Sunday, January 13, 2019

ATI's Many, Many Programs

And while we're at it, a quick and dirty overview of ATI's programs for kids enrolled in Gothard's homeschool curriculum.  ATI was less a curriculum and more of a collection of Gothard's hobbies and his staff's passions. Most of these programs required cross-country travel and were not inexpensive, especially for large [Quiverfull] families.

Please let me know what programs I've missed! Again, this will probably show up better if you click on the image itself.

How many did you participate in? And which ones did you wish you could do, but it never worked out?

Saturday, January 12, 2019

IBLP Locations

While we're at it, here is my attempt to represent the geographical spread of IBLP. At its peak, the Institute had staffed centers at these locations. Most of these were active in the early 2000's.

Blue: international centers.
Yellow: never quite got off the ground.
Green: residential campuses that Gothard staffed primarily with children and young adults from his homeschool program. (Some paid for the privilege; some worked for free; others received minimum wage.)
Gray: miscellaneous buildings. Some were used to re-program youth sent by the courts or by their parents.
Red: offices of IBLP's correspondence law school, though it was partly run from other locations.

(Clicking on the image should make it clearer.)

Friday, January 11, 2019

What Was That Cult Called?

After snacking on after-school cookies and milk, my teenage daughter casually asked, "What was the cult called?"

"The cult we were in? Um, it had a lot of names. Why?"

"'Cause I mentioned in history class that my parents were in a cult, and some people wanted to know which one, and I didn't know its name."

"Ooohhh...yeah, it's confusing."

So I grabbed a marker from the board (I grew up with a chalkboard in the kitchen and my kids will think it's normal to have a markerboard--I mean, I ask you, where else do you post chore lists, make menus, work math problems, or diagram sentences for the edification of all?) and began sketching and explaining until I ran out of space, my daughter had a decent understanding of the IBLP structures we had been part of, and I had drawn something like a new constellation.

My daughter snapped a photo of my sloppy writing and disappeared to her computer to turn it into a proper diagram. I tweaked and added to it and present it here, gratefully, as her work.

As IBLP ages and Gothard's potency is diluted, I think it is important not to lose the scent of his ideas as they reach corners that would otherwise seem safe from his noxious influence. When prisoners are given "character booklets" from Strata Leadership, for example, they have no way of distinguishing which concepts were actually the grooming techniques of a sexual predator and con man.

I'm proud that Gothard's name is not familiar to my children. But I trust they'll be able to spot his poisonous manipulation and authoritarianism anywhere.

NOTE: I've revised the image to include more programs. (1/16/19)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

For Whose Pleasure?

You are doubtless aware that Facebook has this sometimes harrowing feature that dredges up historical posts so that while I'm waking up and sipping my coffee I can also wander through a kind of digital wrack line (TIL that is the official name for the debris deposited on the beach at high tide--you're welcome!) and hunt for forgotten treasures while stepping over the decaying fish.

This morning's wrack line included a treasure of a TED talk by Sofia Jawed-Wessel called The Lies We Tell Pregnant Women. The whole piece is wonderful, but this was the paragraph that arrested my attention a couple of years ago:

Every time a woman has sex simply because it feels good, it is revolutionary. She is revolutionary. She is pushing back against society's insistence that she exist simply for men's pleasure or for reproduction. A woman who prioritizes her sexual needs is scary, because a woman who prioritizes her sexual needs prioritizes herself.
--Sofia Jawed-Wessel 

That quote alone deserves to be its own post. So feel free to stop reading here.


But when those words resurfaced on my pre-dawn Facebook, a weird phrase also danced out of a dusty corner of my groggy brain:
“For His Pleasure”
His? Huh?

I couldn’t quite recall where I first encountered these words, but they somehow seemed so familiar.

Thinking it may have been a book title, I consulted the omniscient google, which offered both an erotica series AND a book from Moody Press. Naturally. 😂

Of course! All things were made for God’s pleasure. He took pleasure in those who fear Him. Without faith it was impossible to please Him. He was pleased with a broken, contrite heart. He worked in me "to will and to do His good pleasure".

I never questioned it in my decades as a Christian. My body was His temple. I was His blood-bathed bride. (Anyone else feel like they need a shower yet?) And I was told He had opinions on what I should eat, what I should wear, how long I should sleep, in short, what I did with every body part, especially my vagina. 

And while I spent hours and hours pondering how I could please Jesus, my parents--indeed, all my authorities--as a happy and obedient handmaid (a word I applied to myself decades before I'd heard of Margaret Atwood), from my teens on I spent no time plotting how to experience pleasure myself.

Our own pleasure was expressly forbidden, in fact, and twice on Sundays!
  • "He who loves pleasure will become a poor man"
  • "...enjoy pleasure...this also is vanity"
  • "Call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD...not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words"
  • "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word"
  • "Not my will, but thine"
  • "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth."
  • "lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God"
  • "Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton"
  • "the pleasures of sin for a season"

This phrase is probably part of why I lean so hard into my own pleasure now. A compelling reason to prioritize actions--like yoga, like dancing, like mindful eating--that help me be more present and content in my physical body. And I definitely lean into my sensual pleasure—whether I want orgasms, a warm touch, or just a soft, cuddly sweater hugging my shoulders.

Prioritize your own pleasure this week, friends!


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Holiday Drama

I used to think depression around the holidays was a newer struggle for me, until a quick tour through old journals last December showed that it's one of my oldest traditions. This year I began strategizing early to head off, or at least minimize, the holiday blues. Back in September, I auditioned for my second community theater show this year, and to my surprise, I got a part!

Hurrah for intensive DRAMA THERAPY!

If you haven't seen the classic film Harvey, starring Jimmy Stewart, well, you probably should. In keeping with my "Living Backwards" motto, I am playing a twenty-something single girl: Myrtle Mae. A stay-at-home-daughter, if you will! Myrtle Mae and her widowed mother have been cast on the generosity of her uncle (and his imaginary friend).

This 40's hairdo has been too much fun.
Harvey was the farcical creation of Mary Chase, a journalist from Denver who kept on writing stories of all kinds as she raised three sons with her news editor husband, and the play won her a Pulitzer during World War II. I love being part of plays written and directed by women. This one also happens to include relevant themes like mental illness, feeling trapped, loneliness, and male doctors not believing women. Not to mention the complexities of living with someone who has a "relationship" with an unseen entity!

"Play-acting" as the Puritans in The Witch of Blackbird Pond called it, has been a fun challenge and a very welcome distraction. Memorize lines? But, of course! Didn't I memorize entire chapters of the Bible once upon a time, to recite with my siblings, sometimes with coordinated motions? Every night I get to have angry outbursts and tearful meltdowns, speak sarcastically to my stage "mother", curse the invisible being who makes my life miserable, and despair of ever being found by a man who will be my ticket to a wider world.

Myrtle Mae with Aunt Ethel!
It's been strangely therapeutic to work with a team of no-longer-strangers to create two hours of living, breathing art that will no longer exist after today. Each performance is a dance as together we weave a tapestry of words and movements for our audience--painfully attuned to their sighs and their giggles, their gasps and their coughs; their guffaws energize us. Gently, subtly rescuing each other when one of us stumbles over a sentence or misplaced prop, we own our mistakes and do all in our power not to repeat them as moments of intensity under the lights alternate with stretches of backstage boredom.

The camaraderie of the cast conjures memories from my cultic past. The intimacy of sharing darkness, close spaces, eye contact (remember that one?), dressing rooms, inside jokes, script books, snacks, even bobby pins, with people one may only have known a few weeks is uniquely exhilarating...and exhausting.

Seeing how people look after each other has reminded me how each individual's success (or distress) directly affects that of the whole. Each person's contribution is valued, and supported. The show is an organism made of many individuals filling unique roles--each one vital and, at this theater, each one is a volunteer effort.

Tomorrow night, I will miss these friends. I will miss their kindness, their quirks, and their silly banter. I will miss the anxiety of stepping into a new scene and the sense of accomplishment of stepping out of one. I will miss the countdowns, the cues, these phrases that have finally begun to roll off my tongue when they are supposed to. Perhaps what I will most miss is having a professional coax my hair into victory rolls!

And you may catch me wearing white gloves and 1940's makeup at the Kroger from time to time, just for the fun of it.

In my PJs, learning my lines.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Patriarchs, Purity, and Virginity Tests

Some art is constructed out of pure rage.

Did you know girls are jailed in Afghanistan for failing "virginity tests"? That tests for so-called "virginity" are used all over the world to determine whether a woman qualifies for employment, or education, or even marriage? Even here, a woman's sexual activity can diminish her worth in the eyes of her community, or even the laws that are supposed to protect her.

I'm not surprised, of course. If there was one message that came to me from all directions with surprising agreement, it was that the best gift I could possibly offer my future husband was an untouched vagina. Tampons were viewed with suspicion not merely as a health hazard, but because they posed the risk of "prematurely" stretching a hymen, which could mean no bleeding on one's wedding night. Horrors!

Deuteronomy 22, which I had read more than a dozen times before my own wedding night, assumed that a bride's parents would hang onto the bloodied honeymoon sheets (euphemistically called "the tokens of the damsel's virginity") to produce as evidence should her husband later try to worm out of the marriage by accusing her of having had premarital intercourse.

And in this Old Testament gem, Moses himself orders the Israelite army to use virginity tests as an act of war. It's rather horrifying in any translation, including the Jewish Publication Society's Tanakh (1917):
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones,
and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
But all the women children,
that have not known man by lying with him,
keep alive for yourselves.    Numbers 31:17-18

The Good Book, indeed.

Even Jesus, in the story supposed to illustrate his compassion and respect for the woman he met at the well, quickly brings up her sexual history ("you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband"), establishing her unworthy position in the patriarchal hierarchy with a single sentence.

It was a revelation to me to realize (not that many years ago) that a woman's value is not, in fact, tied to her sexual experience, OR to her lack thereof. That my sexual history is my own, not a gift I present to a partner. And a woman's sexual experiences, consensual or otherwise, ought certainly never influence society's interest in her safety or well-being. 

Fuck you, Moses.

Friday, October 26, 2018


I spent a significant part of the summer trying not to be swallowed up by a black cloud of depression. 

It wasn't terribly obvious. I was still doing all the things a mom does: grilling, shopping, laundry, planning activities, taking the kids to the movies, baking pies, teaching my oldest to drive, swimming, walking, ice skating, making birthday cakes--plus painting, and writing. All while trying not to drown in a pool of my own tears.

This piece was going to be monochromatic, but then I couldn't keep the colors out of it. Which is why I called the result High-Functioning


My youngest had asked for a tree on her wall, and I couldn't think of a cheerier project to keep me moving in spite of my what-is-even-the-point-of-anything funk.

Painting together made for some great mother-daughter bonding. Especially when she insisted on a squirrel, and we had to figure out together how to achieve it.

The clouds have thinned considerably since then, and our tree is a pleasant reminder that happy things can still grow in dark times.