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My most powerful experience with a cultural identity started when I was three and my parents joined the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City. To understand the impact this church had on my life, you have to understand the church. Some might say this is a cult and they are an integral part of every facet of your life. The internal culture of the church was so all-encompassing and exclusionary that the best way I can think to relate it is to compare it to a room with just one door. Those within the room share a common worldview, and reject anyone that has a perspective slightly different than the accepted norm. Everyone in the room knows about the door but stays clear of it. To experience another perspective is tantamount to rejecting the church; to accept that a differing opinion has validity is like becoming purple. They are a tight-knit group that takes care of their own. Everything you do is based in the church. The members are your extended family. You are told to associate with the Followers, not worldly people. You are encouraged to work for a Follower whenever possible, you socialize with other Followers, every life changing moment is shared with other Followers. We weren’t allowed to go to doctors because our faith should be strong to see us through. We were only to marry someone from within the church, and everybody came to the wedding. It was its own culture, and it was mine as well. All this sounds wonderful except for the fact that if you were not born into the church, you lacked the status it took to rise to higher levels within the church. Higher education was discouraged due to the exposure to worldly ideas and knowledge. The women mostly stayed at home with the children. The church grounded their teachings on the Bible and at some time, all of the doctrines seemed to make sense. The Followers are a very close group, encouraging each other in times of death or illness. It is a kind of security blanket when growing up because you know that if your parents aren’t available for you and you need adult guidance, a friend’s dad or mom will be there for you.
I played by the rules and was married in this environment, and I kept things going and held my family together until about two years ago. It was then that I discovered how hard it is to withdraw from this type of environment. My wife at the time did not want to adhere to the teachings of the church, in fact, she made it clear that she was rejecting everything I had ever believed or worked for. She made this clear through her actions; what she also made clear was that the marriage was over. I had to try to keep everything together for our family by myself. I made some conscious decisions about my life and the direction I wanted my children’s lives to take. Having one’s marriage fall apart is hard enough, by the idea of losing the backing of the church and my friends in the church was almost more than I could bear. The Followers of Christ church defined my whole world and they did not believe in divorce. There was no longer any place in the “room” for me, my only choice was to leave it. I chose to do so by opening the door. I did not know at that time that doing so would force me to reexamine everything that I ever held as truth or that I ever thought was important. I had to learn to trust others. I realized higher education was something I not only wanted but also deserved. The opportunity to make the best life for my kids and me was very important to me.
It has been a long road, and it is not over. I do not know that it ever will be. Everything I do or experience I now see through two lenses. The worldview of my youth will most likely shade my perspectives for the rest of my life, but I am learning to view the world through lenses that are less restricting. I question my reactions to most new things to make sure that it is not left over from my previous indoctrination. Periodically I review my beliefs and I question them striving to be ever vigilant in what I accept as truth and what I let alter the course of my life. Since my divorce, I am better able to accept new things in my life. I have started going to a new church, am involved in the Cub Scouts (which wasn’t allowed for me as a youth) and I have a new relationship with a woman who had never heard of the Followers’ church before she met me. The daily walk can still be a tough one at times but I am happier and more self-assured than ever before.