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#1 Ichabod

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Posted 03 May 2010 - 10:38 PM

Hello,

Newbie here. I found this site surfing around looking for support for Ex-Mennonites. Couldn't find any.

I was born into a closed Mennonite Community in PA. My journey away from the Mennonite Church began with my birth I think. I always thought Mennonitism was a crock, even though I wore the clothes and briefly in my teens took the Church Communion, which for those of you not familiar with Mennonitism means I not only said the prayer, but shunned the world, met all the requirements, etc. Mennonites do not practice open communion, if you take communion that means you are on the inside, a member. The Mennonite comunion has little to do with the blood and body of Christ and everything to do with church discipline.

My life has been hell. I realize that in a world where people are hungry and living without shelter that that is a bold and incredibly narcisitic thing to say. My life has been hell psychologically would probably be more correct. But if I said it was all psychological I would be lieing. When I was almost a teen my Father beat me with his hand till I was black and blue from the middle of my back down to the back of my knees for not properly cowtowing to the "teacher"(barely out of her teens herself) at the community church school I was sent to. And that was only one of many beatings. I grew up around violent discipline. Some of my earliest memories of my father involve violence. If I wasn't getting a beating I was seeing my siblings getting beat, which was also damaging to the siblings seeing it take place.

I'm digressing, but that particular beating was probably the worst because it happened just as I was reaching puberty and already having the normal issues with my changing body and my changing role in the world. That beating more than any other scarred me emotionally. I crawled into a fantasy world of my own from which I have never recovered, but where I could be safe and the world could be a nice place -- but if I left anybody into it they would mock me for being dreamy and weird. I'll never forget taking my clothes off and looking at my back in the mirror the next day and the terror of seeing the physical evidence. And my father was a decent man. He was a Mennonite Bishop, and he would not have his childern go "wrong" no matter what. He really believed that beating his childern into wimpering, cowering, shaking, obedient, selfless kids was the way to make them good Christians.

Whenever I hear people say how wonderful the Mennonites are, so peaceful and kind and humble. It makes me go bonkers. I have visited some other websites where ex amish and ex mennonites have told their stories only to have non amish and non mennonites comment back that it can't be true, it's made up because the mennonites that they know are such kind people. It's frustrating. Mennonites, Amish, and Fundamenalist Mormons get a free pass in the American media, possibly because they look so nice in their "plain" clothes and possibly becuase it's in human nature to want to believe that there is a simple, good life out there if you just shun the evil modern world. What a load of rubbish. In the Mennonite Community that I grew up in incest was rampid. When ex mennonit/amish say things like that they always get accused of being bitter and dishonest because of their personal bad experiences, and then get told by non menno/amish people that on the whole mennos/amish are just sweet non violent people who are pacifists and it simply can't be true. It makes springs stick out of my head when I hear that, or when I hear liberals on TV saying that in today's tolerate society surely we can make room for polygamy and arranged (child?) marriage for the Mormons for religious reasons. They have no idea what it is they are endorsing. Just because a person is meek and mild in public doesnt mean they don't get violent when they think eternal damnation is at stake. I am not making this up. It is documented. Some of the incest I know of first hand (although it didn't involve me or my family directly.) Nor am I talking about cousin/cousin marriages which are common and accepted in menno/amish comunities. There is some seriously screwed up teenagers (and adults) in the mennonite/amish communties. But I'm rambling.

I am a 43 year old loner, despite having two college degrees (one from a non-accredited, fundamentalist Babtist "University"), actually it is suprising how well a person can hide out in Universities. The experience of getting the degrees, although a huge step for me, didn't exactly magicly make me fit into with the real world. I have been unable to open up enough to anybody to have a real friendship, all my friendships have been work or school related and extremely superficial. Even people who try to reach out to me I push away and keep at arms length. Although I have made progress with things like conversation I still am easily intimated and freeze up around anybody whom I precieve as an authority figure, whether I want to not. Although heterosexual, I have never been able to have a successful, adult relationship with a woman, possibly due to the experiences with the Sisters who taught me in school. Many people just assume that I am gay, which doesn't help the pain any. It is somewhat comforting to know that the group of boys that I grew up with also had problems with girlfriends. But that's another story.

I am the youngest of 4 boys all of which left the mennonite community and crashed and burned. The oldest doing the best after not marrying well and for many years being a weekend drunk, the next dieing while young in a motorcycle accident while unemployed, the next in and out of mental hospitals, (in fact I am the only boy that lived into adulthood that didn't pursue professional help), my two sisters hiding out in quiet desperation in loveless mennonite marriages, my father dead, a broken man because all his boys went "wrong", and the church essentially silenced him, my mother a recluse because the church community blames her for losing her boys to the "world." And they say religion is a wonderful thing -- the peace that passeth all understanding. yeah right.

I could go on and on. I could write a book the length of In Search of Lost Time.

It would be nice to find someone else who has had experiences like mine who is not either in denial about it, or purposely lacking in self-awareness, or on the internet trying to turn their experiences into a celebrity vehicle because of America's fascination/love affair with the "plain" religions. That's what brought me here. Looking for that. And I have rambled on. I don't know that anyone will read this. And few could make it all the way through. Sometimes I feel like the Anthony Hopkins character in the Remains of the Day just can't break out and be free no matter what.

Few people know what it's like to be 18 years old and intimidated by the ordering process at a McDonalds, or to see TV and not know the difference between the commercials and the tv program, or to hear Aerosmith sing about the "best kind of lovein' is a sister and a cousin" and not realize that they are not being serious, to not understand even basic pop cultural references, to having always been stared at in public, to have been taught that the non mennonite world is an evil place full of evil people, that your choice in life is the mennonite way or a knife in your back in an alley behind a bar room to be followed by eternal damnation, to realize that if you leave your religion you are also leaving you social life, family life, and economic well being behind you. I don't know of anyone who has left the plain mennonite church who hasn't hit a brick wall. The ones that do it successfully are the ones who move to more and more liberal churches till they are essentially non-practicing Mennonites but still mostly living in the community. That's the path I didn't take. A path not really open to someone who has always considered themselves agnostic.

It is interesting that the Amish churches act as feeder groups to the Mennonite churches (as young couples chaff under the rules and go Mennonite) and the plainer Mennonite churches act as feeder groups to the more liberal Mennonite churches and the childern of the liberal mennonite churches finally walk free into main stream society. But my god, there is a lot of train wrecks on the side tracks.
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#2 Carmen

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Posted 03 May 2010 - 11:55 PM

This is horrible. All I can say is that I am so sorry, and my heart goes out to you. I never, never knew these kinds of things went on in Mennonite communities. Though I wasn't raised Mennonite, my heritage is Mennonite, and I had always taken some pride in the thought that my ancestors were peace-loving. I could have never imagined a story like yours. I hope this site will be a help to you, I know it has been for me and a lot of other people.
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#3 Dagan

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 12:55 AM

Welcome! I hope you find a place here.

I believe you. I'm from a Mennonite Brethren background, so a lot more evangelical than what you described. But I know the "traditional" Mennonite communities suffer from lots of horrible stuff.

Glad you made it out.
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#4 lunaticheathen

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 01:08 AM

I've honestly never heard a story like yours, but I believe you. My mom knew some mennonites, and said nothing but great things about them, but she also believed I worshiped the devil at one point. So, she can be wrong, or mislead easily.
But who thinks fundy mormons are alright? Seriously, fuck them sideways. I don't have a problem who marries who CONSENSUALLY, but children? Sick bastards.
I hope you find this site helpful, though I haven't come across any other ex-mennonites or ex-amish. We're all still ex-christians, and there's common threads with all fundy stripes. Like the oppression of women, and the idea that this world is "evil." Mennonites are likely more vehement about the latter, but more than one person here has encountered that silly fucking attitude.
Anyway, welcome to ex-c!
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#5 Overcame Faith

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 07:35 AM

So sorry you went through all of that. It is evident that the scars run deep. You said that you were the only one of the four boys in your family who reached adulthood and did not seek professional help. Maybe you should consider changing that. Perhaps you could find a non-Christian counselor who could help you recover from your childhood trauma and begin living a better life as an adult. There's no shame in seeking help. You are every bit as traumatized as someone who fought on the worst battlefield. Maybe more so since a lot of what happened to you was when you were a child.

Welcome to Exchristian. You have friends here.

#6 Shyone

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 07:36 AM

I believe we have had (at least) two ex-mennonites. I don't know if they are currently active. (go to the members section and search for "mennonite" or other words likely to be in their profile, and you might also look at the general messages for testimonials with the word "mennonite").

You encountered the two things that make religion almost impossible without a lot of self-deception: Knowledge and empathy. Knowing the suffering of others, and feeling their pain, makes shunning them painful, even if that's what you are "supposed to do."

Welcome to Ex-C, and we look forward to your insight.
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#7 Burnedout

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 08:06 AM

Welcome!

There is an old-order ex-Menonite around here somewhere. She is R.S.Martin on here. You and her might relate on many levels.

Edited by Burnedout, 04 May 2010 - 08:06 AM.

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#8 ShallowByThyGame

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 11:19 AM

Your story turns my stomach. I've bought bread from mennonites at the farmer's market and now I feel guilty lol. Is your father's behavior typical, or do you think he was extra zealous? Can you talk about how you realized the way you grew up was wrong? How you left?

I hope you will find some comfort in telling your story.

If you are comfortable telling your story, I am curious if you would be interested in discussing your upbringing on a non-support site because it is more interesting than a typical deconversion tale in my opinion.

Well, I think you'd be supported in most places anyway given the tragic nature, but I often frequent Reddit's 'Ask Me Anything', and some people might find your story fascinating as you have inside information on a culture that few people know about, although some people there might take the side of Mennonite apologists which I understand may not be what you want to deal with. However you can reach a wider audience there if you are interested in exposing the dark side of that culture. If the site perplexes you I can give you some pointers. If you're not interested that is fine, this site is a safe place to discuss your thoughts and many of us have been stung by the damaging delusions of religion.
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#9 Phanta

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 12:25 PM

Hi! I read through your piece. There is, indeed, a prevalent romantic view out there of the "plain peoples". That perception being so starkly contrary to your personal experience must add an extra layer of loneliness. I'm so sorry for what you've been through.

I second the suggestion to try out some of R. S. Martin's posts. Her About Us page, which I've linked to, gives a little bit of her background with the Mennonite church. She's also got a link to her testimony of deconversion in there.

Welcome.

Phanta

Edited by Phanta, 04 May 2010 - 01:26 PM.

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#10 StevoMuso

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 12:52 PM

Welcome to ExC - I read your entire story with fascination. I had no idea that these societies still existed in our "modern" world. The child abuse, as always, is what horrifies me the most. Children ... why is it always the children who get so hurt? It may be because they are the only hope those communities have of keeping themselves going, and internal children are prime targets because rational adults would NEVER allow themselves to become indoctrinated by the obvious cult-ish nature of Mennonite dogma.

Nothing we say can bring you any kind of comfort, Ichabod, but I reflect the thoughts of the others by saying we are glad you made it out and found us here.

Have you considered writing a book? The truth about the Mennonites. It may be therapeutic for you to "get it all out in the open" and expose those child-abusing monsters for who they really are. (Just a thought)
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#11 HRDWarrior

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 07:56 PM

Hello and welcome to the site, thank you for sharing your story.

Where i grew up (rural Wisconsin) we had a lot of Amish, and a few Mennonites in the area. Although a lot of people saw them as "peaceful" and "kind," we actually got to know some of the families and I could see that things were not as perfect as the image presented to the rest of the world. That, and being a horse and animal loving person, I often saw their animals grossly mistreated - and I don't mean being made to work and not pampered, I mean literally starving with huge gaping sores where the harness rubbed them raw over old scars, and them standing tied in the blazing sun at 90+ degrees at the Walmart parking lot with no water and covered in sweat, while their plow horses were plump and healthy (since they weren't as discard-able). In my opinion, anyone who could do that to an animal would be more than willing to beat a child to make them obey. I also witnessed Amish beating their horses and other animals on occasion - and literal beatings leaving the animal covered in life-long scars, not giving a naughty horse a smack on the rump with a whip. Big difference.

Of course, not every single family was that way, but I would say over half of them were. There were a few who claimed to be horse trainers and some friends made the mistake of sending a horse there, only to have it come back terrified if anyone moved with (again) nasty cuts all over its back. The Mennonite communities were much smaller, so had less impact, but in any group when the women are that controlled, I'm sure there's a reason for it...

So, while I have not had personal experience in those types of communities, I can definitely believe everything you are saying from my limited contact.

Actually a lot of fundamentalist christians borderline on being just as bad, other than they can use more electronic equipment/technology. In fact, in my family we weren't much better off other than we had a car, owned a TV (but my parents removed the antennae, so no television to watch, only approved movies), and had a computer (again, very regulated though). But my mother has been shunned by all the churches in her area who believe even close to what she does because she finally divorced her abusive husband (who literally threatened to kill her - and had the means and ability to carry out that threat), because it was her "duty" to stay with him.

Sorry, got off track, but welcome, and I hope you can find some of the support you are seeking!
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#12 dB-Paradox

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 08:22 PM

I am from a Mennonite family also. My wife and I got married in the Mennonite church she attended from birth (born Saturday, in church Sunday kind of thing!). Her parents are not physically abusive, but sure can dish out the verbal punishment, in a kind/cruel way. My biological father was also from a Mennonite background, or so I'm told. He was physically abusive (again, so I'm told). He went to prison for rape when I was only 3 years old. But I guess I may have carried some of the emotional baggage right on through to my adult years from his abuse to me as a baby.

One thing I really hate about Mennonites is how proud they are. "Oh, look at me and how much money I have" or "Look at my brand new fancy car I just paid cash for" or worse yet "Oh, look how good and humble I am in the sight of the Lord"! It's all BS! I'm so glad I didn't turn out a traditional Mennonite! I can hardly even speak a word of German! Ha! Down here, the Hutterites are even worse! All driving around in their super long van, inter-breeding and wearing their stupid same clothes all the time (maybe that's what the Mennonites are like in places, too, I don't know).

Anyway, sorry to hear about the super stupid crap you had to go through. That's just aweful. Welcome here and glad you're getting free!
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#13 Franko47

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 08:38 PM

I live in a community with quite a number of Mennonites (they even have a civic committee in my town; although I prefer to call it a "mafia") and while modern liberal "Mennos" seem OK, I'm always wary of cloistered religious "communes" that wish to shelter themselves from the "big bad world".

Edited by Franko47, 04 May 2010 - 08:38 PM.

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#14 Galien

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Posted 04 May 2010 - 08:40 PM

Big hug for you Ichabod. I'm sad for you that your upbringing has had such a devastating effect on you. Mine had done too, violence for different reasons then cult involvement and overwhelming religious guilt and anxiety. I could never escape into a fantasy world, raw nastiness is in my face unfortunately. Sounds like your siblings have had their lives wrecked too.

Life sucks at times, but I have finally worked out at almost 50 that I deserve better. The way my family taught me to treat myself like shit has plagued me my whole life. I found a counsellor four years ago who helped retrain me to treat myself with the self respect my parents should have taught me. It's hard to know that ones' parents cared more about being right than they did about us, and the lengths they would go to for control. Its wrong and it never really stops hurting on one level or another.

I have tried so hard not to inflict that on my own children. I did for a while with my eldest, but was able to nip it in the bud. No point doing to another what was done to me.

I hope you meet a lovely soft hearted lady who will hold you through your journey. I hope you are able to become more trusting but I know how hard that is too, like a wound that never really heals over, you are constantly wondering when the next untrustworthy person will rip the scab off.

I hope this site is a help to you :)






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#15 lunaticheathen

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Posted 05 May 2010 - 04:33 AM

Where i grew up (rural Wisconsin) we had a lot of Amish, and a few Mennonites in the area. Although a lot of people saw them as "peaceful" and "kind," we actually got to know some of the families and I could see that things were not as perfect as the image presented to the rest of the world. That, and being a horse and animal loving person, I often saw their animals grossly mistreated - and I don't mean being made to work and not pampered, I mean literally starving with huge gaping sores where the harness rubbed them raw over old scars, and them standing tied in the blazing sun at 90+ degrees at the Walmart parking lot with no water and covered in sweat, while their plow horses were plump and healthy (since they weren't as discard-able). In my opinion, anyone who could do that to an animal would be more than willing to beat a child to make them obey. I also witnessed Amish beating their horses and other animals on occasion - and literal beatings leaving the animal covered in life-long scars, not giving a naughty horse a smack on the rump with a whip. Big difference.


Holy fucksticks, not ever having lived around the Amish, I did not know this. If I had witnessed such a thing, I would have wailed the shit outta those assholes treating horses (or any living being) that way! Sounds like the "man having dominion" bullshit taken to a whole insane fuckin level, and would have ended in me stealing their fucking cart horses. Then beating the fucks with a bullwhip.
This makes me insane - there is no good reason to abuse animals, and people like that are certainly more inclined to abuse children. I personally don't see any fucking difference.
What the FUCK is WRONG with people???
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#16 Ichabod

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 08:48 PM

I never, never knew these kinds of things went on in Mennonite communities.


See, that is the thing. Why does that suprise you? The people that make up the Mennonite communities are the same people that make up the general population. Religion doesn't change anybody. That fact that you are suprised means you have drunk the Koolade that makes people think that religion magicly changes people. It doesn't. If I said I was beaten by a working class father in Brooklyn, that would make the story more believeable? Why? It's all the same people just wearing different clothes.

Though I wasn't raised Mennonite, my heritage is Mennonite, and I had always taken some pride in the thought that my ancestors were peace-loving.


As well you should. There is much to be proud of in Mennonite History. But again, there is much to be proud of in complete secularist history as well. The presence of religion makes no difference. Mennonites have oppose (at least theoretically) a lot of the same issues that liberal intellectuals have opposed in American History e.g. slavery, war, proverty.

I could have never imagined a story like yours.


I am embarrassed that I posted that, and am ashamed to even reread it. It is full of self pity, hyperbole, and sensational language. The very thing I hate about other people's stories that I have read, most recently, Lost Boy by Brent Jeffs, a story very similiar to mine, both of us being born into the "ruling" class of the community. Both my father and my grandfather were bishops and a great uncle was a minister. When my older brothers and myself went "wrong" one of the sons of my father's brother was made minister and, oddly, got impatient and split the church before he could be made Bishop. Like the Jeffs, there was a power struggle between our families, though we lived cheek to jowl. But I digress.

I stand by what I said. I really was black and blue from the "spanking." I really was "spanked" a couple of times and not told the reason why (while still a preschooler.) I really did see my siblings violently "spanked." I really do know of numerous incest cases, etc. But I do not stand by my language or self pity. I was feeling down in the dumps when I posted that. Which is somewhat unusual for me. Being of good German stock I rarely get overly excited or overly depressed, just kind of an ongoing morose even keel.
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#17 Ichabod

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 09:06 PM

Welcome! I hope you find a place here.

I believe you. I'm from a Mennonite Brethren background, so a lot more evangelical than what you described. But I know the "traditional" Mennonite communities suffer from lots of horrible stuff.


Thank you. The general population just can not wrap their heads around the idea that such "simple", "plain" folk can be just as troubled as the city slickers. When we went out in public it was not unusual to have non-mennonite people (fashionable people, as we called them) uh and ah to my parents, or each other, over the pretty, clean-cut, rosey-cheeked childern. What a beautiful family, and so quiet and well behaved -- if only the whole world could be so good and pure. Occasionaly, non-mennonite people would even inquire into adopting the life style.

Glad you made it out.


Thank you, but a person never really makes it out. It is your personal narrative. You can never escape it. It is your past that explains who you are today. If your internal narrative breaks down and you can no longer satisfactorily explain to yourself why you are who you are -- you've got problems. If that made any sense. Fortunately, most people never have to contemplate those sorts of issues, at least no overtly.
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#18 Ichabod

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 09:26 PM

So sorry you went through all of that. It is evident that the scars run deep. You said that you were the only one of the four boys in your family who reached adulthood and did not seek professional help. Maybe you should consider changing that. Perhaps you could find a non-Christian counselor who could help you recover from your childhood trauma and begin living a better life as an adult. There's no shame in seeking help.


Thank you. No, I don't really think there is any shame in that. However, I don't really think that a paid for friend (a shrink) is a whole better than an imaginery friend (Jesus). The help my brothers got was pretty helpless. Both were on prescription drugs for a time, but kicked them to go on and lead relatively stable lives, at least one did. I don't communicate with either of them much anymore. One is quite a bit older and left home while I was still young. I don't know him that well. And the other went into hard-right-wing politics with his whole soul and being, which makes our relationship strained. My two sisters stayed in the church. Although the church does not overtly practice shunning as many old-order mennos/amish do, our lifestyles are so different and the distrust so deep that it is insurmountable. But I digress.

You are every bit as traumatized as someone who fought on the worst battlefield. Maybe more so since a lot of what happened to you was when you were a child.


Thank you for your understanding and kind words. But no, I completely dissagree. I would not even begin to compare my experiences with someone who has seen battle. I think that would be grossly unfair to them.
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#19 Ichabod

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 09:37 PM

But who thinks fundy mormons are alright? Seriously, fuck them sideways. I don't have a problem who marries who CONSENSUALLY, but children?


Apparently a lot West Texans think they are alright. The prosecution had original hard copies of documents documenting underage marriage in the Texas community and they still could not get a case to court. No one had the political guts. When the law rescued the kids and confiscated evidence there was outrage in the national media. There was an excellent article in Texas Monthly about the case. There is a strong, right-wing libertarian streak in Utah, Arizona, and Texas that thinks people should do what ever they want. Plus the Mormons are very good at PR. They look so good and humble on TV. All those bad things just can't be true. Let them alone. But all of that has nothing to do with me or the relatively tame by comparison Mennos.
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#20 Dagan

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 10:55 PM

Glad you made it out.


Thank you, but a person never really makes it out. It is your personal narrative. You can never escape it. It is your past that explains who you are today. If your internal narrative breaks down and you can no longer satisfactorily explain to yourself why you are who you are -- you've got problems. If that made any sense. Fortunately, most people never have to contemplate those sorts of issues, at least no overtly.


I know exactly what you're talking about. I'm still struggling with it myself. Some days are better than others. Some are really, really bad. The only thing sometimes that keeps me going is knowing there are people who love me, and also that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Time to start writing our own stories, on our own terms, with our own characters, settings and we'll use whatever goddamn colourful metaphors we want!
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