I have never thought of myself as an artist. I know I’m a mom, a student, and a respiratory therapist, but not really an “artist.” My creative outlet throughout the years has been carving rubber stamps. Creative, maybe; art, not so much.
That may be changing. I had an opportunity to listen to the recording of Jonestown’s final hours with a friend. It’s an emotional experience, but it’s also one that people need to have lest they forget what happened. Shortly thereafter, moved by what I had heard, I carved a rubber stamp image of the iconic Jim Jones with his sunglasses.
I’ve endured many trials in my life but I’ve always managed to provide a good life for me and my children. Early in 2016, some issues came to the surface that finally prompted me to seek out therapy. After several months of working through many of my issues, I was faced with the fact that my life has been plagued by an overwhelming fear of going to hell. At the age of 12, I became “born again” and simply wanted God to be happy with me. At age 19, I was coerced into marrying an abusive man because “God meant for us to be together.” Who was I to let God down? I was also instructed that I needed to learn how to not make him angry. For eleven years, I tried to “not make him angry,” but I eventually summoned the courage to take my children and leave.
Throughout our marriage, we were leaders in our church. We attended faithfully, gave our tithes and offerings, and lived in poverty, because we were supporting God’s work instead of paying our own bills. The Bible said God would provide. It was a little vague on just when that would happen.
Facing the spiritual abuse and the fear of hell was tougher than dealing with a whole host of other issues combined. It was interesting how songs or people would come along when I needed them most. It was during this time that I started experimenting with various art forms using my stamp carvings and repurposed materials as an outlet for all these uncovered emotions. The notion of drinking the Flavor Aid – most visitors to this site know it wasn’t Kool-Aid in Jonestown – played over and over in my mind. Finally, I had the idea of making something out of Flavor Aid packets and the stamp carving, so I bought 70 packets of Strawberry Flavor Aid on the internet. Once I made that first piece, the floodgates opened and the art has not stopped spewing yet.
But it wasn’t until early October 2016, as I was looking at the photos of Jonestown residents in life to use in an art piece, that I realized my Jonestown Art was my way of expressing the emotions from my own spiritual abuse, which only seems to make my art more powerful.
Over the last couple of months, people have commented that they would never have fallen for Jim Jones’ line, or that at the final moments they would have run and hid in the woods. But they cannot explain what makes them think they would have been among the three people who made that decision to escape, and not among the 908 who didn’t. I know I would have fed the Flavor Aid to my children before I drank it myself. That is a sobering thought, one I am not proud of, but it is the truth. The insidiousness of spiritual abuse is that, not only are you put in a position to please a spiritual leader, but you are also brainwashed to believe that this person in authority is God’s spokesperson. How do you go against God? How do you go against God’s will? How do you overcome the ever-present looming fear of being cast into the lake of fire for all eternity?
A person does not have to drink cyanide to die. Every day we have a choice to either drink the Flavor Aid or question the lies. Brainwashing doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a slow methodical process brought about one sip at a time. I fear that we have become a society of sheep buying the lie each day in exchange for a little comfort and a false sense of security.
I suppose what I would like to happen is that when people look at my art and what it represents, they begin to examine themselves and ask, “What flavor am I choosing to drink?”
(Beth Houghtaling can be reached at email@example.com.)