Velvet // Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

As far as the world was concerned, we adherents of the Worldwide Church of God were neither Christians nor Jews. Branded heretics by some and idolaters by others, we kept approximately the same liturgical and dietary traditions as the Karaite Jews, including the avoidance of pork. Though unlike the Karaites, we embraced Christ as the Messiah. I was born and raised in this group, with no exposure to any other religion for the first twenty years of my life.

Then “the changes” came. Our leader decided he wanted to become an Evangelical Christian. Instead of going alone and leaving the faithful in peace, he decided to try to force the rest of his church to bend to his will. My family was one of the casualties of this force-feeding; however, my parents, who were once Christians, had no issues leaving religion behind and transitioning into a purely secular lifestyle—one that I never could have imagined.

In this new life, I never ordered what I once considered to be an “unclean entree.” I happily ignored any insubstantial bits of bacon on restaurant menus (in my former life I would only have ordered vegetarian to be safe), but my parents still fully avoided it.

Fast-Forward to the late 1990s. I had been living the secular lifestyle for some time now and was living by myself in the Greater Toronto Area, infrequently employed by a temp agency and barely making rent. I would walk to the nearby supermarket to save on bus fare. At one point, my staples of Kraft Dinner, white rice and peanut butter were running dangerously low, and my one-full-square-meal-a-day treat was rendering my clothes alarmingly loose. I finally admitted that I needed some kind of animal protein, anything that I could afford.

I looked in the meat section for the cheapest item within my five dollar budget. I first picked up a package of breaded pork cutlets, reservedly put it down, then checked the chicken. The chicken was well outside my budget. I knew I couldn’t even think about looking at the beef, though my stomach gnawed at the thought of a juicy steak. After wandering every aisle in anxiety, I returned for the pork cutlets, paid, went home and prepared my meal.

I heated the cutlets with a side of Kraft Dinner and half a can of tinned peas and carrots. I sat and stared at my plate. As I slowly began to eat pork, this unclean meat, I wondered, How did it come to this?

There I was, alone, in a faceless city, missing my faith in a God who I had believed had failed me, with no friends or family, nor even a like-minded community I could turn to for support.

Though my income was meager, my crisis was not at all financial. I truly felt a complete and crushing poverty of faith.

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