Wednesday, 4 May 2011

My Uncle Bill Chesterfield died yesterday.

He was 97 and I do not remember ever meeting him. He is ‘survived’ by my aunt Malvina (Ray) 99, who I have not seen for sixty years, although I have driven by their house (six hours from here) at least twenty times in the intervening years, and despite invitations to call in, I have gone right by. But I will be going to the funeral tomorrow.

When I was about fourteen, Dad took us to see a Hollywood Musical. Perhaps it was Oklahoma. Dad loved music. He knew it was forbidden to enter a cinema, but maybe because in earlier times his mother had taken him to the ‘flicks’ and to circuses, the church’s ban was not strong enough to stop him. However, we were observed and reported.

Soon after, Dad’s favourite sister Clarissa died from complications following brain surgery.
The family cast about for a reason God had taken her from them and decided her death must have been in retribution for my father’s sins. You might think; “What rubbish!”, but they had a great precedent and you don’t need to be in a wacky far out sect to believe in God’s insistence on human sacrifice. All Christians do.

We were imbued from birth with the myth that “Jesus died for our sins”, so any condemnation of the Order of (Exclusive) Plymouth Brethren and the ever tightening restrictions placed on its members by its (American) leader, their Man Of God (MOG), is to ignore the obvious.

So, we were ‘withdrawn from’. That means being completely cut off from family and friends. All an EB’s friends were expected to come from within the faith, so overnight we were supposed to have been isolated. Luckily, Mum’s family ignored the ban.

On the next Sunday, several car loads of white faced men in black suits arrived at our home demanding that Mum take the Lambs (we children) and leave with them right away, so we would be saved God’s retribution for my father’s sins. Mum’s crying brought Dad running. She wailed her distress and Dad (bless him) picked up a lump of wood and told the rapidly retreating Brethren to vamoose before he cracked their skulls!

Dad loved Mum more than he loved his church and for that was made to suffer the full force of God’s anger. For Dad it was a death sentence. He suffered terribly from that guilt and all the other sins he imagined he must have committed for God to condemn him so cruelly. He died prematurely at 62. Mum suffered too. She lived on without the love of her life for another lonely 35 years. As the Jesuits say, “Give me a child until he is seven…”

So, if I had visited my aunt at her home I would have been offered a cup of tea and a biscuit despite my status as a non-believer. But I knew I would have to say; “Thanks Aunt, but where are your tea and biscuits?” She would have then gleefully delivered God’s word.

You see, one of the MOG’s directives is that no member is to share food or drink with a non member. At the Rapture, when they ‘ascend unto Heaven’, God has warned that he can’t be bothered separating the ‘Wheat from the Tares’. They are terrified that God will throw the whole contaminated mess of the Blessed and Sinners into his ‘fire and brimstone’ landfill.

I would have sat there, not touching one drop or one crumb of her afternoon tea, while she politely asked after my family and what I had been doing. She would have listened while I confessed two divorces and recounted my life as a musician, playing the Devil’s Music (well enough to have hit the top of the professional tree for my ‘fifteen minutes of fame’) or I would have let fly with my condemnation of the self righteous and cruel bastardry they had meted out to my dad and our family.

Frankly I would not have been able to contain my indignation. I would have said something hurtful to that old woman who was more victim than oppressor. So I drove by her street, content to remember the funny and irreverent young woman she had been before she became totally deluded.

Tomorrow we are not permitted to enter the church for the substantive part of the funeral service, but the Blessed have deigned to allow us lesser family members to attend the ‘graveside service’. In the front row will be the devout, the adults glancing at us with pity. Some will condescend to mumble a few platitudes before escaping the dangers of contamination. Their little ones will regard us with curiosity but the lambs will be carefully shepherded to maintain a healthy distance from sources of infection. So why am I going?

There are nineteen first cousins from my dad’s family, all married with offspring. At the last count, over half have been ‘withdrawn from’ so I will be there to support the pariahs, the escapees, the eccentric real people I love dearly and am proud to call family. Then afterwards, I will join them for a sinful drink to celebrate Us, catch up with family news and have a laugh in the non-judgmental ambience of a pub of our choice.


  1. Have a good time with the have earned it
    I have no other quote a fine man

  2. What a terrific post, Stafford and what a story. I'm so glad that you were 'saved' from this terrible state of affairs. These sorts of fundamental religions more often than not crush the human spirit- in my view at least - and when they are inflicted on children who can't make a choice, whole lives can be lost.

    I enjoy the humorous streak here mixed in with sadness of the tragedy of your parents' struggle. Your father and his sins.

    If only your father did not feel such terrible guilt for things that as you say could hardly be considered crimes.

    May you enjoy the camaraderie of the outsiders at the funeral.

    In this instance it seems to me, it's better by far to be on the outside than to be in the inner circle even if they get to so-called heaven, and you don't.

    Self righteousness is a curse.

  3. Strangely, tme most deluded of the uncles and aunts lived the longest. Bill 97, Malvina 99 and still going, Hovee, 98 and probably the most severe, and others lived well into their 80's.
    I wonder if they lived long lives because they were favoured or that they were all afraid to die and face Judgement!
    Maybe it was really because they neither smoked nor drank.... Mmmmm!

  4. Wonderfully written and I will still talk to you even though you used to be a sinful musician (oh the horrors!).

  5. Raise that glass, think about all your blogger friends and shout CHEERS!

  6. I have Jehovah's Witnesses friends (former, that is) who have been so shunned. My own church was nutty enough, but not so formal about the status of the excommunicated. Perhaps, one mitigator was that it (the Church of Christ) was congregationally ruled, which meant that excommunications came with varying degrees of consequence. In my case, I was never formally thrown out, but my departure was obvious, so I did lose friends.

    "you don’t need to be in a wacky far out sect to believe in God’s insistence on human sacrifice. All Christians do."

    Well, my friend, it's still pretty wacky, is it not, no matter how widespread it may be?

  7. Great post Stafford. The expression, 'withdrawn from' seems to be the polar opposite to what Christianity is all about. Hmmm...

  8. R.I.P. Uncle Bill Chesterfield
    Hello to * Poor Aunt Malvina Ray.
    To Hell with * The Bretherin Church *
    * Let The Devil's Music Ring Out *

    Kisses and Hugs to * You * Dear Stafford.

  9. Got the spelling * Their * name wrong Stafford ..
    Won't dignify *Them* by correcting it either.

    Orf With Their Heads ! !

  10. a fascinating story about the cruelty of human beings in the name of goodness. I am glad you didn;t take tea with them, it would have scalded your soul I think. Interesting reverberation with the Magpie too.

  11. The sins of the Unbelievers! Stafford I could write a book about the guilt etc I have decided Life Is Too Short. BTW my Gran always said "The creakiest gates last the longest."

  12. i enjoyed this glimpse into yo ur life, staff

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  14. I found the window still open. I know I wrote a comment? I guess it got lost. You wonderful piece, made me think how religious superstitions cause such chasms in families. It has in mine, and you explain it well. I'm sure your aunt would have described it the same way, as seen in the mirror. "I'm so glad that boy, Stafford, hasn't come by, the sinner."

  15. Stafford,

    In Luke 5:32, Jesus said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." By their attitude, the group you describe implies they have no sin. I John 1:10 states, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." Please take the time to see what God really said rather than just what the church taught you.

  16. Annell, should I have called, she would have been pleased to see me and made me welcome up to the point allowed.
    dfish, Which god are we to listen to? The angry cruel vengeful god of Abraham? The reconstituted god of Mohammet? The pasteurised and homogenised god of the New Testament, all omnipotent everlasting gods? Or should I visit the Dali Lama to get the real thing in person?
    The moment I realised I had been praying to a myth was the most liberating moment of my life. Of course I am damaged from the abuse, physical (spare the rod, spoil the child) and emotional (guilty feelings over my music, my clothes, my social life, my sexuality, my bodily functions, low self esteem, etc).
    But I feel free and basically optimistic although as anyone who visits here will know; that mix of forced religious observance and bullying has forced me into a lifetime of questioning and investigation.
    My overall conclusion now is that I don't know what this amazing planet and its life is meant to be or do, but I am equally sure that nobody else, including the MOG or the Pope does either. That conclusion can be defended by a total lack of evidence to the contrary.
    In other words, if we attempt to answer that basic question we are guessing. Those who do say they know are lying (or deluded) and those who use that lie to subjugate people (as do all religious leaders in my opinion), are dangerous egomaniacs.

  17. Stafford, since he quoted Luke, I guess he was talking about the all-wise and all-good god of the Bible who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the same god whose foreign policy consisted primarily of genocide, and who decreed that the punishment for rape should be marrying the woman you raped (Deuteronomy 22:28). Given the nature of the Biblical god--as described in the Bible itself--your relatives were worthy followers of his.

  18. I feel unable to add anything of substance to your wonderful post. It did make me want to write about growing up Catholic - slightly less extreme a 'sect' than your lot, but pretty good at imbuing a kid with guilt for .... everything! Anyway, thanks for sharing. So glad you got out of there and can now give so much to us fellow heathens.

  19. Wonderful yet sad post Stafford.

    I was 'raised' in a Christian household - but luckily not the 'Fire and Brimstone' variety and my parents accepted my non-belief when I was twelve. I am certain my declaration hurt them badly - but their belief was that of a Good God and I was not cast out into the darkness.

    As a child, I was able to view the world around me, enabling me to make my decision. There was then, and still is, so much evil done in the name of God.

    I hope I am wrong and He does indeed exist - and that my parents are with Him.

    Anna :o]

  20. Yours is a sad tale Stafford. I agree with you that we can know nothing. It is the reason I keep my faith in God, not in church laws, although I am a practising Catholic, as I am a good citizen and contributing member of organizations I choose to join - why join them otherwise; but I have no idea what this world is really all about. If I didn't choose to believe in something I'd just take a handful of pills and check out of the madness we live in. Thanks for sharing your heartrending story.

  21. Forget The * Darn Questioning Stafford *

    Best to ' Get a Little Garden Again ' , Plant a Tomarta, Some More Asparagus , Kiss a Tree ,

    Get your hands ' Back Into The Soil - Something that is * Healing and Real * ...

    The * ANSWER* My Friend, *Is Blowing In The Wind * ( as the song says )..

    Leave * The Questioning to Old Father TIme * .

  22. "Leave * The Questioning to Old Father TIme * ."

    Reminds me of a series of commercials that ended in: "Don't ask why. Drink Miller Lite."

    Honest to god, these were real TV commercials for the American market 10-20 years ago. I thought they were darn sight more honest than most advertising.

  23. holy mackrel- unbelievable that some people would live this way- thank goodness I was raised by heathens...kinda...Mom and Dad went to church until there were too many of us to get ready in the early Sunday am- so that was the extent of our religious unbringing-um I mean upbringing - instead we read the funnies, had pancakes for breakfast and played--- lucky us!

  24. This is absolutely fascinating. I can't wait to read the follow-up post!

    You chill me by recalling that "give me a child until seven" quote because, although he has left the church behind in our 15 years of marriage, my husband was raised a preacher's kid (and the preacher is a total a--hole, judgmental jerk) who sometimes actually does quote scripture at me. I have told my husband that if he turns into some old bible-thumping coot I don't know what I will do. Yes, I actually do.....

  25. Sorry for the loss of your Uncle. I feel terribly sad that religion caused such divisiveness in your family - it has done something similar in my family. My sister is a full on Christian now and sent me a bible for my birthday last week. I don't know what to make of it - maybe I do really need to be saved. It's all very odd and unsettling. You keep playing that devil's music, bro. It's the only thing that keeps us human!

  26. Your relatives have lived long lives! They even reached the century mark! They must have taken good care of themselves while they were young. Your story is very touching, and you should be looked upon as you learn and share your experiences to others.

    [Loria Schleiff]


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