Chapter 4.2: Baptized

Chapter 4.2: Baptized

The process of preparing for baptism involved several months of study and a series of meetings with congregation elders where they interviewed me to make sure I understood basic doctrinal teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was something I took very seriously. My choice to get baptized was not something I did out of obligation, or to please my parents. It was something I did because at that point, I believed that my religion was The Truth and that I was ready to be counted among the adults as a member of my community and take responsibility for my own decisions.

In retrospect, I also think that my experience in the hospital had made me realize that the ‘big, bad world’ out there was a lot more nuanced than I’d originally thought. I was confused about how someone like me could end up in the same place as kids who were not following the bible. Kids who had sex and did drugs, who I actually found myself liking and having things in common with. When I got back home, I wanted to cement my own identity within my religious community as quickly as possible.

So, later that year, at an annual district convention, in front of thousands of people, I stood with other baptismal candidates and affirmed my commitment to God. Then I was taken to a swimming pool where two of our elders dunked me to symbolize a spiritual renewal. When I emerged from the water I was ordained as a minister. I was a Witness of Jehovah.

Looking back, I am amazed how small a role God played during the entirety of my youth. That probably sounds ludicrous, considering the central role of religion in our lives, but the fact is, I had never had any real experience that qualified as an encounter with The Divine. I knew plenty about my religion, though, which I guess I assumed was pretty much the same thing. That is, I ‘knew God’ through the trappings of our religious doctrine–not as a real entity or through personal connection. Any definition, experience, or understanding of God that didn’t fit within the doctrinal definition of the Watchtower Bible & Tract society or accepted communal practices was dismissed, and sometimes outright ostracized and condemned.

I prayed daily growing up, but they were simple, transactional prayers. Please protect me. Please bless me. Thank you for this meal. Please help me to get an A on my Math Test. Sometimes I desperately wanted an answer, but there was never any forthcoming and I couldn’t admit to myself (much less anyone else) that I wasn’t sure God was even listening. And anyway, I had plenty of confirmation bias and community-based affirmations to keep me from entertaining any idea there might be something ‘else’ out there I was missing. We had airtight arguments in an airtight environment and even the occasional piercing questions posed from householders during our door-to-door ministry were easily dismissed as Satan’s attempts to sow seeds of doubt in us.

That we thought we could explain God and His Purpose For Us with a few pamphlets and one very modern translation of the Bible is unfathomable to me now. But it felt good at the time. It felt right. And that’s the thing about feelings. They don’t ever really represent The Truth. At least, not The Whole Truth.

*****

After my experience being hospitalized for depression and suicidal tendencies, I begged my mom to let me be homeschooled. The idea of going back to school was literally terrifying to me to the point that I would have panic attacks when I thought about it. I’d thrown out my meds, ceased any kind of therapy and put all my eggs in the God Basket. And yet, I found myself still struggling. I told Mom I’d rather drop out of school completely at the age of 14 than go back to school. We looked at a private school for ‘exceptional teenagers’ but even with a scholarship there was no way we could afford it. Luckily my mom didn’t give in and let me stay home. If she had, I think I’d have completely gone off track.

Instead, she went to the school district and pled my case. They agreed I needed to be in Special Ed, so I spent my entire 8th grade year in a single classroom in the back of the school with a handful of other misfits. They bussed me to school, I went in and went to my classroom, stayed there all day, and then got on the bus and went home. Toward the end of my 8th grade year I took some extensive tests and a few weeks later my counselors approached me and asked if I’d like to skip the 9th grade and go directly to high school. They assured me I could join the 10th grade and transition to my new school in a single classroom environment like the one I was already in. I enthusiastically agreed.

*****

A few months after I got baptized, my brother moved out to live with my dad in California. My mom assured me he’d be happier there. Boys need their fathers, she told me. It sounded like a good explanation, but I missed him terribly. We were 14 and 12 then and had been one others’ constant companions for our entire lives.

So, I threw myself in to my circle of teenage Witness friends. Had I been like any of the other weirdos at my school, skulking around in corners without a social circle, I may have sought out some unhealthy ways to cope with it. Instead, I had a robust social life made up of Witness kids like me who were proudly square. Once again, we found ourselves in a bubble within a bubble –our own little Jehovah’s Witness micro-culture inside the greater American subculture of Mormon-dominated Utah. We engaged with “The World” at work and school or when we went door-to-door; but our real home, our real family was at the Kingdom Hall with our ‘spiritual brothers and sisters’.

I was certain that I knew who I was, Who God Was, and that I was going to spend the remaining years before The End of The World in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I had no doubt.

 

3 Replies to “Chapter 4.2: Baptized”

  1. Great chapter and an excellent series overall. Your way of narration and precision in description is what makes this series exciting . Thank you for sharing.

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