*I know, I know, but I can not hear the word Danish without thinking of the pastry, and now I’m hungry.

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How Reading Led Me Out of Adventism

Someone asked me to elucidate, the other day, on how exactly reading led me out of Adventism. The answer is a bit too long for small message, so you get to read this 10 page essay. You’re welcome.

 

Messages to Young People, Page 272

Could a large share of the books published be consumed, a plague would be stayed that is doing a fearful work upon mind and heart. Love stories, frivolous and exciting tales, and even that class of books called religious novels,—books in which the author attaches to his story a moral lesson,—are a curse to the readers. Religious sentiments may be woven all through a story-book, but, in most cases, Satan is but clothed in angel-robes, the more effectively to deceive and allure. None are so confirmed in right principles, none so secure from temptation, that they are safe in reading these stories.

The readers of fiction are indulging an evil that destroys spirituality, eclipsing the beauty of the sacred page. It creates an unhealthy excitement, fevers the imagination, unfits the mind for usefulness, weans the soul from prayer, and disqualifies it for any spiritual exercise.

God has endowed many of our youth with superior capabilities; but too often they have enervated their powers, confused and enfeebled their minds…

My dear young friends, question your own experience as to the influence of exciting stories. Can you, after such reading, open the Bible and read with interest the words of life? Do you not find the Book of God uninteresting? The charm of that love story is upon the mind, destroying its healthy tone, and making it impossible for you to fix the attention upon the important, solemn truths that concern your eternal welfare.

Resolutely discard all trashy reading. It will…..introduce into the mind sentiments that pervert the imagination, causing you to think less of Jesus and to dwell less upon His precious lessons…. Do not encumber [the mind] with trashy stories, which impart no strength to the mental powers.

Adventist Home, Chapter 68 (AH 413.3)

In the education of children and youth fairy tales, myths, and fictitious stories are now given a large place. Books of this character are used in schools, and they are to be found in many homes. How can Christian parents permit their children to use books so filled with falsehood? When the children ask the meaning of stories so contrary to the teaching of their parents, the answer is that the stories are not true; but this does not do away with the evil results of their use. The ideas presented in these books mislead the children. They impart false views of life and beget and foster a desire for the unreal….

I was born to two lifelong bibliophiles, who were themselves the son/daughter of bibliophiles. So, despite the above quotes, it was only natural that I, their daughter, would also be exposed to a wide range of reading material. My earliest memories are of my mother reading to me*. My mom and dad were a bit on the liberal side, at least for Michigan Adventists, so my reading material was only limited to that which was age appropriate.** (They stopped me from checking out a murder mystery from the library at the age of 8. Spoilsports.) Among my childhood reading lists were Clifford the Big Red Dog, The Berenstain Bears, Dr Seuss, The Little Engine That Could, etc. As I got older, reading material included American Girl books, Little House, Margaret Peterson Haddix, anything to do with Nazi Germany and the Civil war, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and pretty much everything I could get my hands on.

Unbeknownst to my parents, this very thing was the thing that would ultimately lead me out of Adventism and Christianity. This is because the books I read taught me feminism, they taught me other views on the bible, and I learned that the bible wasn’t really that different from any other fairy tale I read. I also learned that a spoonfull of rebellion helps the medicine go down.

As a child, my favorite characters,real or fiction, were girls who were supposed to be girly but weren’t. I would read books about Suffragettes, and the things they endured trying to win the vote. My parents weren’t against girls doing “boy” things, and they weren’t against women getting the vote. They probably thought all this stuff was harmless. What they didn’t realize was that it was also teaching me my first lessons about feminism. These books taught me that women and men were equals, and that women shouldn’t have to submit to men. They also taught me that Girls can do things just as well as boys can,  and that shoving girls into the “girly” box against their will is wrong.

As a result, I was genuinely shocked when, at the age of 18-19 ish, I learned that, even in the 21st century, Adventists still believed otherwise. Even Adventist women. Even my own parents believed this! And I had no idea!  When I was 18/19 and finally heard about it from some old fart with one foot in the grave, I read my bible and cried. I’d always seen everything good as something God would support, because God was good. Women having rights and the ability to leave abusive husbands and not have to obey them was good, so how could God be against it?

Then there was the exposure to other forms of Christianity. Often, the religious books I read would contain views that were different from my parents’ beliefs. It wasn’t necessarily anything big and obvious, and my parents probably thought that all this incorrect theology would be covered in Bible class. But it didn’t.

See, I used to think that they couldn’t put in a book if it wasn’t true. Thus, I believed everything I read in (non fiction) books. For example, I was confused as to whether or not people went to heaven when they died, whether or not hell lasted forever, and other minor theological concerns that most Adventists are rock solid on. I somehow managed to make it to age 14 without knowing these things. Being confused about certain Adventist “truths” was inoculating me from the “one true church” mindset.  It made me open minded, and more open to admitting that Adventists might be wrong about certain topics.

Then there are fantasy novels. Ellen White is particularly concerned about fantasy novels, and it turns out she was right. Reading Fantasy led me to see God as just another wizard type character. When I would read fantasy novels, I’d see similarities to the bible right off the bat. Mainly in the type of character God/Jesus was. In fantasy novels, sometimes a character must undergo a test set by the magical person. For example, sometimes the Wizard/Witch/Whatever is disguised as a poor person, and if the testee treats the poor person badly, they are cursed. If the testee treats the poor person well, the testee is rewarded. Good behavior is rewarded, bad behavior is punished. (Despite the whole “saved by grace not works” verses Christians like to go on and on about, The theme of the bible really is Good/bad behavior get rewarded/punished.)

Sometimes the Wizard/Witch/Magical Person just got mad for no obvious reason and decided to punish everybody. So, while I was not consciously aware of it, I grew up viewing God as just another powerful magical fairy tale character.

In fantasy and mystery novels, it was often seen as a good thing to go against the Authority, whether that was a magical character or a parent.  In Adventism, you are bombarded with “always obey parents and authority. They know best. Even if they are wrong, they are right, because they are your authority.” However, books like Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and other mystery books for children, often featured plots where the children really did know better than the parents. This is incredibly important, because Adventists, or at least, those who read Ellen White’s writings faithfully, have this thing about authority always being right, even when they’re wrong. The authority (parent or teacher or pastor or whatnot), once they make a decision, can never change their mind. They must follow through on what they have said no matter what.

My parents were not as strict about this as some. They would admit, sometimes, when they were wrong, but they were still of the “obey every single authority always” mindset that is so damaging. However, the books they allowed me to read, either subtly or not, undermined this when they taught me that sometimes kids know better than the parents, particularly when the parent doesn’t have all the information and refuses to listen to the child, who has more information than they do.

I spent most of my teen years alternating between, “Ellen White is right, these things are keeping me away from Jesus,” and, “Ellen White is wrong. I can still be a good Christian and love to read Science Fiction and Fantasy***.” This is why, over the years, I collected and then threw away a good many books. It’s probably one of my worst regrets. Those first editions of Harry Potter…..

Ahem. Anyway. I learned in the end, too late, that Ellen White was right. Reading did take me away from Jesus. And that’s ok.

 

 

*(Sometimes my father would too, but his TS usually acted up when he read. Also, he liked to change the story around. For YEARS I actually believed Jesus brought Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego ice cream in the fiery furnace. Hey, with God, all things are possible.)

 

**Except for Harry Potter. Harry Potter was bad. Because witchcraft…. or something. Well, the pastor said it was bad, so, it’s bad.

***For the record, I still believe this one. There are Christians who choose to read these things and find that they don’t interfere with their relationship with God. That’s a valid way to feel.

 

 

In Which I Explain How Canvassing Led To Atheism

July 27, 2015

 

I promised this post to a group of Ex Sevys, and thought it would be easier to post it here than to try and hook up something up to my fakebook account.

For those who are lucky enough not to know, Canvassing is what Adventists call Literature Evangelism. It basically means going door to door with religious books and trying to sell them. The reasons they try to sell them instead of just give them away are as follows:

1.  If people pay money for a book, they value it more. This makes them more likely to read it, and less likely to throw it in the trash can. I agreed with this principle, as I’ve seen churches send out mass mailings of The Great Controversy, and I know that a lot of those books end up in the garbage cans because people don’t want it and don’t know what to do with it.

2. Let’s face it, book printing is expensive. What we were selling the books for barely even covered the cost of making them, but it helped.

Selling religious books is seen as a way to evangelize. Ellen White, the Adventist prophet, was a very strong supporter of this, and wrote about it constantly. At my interview, I was given a book of compilations of her writings on the subject. It wasn’t a terribly thick book (for once) but it was good sized.

Actually, I was already an ex Adventist when I signed up for canvassing. However, I was still a Christian, and I was running with an Adventist group at school because Adventism was what I knew growing up, and it aligned closest with my theological beliefs.

I had some reservations about canvassing. I didn’t believe in Ellen White as a prophet…. how could I sell her books? I also didn’t agree with door to door sales…. how could I participate in something I was uncomfortable with? I believed in Jesus and his love, but not half the other things Adventists where selling, and definitely nothing out of The Great Controversy, which is THE book they want you to try and sell.

However, I wanted to love God. It bothered me that I did not love God. Even at my fundiest, I never loved God. I wanted to love God. I wanted to share his love with people. I was promised by veterans of the canvassing program that canvassing had helped them grow so much closer to God, and they just loved him so much. Also, they had had these amazing experiences where they got to reach out and help people.

So I put my reservations aside for 3 months, and signed up for canvassing.

I wrote about a lot of my experiences in canvassing on this blog, so I won’t get into them too much. If you want to find them, they are the first year’s worth of entries.

Right away, it was clear that I did not fit in with the others. In fact, I almost got kicked out 4 times. I’ll talk about that later if you want, but it’s not really relevant right now.

According to my journal entries that I don’t remember writing, I began to question God pretty early on. I have a mental illness, and for the longest time I’ve been wanting help. Well, my friend Callie said she could probably get someone she knew who was a counselor to talk to me. I was excited about this. I wanted to get my life together. However, the person she was referring to refused, on account of he has a penis and I have a vagina, and you all know what THAT leads to.

How could god exist? how could a God exist who would want that and think this was good? Didn’t God understand professional relationships vs private ones? What kind of a God would TELL someone that a penis and a vagina could never be alone in the same room together or they’d end up boinking?

However, I did the same as I always did with questions that, after searching and praying and seeking out advice from others, I could not find satisfactory answers to: conceal it, don’t feel it; don’t let it show.

About a month into canvassing, my friend Callie told me that she’d prayed about it, and God had told her to not speak to me for a while, at least until I learned to love God more than her.

Now, a break from me was probably what she needed. I have mental issues, and I can get rather clingy. If she had been up front about that, if she had just said, “Hey Abby, you’ve been really clingy lately and I just need some space,” I would’ve been ok with that. I would still have been sad, but I would have accepted it and known that this was what she felt she needed in order to remain friends with me.

I even asked her if that was what this was about. She said no, that I loved and relied on her more than I relied on Jesus, and that needed to stop. And….. after that, all mental hell broke lose. In all of this, Callie was the one friend I had trusted the most, and in the time I most needed her, she left me.

And all my questions had to be put aside. I had to love Jesus. I had to. I had to so that Callie would talk to me again…. but no, if I think like that, then it’s about Callie, not Jesus. I have to learn to love Jesus….

If Callie had done one thing that would ensure that I would never love Jesus more than her, this was it. From now one, loving Jesus and loving Callie were one and the same, because without one, I could not have the other.

Every time I tried to love Jesus more, some small part of my brain would pipe up “and then maybe Callie will speak to me again!”

And then I would feel guilty for thinking about Callie when I was supposed to be thinking about Jesus.

The guilt…. oh satan the guilt! This mental gymnastics went around in circles….

And wouldn’t God have known that? Wouldn’t he have known that this would only intertwine things more closely, so that I could not sort out loving God from loving Callie? Wouldn’t an all knowing God know that this was a bad idea?

No, god is real. Conceal it, don’t feel it. Don’t let it show.

How does one get to the point where they love Jesus? I asked James, who told me to read the bible, particularly the gospels, in conjunction with the Desire of Ages (Ellen White book about the life of Christ.) Instead, I opted to read Christ’s Object Lessons, which is about the parables of Jesus specifically.

And so, the one and only time I ever got picked to do a morning worship talk, I talked about a chapter from Christ’s Object Lessons. I vaguely remember the chapter I was reading. It was some minor tidbit about Judas, and the discrepancy was over exactly WHEN he’d left the priests to go betray Jesus. Or when he left to go hang himself…. or something. Can’t remember exactly what, but it had to do with Judas.

Now, I did not believe in Ellen White as a prophet, and had not since the age of 15. However, when one is immersed in the brainwashing, stuff creeps in around the edges. My unconscious compromise was that, where Ellen White contradicted modern science and psychology, she was wrong. Wherever she talked about the bible, or science had no opinion one way or the other, she was right. I was not conscious that I was doing this.

Not only did Ellen White contradict the bible, the bible contradicted the bible. In all 2 gospels that discuss this (or it might have been 3, I don’t remember) it was different. It was a minor detail, surely I could ignore it? No, because all Adventists read the bible this way; in the most literal way possible, and God’s word never changes. Ever. Sooooo what the fuck was it doing contradicting each other?

All of a sudden, all the contradictions I’d noticed in the bible over the years but stuffed down deep inside when I had no answers came rushing back to the surface. Ellen White contradicted the bible. The bible contradicted itself. Ethics and morals in general contradicted the bible.

I spent the summer praying a lot, and at the end, God told me, and very firmly, that I was not to be involved in ministry. That this was his purpose in taking me canvassing, to show me this. I accepted this, and was at peace with his decision.

That night I was talking to my friend and team leader, James. Apparently, God had told him that, now that I had a whopping 3 months of canvassing under my belt, I was just perfect for the ministry. Next year at school I was to be involved in giving bible studies, speaking more often at Wed night bible study (I do have a talent for pubic speaking, shame I’ll never get to use it again.), etc. I was going to do all this work for the Lord! James was really excited about all this. He was really going to disciple me, and become my mentor.

I told James that God had told me the exact opposite, that God had shown me these past 3 months that he did not want me in the ministry at all.

James countered back that God had told him that I should be in ministry, and of course he was the one listening to the “right” Jesus, whatever that meant.

I was very very confused.

But I couldn’t think about it. If I wanted my best friend Callie back, I couldn’t think about it. Otherwise, Callie would never speak to me again. Jesus would tell her I still loved her more than him, and that’d be the end of it. Even worse than that, I wouldn’t love Jesus if I thought he wasn’t real. And loving Jesus was something I did want, at the time.

So I stuffed the confusion and questions down deep inside me, same as I always did when I had questions that, after prayer and bible study and seeking the advice of pastors, I couldn’t find answers to. Conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show. Love Jesus. You have to, or you’ll never hear from your best friend again. Also, you’ll never love Jesus.

Callie eventually did start speaking to me again, sometime in late September or early October.

All I could feel was relief that it was no longer so urgent that I learn to love Jesus, and that made me feel angry. I had wanted to love Jesus, regardless of whether or not I got my best friend back. And now, it seemed that all that had really mattered to me while I was trying to love Jesus was that I wanted my best friend back?

I was even more confused now than I was in canvassing.

I couldn’t stuff things down anymore, I just couldn’t. “Conceal, don’t feel” wasn’t working, and all the doubts and questions I had ever had in my life came boiling to the surface like a volcano. I stopped going to bible study, I stopped going to classes. Going to work was the only thing I COULD do. I failed every single class that last semester.

I spent most of my time researching whether or not god was real.This took up the entire portion of the schoolyear and the summer after that.

Then there was some drama that went down, about a year after canvassing, this was, with the pastor of the local SDA church. He acted like a total asshole, and it took me months to deal with the fallout. When the dust settled, I returned back to the question of “is there a god,” and found out that my faith was just gone. There were other things besides canvassing that led up to this, and there are other reasons why I came to this conclusion. However, canvassing was the catalyst that triggered the whole thing, or at least, expedited a process that could’ve easily taken another decade.

This has been by far the most devastating experience of my life, but, I’m glad it happened now while I am still young. Now I can begin the process of picking up the pieces and starting over.

It has been two years since I left Christianity, and 11 since I left Adventism. It has been the hardest experience of my life, but through it all, through the dark times, the darker times, and the utter loneliness and isolation I feel after losing my whole community, I knew that I had made the right decision. There is no going back, and I have no regrets.