Friday, August 14, 2009

Purpose, community, longing

When I wrote that there was a cult camping out on a boat in the Belfast Harbor, I didn't know zip about the Twelve Tribes communities. For some good analysis, check out Jaime's comment in the last post.

Yes, they are a Christian organization. Are they a cult? That depends on what one considers a cult. Is there a charismatic head honcho who controls everyone? Unless you believe that God or Jesus fits that bill, the answer is no. Do they have beliefs that I disagree with? Yes. Who doesn't? If I was a parent, I'd be a bit perturbed by my teenager joining them, for I don't think "sparing the rod spoils the child" nor do I think that women should be relegated to "womenly duties." There's no mention of homosexuality, but I would think that's considered a sin, considering women aren't supposed to do jobs that require pants.

Otherwise, they seem like a good group. In fact, when reading about them, I experience a keen feeling of longing. If I did have the same belief system, I would probably check them out. They appear to be a friendly, quiet bunch who proselytize by just being as they are. Their lives are dedicated to God and to prayer, and they worship with joy and exuberance, as well as trying to live the same way. Simple work, dancing, singing, shared meals, community, support, no divisions between rich and poor. . .ah, it sounds good to me.

I've said this before and I'll say it again; I do believe that depression is a direct result of having no spiritual life and/or community. Without purpose, without feeling that one is part of something larger than oneself, why bother doing anything? Just to pay one's rent or mortgage, buy more stuff, wait for the weekend or a yearly vacation to have some "fun"?

I want to be clear here that I do not believe in God as most people understand the concept. I am an atheist without hesitation or hedging my bets. But I do believe there is something larger than one's self, and what to call that is difficult. Maybe some day I'll have the capabilities of being a spiritual teacher, but I'm not there yet.

Statistics on depression show that about 22% of Americans have some form of it, and I would venture to guess that this number is low. How many people go undiagnosed? A great many.

As long as I have stuggled with lifelong depression, I have also sometimes fantasized about living in an intentional community. I do very well in that kind of environment. I think one reason many people get better when they go into mental health facilities is simply because they have community. Meals are at a set time. There are "community meetings" that mark the beginning and end of each day, and most facilities have occupational therapy, which is usually simply sitting around with other people while making things. For many, this is the first time in their lives they've spend a full hour being creative, and it's a revelation.

When I've spent time in spiritual communities, I've thrived. It's quite difficult for me to be depressed in these surroundings. Meditation alone is good, but I've found that meditation with others is even better. Additionally, knowing that whatever I do has an effect on everyone else is something that makes each activity seem more important. Of course, whatever I do in the "real world" does effect somebody or something, but within an intentional community, it is more obvious. For those, like me, who are given to bleak moods and a sense of purposelessness, living with others, sharing and making meals together, cleaning together, meditating together, working together. . .well, it's just all good (an expression I hate).

Why don't I live like this? I'm part of a couple, for one thing. If the "other half" shared the same feelings, we could live like this together, but that's not an option. In the meantime, I struggle on and off with my depression, and find it so plainly obvious that not living in any kind of meaningful community wreaks havoc with my mood.

So, no, I can't find fault the Twelve Tribes people. I just don't share their religious views.

I think it's a rare person who can live without community or a sense of purpose. Recently, I had a conversation with someone about God and heaven, and I said that I thought a lot of people turned to believing in both because they were scared. I don't need the consolation of thinking that there's a "better place" that I'll go to after I die. Neither do I need the belief that I was put here on this planet for some purpose that may or may not be revealed to me. And lastly, the idea that humans are just an accident of the cosmos doesn't trouble me in the least.

But, and it's an important point, I do believe that one needs to make meaning out of one's life and that a rewarding life is purpose driven. For many, their purpose is simply to bring up their children. I have none, so perhaps my search for usefulness is more imperative.

This topic makes me think of a summer camp I went to when I was 12 and 13 years old. It was an interesting place. The campers were a diverse lot. There were autistic kids, some of which were at the far end of the spectrum, who banged their heads or howled all day long. There were many deaf kids, and so we all learned basic sign language. The backgrounds of the campers ranged from rich suburban kids to kids from the worst ghettos. And to top it off, the camp was run by a Baptist minister and a man who spearheaded the free school movement (whose name I've forgotten). Besides meals and an optional Sunday sermon, there were no scheduled activities. If one wanted to do crafts, one would go to the crafts cabin. If you wanted to sing or play a game, you'd organize it or get some adult to help you out. The diversity of the campers made it important that us kids learned to get along with those we normally might never encounter otherwise. There was no bullying. It just didn't happen (as an aside, I had previously gone to a totally homogenous summer camp where bullying was a serious problem).

Many of us kids were pretty damaged, and so were many of the counselors. I remember having a discussion with one counselor who had spent most of her adolescence and her early twenties in a mental institution. She told me that the way she got better was by pretending she was okay. She woke up every day at the same time, took a shower, ate breakfast, went out even if she couldn't work, and then ate lunch and dinner every day at the same time. She looked for organized events that she could participate in in the evenings. She acted "as if." It was hard to imagine that this lovely young women had spent over ten years in a mental hospital. She was a wonderfully sweet person who was great at rounding up us kids for impromptu singing and dancing. She taught us how to sing madrigals and do old-fashioned square dancing.

Yes, I hunger for things like this. I'd much prefer to do some "silly" square-dancing than sit in front of my television set. I would love to spend my afternoons baking pies (which is what I did to pay for camp) than just hanging out and chilling. But baking a pie for just Dick and myself doesn't move me.

Really, I don't think we were meant to live in these unconnected nuclear families and couples. And within many of us is a longing for more than that, a longing that creates an un-named hole in our spirit that we try to fill up with whatever we can. You can pour alcohol in that hole, or drugs, food, what-have-you, but it will never fill up.

We open magazines like National Geographic and marvel at the smiles we see on the faces of people who live in abject poverty in remote parts of the world. We know in our hearts that they have something we do not, but often we can't put our finger on what it is. Most of us have heard that it takes a village to raise a child, but we never look at the adult side of that aphorism.

Photo note: I have no idea who these people are or where they're from. It's an unattributed photograph from Country Living magazine. Making music and dancing are wonderful, joyful activities that most of us never do. What a shame.


jmcleod76 said...

Good post, Julie.

That's a really interesting story about your camp counselor. I think there's a lot to that. I'm a big believer in praxis - acting first and trusting that the appropriate mindset will follow. Probably why I do Zen. It's all about action (even if it looks like inacation). I think it's what's meant by the "great faith" part of the three pillars. It's also what Kierkegaard would have called "leaping into the unknown." And he was a Christian. Anyway, I think that when we act sick, we get sicker. When we act healthy, we get healthy. Not as a hard and fast rule, of course. We still need to take our medicines and not push our bodies and minds too far before we're ready. But when we sit around, refusing to encounter life because "I'm sick," our bodies and minds atrophy. We get sicker.

And, not that you can believe everything in Wikipedia, but the entry on Twelve Tribes says they think homosexuality is a sin. I'm actually OK with that. So do the Shakers, I'm pretty sure. The difference between these groups and mainstream evangelicals is that the former don't seem to be out campaigning to prevent me from having civil rights. They're too busy trying to create heaven for themselves on Earth. No skin off my nose. Plus, the Shakers don't have sex at all, so it's kind of a non-issue for them.

Those people in your photo look like a bunch of UUs. ;o)

BitterGrace said...

About the Twelve Tribes, I guess it's worth pointing out that some of the groups have gotten in trouble with the law over the way they raise their children--corporal punishment, and also child labor. I suspect there's a fair amount of difference between individual communities, depending on the quality of leadership, and I also suspect they are treated with more suspicion some places than others.

I chatted with the leader of the Chattanooga group when a bunch of them came to Nashville for the Earth Day event. They sell maté to support themselves, so they had a booth selling tea with a little Jesus on the side.

It was interesting to see their kids, who seemed incredibly healthy and happy compared to the other kids running around. Considering that most of the other kids were the spawn of eco-yuppies, I thought the contrast was especially surprising. By the way, the kids were not at all shy of outsiders, as you might expect them to be. I was helping a friend staff her booth, and one of the little girls from the TT group just sort of designated herself our assistant. She talked a little bit about the group's philosophy, but mostly she just wanted to be our helper. Very cute.

The TT women reminded me a lot of the women from the Mennonite communities here. They all looked very weary and a bit grim compared to the men and the kids.

Sorry to blather on about the Jesus folk. What I really wanted to say is that the thrust of your post seems so very true to me, especially in my current situation. I feel the lack of community very strongly at times, and I know Dave was overwhelmed by the need for a sense of belonging. I was thinking today how much I need to find a connection like this as I grow older, since I am childless, and now single. I had never quite made the connection with depression, but of course it makes perfect sense. As usual, you've given me a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding like a do-gooder, I want to mention that there are plenty of ways to feel like part of a community. So many organizations need volunteers...if you like to bake pies, donate them to a food pantry or meals-on- wheels,etc. Donate your knitted goods to a church to help keep people warm. Volunteer at a hospital to bring flowers and magazines to patients or cuddle the babies. Help at an animal shelter. There are little communities all over the place....and lots of ways to give your life a meaning and purpose.

Dick Fischbeck said...

Julie- I'm not familiar with the term, camping out on a boat. Remember the Albacore in Portsmouth? Not camping, or was it... Maybe everyone is camping come to think of it, no matter how large or expensive their campsite.

Your loving man

(new name c.o. Henrik)

Dick Fischbeck said...

I guess we should talk about selling the house and where you want to live, outside of the city, that is.

You need to find a life that makes you happy. It is okay with me if you join a monastery or intentional community. I've always said, what ever it takes.

Did you tell everyone you want to move to Woodstock? It would put things into perspective.

Julie H. Rose said...

Too many comments to respond to them all! But, Anonymous, you are right. I used to work with the Alternatives to Violence Project, amongst other volunteer work, and it probably did me more good than the "good work" that I was doing.

Dick Fischbeck said...

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson slept in a homeless camp. He said the people had an incredible sense of community we usually do not see elsewhere.