My name "Jeremiah" is a hebrew name meaning; May Jehovah exalt. The most famous Jeremiah is the 7th Century prophet who has his own book in the Bible, and is the author of the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament. The second most famous Jeremiah was a bullfrog. This premonition is a hard one to live up to, the prophet not that the bullfrog, obvi.
As a child I was often reminded of the meaning of my name, and encouraged that God would play an important role in my life. I was told that I would one day do great things, and would be used by the lord in a special way. I remember not fully being able to wrap my little brain around what this meant. I was curious as to how God would use me, and curious about what made me so special in the first place.
I always loved going to church; We got to dress up in our best clothes, to see our friends outside of school, and to go out for lunch as a family. Both of my parents had a complicated relationship with religion and their faith, which even without words was apparent to me as a child. My father wasn't raised religious and never seemed to thrilled at the idea of going to church. My mother had a scary religious upbringing but still found a certain solace in her faith. I found comfort in her confidence, and the confidence of those surrounding me. They know what will happen to you when you died, a question that often worried my young mind. You must follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and be a servant onto him, and you will be granted enternal salvation in his kingdom. Seems easy enough...right?
I found comfort in the teachings, but also a stress knowing those teachings were not optional.. You HAD to believe a certain way and live in a specific manner or the deal was off. The only other option was hell, the enterity of damnations and suffering. These two options were so extreme and overwhelming I often wished there was a third option. One where you were truly at peace, where your existance was simply no longer there. I knew the best option was to live in happiness forever with the poeple I loved. So, like a good little servant I followed the rules as best as I could.
The rules became a little more dramatic when I started attending a new church. After my father went to prision my mother sought deliverance from her pain in a local church aptley named PRAISE. Praise Church had a sister school called 'Praise Christian Academy.' After some time attedning the church my siblings and I were enrolled in the school. We had a community of people on our side. People who seemed to care about us and where we would spend eternity. The first step was to accept Jesus Christ into our hearts. With a few statements and helpful had I was saved. Saved from hell, and the sinful life that I was previously living. I had been "saved" before but this time I felt like I really understood the gravity of what that meant.
The second step was to live my life for Jesus. I had to rid my life of secular thoughts, objects, and people. They would only hold me back in my journey for pure obediance to my God. I held a cereomny where I, one by one, dropped my secular music into a dumpster. I cried as I said my goodbyes to Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Emienm, Nelly, and even Uncle Cracker (It was the 90s dont judge me). I slowly removed all secular thought from my life. I was expecting a feeling of calmness and joy after my purge, but I still felt as confused as before. I prayed and prayed for God to give me a sign. A sign that I wasnt alone, that he was there for me, and how I was living was right. I'm still waiting on that one.
I dedicated my life to these Christian followings. I suppressed any feelings of doubt, because these feelings were just evil trying to creep its way onto my faith. I know what a good Christian boys life look like and I know I would do anything to achieve that life. I followed, blindly and abundantly. I did as they told me, fear God for he is a fearful God that you don't want to disappoint. Fearful God? This always scared me, yes it worked to keep me in line, but it also had a negative impact. It slowly pushed me away from the Christian God, I didn't want to be a part of something that pushed fear in order to recruit followers.
At Praise Christian Academy, like many private schools, there were rules. Rule number one: follow the teachings of the Bible and implement those teachings in your everyday life. This rule was easy for me to follow. I have had an appreciation for rules for as long as I can remember. I recall a story that my mother told me about my first day of Kindergarten. She says I came home from first day and recited all of the rules of school...and then preceded to name every kid who broke said rules including the number of rules they broke. "Amber broke rules 3 and 5. Garett broke rules 6 and 15, and Josh broke rules 7, 9, AND 14!" She was worried about my appreciation for rules and the affect it would have on my social life. Needless to say rules were not my problem.
The second, and final rule, is were I started to develop a problem. Rule number two: don't question our teachings and or interpretations of the teachings of the Bible. I was a questioner of many things, like most children my age. Why is the sky blue? How do astronauts go into space? If a spider bites me will I become spiderman? Why do I have an appendix if it's just going to be taken out? (That last one is still a question I have. I mean we all do realize the appendix is a ticking time bomb inside our bodies...right?) So like a healthy developing young mind I questioned the things I was being taught. How did Noah get two of ever animal to come with him to the ark? Where was Jesus the three days between his death and resurrection? Why did God allow polygamy on the Bible? How do dinosaurs fit into creation? How is christianity more right then other religions? Why does God let all this bad stuff happen? All reasonable questions for an eight year old to ask, but at Praise Christian Academy all questions that would get you demerits. They handed out demerits, or tickets, that once you reached a certain number would get you sent to the principal's office.
These are all questions someone comfortable in their faith would have no problems answering, however this was not a group of individuals comfortable in their faith. I remember my teacher being flabbergasted and frustrated with my constant questions, and as her frustrations increased so did the number of my demerits. I was normally a straight A student often considered the teacher's pet. In this scenario I was the the teacher's worst nightmare. After I exceeded my allotted number of demerits I was sent to the principal's office. Her name was Pastor Lynn, she was a young woman with a warm smile and a gentle touch. I wasn't afraid to talk to her, I knew she would understand the reason behind my questions and would have some answers my teacher was not wise enough to answer. I was wrong.
She brought me into her office and sat me down in her scratchy leather chair. "Do you know why you're in my office Jeremiah?" She said with an undertone of disappointment. "Because I got too many demerits." I said with naive resolution. "Do you know why you have so many demerits"
"Not really." I said honestly.
"It's because you are disobeying your teacher...and God, by questioning his word."
I sat in silence trying to fully grasp what she was saying.
"We don't allow students to disobey the teachings of god at this school. Do you know what the punishment is here for that many demerits?"
"No." I said in what was a half lie.
"I have to spank you with this board."
She pulled out a wood paddle about the size of a large purse, with evenly spaced holes, any like any welfare kid being threatened by an adult I brought up CPS.
"If you touch me I will call Child Protective Services on you!"
After my credible threat Pastor Lynn decided it was best to involve my mother in her disciplinary actions. Less than an hour later my mother arrived at Praise Christian Academy and after hearing both sides of the story she decided to disenroll me and my siblings that day.
Not long after we left the church.My mother came to the sobering realization that these individuals calling themsleves Christians were nothing more then the fanatics she was raised around. It's easy in any religion to get swept up into the fantasy. To drink the kool aid if you will. People promising you peace from your past and insurance for your future often don't have to sell their brand too hard.
Life after Praise Christian Academy was one of ease. I slowly began to listen to the music I liked and watch the films I wanted to see. It was amazing to hear and see stories I could relate to and which changed the way I viewed the world and its inhabitants. After Praise my mom gave us the option of going to church with her or not. Through all of her negative experiences her faith was unshaken. That faith is inspiring and beautiful. Even with this strong faith she has been so open minded and loving towards those who are different from her.
I still felt this gut instinct to defend my religion even though I felt very relieved not to be following the it. I remember I had one friend throughout elementary school who's parents were atheist and passed along their viewpoints, like most parents, to their child. This friend knew I was raised believing in God and tried every chance she could to crack that faith and prove how wrong those beliefs were. My first reaction was always anger, ironically much like my former teacher. I would tell her she just didn't get it, and that she hadn't heard the testimonies that I had heard! One time she asked me a question I couldn't dismiss.
"Yeah but have YOU ever felt the presence of God?!"
Shit. She got me there, but of course I wasn't going to admit that.
"Yes! Or course! I feel it all the time!"
I thought I felt this spiritual connection many times. This other worldly feeling that I am connected to something greater then myself, and that connection has a purpose far greater then I even know. I felt it when I would listen to a good song. I felt it when I would aimlessly float in my neighbors pool. I felt it when I would climb to the top of hill and look up at the sky. I couldn't have felt all of these connections for no reason.
This is when I reached the next phase in my spiritual journey. I was enetering middle school and my connection with a specific God was fading faster than my innocence. This phase was focused on a more physical and spiritual feeling. I believed there was a higher being somewhere and that that being was omnipotent. I didn't feel like I had to convince anyone about this belief, or to follow this belief. I knew on a subconscious level they could all feel it and that it was their journey to get there.
This belief system followed me through high school and the beginning of my college career. It was nice and safe it allowed me to take all the parts I liked about my previous faith and pick and choose when to believe them.
It often bothers me to see others do that now. I see people claiming to follow all of the teachings of their scriptures but instead pick and choose which parts are important and which ideas can be thrown out the window. Most religious doctrines were written thousands of years ago, which makes them hard to be as literally relatable to the modern world. I have many religious family members who follow their religion vigorously, but they still live in the modern world and choose to love and be open to others. I don't claim to be the smartest person, but if I wanted people to follow my religion, and I truly believed my religion was the truth, I wouldn't tell people how they are going to hell for simply being themselves. I would create a space where they felt loved and welcomed to be a part of my faith. After all if your God is not one of love what's the point in following them?
I went through a short phase in hating every religious person. I viewed them all as fanatics and judgemental. I didn't see how they could blindly follow a book of stories written by suppressive men. There was no in the middle for me. I either had to live in the religion, as I did as a child, or I had to completely denounce religion and religious people. I felt like I was woken up and they were all still asleep. This phase made it hard for me to have a relationship with most of my family. This phase began for my while attending church with my father and brother in Texas.
I remeber they were very excited about this pastor that had came to visit and preach at their church. He was well known in the Christian community and well respected with his teachings. I can't remeber all of his word verbatim but I do remeber the message. His sermon focused on homosexuality and just how big of a sin it is. He preached that if you are a true follower of God you will not support this homosexual sin in any way! He continued by saying even if you look at homosexuality and say "it's not my place to judge, I will love everyone", that you are just as bad as being homosexual yourself. I just sat there as he delivered his hate, with a big grin, to a cheerful audience. I felt in that moment alone and sad. I hadn't come out to my family at this point, and their excitement to hear this pastor was not going to make it easy. My family was not part of the cheering crowd. They were silent bystanders not sure what to say.
This phase didn't last as long as the others, because most of my experiences with religious people were pleasant and loving. With all my positive interactions with religious people it was difficult to have negative feelings for them. This, and the majority of my family are religious, and I love my family very much.
After moving out of West Virginia, and living in different cities and meeting people of all faiths and belief systems I have entered a another phase in my relationship with religion. To most this new phase may seem sad and pessimistic, but to me it's the exact opposite! I have finally come to a place where I don't pretend, or feel the need to, have all the answers. I don't know what's going to happen to me when I die. I don't know who, if any, religion got it all right. I DO know that I have today to live my best self, and I know that the time we have is short and special. I don't have a doctrine that I follow or rules I add into my life. I have decided to live everyday to the best of ability and to try not make the world a worse place then when I arrived.
I still don't have an answer to my family's predictions of my special spiritual use, but I no longer need an answer. You find the special in yourself, even if others never see it. The biggest thing I've learned in my search for meaning and spirituality has been acceptance. I've learned to recognize the prejudices I had and still have. I've learned that everyone follows their religion for a reason, even if the reason is hard to see. Those reasons are all valid and full of purpose. I've learned to love everyone even if their beliefs seek to suppress me, because at the end of the day we can only change people's minds, and hearts, with love. Just like me as a child, fear is not that way to persuade anyone to listen to you. Please love each other and really listen, you might just start to understand where someone else is coming from.
Thank you for reading!
Remeber make good choices, and be safe with your bodies!