Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012. . . and Santa Claus

Though it unfolded slowly and naturally, 2012 will go down in our history as a more-than-usually momentous year.  It was a year full of new adventures. We celebrated our 10th anniversary (several months late) in Hawaii. We took the kids to the Pacific coast. I tried to choose a college major. Becky discovered gymnastics. Christen discovered karate. Benjie started public school. Missy got braces.

But the most significant changes are the things we are leaving behind in 2012. We replaced the framed guardian angel print with a wolf. Stacks of books and Christian kids' movies went in the give-away box; I even culled my hymnal collection. By Easter morning, we were ready to end the life support, the last illusions of faith. Christen and I helped with the kids’ crafts at the Methodist church, then listened to the choir and the amazing pipe organ, knowing it was our last church service and we no longer expected a resurrection.

The process began long ago, but we finally let go of God in 2012. We explained this transition to our kids, then watched them thrive in the free atmosphere of science plus imagination. We met other skeptics, atheists, agnostics. We discovered depth and heart in art and entertainment we would once have dismissed as offensive. We laughed ourselves breathless at comedy that wasn't funny for us before. We learned more about our universe and caught our breath in fresh awe and wonder. And the friendships that weathered this period are dearer to us than ever.

Two years ago I hung a scripture plaque in the dining room—partly because I found it on a clearance table, partly because I love its shade of blue that matches my wallpaper, and also because my confidence in Christianity felt shaky at the time. Now I keep it there as a reminder of what “living by faith” was like. 

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for
and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1

In the end, religion is really a lot like Santa Claus. It is easy to have “faith as a child”, to follow adults you love and trust, to participate in common rituals, to learn the ways your community interprets evidence to bolster belief. As in so many holiday movies, one hopes while trying to stifle doubts. But outside the movies, eventually curiosity may lead to exploration and research. And the more tightly faith was held, the deeper the disillusionment.

I held my faith rather tightly for decades.  Letting go of the God concept has been a kind of rebirth—a peaceful, liberating, joyous experience in spite of disorienting moments of adjustment. I am excited to leave so much baggage behind in 2012 and move forward more lightly in the years to come.

Friday, November 23, 2012

College Drives

This is my fourth semester of community college. 
By now I have lots of cozy memories associated with that regular drive all by myself:

Glorious sunsets in the rear view mirror.
Watching summer turn to autumn turn to winter.
Leaves dancing across the asphalt and drifting against the curb.

Observing the suspended moon's changing shape from Tuesday to Thursday to Tuesday again.
Constellations and planets showing up bright as I drive away from the city lights.
Catching opossums in the headlights.

Christmas music on the radio.
Showing my ID to the soldier at the gate to the Air Force base.
The car's heater reaching my toes.

Feeling deeply reassured by Alan Alda's voice as I replay his audiobook for months.
The world starting to make sense again.
Thinking through difficult classes and celebrating academic victories.
Analyzing the strongly-accented English of all my foreign-born professors.

Singing my loudest with my favorite songs.
Rolling down the windows on mild days.
Taking the left turn too fast in my little Subaru.
Peach Snapple. Dove Dark Chocolate.
Coming home to people who love me.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reflections On My Childhood, Part I

I keep trying to understand my childhood. I look at it from different angles, through different lenses. While I reject many of my parents' beliefs, there are certainly gifts from my childhood that I am passing on to my children.

My mom taught me many of the skills I use every day. She was preparing me to be a "helpmeet" and a stay-at-home mom, so she made sure I learned to sew and cook and clean and care for children. She taught me how to manage menus, schedules and shopping lists, how to rotate clothing by seasons and organize closets. I could make curtains and quilts, bathe infants, entertain toddlers, balance a checkbook, and teach math to children. As a teen, I learned to execute a meal plan so that all the courses were ready at the same time. I could pack meals for three days that could be cooked in a hotel room using only hot water. As a young adult, I did the family grocery shopping, parking the first filled cart while I loaded the next one and discovering that the chilled orange juice could be more economical than the frozen concentrate.

Nutrition was always important to Mom. When the other kids in my class pulled out their packages of sugary, artificially colored fruit leather at snack time, I opened my Tupperware bowl and enjoyed homemade applesauce, or rhubarb sauce. Candy was strictly limited, chocolate frowned upon, and we sometimes got sesame-honey treats from the health food store in our Christmas stockings. I still casually refer to blue food coloring as "poison". With so many other cultural traditions being discarded on religious grounds, our family holiday celebrations centered strongly around the food. 

Momma wanted us to know about nature and where our food came from, about farming and gardening and even recycling. Sometimes she made our yogurt. Sometimes we drank unhomogenized milk from the dairy down the road, or raw milk from a friend's cow. Mom ordered minimally-processed natural foods in bulk twice a year: grains, beans, nuts, honey, dried fruit. She often had us pick seasonal produce ourselves. We would drive to orchards or fields where we gathered green beans into paper bags before they wilted in the hot sun, filled baskets full of fuzzy peaches that made our necks itch, lugged pails full of sticky red cherries, picked armloads of tasseled sweet corn, scoured a field for potatoes crusted with earth, and learned to select only the ripe berries. We blanched and peeled and pitted and canned and froze and mashed and sauced and juiced and dried anything that grew under the sun. We helped friends butcher cattle, deer, and chickens. Dad even tapped our neighbor's trees to boil off our own maple syrup. All winter long, we'd enjoy homemade jams, bowls of canned peaches and plums and pears, or maple syrup with hints of wood smoke on hearty whole-wheat pancakes and we'd remember longer, warmer days. 

These days I am more aware than ever of my connection to our planet, the cycle of its seasons, and my place in the universe. I try to help my kids celebrate nature, too. We have seasonal food traditions, we observe the Earth's cycles. We plant things in the earth, and appreciate what it gives back to us. My kids have picked cherries and berries and green beans. I take them grocery shopping with me and teach them to make informed food choices. Running a self-sufficient homestead holds no appeal for me, but my upbringing gave me a respect for farmers, a taste for real food, and a sense of responsibility.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Journey to Pro-Choice

Someday I'd still like to write Dr. Tiller's biography...

From June 10, 2009:

Sometimes I worry about myself. Maybe I am going insane. I read today that the Jews brought insane people to Jesus, and he made them well. So if I am, there is still hope. I feel so much less insane these days!

Issues used to be so cut and dried. Life issues were so black and white. When I was a child, I thought and understood and spoke as a child. Maturity--thinking, understanding, and speaking in love--is much more difficult.

Since Dr. George Tiller's murder (by what folks are calling a "Christian terrorist"), my emotions have been mixed. I've heard him described as a monster, a murderer, a wicked man, brutal and greedy and selfish. The fact that he was handing out bulletins at his church (also my polling place!) just shook up the mental image I've always had. Why would a wicked man be in church? Serving and welcoming others? Most Sundays I can think of reasons not to go to church, but I go because of Jesus. Why was he there? Some would call it religious compensation to assuage deep-seated guilt. Was that it?  This year I finally realized that Jesus wasn't going to show up at church and quit going myself. 

So I started reading, piecing together information from both friends and foes, trying to figure out who this man was. And the results shocked me. All I knew was that he performed procedures few abortionists would attempt. I was unprepared to learn of a complex and deeply caring man who loved life and had a strong desire to help women. He acknowledged that life is a gift from God. Relationships were everything to him. His marriage had lasted for 40 years, he had strong bonds to his four children. He spent the week before his death enjoying DisneyWorld with his grandkids. He loved coffee, Star Trek, hiking and skiing in the mountains...

His professional colleagues had only praise for him, but what would you expect from fellow abortionists? They described his courage, his skill, his humility and his determination. But then there were the pages of women who spoke even more gratefully of his soft-spoken gentleness, his kindness, his generosity, his empathetic listening, and his respectful manner. He personally arranged adoptions and, with his wife, opened his home to young pregnant girls so that they could give birth to their babies.

Tiller saw the women and couples coming to his clinic as individuals, not statistics. Dr. Tiller gave hope to distraught parents and encouraged them to pray for miracles. He believed parents (particularly mothers) were capable of making complex medical decisions for their babies, and should be trusted to do so. In some cases, he actually refused to perform an abortion; sometimes he talked mothers out of having an abortion. Other times he waived the fee.

Certainly he performed many early elective abortions, but Tiller's specialty was late-term abortions. Those marginal cases most of us will be able to avoid our whole lives. He saw them every week. The worst situations from all over the country, and even from abroad. He was able to save the lives of many grateful women who went on to raise their families, or to bear more children later on. He also ended the lives of many babies with "fetal anomalies"--babies who could not survive birth or outside their mother's womb. To many physicians, the mother's body is viewed as a kind of life support, and not permitting the child to be delivered meant protecting it from a short and difficult life at the hands of medical technology after delivery. Scientific advances in prenatal diagnoses have certainly made the issues more complex. "Prenatal testing without prenatal choices is medical fraud," Tiller said. "Nature makes mistakes."

George Tiller didn't set out to perform abortions, he planned on dermatology. When his parents and sister died in a tragic plane crash, he got a discharge from the Navy and returned to Wichita to close his dad's medical practice. Instead, he ended up taking over the practice and caring for his grandmother and his infant nephew.

Only later did George Tiller find out that his dad had performed illegal abortions. It had not been a light decision, but was reached after one of his patients tragically died after seeking an abortion elsewhere. Now George had to decide what he would do.

Once abortion was legalized, some doctors realized that nothing would actually change (safety-wise) if physicians would not perform them. George Tiller felt he had a calling. Although he continued to see his regular patients in family practice, he began performing more and more abortions. He knew abortion was as a divisive a social issue as slavery or prohibition, but he believed "his 'gifts of understanding' helped him bring a service to women that aided them in making their dreams of a happy, healthy family a reality."

Like most young evangelicals, I was exposed to plenty of graphic pro-life propaganda. These led me to assume things about Dr. Tiller that I cannot find facts to back up. For example, he was anxious that the babies not feel pain. When Tiller spoke to desperate women, he knew they were not concerned about "tissue". He spoke to them about their BABIES. He wanted to help mothers, and couples, heal after a catastrophic loss. He recognized that the severing of the maternal relationship was devastating. Some of these babies were desperately wanted, even the results of fertility treatment. Women at his clinic were given the option to see and hold their stillborn babies, and he reported that about 50% did so. The infant was washed and the family could spend a few hours together--family photos with the baby were offered. I have worked for Christian ministries that were far less sensitive.

I hope to meet Dr. Tiller in heaven. I hope he is in the presence of Jesus. That's where my theology gets confused. Is he with the souls of the infants he prematurely removed from the womb? What would they say when introduced? What is Jesus telling him? George Tiller was certainly persecuted for his work--what he considered his "calling". Not many of us would have the inner strength to spend every day with distraught pregnant women. He saw the neediest--the poor, the abused, the incredibly young, the naive, the sick, the grieving, the exhausted, those who had lost hope--and he extended mercy and hope in the best way he knew. All despite constant threats and harassment to himself, his property, and his family, including being shot in both arms in an assassination attempt. Where did he find the strength to keep going? Dr. Tiller is an inspiration to me, even if I don't expect to meet him, or miscarried embryos, or my dear grandparents, anywhere again. His spirit lives on in the brave women and men now attempting to reopen an abortion clinic in Wichita.

Ultimately, Dr. George Tiller's defense of abortion stemmed from his belief in equality and freedom for women. He saw the tendency of male-dominated societies to subjugate women, and felt that allowing birth control--and abortion--prevented women from being controlled by men and being overwhelmed by child-rearing responsibilities they did not choose. Tiller's words: "We believe that women have more worth and more value beyond their biological reproductive support function for a fertilized egg, embryo, fetus, child, baby, call it whatever you have - - call it whatever you wish. Women have more value beyond their biological reproductive support capacity." I wish I'd understood this sooner. I wish the whole world could understand this!

"Dr. Tiller always used to say that women are under the most stress at two times in their lives: when they are pregnant and don't want to be, and when they want to be and can't." He spent his life trying to help women by ending the lives of their unborn offspring. The women themselves had a variety of motives for seeking him out. Some look back on him gratefully, others with regret. But his own motivation appears consistent through the decades, sincere, and even. . . good. A wise man.

When I was 15, I won $50 for articulating the anti-abortion position in a 5-minute speech. Growing up in a Quiverfull household, I looked forward to my motherhood role and looked down my teenage nose at couples with fewer than 4 children. In my single 20's, I found some comfort in the ticking of my biological clock. Despite a deplorable ignorance of family planning, I still hoped to avoid exploring the limits of my reproductive capacity. (Ah, seeds of disintegration!)

Now I wrestle with these issues again. When does a human life form, distinct from its mother? Does the well-being of a woman take priority over that of her unborn baby? Is a human embryo, with its unique qualities that are very different from those of a developed person, simply an undeveloped person? Who should make choices for unborn children? Should mothers be trusted? Should fathers?? Does nature make mistakes? Who is Nature??

The more deeply I explore this subject, the greater my respect for the minds that chose the words Barack Obama has repeated often: "Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare."

"You have heard that it was said to the people in the old days,'Thou shalt not murder', and anyone who does so must stand his trial. But I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother must stand his trial; anyone who contemptuously calls his brother a fool must face the supreme court; and anyone who looks down on his brother as a lost soul is himself heading straight for the fire of destruction." --Jesus (Matthew 5:21-22)

"Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them."

The Power of Music

Came across an old piece today. Something I wrote nearly three years ago. Decided to stick it up here as a point of reference. Those who grew up in ATI may relate to bits of my experience.

January 8, 2010
Played the piano for the last hour. First time in a long time that I've sat down and played like that. Now I know why. Nearly dissolved into tears twice. The music took me back to some very emotional places, both good and bad...
Ironing Dad's shirts and listening to praise tapes, with the choral worship songs of the early 80's. (Praise Six, "Come and Sing Praises", Maranatha/Word Music) They are still a part of me now. The songs, not the shirts. 

Growing up attending Church of the Living God with its enthusiastic praise style. Then wondering what exactly rock music was and why it made it us leave that church. We used to sing "and blessed be the Rock" there to much clapping. Shortly before we left Living God, a lady taught us a peppy new Scripture song. "In Him we live, and move, and have our being". I suspected that was the offensive song, but I found Paul referring to it later in the book of Acts. 

The wonder and awe when the grand piano with the inlaid roses was delivered to the OKC Training Center, the stunningly beautiful answer to our prayers. Anything in tune would have suited, but it seemed God had just decided to spoil us. Spending many hours worshiping with my hymnal, entertaining myself, or accompanying old-fashioned hymnsings. The thrill when a man I admired told me I sang like an angel. Also, our frustration when the same man asked one talented youth not to play recent sacred compositions but to stick with the old styles. Aaron more than made up for that limitation.

Learning said "recent compositions" at Springdale Alliance Church on Sundays. "Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty". Looking forward to sermons for the first time in my life. Feeling my faith and understanding grow. Being blessed by Pastor Ken Nesselroade and others.

Graham Kendrick. His songs have been meaningful to me, but more so since I learned that he is British. Somehow singing about "this land" and "the nations" feels more catholic now.

Singing out hymns like we meant it on weekends in Indianapolis. The rich harmony, the grand pianists we had, the giggles over the more "daring" selections. "God of Concrete, God of Steel", anyone? "Wonderful Grace of Jesus", with enough men's voices to carry the parts. The feeling that we in our crisp white shirts were right, and important.

Precious solitary piano worship between classes at UND in Grand Forks. In the open-air meeting hall in Nasuli on Mindanao. Or on the "homemade" piano in my generous neighbors' house. Learning new songs and digging out old ones. 

Coming home from Bay Area Baptist "Church" full of outrage week after week. Digging out [Christian] music that would be offensive there and playing it in rebellion. Like a praise songbook from the 70's, or a recent Catholic music issue stolen for me by my aunt when we attended Mass with her. Figuring out how to play chords from music intended for guitar or cantor. Discovering Bernadette Farrell. Fiercely pounding out songs about dancing, fellowship, grace, or unity. The melancholy "God and Man at Table Are Sat Down" was particularly satisfying. 

Many of my favorite albums (both sacred and instrumental secular) disappearing from the family collection overnight. Some to be repurchased gradually a decade and more later when my parents' religious views of music altered yet again. Being asked to evaluate recordings of instrumental hymns with a critical search for a "backbeat". 

Hours spent at the piano when I was a single living with my parents. The anguish I would pour out on the keyboard many nighths as I asked God the hard questions. He never would explain himself, but He would soothe my soul so that I could sleep. The old Appalachian tunes in minor keys, looking forward to Heaven. Ron Hamilton's "Rejoice in the Lord", and "Not My Will, But Thine, Lord". I was ready to die for Jesus. It would have been easier, actually.

Many a weekend hour at the piano in the basement of Brook Manor. I sought out ancient songs during that period. Like the Shield of St. Patrick. I needed to feel that our faith was much deeper than what I could see. I enjoyed all the music around me, though. My horizons were expanding. "Because He Lives" still reminds me of Derek LoVerde leading staff meeting. Philip Raymond led our handbell choir. Phil Garvin played traditional "Gospel piano". Hinsdale Baptist introduced me to the very latest church songs. Life was hard on us, but at the same time it was too good to be true. And then it seemed like it had ended, and again I was back at my "own" piano.

Visiting my mom's friend when I was a kid and listening to her daughter play the piano. Hannah was close to my age and very talented. She played "Isn't He" and the beauty blew me away. I longed to be able to make sounds like that. Today I realized that I can.

Trying to sing hymns with my mom and siblings to tapes of Alfred B. Smith. Wow. That was rough. But a few of those tunes are favorites today. Some of the old hymns seemed shocking then, and still amaze me. Like Frederick Faber's "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy". Faber traded the Calvinism of his youth for the Roman Catholic Church, becoming a theologian and writing the (ana-)Baptist favorite, "Faith of our Fathers". I used to think "dungeon, fire and sword" was talking about things like the Inquisition, but apparently not. 

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

. . . 

It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?
Strange to read this again. I rarely play the piano anymore. I've tossed half of my hymnal collection. I've found new favorite songs and musical styles. I don't "worship", though I still have intense emotional experiences while singing with my favorite vocalists in my car. Perhaps if I'd been taught a gentler Jesus from the beginning, I'd have more patience with religion now?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Reflections on 9/11

Last fall, September 11th fell on a Sunday.

Churches all over floundered to commemorate the 10-year anniversary in some way. The church we attended turned it into a patriotic service reminiscent of the Fourth of July. Retirees dug out their military uniforms for the occasion. The choir led everyone in a zealous rendition of "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory", an odd Civil War anthem about men meting out judgement and destruction in God's name, and volunteering to die for His cause.

But I best remember the Sunday School class. An elderly Marine was proudly sporting his old uniform. We ate donuts and went around the table answering questions from the lesson plan about how the 9/11 attack had affected us. The Marine waxed nostalgic: "When the Japanese attacked us, we knew what to do with them. We rounded them up and put them in internment camps. Too bad we couldn't do that after 9/11." I was dumbfounded. This church had been an oasis of peace and kindness for me, but the people dressing in their Sunday best to sit in the pews or sing in the choir week after week. . .was this how they felt?

My exposure to religion leads me to paint it all with a broad brush. Religion hurts people. No matter how mild a God you believe in, he is your god, not the god of the others. And this distinction alone is sharp enough to be hurtful, no matter how good or kind you want your god to be.

Either All of Humankind is one big awkward family (with other life forms being extended relations), or my family is "the set of those who share my speculations about an afterlife and the character of a Supreme Being" and everyone else is an outsider and a threat.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

On Making Distinctions

How pleasant it is not to believe. To be unconcerned with doctrinal purity or heresy, with whether someone is a minister of the gospel or an antichrist, with what the scriptures mean or meant, with who has been born twice or how that even happens. I spent decades inquiring of everyone, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” It is a relief to step outside that world. To peruse blogs and no longer care about issues that once seemed so crucial. Like becoming "colorblind" after a lifetime of racial distinctions, the differences between Mormon and Catholic, Sikh and Pentecostal and Muslim are inconsequential, after all. 


I weeded my flowerbeds yesterday. It did me a world of good! Tugging at obstinate grass, wresting roots from the earth, reclaiming resources for the plants I prefer, opposing nature, thwarting evolution, interrupting the life principle, exerting my will on my little piece of the planet.

Afterwards, I found myself less irked by all those friends who were giving God credit on Facebook for miracles of healing—“miracles” involving helicopter pilots, pharmaceuticals, long hospital stays, chemotherapy, NICU’s, radiation, doctors who invested many years and tens of thousands of dollars in scientific education.  Prayer could not have produced such “miracles” in the middle ages, or even a hundred years ago. These wonders come to us, in developed countries only, after centuries of human curiosity, imagination, persistence, failure, and many, many dead people. Glory be!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Unsupported Belief

I am so glad to be an atheist. Life really makes so much more sense now. It’s as if my heart and mind were in a cage all along, one I wasn’t even aware of, so focused was I on the size of others' cages.

All those years (decades!) of practicing what I called faith, I never accepted what I found unbelievable. I had a reason behind every belief I held. I rejected doctrines or ideas I found unsupportable or incredible. However, my upbringing severely limited my sources of information. I had a strong acceptance of the truth as I knew it. When I began to think and question freely, each of those reasonable supports to my belief cracked and fell away. I accepted the evidence of history, of science, of experience—evidence that had been withheld or explained away before. My “faith” vaporized. What value is there in clinging to “truths” after reality has given them the lie?

Please don’t feel sorry for me, don’t be sad that I don’t try to accept what is unbelievable. I never did, after all. Pray for me, if it makes you feel good. I wish you the very best things for your life; I can offer support and sympathy when things are tough, but I am prayed out.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Effects of Homeschooling

Someone asked me about the long-term effects of homeschooling vs. public education, and it got me thinking. I won't consider secular private education in this article, mostly because I don't have firsthand experience.  I have enjoyed teaching my young children at home, but we have decided to send them to public school while they are still in the elementary grades because of our observations over a generation of homeschooling.

Effects on Society

Certainly homeschooling promotes elitism. Even without religious motivation, announcing that you can get a better education from your mother than from certified degreed professionals has an air of snobbery. Socially, the kids can hardly escape the inference that they are too good (or smart, or rich) to rub shoulders with the inferior proletariat, especially when they are repeatedly told their home experience is superior. Latin for kindergarteners, anyone?

Public school introduces children to others who are like, yet unlike, them at the same time. It broadens their understanding by allow them to work and play alongside real people of other races, other religions, other languages and backgrounds. When conflicts arise, involved parents have an opportunity to encourage cooperation, sensitivity, and compassion, as well as personal boundaries. My children are learning to respect diversity in a way that would be impossible if they only played with kids from their own neighborhood. And they see that excellence is a personal choice independent of circumstances.

Our public school welcomes parental involvement. Teachers are thrilled to have parents volunteer in the classroom and the principal has always had an open door when I stopped in with a question or concern. When I spend an hour helping my daughter's classmates practice multiplication, I multiply the teacher's efforts and support the cause of education far beyond my own children. Our school truly belongs to the community and it is what the community makes it.

Government policies and education budgets now affect my children directly, so I have heightened interest in the issues. I better understand what educators do, helping me relate to a much larger group of society. When teachers and professors in my book club begin to discuss particular stresses on public education, I can participate. Rather than supporting divisions based on class and ideology, I can connect differing perspectives to broaden people's view of the big picture.

Effects on Students

I maintain that it is neither normal nor traditional for boys to spend their days under the tutelage of their mother after they reach double digits. In the days of the pioneer, a boy might grow up isolated and self-taught. He was prepared to explore the frontier, self-reliant and independent. Those are hardly the skills needed by adults today.

It would be interesting to hear from men how they think homeschooling affected them emotionally. My hunch is that all that time at home with Mom often stunted their decision-making and negotiating skills and either increased their susceptibility to manipulation or their ability to manipulate, or both.

Boys--and girls in contemporary society--need to learn goal-setting and negotiating skills. School exposes them to a range of leadership styles and personalities and varied levels of accountability. It helps them build a portfolio of social skills (and coping mechanisms) that can serve them in the work force when they have to deal with cranky managers, lazy teammates, and charting their own professional course.

Even in modern homeschooling, with its drama groups, advanced math co-op classes, and sports teams, families tend to be overly flexible, to lack commitment to schedules, and to make sacrifices for one child at the expense of the others. In spite of its flaws, the school system does allow for a more level playing field that offers individual choice and rewards accordingly.

Effects on Family Dynamics

Family dynamics are the primary reason I decided against long-term homeschooling. Put simply, my daughter appreciates me much more when she doesn't have to spend all day with me! Though we spend less time together, we use that time more efficiently, deepening our relationship and helping her develop emotionally and socially. Homeschooling strains the parent-child relationship unnecessarily. It is unfair to a teenager for one or two adults to hold the keys to his education and grades as well as his: social life, access to transportation, food choices, access to employment, daily schedule, recreation, healthcare, and moral guidance. This absolute power tends to corrupt parents, or simply exhaust them.

How many moms have "burned out" on homeschooling, devoting themselves to their children's needs or success while ignoring their own? If she has her own dreams, the teaching parent may resent the inefficiency of spending so many years as a caregiver and educator for a handful of children, when she could be pursuing a satisfying career while sharing the educational responsibility with professionals who chose the job. The early homeschool movement seems to have coincided with an era when technology and a stronger economy had recently reduced the load on stay-at-home moms. Homeschooling may be a healthy alternative to watching soap operas, but it can be a real financial hardship for some parents--contributing to marriage and family stress.

Adolescence is a time for widened horizons, a time to experiment with choices and learn specific cause-and-effect sequences, with the home as a physical and emotional safety net. When teachers reinforce what parents have been telling their kids, the whole family benefits. Feedback at regular intervals gives kids a chance to test different approaches to learning and meeting goals. When they struggle in one area (academics, social relationships, or family issues, for example), they can lean on other networks for support and hopefully build confidence by succeeding in something else.

*     *     *     *     *  
As the product of homeschooling, and a homeschooling parent myself, I think the benefits of homeschooling are usually overstated. Certainly religious motivations have driven the movement's growth, but weighing the social and educational results does not convince me that homeschooling prepares people to better thrive in their society.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I wish I understood friendship. I wish I knew how to have friends who are different from me. Wish I knew how to make them comfortable, while keeping my inner self intact. Wish I could maintain relationships with people in spite of the inevitable changes we all experience.

What makes connection between two people in the first place? What attracts them, forges bonds, and makes it easy for them to occupy proximate space? Is it "magical", or the simple result of cumulative shared experiences? Is it a random natural occurrence unlikely to repeat itself? Why do I quickly "like" some people and distrust others? Is it evolution at work?

My past was spent primarily with Christians. Now I fear many friendships from that era were not based on liking one another as people, but on a common belief system. I am reluctant to tell people about the change in my beliefs because I fear that my fears will be confirmed. That my friends will feel a need to "restore" me to what I was. Anticipating rejection from these old "friends", I have opened myself to new social networks, to new friends who dwell outside the circle I used to be comfortable in. Sadly, something is still missing. Rejecting the same things is apparently no more a basis for friendship than believing the same things.

As a catalyst for friendship, Facebook both helps and hinders. It allows me to see but one dimension of another person, the side they want to show, or even just the side I want to see. Sometimes it encourages me to violate my boundaries. People say things on Facebook they would never say to my face, and yet I keep reading their posts, when I would learn to avoid them in real life. It also allows me to maintain relationships on the surface, without others ever suspecting that I have transformed into a different person underneath. I can pretend.

But I would so much rather have respect. I think that's the bedrock of friendship, for me anyway. When I respect you and you respect me, even if we see life very differently, we will treat each other well and wish each other happiness and contentment. Friendship starts with mutual courtesy and then goes deeper. And therein lies the problem. See, if you don't treat yourself and those close to you with respect, I can find no respect for you.  I don't respect many people right off the bat, even fewer after I get to know them, and I sure as heck don't respect all their viewpoints. Am I being unreasonable or unfair? Or is respect really the backbone of a healthy society?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Truth Project

The Bible stands though the hills may tumble,
It will firmly stand when the earth shall crumble;
I will plant my feet on its firm foundation,
For the Bible stands. (Haldor Lillenas, 1917)

My dad and mom were baptized the year before I was born and took their faith very seriously. Having rejected their own religious upbringing as insufficient, my parents were young idealists with a passion for the Bible, which they regarded as the only authoritative Truth. In their quest for Bible truth, however, my parents were soon exposed to Bill Gothard and became enthusiastic alumni of his cult-like “Institute in Basic Life Principles” (aka as IBLP, and before that, I.B.Y.C.). Gothard’s program aims to prevent teen rebellion by promoting parents and other authority figures as God’s mouthpieces for their children and other subordinates. Despite being unmarried, he dispenses a lot of marriage and parenting and homeschooling advice, as well as formulas for business success, all ostensibly lifted from the pages of Scripture.

The Bible stands like a rock undaunted
’Mid the raging storms of time;
Its pages burn with the truth eternal,
And they glow with a light sublime.

From asking Jesus into my heart at the ripe age of 3 to memorizing verses in Sunday School, my own childish faith grew easily.  I always loved learning, so the Bible was a treasury of knowledge to me. Church interested me. I enjoyed watching other adults express their faith, enjoyed listening to my parents discuss their religious beliefs with their friends. However, each time my parents attended one of Gothard’s seminars, they brought back stricter rules for our home. For years I resisted these changes, while my parents used the Institute’s literature to invoke the Bible’s support for each restrictive new policy.

The Bible stands like a mountain towering
Far above the works of men;
Its truth by none ever was refuted,
And destroy it they never can.

When I turned 15, Mom confiscated my new birthday Walkman. To get it back, I had to listen, with my parents, to an IBLP cassette series on choosing Godly music. The producers criticized all the popular Christian artists I enjoyed, and I thought the reasoning offered was ridiculous, but I did want my Walkman. Besides, I really did want to be on God’s side, the side of my parental authorities. I signed my name on the commitment page at the end of the companion booklet.

From then on, I drank the kool-aid, too. I learned to deftly use the scriptures to defend my beliefs and those of my parents. Though I still balked at some of the more unreasonable teachings that came down from IBLP, I enjoyed being part of an elitist force for the kingdom of God. We went further than ordinary Christians, made sacrifices they wouldn’t dream of. It may have been an oppressive lifestyle, but the Bible alone was our authority and no historical or scientific “fact” could contradict its God-preserved veracity.

By age 25, I’d read both testaments through fifteen times, in multiple versions. Like a good lawyer, I could defend almost any Christian belief from scripture, and could anticipate opposing arguments from a Christian with a differing perspective. The Bible came to look more like a prism than a window.

The Bible stands and it will forever,
When the world has passed away;
By inspiration it has been given,
All its precepts I will obey.

I met my husband while we were both working for IBLP. We each left the “ministry” with mixed feelings. As our friendship got more serious, we both began to sort out our core beliefs and let go of legalistic baggage. We were desperate to know what was essential Christianity and what had merely been added on. We found a church that held belief in Jesus as its vital doctrine. As our children were born, I diligently taught them psalms and hymns, prayers and Bible stories. The scriptures would be their foundation, as they were mine. Knowing Bible truth would be their defense against manipulation, extremism and spiritual abuse.

The Bible stands every test we give it,
For its Author is divine;
By grace alone I expect to live it,
And to prove and to make it mine.

Then one year, our church decided to go through The Truth Project, a DVD mini-seminar from Focus on the Family. As Del Tackett made his presentation on the screen, we were jarred back in time. Tackett was promoting his “worldview” and insisting that the Bible, properly interpreted, would only endorse his perspective of marriage, of government, of economics, of science, of philosophy, of doctrine. Everything else was untrue or phony. We looked at each other and realized we’d seen this show before. Having learned how to justify anything from the pages of the Old and New Testaments, we simply weren’t convinced the Bible was as absolute or all-encompassing as these men wanted it to be.

Since then we’ve learned a lot about how other Christian groups interpret and engage with the Bible. We’ve studied how it came to us via oral tradition and manuscript and printing press, the history of translation and its challenges, its influence on literature and Western civilization. I view the Bible a lot differently these days. It is no longer my “sword” to use on opponents. It is not my talisman against evil, not an unbiased record of historical events. I no longer imagine God whispering words into the ears of attentive prophets anxiously taking notes.

I still want my children to be familiar with the Bible's teachings and its imagery. But, whereas I used to see the Bible as a book that told me about God, I now see it as a book that tells me about myself. A story, woven over many centuries, about the needs, desires, imaginations, fears, griefs, dreams, hopes, and aspirations that have shaped humanity’s destiny. Its pages chronicle mankind's evolving attempts to make sense of the world we inhabit, and to make it better. Humanity's struggle forward is the truth of the Bible.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Belief or Truth

(January 12, 2012)
I was a child when my parents took us to a 2-day creationism conference. There were workshops and kids' sessions, slide presentations of Mt. St. Helens and cartoon drawings of Adam and Eve hanging out with dinosaurs. One guy talked about imagining in his bathtub how a flood could cause a forest to petrify. Another described being hit by lightning while on a mountain in Turkey, looking for Noah's Ark.

Ken Ham
My favorite speaker had a short beard and an Aussie accent. A kind of missionary to America, Ken Ham explained that fighting social evils like porn and abortion and divorce was futile as long as people kept believing in evolution. To really rebuild society, we needed to start by converting people to Biblical creationism. If they weren't convinced that the universe was formed by God in six days, they couldn't accept the concept of sin and salvation and needing a blood sacrifice to gain forgiveness and even if they claimed to be Christians, their faith would be wishy-washy at best. Using cartoons and an overhead projector, Ken made us laugh at ignorant "scientists" who believed they could tell how old fossils were, tossing in some anti-gay humor for good measure.

Mike Warnke
On the long drive to the conference, we listened to a Focus on the Family broadcast. Mike Warnke was giving his "testimony" and we were both riveted and entertained. Years later, Mike was exposed as a fraud--never having been the Satanist high priest he said he was, yet still selling Christians his lurid tales of degeneracy and conversion. Mike never denied the devil, as it were. He stands by his discredited and impossible stories today and continues to peddle his "ministry" to gullible audiences.

The creationist speakers turned out to be dishonest, too. While I thought they were trying to teach me to love truth AND scienctific research, they were priming me to support their agenda. A decade after the conference, I was mailing them my prayer requests, along with checks for a new museum project in Kentucky.

Another decade passed, and I was in church watching Focus on the Family's "The Truth Project". It slowly dawned on me that unqualified men were still trying to define "truth" for me. Men who did not share my thirst for knowledge. Men whose scientific "facts" were predetermined by their theology and political leanings. Men who were more willing to deceive than to consider evidence that would challenge their biases.

Dr. Francis Collins
I started to ask new questions. I heard an NPR interview with a scientist who was a Christian, yet accepted evolution as scientifically proven. My curiosity piqued, I started reading about the history of physics and geology and the age of the earth. I read books about social issues by left-leaning Christians and by atheists. We found a more liberal church. I read about sexuality and private schools and American history and how we got the Bible. I enrolled in community college. I began to teach my children about creation myths and how stars are born, and how Judeo-Christian beliefs about Satan and hell "evolved" slowly.

I no longer listen to men who insist the universe is merely thousands of years old, that women were divinely designed to be their husbands' submissive assistants, and that the Creator killed his own son to save the world but is glorified when believers of other faiths are punished forever. I don't laugh when they scoff at liberals, atheists, or gays. I want my children to recognize frauds, and to follow truth wherever it leads.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

M*A*S*H and Humanism

I love M*A*S*H reruns. 

Chris gave me the entire series on DVD for Christmas one year and then had to put it up with me wanting to watch it every night for months. I love the jokes, the cynicism, the conflicts. I like Hawkeye’s pranks, Father Mulcahy’s prayers, and Klinger’s costumes. I like that the photo sitting on Colonel Potter’s desk is of Harry Morgan’s real-life wife. I like that Gary Burghoff (“Radar”) is now a wildlife artist and that Mike Farrell cares about cult awareness and that “Major Winchester” conducts symphony orchestras. Most of all, I like Alan Alda’s laugh.

Last semester, I listened to an audiobook by Alan Alda on my commute to college. The book was part memoir, part philosophy. Alda’s Bronx accent calmed me while his humor made me laugh out loud, his stories made me tear up, and his observations about life filled me with hope. I enjoy M*A*S*H more than ever now, knowing what the Hawkeye Pierce character meant to him.

Life in the 4077 reminds me of difficult environments in my past. Places I didn’t want to be, responsibilities I didn’t ask for, authoritative “leadership” who didn’t understand, random visits from VIPs living in their own fantasy world, the camaraderie and sheer delight of shared misery and common purpose in close quarters, the painful partings—especially when there weren’t goodbyes. The M*A*S*H writers capture something I envy, though. Their characters embrace humanity, in all its neediness and beauty. They depict the suffering of separation, of monotony, of fear. They cope with loneliness, sleep deprivation, anxiety, sickness, sexual desire, and lack of privacy. They challenge inequality and prejudice, mock arrogance, abhor violence, celebrate individuality, and defy regulations to help real persons.

I have not always been encouraged to value humanness. Humanism was warned against as the enemy of both our souls and our society. Mankind’s primary value was presumed to be in his proximity to divinity. An individual’s moral influence, for good or evil, was viewed as his most important attribute. Needs for rest and exercise, proper nourishment, medical care, human touch and friendship, education, self-expression, self-determination—those were secondary, a lower tier of existence. We grew to deem those things weaknesses in ourselves, obstacles to our desire to be our “best”.

M*A*S*H reminds me that humanity is something to cultivate and affirm. My own and everyone else’s. It encourages me to be patient with myself and with my family, to value people over ideology, to not take myself too seriously, to work toward the ideal without expecting it.
And best of all, Alan Alda makes me laugh.