Cultish Behavior

Religion is one of those things that you aren’t supposed to mention in small talk. You don’t ask someone about their religious affiliation after you’ve introduced yourself because it is a hot topic. In the last few years the gap between myself and religious affiliation has widened significantly. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at an international conference the focused on cultic organizations. Very interesting stuff. As one of the few people of color in attendance, I shared a bit of my personal experience with a branch of a religion that had a leader who dictated what to wear, what to eat, and where to go and expected to be obeyed. While the peacefulness of country living was present, it was overshadowed by oppressive rules that kept the leader in charge. During the duration of the conference I had the chance to attend seminars and meet other attendees who had once been in cults but left at some point. Many were born into various organizations that their parents had joined years ago. After the conference I wanted to read more about the experiences of individuals who had become caught up in cults and religiously abusive organizations. After meeting a few of the contributor’s at the conference, I read a book called Whispering in the Daylight and the author wrote about the cult led by Tony Alamo. It was fascinating and bone numbingly sad at the same time. One thing that was particularly sad was the fact that parents surrendered their children to be beat mercilessly and starved. They also allowed their girls as young as age 9 to be the “brides” of the leader. All in the name of religion and doing what they felt to be right. The question that always seems to be asked is how do people end up in these type of situations? The truth is that people tend to want a sense of purpose. Having a charismatic leader who seems to have found the meaning of life or claims to have some exclusive relationship to a deity can appear to be a good thing.  It’s fairly easy to forsake all when one believes that not doing so would lead to eternal condemnation. By the same token, believing that your actions can earn you eternal bliss is an attractive idea. I think that it’s even different for children who grow up in that type of environment and have never known anything different. Reading the book about some of their experiences and how hard it has been and continues to be to adjust to “regular” life was eye opening. One thing that I believe is important to remember is that wanting to believe in something or someone isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But it can become problematic when one consciously decides to yield their free will without reservation to another individual. It’s a strange dynamic that I find intriguing.

The Fault in Our Stars

It’s not every day that I have the chance to do anything resembling leisure reading. However, I recently took an opportunity to do so and read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I heard good things about the movie but I wanted to make it a point to read the book before seeing the movie. First off, if you aren’t comfortable with an open discussion about death and dying, this book may not be your favorite. Without giving a lot away, the book follows two young adolescents as they come of age with the additional challenge of battling terminal illnesses. It explores their thoughts and experiences as they both read a book and travel to meet the author. The book was definitely more emotional than I expected but this was because I wasn’t really familiar with it. It’s a book that will have you thinking about life and also evaluating your close relationships. Green makes the characters extremely relatable and you can feel the emotion through the pages. I had to read the book with a box of tissues handy because I pretty much cried through the last half. However eliciting emotion from the reader is one of the marks of a good author in my opinion and Green certainly accomplishes that. The book is well written and clear. It speaks to the fact that maturity isn’t always age related–sometimes it occurs by experiences. The Fault in Our Stars was a really good book that challenges readers to enjoy and make the most of the hands they are dealt. To live their life with no regrets and treasure those who love and support them. I think that’s a great message.

Lost and Found

Lost and Found

i rarely read a book that I think would be interesting to a lot of people. Reading autobiographies has always been a favorite of mine since childhood. This book is definitely geared toward a faith-based audience but it’s also a great read for anyone who has ever struggled with meeting the expectations of others or has overcome adversity. Sarah describes a life of living under a microscope as a child of a well known individual. She describes how an unplanned pregnancy at a young age and an abusive marriage helped shape her into the person she is today. There are countless people we run into on a daily basis whose lives we have no clue about. Lost and Found describes a coming of age experience in which Sarah tells her story of facing challenges and how she found her way.

Black History and Buck

First off, I need to keep this post brief. Procrastination is a silent killer. Enough said.  One of the things that I like to do in the month of February is to go to an event for Black History Month. Definitely easier said than done. At least out here where I live. Finding quality events that fit my schedule but also are interesting and don’t waste my time is something that I try to do. Last year, I went to a spoken word event and it was pretty decent. The best part was that it was only ten minutes away from my house. But I digress. While by no means am I someone who is qualified to give “the black perspective,” as I was often called upon in graduate school to do, I do think that there are certain challenges that come with being black in America. I’m going to make a quick detour and say that I really strongly dislike the term “African American.” It’s annoying. And quite frankly, I’m not from Africa and neither are my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. I have some theories about how this term is used as a social construct but that’s totally not the topic at hand. There are certain rare occasions where I get the opportunity to listen to a speaker that is genuine, engaging, young, ambitious, articulate, and has exceptional communication skills. MK Asante is one of those people. He’s one of the best speakers I’ve heard because he has the ability to paint exquisite skillful pictures with words. And he does it in a way that has the right combination of his education and life experiences that give him the ability to relate to his audience. The fact that he became a college professor at age 23 and is now tenured is amazing.  Needless to say, it was great listening to him today. I bought his book, “Buck” and read it cover to cover in about two hours. I’m not easily impressed with books but after reading it I can honestly say that it’s one of the best memoirs that I’ve read. An honest depiction of the good, bad and ugly with moments of vulnerability and raw emotion is what makes this book so good. This book draws you in and keeps your attention because Asante walks you through his life in such a way that makes you feel as if you’re not only a silent observer, but that you have an invested interest in his success. Definitely a great read that was made even better by hearing the writer before I read the book.