In this section of In the Circle, I’d like to explore religion, faith and spirituality and where I stand in relation to them.
I thought I’d start by describing a problem I encountered when I attended church a few years ago. If I offend anyone, that’s just too bad because my policy in this blog is to be straight down the line and tell it like it is, or at least how I see it. I don’t care if you don’t want to be friends with me anymore. I keep my circle very small anyway, for the reasons explained in this post. I’m sick of dancing around the subject, although I do try to present a well thought out, balanced view on aspects of life. This blog is going to be controversial. I think there should be a forum where these kinds of topics can be openly discussed. There’s no bull-shitting for my part, even though one of my cousins accused me of doing a lot of that when I used to work as a lawyer. I don’t mind if you disagree but please don’t abuse me. I welcome comments, criticism and feedback because it helps keep my blog alive.
I decided to attend church when I returned to New Zealand after living in Europe for five years in my mid-20s. In terms of my own values and beliefs, Christianity wasn’t a perfect fit because I tend to take things with a grain of salt rather than as gospel. It was not so much a search for meaning, which I had embarked on in my 20s, but more a search for a community and having a sense of belonging. The people in the Indian community don’t think much of me anymore thanks to a lady telling everyone about my mental illness, which she knew about because she works on the reception desk of the mental health ward at the local hospital where I was once admitted, as mentioned in a previous post. As I have also mentioned in an earlier blog post, there is a lot of stigma attached to mental illness, particularly among Indian people. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t get married to one or my parents-in-law would make my life a living hell because of it, although they’d probably do that irrespectively.
It was actually the fact that I am Indian that made me feel unwelcome there and I stopped attending mainly for that reason, concluding that I was actually more accepted in Indian communities, despite the Hindu-Moslem problem which I described in a previous post. No matter which church I attended – it’s not my policy to name and shame - people would always ask me questions about my ethnic background. You’d think they’d be happy I was there. After all, aren’t they always trying to convert people so they’re “saved”?
For me, the problem was more the people rather than the faith. What I’ve learnt is that it’s all about image and the behaviour of people that go to church is often worse than people who don’t go there or believe in anything at all. Take for example what my ex-best friend once did to me or the time that someone on the leadership team didn’t pay me for flowers she purchased when I was running a gardening business, even though I was struggling financially at the time. Both are zealous church-goers. In fact, when I think of people who have really hurt me over the years, they’re usually ones that are affiliated with the church, not my colleagues in biglaw contrary to the perception of large firms outside the legal profession. I felt far happier and accepted within the community of the big law firms I worked for in London, Paris and Auckland despite being in the minority. In fact, I’d rather spend my Sunday morning at the office than being at church. The people in the YMCA running community don’t behave like this either, even though I’m the only Indian person at the 10k Summer Series. Despite being much older, the retired runners in my group are not racist, nor do they behave like the people in our neighbourhood. I’m just really glad that my passion for running led me to meet them and become part of their community.
The time I spent reading the Bible in my 20s and attending church in my 30s wasn’t a complete waste though. For a start, I’ve made an informed choice. The church is an educational institution in itself and I learnt a lot about life from reading the scriptures. The stories in the Bible opened up my mind a bit more and made me look at life a bit differently. For example, I learnt that hard times can be cyclical and you just have to hang in there because there is light at the end of the tunnel. Joseph predicted that there would be seven years of feast, followed by seven years of famine in Genesis. It’s a bit like my experience after the onset of schizophrenia and depression, which are usually acute in the early years but the long term prognosis is much brighter. I’ll leave it here for now but want to explore religion, faith and spirituality more in the future. This might take some time, as you can’t cover everything in one blog. Furthermore, with blogging, one post typically leads to another because that’s how your thoughts flow.