This is the first of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.
A note from Chrystal: I was born a fourth-generation Christian Scientist, and finally left the religion when I was in my 40s. In this blog series, I will do my best to share with you my 40+ year journey. I have done my best to make the journey sequential, but it’s also themed to a large extent, and sometimes it has been necessary to take things out of sequence to share a theme.
My parents met at a Christian Science nursing home, during nurses training. My mom dropped out a few days before graduation, but my dad graduated and went on to become a Christian Science nurse. Christian Science nurses basically clean up after people. They know how to bleach a bathtub. They know how to feed people and love to give ice cream to patients who are in their long term care. They know how to shower people, how to change sheets, how to fold sheets and put them in the closet with no seams showing, how to make beds even if a person is still in the bed. They know how to put on band-aids. Christian Science nurses do very basic, practical care. They can also wash a wound and bandage it; sometimes with clever solutions to hiding things no one wants to have to see.
When I was an infant, I came down with a cold that wouldn’t go away. By that point, my biological mom had left Christian Science (more than a decade later, my dad told me, “she never really understood Christian Science, that’s why she left”), and she begged my dad to take me to a doctor. So they took me to a doctor. This person operated out of what was basically a two-story townhouse. He had one medical nurse, and he said, “she has pneumonia; I can’t do anything for her, and she will be lucky if she survives for a week.” He basically said I was going to die. The doctor put me on a bed in a room there and left me there alone. My dad called a Christian Science practitioner. An hour later, the medical nurse came to feed me, and I was completely healed, somehow. I was told my whole life that “if it wasn’t for Christian Science, you would be dead.” After all, a doctor had medically diagnosed me with pneumonia and given me a death sentence, and I was still alive. I am just now realizing what a fighting spirit I have. I remember choking on a pit when I was a little baby who could sit up but not crawl yet. I remember it. I swallowed the pit and blacked out. I remember praying in the only way a baby can: “I don’t want to die and make these people [my parents] sad.” And then I woke up, and the pit had gone down my throat. I am willing to bet that I heard the doctor give me 1 week to live and my fighting spirit said, “No! I will NOT die!” And I fought. I am only guessing that this must be what happened. Or perhaps it was a wrong diagnosis. Who knows. I have no one I can ask about this.
My parents divorced when I was a toddler. When I was maybe six years-old, I spent a weekend at my mom’s house. I was coughing, and she gave me cherry cough syrup. It’s the only time in my life I have ever had that. It was such an exciting thing to be able to have cough syrup! All of my friends knew about it and got to use it, but it was forbidden in my Christian Science home with my dad. My dad, being a Christian Science nurse, would give me non medicinal remedies, though. He would give me honey mixed with lemon who I was coughing. I always liked that. It tasted good!
My dad married my step-mom before I turned 10. My step-mom was a much more radical Christian Scientist than my dad was. My step-mom’s mother was a Journal-listed Christian Science practitioner. One time I was coughing, and I went to the fridge to mix up some honey and lemon juice for myself. My step-mom caught me and immediately put an end to that practice. I wasn’t able to do that unless I was ‘sneaking’ it (both of my parents were home all the time, so it was hard to sneak it, and that was frustrating). She put a stop to a lot of the things my dad used to do with me and for me. I knew honey and lemon juice didn’t have medicine in it, and I couldn’t understand her strong standpoint about such a small issue.
Over the years, my dad tended to cuts and things I had. One time, I got a ring stuck on my finger, and my dad calmly cut it off my finger. I was always grateful he could keep a cool head about him and tend to my needs.
One of my dad’s favorite Mary Baker Eddy quotes was, “The time for thinkers has come.” I think it’s on page one in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Another thing he loved to say was, “what are the first four words of the Bible? … In the beginning God.” He was always reminding me to “go back to God.” Basically, “start with God at the beginning of everything.” I loved both of these phrases of his. To me, those words were synonymous with my dad. I also remember asking my dad many times about “that quote with the bones and blood.” My dad would cheerfully tell me the quote any time I asked – I loved that he had it memorized and could call it up any time I asked. I loved this quote so much.
“Question. — What is man?
Answer. — Man is not matter; he is not made up of brain, blood, bones, and other material elements.”
– Science and Health, p. 475: 5
I don’t know if it’s my dad who instilled being a rebel in me (believe me, he was incredibly rebellious; he was a creative type who loved inventions), or if it was Christian Science. But I got the memo loud and clear, “we’re not like other people! Be yourself! Be different! Rebel against the world!” I loved every moment of being the outsider, except when I didn’t, as in: I never had any friends.
My dad loved to do magic tricks, and said, “good magicians do it to entertain; bad magicians do it to deceive people. We don’t think in Christian Science that it’s good to deceive people, so we’re not supposed to do magic. But I don’t do it to deceive people.” And he would show me magic tricks. If you’re into magic at all, he loved to do ‘The French Drop’. He did it all the time. (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZ0C2wh5IyE ) He also loved to talk about card tricks and cards in general, but he never did any card tricks. He said “card games are mostly luck, and Christian Scientists don’t believe in luck.” So I was never allowed to play with cards while growing up. My dad would show me magic tricks and make me guess how they were done. Most of the time, I was able to guess several different solutions for how they were done. Sometimes I got the solutions correct. He would always tell me how it was done. He had no intention to deceive me, and he wanted that to be clear.
Growing up in the Christian Science Sunday School, I was the snobby kid who knew all the answers. I remember sitting in Sunday School with all of my classmates over the years, and champing at the bit because no one else would answer questions. “Are sin, disease and death real?” My brain would yell, “NO!”, but my classmates would sit there. I loved being a ‘know it all’. I basically knew that the opposite of the apparent ‘right’ answer was actually the correct answer. So Sunday School, for me, was an ‘opposites game’. You just said the opposite of whatever it was, and it was correct. I thought this was great fun. I never understood why my Christian Science Sunday School classmates didn’t like Sunday School. I loved the weekly topic they all hated the most: ‘Ancient and Modern Necromancy alias Mesmerism and Hypnotism Denounced’. I thought it was fun to look up the words and denounce each one of these big words. That was super fun, too. Who of the kids at school knew what these words meant, besides the obvious one, hypnotism?
My dad loved to tell me the story, “one time, there was a hypnotist on stage, trying to hypnotize people, and failing completely.” I could never remember if my dad was there in the audience, or if someone had told him, like a story that someone knew who knew someone else who knew someone else who was there kind of thing. “Finally, the hypnotist said, ‘will the Christian Scientist please leave the room?’” And the man (was it my dad? Was it someone else?) left, and the hypnotist was finally able to hypnotize the person. I loved that story. Being a rebellious type, it was awesome to think, “wow, we could keep a hypnotist from doing their job, because hypnotism isn’t real! That is SO COOL!”
My step-mom, being more radical in Christian Science than my dad, pushed ‘Gratitude Lists’ on me and later on my siblings. Christian Science children who grew up in the 1970s may remember the cassette tape, Good for Us. There is a story in it about a girl who is healed of being sick by writing a list of things she is grateful for. I thought of this girl every single time I was sent to my room to write up a list of ‘Gratefuls’. Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew that at some point in my life, I would try to come up with a list of 100 ‘Gratefuls’. I finally did this too, after my dad died. But that’s a story for a future post. Every night, I had to come up with three things I was grateful for, in addition to my family and my ‘good day’. It was ritualistic, and after a while, it was too easy to do without much thought.
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48
This is said like a mantra in the Christian Science faith. It is taken literally. This I believe, is the source of so much of the problems in Christian Science. First off, anyone can look at themselves and see what they perceive as imperfections. Then begins the prayer to remove the problem, then begins the self-loathing when the ‘imperfection’ is still there. Also, church members love to point out who is imperfect and in what way. This is the epitome of judgement, and is the opposite of loving. Can you imagine walking around your whole life, and have only your imperfections pointed out, no matter how small, and told “this is what love looks like,” and encouragement and kind words are too rare? This is the world I grew up in.
“When you’re busy judging, you’re not busy loving.” – I saw this on a church billboard one time. It has stuck with me ever since.
There is a Christian Science book for kids called Filled Up Full. This book talks about a rabbit that can only think rabbit thoughts, a kitten that can only think kitten thoughts, and a child that can only think good thoughts from God. Any thought that enters your head “that is not a good thought from God,” is not your thought. It is a way to learn to deny any negativity that is in your thinking. It feels like a wonderful way to deny our humanity, to deny any negative emotion or feeling that “is not a good thought from God.” It helps you learn to emote only love, gratitude, joy. And, after a while, it becomes exhausting to only ooze good and have no outlet for frustration, anger, grief, or sadness. Perhaps this is why so much of what church members ooze is judgement; lots of judgement. If they aren’t judging other church members, they certainly judge themselves. I remember hearing my Christian Science practitioner-grandmother in the kitchen calling herself horrible names when she messed up something minor in the kitchen. I was shocked. This woman was the most kind and loving woman I’d ever known. But she treated herself so horribly. I couldn’t believe her unkindness to her own amazing self for something so minor. It made me very sad.
I distinctly remember being asked a question in Sunday School, to which I gave some amazing answer. And my Sunday School teacher looked at me and said, “that’s exactly what a practitioner would say!” I remember the look of awe on his face. I sat there, feeling very proud, and knew that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up, and that I would be good at it. My bio-mom’s grandmother was a Christian Science practitioner. My dad’s parents were Christian Scientists. My dad’s mom had converted from being a Methodist to Christian Science. My step-mom’s parents were Christian Scientists, and my step-mom’s mother had been a Christian Science practitioner and so was her dad (as in: my step-mom’s grandfather was a practitioner too). I grew up with two grandmothers who were practitioners, both of whom lived until I was beyond age 20. I grew up thinking, “when I grow up, that’s the ultimate thing to be–a Christian Science practitioner!”
Chrystal is the pseudonym for one of our Ex Christian Scientist bloggers. She was born into Christian Science and had a lifelong dream of one day being a Christian Science practitioner, which she achieved. In ‘the practice’, all she found was ‘Crosses’ and no ‘Crowns’. Chrystal finally found a sense of peace when she turned her back on Christian Science and walked away. Her family is still in the religion, and she uses the pseudonym to protect their anonymity.