Thursday, 3 January 2013

Losin' my religion

“Yeah it was a few years ago, I was a lot younger and I was a part of a cult down in Texas. They were all grim Presbyterian types, kinda skewed in their beliefs. Extreme and driven. They'd pick up and recruit homeless and vagabond types. They kept me there about two years, they were clever cock-suckers, they controlled my weight, held back food, kept us on a low protein diet. They made me work out in the garden most days, other times I was in the kitchen but they made sure none of us ate too much. They had regular lessons for us, morning, noon and night, brought us together for teaching and prayer. That was mostly them telling us what was wrong with us and how we were unrighteous and in need of grace and salvation. They used to speak from the Old Testament, they liked all that conquest and battlefield shit. They wanted to cleanse the country. They wanted a Old Testament solution I think. They seldom mentioned love or Jesus but you couldn't comment or criticise 'cos that wasn't on the programme. The programme was all about their control over us, that bombast of bullying, how they were right, how their reading of it was right and everybody else had it wrong.”

“I was pretty young and impressionable, I'd had a few bad breaks, I didn't feel too good about myself and so I was easy meat for these guys. I just didn't see it. I didn't see how they were controlling me, expecting things from me, the levels of obedience and what they liked to call grace. I just kept my head down, didn't argue, just got on with my work. Day in day out in that Texas heat. They fed us bread and vegetables, communal meals but they (the leadership) never ate to much with us. They ate later when they had their leaders meeting in the evening and we were working pretty much dawn till dusk. They ground me down I can tell you. I'm there, feeling like shit, they're telling me I need to change, what the fuck was that about? I looked at myself and it was true I wasn't much of a person, I had form and history but I couldn't figure how I was supposed to change. I just kept working and eating less stuff and I could feel myself withering away. They worked us hard, kept us busy and we were just too tired some days to think. There was no debate either. When they said bible study they meant they'd read a bit and then they'd tell you what that meant. I was usually that God was mad with us 'cos he loved us so much but we were a disappointment and though Jesus had come to redeem us we were still no making it. We had to work, to change (that word again).”

“I looked around and I looked at them and they were all in pretty good shape. All those leaders had cute wives, pickup trucks, clean blue jeans and leather boots, big black bible books and they didn't do much in the fields. Their hands were soft, they thumbed through those bibles and talked about it like that in itself was hard and worthwhile work. They wore spectacles when they read. They chose their words carefully, stressed service and servitude and faithfulness and that shit and they kept a eye on us all the time. They discouraged us forming little groups, they changed the rotas. I was pretty confused all the time and I felt increasingly disapproved of even though I was doing all the right things on the programme and keeping up with my duties.”

“Then one day I was working out on the Long Acre, we were nipping the tomato flowers and I was on a break, a water break. I was there just blowing out and the contractor who maintained the tractors (we had no mechanic for some time due to another little dispute) was fixing something and he stopped up and lit up a cigarette. Well I was there on the spot, hot and hungry and just feeling all shrivelled up inside and I saw him light that cigarette and I saw him suck in and blow out a big lungful of smoke. It looked so good. I stopped over and asked him for one please and I took the time of day. I was about halfway down that sweet smoke when I heard the foreman elder comin' and he was shouting and pointing and yellin' at me and the contractor. The contractor just looked and said that he was all too holy with a real big bug up his ass and too big a head for his hat but the foreman elder just came right up to me and he punched that half cigarette right out of my mouth and knocked me on my back in the dust. I stayed down there for about a minute. He was quoting the bible at me and talking about my body being a temple for the holy spirit. The contractor said this ain’t none of his business but he didn't care for the atmosphere around here. Lying there in that dust I had one sore chin and I had one or two crazy thoughts there in my head. Now there wasn't quite enough sugar in my blood to give me the speed of thought and action I once had but I still had something in there and I was feeling just a bit angry.”

“Time was moving slowly and I got up and looked at that guy. He was tall in his elder's jeans, clean and bright blue and he was looking right down his nose at me. He said something and referenced it all from Leviticus and nodded at me looking for an acknowledgement and agreement. By my left against the fence wire there was a loose piece of 2 by 4. I grabbed it and hit Mr Clean Jeans square across the jaw. He went down then like a pile of purple bricks. The contractor just said fuckin' good work boy and got back to his repair work. I was trembling though 'cos I knew I'd have hell to pay from those guys in the leadership. The foreman was rolling on the ground, both hands holding his chin, he was sobbing and writhing. I wanted to hit him again but I thought better of it. I thought about the rest of the leaders and I could see some of the gang heading cross to where I stood. I jumped the fence and ran across the potato field and down behind the water tower. I was struggling, this effort in the heat and in the state of shock I was in was too much. I vaulted the inner fence and now I was back at the compound.”

“I looked around and saw another of the elders comin' out the ranch house doorway. I just started to walk across to the cookhouse like everything was ok but I knew I was on the way out big time. When I got in there I just lit up every gas burner on the range and I threw towels and paper sacks and any shit I could find at that cooker. It was all in flames in seconds and by that I mean everything. I guess when he knocked that cigarette out of my mouth I snapped. I saw all that cunning and control, the lack of honesty and respect, all the cruelty and disregard embodied in that single act and I, despite my weakness, struck back in my own clumsy way. I was just standing up to the bullies and the hypocrites. I was also running out of the burning cookhouse and headed for anywhere but here.”

“There was a red pick up parked and half loaded with goods to sell at the farmer's market, vegetables and craft work. The keys were dangling in the ignition. I turned them, the engine growled and I was gone. Behind me somebody was clanging on the fire triangle as smoke billowed out all across the yard. People were shouting and I heard women screaming. Right then I didn't care nothin' for any of them, not even the other disciples like me and certainly not the elders and their dumb wives. I just thought I wanted those stupid bastards to learn a lesson and I hoped that even just for a few seconds they might consider that the wrath of their cruel and spiteful god was being wrung out all over them because of their ways and their sins and the disrespectful and casual indifference they showed towards their fellow man and people like me. Whatever the hell that might mean.”

“I was driving fast down the track towards the highway. I checked the mirror, the smoke was rising into the sky but there was nobody following me. I drove a little faster and the dust cloud grew and blew up behind the truck. When I finally hit the highway there were blue lights headed out towards the ranch. I couldn't see much expression behind their sunglasses but they ignored me as they went went on about their business. An hour later I was at the edge of town and I got my bearings. I stopped the pickup in a superstore car park and finding fifty bucks in the glove box took it and then threw the car keys down into a drain. Ten minutes later I'm blowin' the froth from a cold beer and getting ready to tuck into a double cheeseburger and fries. My head was clearer than it had been in years and the words, the prayers and the cruel controls of the cult were falling away from me like rotten fish scales. When the cheeseburger arrived I just whispered to myself a thank you Jesus for fuck all and bit into the juicy beef. I'd gotten my appetite for life back.”

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