Friday, May 31, 2013

Memories of Bebop

The holiday weekend got me thinking about my favorite patriot: my grandpa.

When I was tiny, I pronounced his name "Bebop", to the amusement of all. The name stuck until I was about 15 and going through the mental transition from child to religious and social conservative. I found "bebop" in the dictionary and was embarrassed, especially since jazz and syncopation were severely frowned upon in our circles as agents of the devil. I never called my grandpa Bebop again, but switched to the sanitized "Grandpa" and all the younger kids followed suit. His name change was hard on Bebop; he continued to sign cards with both names for a while. But eventually, he gave up.

Front of the custom-printed shirt he wore with pride

Not only was I the oldest grandchild, the eleven of us were Bebop's only grandchildren. And he adored us.

When he and Grammie came to visit, we would all take their dog for a walk beside the road. We scanned the ground carefully then because when Bebop was along, we would always find coins strewn along the way. He said someone must have been walking there with a hole in their pocket. We never found coins when we walked the dog with just Grammie, though.

Bebop had a great sense of humor and liked to laugh the same way he talked--loudly. He loved to entertain us with corny jokes, nonsense rhymes and cowboy songs, all of which we would recite long afterward--to my mom's chagrin. Sometimes he had new jokes, but he had no aversion to repeating the same ones year after year, and he'd laugh just as heartily every time. I loved it when he read us stories because he would always change the words to make us laugh ourselves silly.

When he received his first Social Security check, he told the five of us kids that he wanted to give each of us a quarter of it. He let us muddle over the math for a while before presenting each of us with 25 cents.

When we were very young, Bebop would mail us "letters" on cassette tapes--stories about his exploits in the kitchen and individual messages for each one of us. One year he wrote special--and silly--Valentine's poems for each one of us and Grammie illustrated them with colored pencil drawings.

Bebop was a planner who also loved surprises. One year he mailed me a new purse, just because. It was a favorite for years and now my kids play with it. Another time, he sent a box of his homemade raisin-nut cookies, my favorites. Once he gave me an antique book (a flea market find, no doubt) with a post-it note on the inside cover next to the copyright: "1925--I'm as old as Grandpa!".

He liked ice cream, jigsaw puzzles, road maps, vacations, hard candy, and making chili with the tomatoes from his garden. Bebop always knew where to find the wild wineberries, and the nut trees. Every fall he would squirrel away black walnuts and hickory nuts in his garage and spend his free time cracking them for his famous cookies.

His family had been in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years. He had broad German features, an inveterate sweet tooth, a considerable paunch, and an accent that pronounced the A in carrot or Carol the same as the A in apple or Alex. He went away to war at the ripe young age of 17, lived in tents on a tropical volcanic island that later became part of the 50th state (and where I celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary 70 years later), came back a Marine Corps sergeant, and waited till he turned 21 to marry my Grammie.

Marked for life by the Great Depression as well as fiercely independent, Grammie was frugal to a fault (in her last years she loved trips to the bank for the free coffee with flavored creamer that she wouldn't buy for herself). To Bebop, economy was a game. He loved coupons, and filing coupons, and would send my poor mother envelopes full of duplicates he'd collected. When he retired, shopping became his competitive sport. He and his brother-in-law would compare their hunting-and-gathering prowess, bragging about finding the lowest-priced bananas. Bebop couldn't resist a good sale; after he died, Grammie didn't have to buy paper towels or toilet paper for two years.

When Bebop died two months before my wedding, a month before the September 11th attacks, he already had our wedding gift prepared in his desk. I sang one of his favorite hymns at his funeral, and imagined him causing uproarious laughter in heaven by telling jokes about firemen's suspenders or leftover carrot pie.

I think Bebop's been in my thoughts lately because my mind has been in Pennsylvania with family. Once when my brother and I stayed with my Bebop and Grammie for a week, we went for a walk at the cemetery and Bebop showed us the plot of ground where he and Grammie would be buried someday. I've been to his grave twice since his death, but not as a non-believer. Now I can finally "put him to rest".

So goodbye this time, Bebop. I'm sorry I changed your name. I'm glad I got your sense of humor and your cookie recipe instead of your nose. I tell your corny jokes to my kids. You would really love your great-grandkids. I know you'd have their drawings posted on your fridge. If you had a computer, they would send you home videos and recorded messages and you'd be so proud of all of us.

Thanks for showing me so much about how to live and how to love.

Monday, May 27, 2013


I was told last week that I have "no patriotism in my soul whatsoever".

Perhaps that is so.

While I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been born in the U.S. of A., and I'm aware of the many privileges that come with my status, I am not often proud of my country.

And while I'll probably always identify as American, I often don't identify with Americans. I have a lot of beefs with my homeland. I find its claims to superiority in many ways laughable, and I think we have a long way to go before we can honestly boast of "liberty and justice for all".

Confronted with this bumper sticker on the rusting backside of the old Suburban in front of me, I feel out of place, as if my countrymen would rather have our state to themselves. His flag doesn't offend me, but his attitude does. I want to apologize for him to everyone else waiting at  the red light. Parting company with the old Chevy, I return home and spend the afternoon fixing carnitas with corn tortillas and black beans while listening to Estelle Parsons read Flannery O'Connor's "Everything That Rises Must Converge", a story of racial integration and prejudice. I wonder if my friend-of-the-flag enjoys tacos.

When I think of patriotism, I think of dead and wounded soldiers, and that makes me sad. I can't stop with remembering them; my mind instantly jumps to the unwitting casualties of war--the ones who never intended or expected to be in harm's way. The spouses and parents and brothers and sisters and children whose worlds were upended when they lost those they loved and depended on. The families who suffered because of their loved one's unnamed and untreated PTSD, or their own. The loss of limbs, the brain injuries. The men, and women, who were "never the same after the war", and the people who cared about them. The former valedictorian who wandered the town mumbling to himself when he returned. The neighbor kid who watched and wondered, or hid.

Today I listened to author Thomas Childers while I prepared our Memorial Day picnic feast. If he has patriotism in his soul, then maybe my soul is not devoid of it. I can identify with his sense of war's awful aftermath, its horrible untold price. Listening to his stories of his father cleaning splattered American brains off a warplane seemed more appropriate for Memorial Day than moments of silence or parades.

Perhaps I am too morbid these days to celebrate holidays. Perhaps my own fight with PTSD makes me sympathize too much with those who crumple under the trauma of conflict.

Before post-traumatic stress disorder, the best diagnosis was "psychoneurosis" or shell-shock, and many, many of our veterans were affected in the first half of the 20th century. Willard Waller wrote in 1944,
"According to current estimates, the armed services were discharging psychoneurotic veterans at the rate of 10,000 cases a month in late 1943 and in early 1944. The army alone has discharged 216,000 veterans for psychoneurosis at the time of writing. By the end of the war this figure will probably be increased by many hundreds of thousands. Neuro-psychiatric breakdowns constitute about thirty per cent of all casualties, but the rate varies from one theatre of war and one military organization to another. If our experience of World War I is repeated, great numbers of psychoneurotic cases will be added to the rolls in the post-war years....
"Our past experience with such cases has been discouraging. Of the 67,000 beds in Veterans Administration hospitals, almost half are still occupied by the psychoneurotics of World War I." 
Source: The Veteran Comes Back 

Such sacrifices are essential to our freedom, I'm told. But some days I am skeptical.

Maybe growing up in an isolated religious subculture gave me unreasonably high expectations of the America that existed on the outside. Like an immigrant, I knew the claims of America before actually experiencing it for myself. And I confess to being disappointed. Freedom is a terribly relative term.
Merriam-Webster defines FREEDOM thusly:
     1: the quality or state of being free: as
         a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
         b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence
         c : the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous

I wonder what escapees like Carolyn Jessop would say about this definition. Or the African-Americans who are imprisoned for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites (though five times as many whites are using drugs). We must be talking about a different kind of freedom.

Here is President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlining "the four freedoms" in his State of the Union message in 1941:
"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation."
Noble aspirations, but even with all the human sacrifices we have yet to achieve this in the United States, let alone "everywhere in the world".

Superiority is more than industry, economy, power. In today's world, the most superior nation is the one that places the greatest value on human rights, treating its citizens fairly while being a good neighbor to everyone else on the planet.

It's a tall order, and that's why I am not always proud of my homeland.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Library Shelf: Foreskin's Lament

I have to love Shalom Auslander. His memoir Foreskin's Lament is poignant, amusing, daring, and unsettling. One minute it made me giggle, the next I wondered if I was tottering on the brink of insanity.

Though he was raised Jewish and I was Christian, and he went to school while I was taught at home, I can relate to him far too well to be comfortable. His stories of sneaking Slim Jims at the municipal pool Snack Shack made me laugh till my chest began to heave with sobs.

"Cheese or regular?"

Cheese? Pork, with cheese?

Oh. My. God.

I wasn't sneaky, but I envied the wicked with their pepperoni pizza. And I savored every mouthful of my first breakfast bacon as an adult. With stuffed apricot French toast at The Spotted Hog in Peddler's Village, Lahaska, Pennsylvania, with my grandma in 1999. It was amazing.

In one chapter, Auslander describes his school's "Blessing Bee" (you really should hear him tell it!) --a uniquely Jewish competition that could have life-or-death implications for Shalom's family. Only in the darkest depths of religion can a glass of milk, flicking a lightswitch on Friday, and masturbation become lethal weapons wielded in self-defense. Honestly, you need to listen.

Growing up under the "Umbrella of Protection" principle, I had no trouble taking Auslander seriously. And my familiarity with the rules of the Old Testament God  caused me to identify strongly with this weary but determined kid growing up Jewish in New York.

"Sitting on the lawn was prohibited because the grass could dye your clothes - dyeing, category 15. Some held that it was also a violation of plowing, category 2, and, should the grass be pulled out of the ground by the heel of your shoe, reaping, category 3." It should be borne in mind that not all Jewish belief is like this. Of a friend who belongs to Reform Judaism, Auslander says he has, theologically speaking, more in common with a Christian.  
(from a review in the Guardian)

"Belief can be incredibly exhausting", Auslander remarks in an interview with Terry Gross, who found him "angry".

Auslander sees no significant difference between a madrassa and a yeshiva. Different books, different dress codes, but the message is the same. I would add fundamentalist Christianity to the list. When you are taught what God wants and what are the horrific consequences of choosing your own will over God's, it is easy to understand where religious extremists come from.

Like Auslander, I am troubled (he feels "dumbfounded and distraught") to see people around me finding god, when I am "trying to lose him".

Also like him, some family relationships are painful and difficult, thanks to religion. I am still negotiating these.

In the meantime, I find stories like these to be cathartic. And honesty like that expressed by Shalom Auslander is yet another beacon along the way to living out an authentic and contented life.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Abusive Ex

I used to be in an abusive relationship.

My abusive ex was God.

Yes, there were other people involved in the manipulation, bullying, over-protection, brainwashing, deceit, neglect, ignorance, isolation, control, and cruelty. But none of it could have had the effect that it did if it weren't for my "personal relationship" with the God I encountered in my Bible.

I thought I loved him and that he loved me.

I believed he was older and wiser and would take care of me. I gave him my heart, and my will. I didn't make a decision without consulting him.

I thought he hung the stars and made the sun come up every morning. His smile was my sunshine. He warned me about his violent temper: like earthquakes, tornadoes, and wildfire. But he assured me that his anger took a long time to heat up. As others had observed, "clouds and thick darkness surround him", but I got used to that.

I was a loyal lover. When other people criticized my God's social skills, I defended his innate goodness, his super IQ,  and even his, um, existence? I didn't doubt he was listening, even when he was quiet. I would wake up early to spend time with him. I wrote him poems, hung his promises up on my wall, spent years learning about his preferences and adjusting my tastes to his pleasure.

I depended on him completely and trusted him implicitly, even when it hurt like hell. When I felt ready to burst inside, I'd cry and sing this Twila Paris song:

"Sometimes my little heart can't understand
What's in Your will, what's in Your plan.
So many times I'm tempted to ask You why,
But I can never forget it for long.
Lord, what You do could not be wrong.
So I believe You, even when I must cry.
Do I trust You, Lord?
Does the river flow?
Do I trust You, Lord?
Does the north wind blow?
You can see my heart,
You can read my mind,
And You got to know
That I would rather die
Than to lose my faith
In the One I love.
Do I trust You, Lord?
I will trust You, Lord, when I don't know why.
I will trust You, Lord, till the day I die.
I will trust You, Lord, when I'm blind with pain!
You were God before, and You'll never change.
I will trust You, Lord."

Yes. That's the song.


As I learned more about the characteristics of healthy relationships, I came to realize how unhealthy my relationship with God really was.

I saw victims of spiritual abuse whose behavior resembled the symptoms exhibited by Stockholm syndrome victims: "who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness". Come to think of it, that description almost sounds like the paraphrase of a worship song, or a sermon by John Piper, or Jonathan Edwards. What kind of being would be pleased with such fawning submission? Surely not a good god?

I started taking more initiative, making more choices on my own and then running them by God for his "approval".

As I grew emotionally stronger and gained confidence, I was able to see that he had flaws, too. I didn't really need a flawed god. Turns out I'm not really into the strong, silent type, especially if they remain strong and silent when their friends are in trouble. And I have no respect for guys (or gods) who lose their temper and scare little kids.

It took a long time to admit it, but it slowly dawned on me that I would not want to spend a lifetime--much less an eternity--with the God of the Bible, even if I could still believe that my world depended on him.

* * * * * * * *

As Julia Sweeney has described in her monologue Letting Go of God, there is a downside to losing the relationship. When I'm scared or hurt, there's no all-powerful being I can beg to make things better. I don't have a king's ear. I'm not really a princess. Without an imaginary friend, I have to make real friends, or feel very alone.

The universe may not be "on my side", but it does support me in countless ways. While allowing me the freedom to make choices based on my own preferences and what I believe will make me happy, and making no demands in return. I no longer feel obligated to defend my god's behavior, or worry about his temper. I don't spend time coaxing him to intervene on my behalf, assuring him that I know he had a good reason for ignoring my requests, or waiting for him to drop nice things in my lap. There is no more temptation to ingratiate myself. When life is going smoothly, I don't wait for "the other shoe to drop".

Turns out other people didn't like my god much, either. I thought they did when we hung out together, but when I mention him now, they tell me they realized he really was terrible. They're sorry for my experience, they say; I must not have really had a god, or maybe I had the wrong God. They want me to try theirs now. If I just want a good god badly enough, they say, the right one will find me.

I was always told I had an inner void only a god could fill. But since I said goodbye to God, I haven't yet experienced such a void.

I am content without a god.

Life is better without my abusive ex.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Dealing with Anxiety, Panic, and PTSD

Today I'm sharing some of the activities, articles and websites that I have found most helpful in dealing with complex post-traumatic stress (and all kinds of stress, really).

  • Walking--on the treadmill, a trail or track, or around the neighborhood. With music on my iPhone or conversing with a friend. I think my forebears got out a lot of energy just keeping up with the garden and the washing and then relaxed in the cradle-like motion of a rocking chair. When my mind is frazzled, my body needs to destress, too, so walking is the perfect combination of exercise and soothing rhythmic motion. Some days I move quickly, with intensity and wide arm gestures. Other times I just need to maintain a soothing, strolling pace for a while.
  • Yoga--after years of good intentions, I bought an inexpensive DVD for beginners. Some days those 40 minutes of guided exercises were the calmest my mind ever got. And there have been nights when I have gone downstairs to run through a series of relaxing stretches before bed. I love the term "grounding". The more grounded I am in my everyday life, the lighter and more balanced I feel.
  • Coloring--yes, I have my own coloring books. When my brain is caught in a hypervigilant loop, coloring is a soothing, playful, creative activity that focuses my mind on the lines and shades and pencil strokes. Sometimes my daughter and I color a page together. Sketching with colored pencils is nice, too. I wish I could paint, but for now, coloring is my therapeutic artistic outlet.
  • Writing--journaling, blogging, poetry, notes to friends. Research is showing that journaling does wonders for mental health! Writing condenses experience. It gives me the freedom to interpret, and reinterpret, my own narrative. 
  • Herb tea--rooibos, mint, chamomile, Sleepytime. Especially good for winding down before bed. If I can sip from my steaming mug while wrapped up in a heavy quilt, so much the better.
  • Hot soaks--I like to throw some lavender- or eucalyptus-scented epsom salts into the bath for a really restorative experience. The magnesium in the salts is good for regulating all kinds of body systems--from pain relief to sound sleep patterns. I might bring a cheerful novel along with me. Or just put on some mellow piano music in the background. 
  • Nature--a little sunshine always does me good. I'm too prone to stay inside with my projects, but I feel better when I spend a little time each day with the outdoors. Walking, reading on the swing, touching the trees, bird watching, observing the sky and the seasons, working in my flowerbeds, whatever. Spending time participating in nature--even in my own yard--reminds me that I am connected to every other living organism on this planet.
  • Photography--my camera helps me practice awareness, not just observing my life but taking notice of its details and savoring its beauty. When I need to settle myself down, I can sit somewhere comfortable and flip through photos of pleasant places and happy times. Plants and gardens are my favorite subjects. 
  • Time with friends--I couldn't get out of my slump by myself. A couple of times I got desperate enough to get on the phone and ask my neighbor to come sit with me. I invited the lady down the street up for tea. I followed up on an internet contact and met an amazing new friend. I got together for coffee with a lady from my book club, joined a friend across town for lunch. The more fragile I feel, the more I need to draw strength from honest relationships with caring people, especially other women. 

Articles & Websites

Pete Walker, a therapist in California, has a website offering an array of hopeful articles. He outlines in plain English some really basic ways to manage triggers and flashbacks. They won't all apply every time, but there's a good chance one of them will help when you're threatened by overwhelming anxiety and your own stress points. Here are a few quotes:

Guilt is sometimes camouflaged fear. Sometimes I need to feel the guilt and do it anyway. 
 I used to know this, but I needed to hear it again from someone else. Felt like being thrown a life saver ring!
My perfectionism arose as an attempt to gain safety and support in my dangerous family. I do not have to be perfect to be safe or loved in the present. I am letting go of relationships that require perfection.
Walker has a special compassion for adults whose dysfunctional childhood homes left them with complex PTSD. Emotional neglect and abandonment, he explains, is at least as devastating as physical abuse. Anger and tears, he explains, are the way children release fear. When those expressions are punished, the fear gets trapped inside. But given time and little mental effort, it's possible to fully recover from that damage to our younger selves.
Flashbacks are opportunities to release old, unexpressed feelings of fear, hurt, and abandonment, and to validate - and then soothe - the child's past experience of helplessness and hopelessness. Healthy grieving can turn our tears into self-compassion and our anger into self-protection.
Walker's articles on Shrinking the Inner Critic and Shrinking the Outer Critic are packed with helpful advice for adults recovering from neglect, brainwashing, or emotionally detached parents. I keep returning to his website, each time finding more ideas I can use to develop healthy new ways of relating to myself.

Another therapist I found incredibly helpful was David Carbonell at AnxietyCoachHis calm, reassuring explanations make me feel like I'm having a therapy session with Mr. Rogers. He even makes up his own little songs about panic attacks, in spite of having no musical talent. I haven't yet bought Carbonell's panic attacks workbook (available inexpensively from Amazon) but if I start having trouble with them again I will definitely do so. The excerpt he shares from the section on "fear of driving" did me a lot of good.

This video gives Carbonell's summary of what happens in a panic attack along with useful suggestions for distinguishing danger from discomfort.

A similar tip I found was called the "12-second Chill". The lady who promotes it has a great introduction, but it quickly builds up to an annoying (and triggering) sales pitch, so I quit reading her stuff. The "Chill" exercise does work, though. It's kind of like a super-simple yoga position: sit in a comfortable chair and take some long deep breaths. Then close your eyes for 12 seconds (or more) and just observe the sensations you feel. If you're having panic/anxiety symptoms, the sensations will be mostly unpleasant, but just acknowledge them to yourself. The next time will be a little easier. Eventually you might even notice the feeling of the chair supporting you. It's not therapy, by any means, but it was a way for me to get a handle on managing my physical symptoms instead of letting them run away with me.

Finally, the Anxiety Centre website gave me courage. They don't offer a lot of advice online, but they do offer these words of hope:
While anxiety is a protection mechanism we need, it doesn’t have to turn into or remain a disorder. When it does become a disorder, it can be successfully reversed.
We produce anxiety by the way we’ve learned to live and interact in the world.
Anxiety can be resolved so that it doesn't disrupt a normal lifestyle. And YES, you can live a normal life again. 

Dealing with anxiety and PTSD was hardly something I would have chosen for myself this year, but it's been part of my journey. All those experiences and emotions that I think are forgotten end up surfacing sooner or later. And as they do, I'll work through them, grateful for "grounding", for connection, for secure and supportive relationships as I venture forward from here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Building on Sand

I was about six when my parents gave me my own copy of the The Living Bible and encouraged me to begin reading in Genesis. I loved the illustrations and the crinkly sound the thin pages made. And I listened to the dramatized audio version of the New Testament by the hour. The book of Acts was my favorite: I learned most of the lines and all the voices by heart.

My family read through the books of Psalms and Proverbs every month for years and years. On the 5th of any given month, for example, we'd read Psalms 5, 35, 65, 95,  and 125, plus chapter 5 of Proverbs, taking turns reading our share aloud.

Following breakfast, Mom would read to us from a children's devotional. We might sing a hymn together. Then she would set a timer for 15 minutes and each of us went to our rooms for our own "Quiet Time", reading our Bibles or Bible storybooks.

In addition to mere reading, I started Bible study young. There was a Navigators' study I did with my parents, a couple of correspondence courses for young people, a discipleship study at the Quaker church. There were topical studies, Sunday School classes, Baptist and Mennonite vacation Bible schools, and family foreign missions camp with New Tribes missionaries who taught the Bible in jungles far away. When I was older, I participated in Bible studies at the local jail.

I had my own Strong's Concordance, and studied New Testament Greek. The phrases of the King James version permeated our family's speech, and our humor. The Picture Bible was our comic book, the judges and David's mighty men our superheroes. The Old and New Testaments--revered as true in every detail--  not only determined our theology and ethics, but also our understanding of science, history, relationships, diet, and sexuality.

Mom and Dad had us memorizing passages from the Bible before we joined ATI. It only got more intense when we started the Wisdom Booklets. Dad paid us to learn chapters, or entire books, and urged us to recite the Christmas story in concert at holiday gatherings, like a Peanuts special. Knowing the challenge of memorization, I looked up to men who were said to have memorized the entire New Testament.

In our household, the Bible trumped all other arguments. We learned to wield scripture like the ultimate weapon. We knew it backwards and forwards and could use it like lawyers for defense or prosecution of any position.

As I grew older, I came to view our scripture obsession as a kind of idolatry. It was as if our Bible was an extra person of the Godhead.

I felt we'd confused The Word that came from God (Jesus) with "The Word of God" (the Holy Bible). On the other hand, everything we knew of Jesus was revealed to us only through the scriptures. How would we have heard of him otherwise? I decided the secret was to read the Bible more simply, with less commentary from "experts", less interpretation, less wrangling over application.

While I sorted out my own theology, I spent a year living among a group of missionary linguists who labored year after year to express the words of the Bible in other languages and with strange alphabets for villagers who lacked schools, jobs, hospitals, toilets. Sometimes I got to help out, as when I helped type a manuscript of the Gospel of John.

One of my friends there had completed a New Testament, yet the fruit of her labors sat in boxes; many people of that region practice a folk Islam and have little interest in reading it. Another woman described her feelings when she finally completed her translation. Releasing it to be published and distributed to people as the word of God "traumatized" her, she said. Though the New Testament was the main priority, a few worked on translating the Old Testament with its stories of ancient battles, instructions about nocturnal emissions, and abecedarians for the Hebrew alphabet. An elderly translator spent her days refining the book of Job for a rural ethnic group with its own gods and folklore beliefs. (Thinking about it now brings to mind Samuel Wesley's Latin commentary on Job.)

Still, I believed that giving anyone the Bible would offer them Christianity in its purest form, guiding them to all the benefits of faith with the fewest glitches and hang-ups. Rather like the reassuring note the pharmacy prints on my prescriptions: "Remember that your doctor has prescribed this medication because she has judged that the benefit to you is greater than the risk of side effects."

Then I got married. After the wedding, we were faced with the daunting task of finding a church that fit the two of us. We spent months visiting different services, listening to pastors and interim pastors and guest speakers, trying out small groups. Even when we settled on a church, our loyalty was not exclusive. Each fellowship and each denomination seemed to have unique strengths, and I figured the clearest, most faithful image of God's would be a mosaic formed from contributions across all of Christendom.

So in spite of our freakishly encyclopedic Bible knowledge, we took numerous opportunities to learn from other angles. I did Bible studies at a conservative Lutheran church ("You should see how Baptists do baptisms. They have a hot tub up behind the altar!"), a megachurch with an awesome ladies' brunch every Tuesday, a tiny Christian church with no other text than our Bibles, a Methodist church with video lectures and graduation certificates. And the more I learned about what how other people interacted with this book, the more questions I had and the less impressed I became.

I was teaching the Bible to my kids by this time. Helping them memorize its most famous passages. Taking them to AWANA clubs. Rewarding them for reading "God's Word". Giving them their own children's editions.

But eventually, the questions caught up with me. What made this book different from other texts? Was it more reliable than other writings held sacred by other faiths? Was it a superior guide for morality? Surely its characters were no more virtuous than other ancient heroes.

And the God it described gave bloodthirsty orders that horrified my children. It was a stretch to connect this God of Genesis, Deuteronomy and Judges with the Jesus in the happy little board books of their toddlerhood.

Did the prophets really hear God speak? Or were they like my anxious friend who would hear God telling her she shouldn't eat more granola for breakfast?

How did these books come to be compiled? Who decided what God had said, and when? The eminent Bible translator Martin Luther, architect of the "grace" theological model, thought the author of James' epistle "mangled" and "opposed" scripture. "I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books," he wrote.

Why did some of my Bibles include Matthew 6:13 ("For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever") while others left it out? The more I researched about translation, texts, and manuscripts, the less confident I felt. If God had intended to make his character and desires clear to mankind through a book compiled over many centuries, he could have done a lot better.

The paradoxes in scripture had never bothered me much before. Some passages just had to be read metaphorically; sometimes you had to count fractions and not whole days or nights; sometimes you had to use your imagination, other times some common sense. Photosynthesizers could use some other kind of light before God made the sun. The writer of Hebrews meant that Sarah was "as good as dead". Or maybe he meant Isaac. A miracle here and there could clear up a lot of the seeming contradictions.

Thing is, I didn't much believe in miracles anymore. Oh, I might still pray in my head while searching for a missing library book, but it was more a habit than an expression of faith. Something akin to saying "gosh". Parenthood had given me a lot more experience with biology, and the laws of nature seemed pretty immutable.

And I was losing patience with everyone who had given me half-truths, exaggerations, well-meant deceptions, and bald-faced lies. My God was above that kind of thing. He was the Truth. He wasn't the author of confusion. Well, I was confused. His whole church seemed confused. They were confused about what it meant to be a believer and how God wanted them to treat other people and how to find mates or raise children. My God didn't manipulate, so why did I find myself invoking his name to make my kids feel guilt and shame?

Turns out I was still pretty fucked up. The one influence that had been consistent for 30 years of my life was the book I was devoted to. The book that taught me about my god, about relationships, about my self. A book that contained the most shocking and disgusting stories I'd ever read. A book used to promote both benevolence and abuse. To defend the weak and to subjugate them.

To quote from that troublesome book of James: "Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh."

Jesus taught that a wise man built his house on the rock, and it did not fall when the rain came down and the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against it.

"But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."  --Jesus

Strangely enough, what I thought was rock-solid turned out to be sand. I see lives built on it collapsing all around me.

I tried to build a life on Jesus' words, but became exhausted repairing cracks in the wall every time the wind picked up. Eventually, I fled for firmer ground to build a life that I hope will be happier for me and a whole lot safer for my children.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Good Girl

One of the delights of making a new friend is the opportunity to get acquainted with one's self all over again. As I shared an afternoon walk 'round the neighborhood with the lady next door, we also shared snippets from our life experiences. And in describing my younger self, the words jumped out of my mouth: "I was a good girl!"

Hearing them out loud, I nearly gasped in surprise and sucked the words right back in. But they were already out, spilled onto the sidewalk. And so we went on.

A week later, I'm still pondering that remark. Because I really was a good girl. I complained about the rules, but I followed them. I protested, but I obeyed. I never had a secret boyfriend. I didn't change into jeans when I left the house. I never listened to secular music. I got rid of books that had the mildest of "language". I returned the necklace that Mom thought was too gaudy. I saved my first kiss for my wedding day. I filled out activity permission forms. I read my Bible and prayed every day.

For years I considered myself a "rebel". I had been labeled "stiff-necked" early on, a "scorner", a "mocker", a leader of the resistance. My mom had had a dream when I was eleven that I was "sitting in the seat of the scornful". I had an "independent spirit", which explained why I got spanked so frequently as a kid. It would be hard for me to have a happy marriage because of my unsubmissive heart. Every time my words had a sarcastic edge, every time I inwardly rolled my eyes, every time I was uncooperative, I knew I was guilty of rebellion again.

So it came as a pleasant surprise to hear myself say, "I was a good girl!" Something somewhere deep inside has healed.

I still am a good girl. A vocal, opinionated, independent good girl. While I appreciate and admire edginess, I really prefer to color inside the lines myself.

And that's good, too.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Children: Fun or Frenzy?"

Back in the 1970's, before my parents had attended any of Bill Gothard's seminars, they came upon this 24-page pamphlet which they credited with teaching them how to be Christian parents: Children: Fun or Frenzy? by Al and Pat Fabrizio. They took its instruction to heart and diligently attempted to put its principles, based on scripture, into practice.

My parents were not alone. Children: Fun or Frenzy? appeared in 1969 and, according to Bruce Narramore, was quickly published in four languages. Though controversial in some Christian circles, it was heralded in many more and continues to be marketed (under its new title) today, more than four decades later. Nowhere did it find a warmer welcome than with homeschool parents. Mothers and fathers across the country write of how this pamphlet influenced their parenting: "excellent", "helpful", "great", "one of the best resources", "a GEM".

Widely recommended by pastors and Christian schools, and highlighted by The Teaching Home, the flyer is available for download on the web. A Beka sells print copies as a "must for every parent"; homeschool groups list it on order forms alongside titles by Debi Pearl; televangelist James Robison offers a different edition, with his own grandparenting tips, on his website for a suggested donation of $5. Some companies include it with an order for free. For many years, a church in Oregon passed out the booklet to new parents, religious or not, whose names appeared next to birth announcements in the local paper. Another church handed it out to their newlyweds.

So what exactly did the Fabrizios have to say? Below are some excerpts from this instructional booklet:

The dictionary gives the meaning of the word ‘train’ – "to mold the character, instruct by exercise, drill, to make obedient to orders, to put or point in an exact direction, to prepare for a contest." This is what God wants us to do with our children. 

Do I believe that if I love my children and want to obey God concerning them that I must take a stick and physically spank them when they disobey? I do believe He means just that. 
My obedience to God to train my child requires that every time I ask him to do something, either "come here," "don't touch," "hush," "put that down" - or whatever it is, I must see that he obeys. When I have said it once in a normal tone, if he does not obey immediately, I must take up the switch and spank him enough to hurt so he will not want it repeated. Love demands this.

...Obedience must come at cost and pain. God demonstrates His special love to His sons whom He trains through suffering. "For whom the LORD loves he chastens, and he scourges every son whom he receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons" (Hebrews 12:6-7). It is put even more strongly later in this portion which says that if God does not chasten us, then we are illegitimate children.
The pain that the rod inflicts on the body delivers one from the pain his character will suffer later in life because of a selfish will. "Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inward depths of the heart" (Proverbs 20:30)."  

As I was busy getting breakfast one morning I asked our daughter to put on her shoes and socks. I am sure she intended to obey me, but she got busy playing and forgot. I told her to go in and lie across the footstool, because she did not obey me and I must correct her. I was busy in the kitchen and failed to go in immediately as I should have done. When I did, there she was lying on her tummy across the footstool, waiting for her correction, singing, and swinging her feet. She was waiting in complete rest. She accepted the switch as the inevitable result of disobedience. Each one of our children sweetly receives the switch; they realize we use it to train them, because we love them. And afterward, oh how free we are to show them our affection!

I may be settled comfortably in a chair nursing my baby when I tell my child, "Come here, please." If he disobeys, the motive to have nice well-behaved children is not enough now. It is so much easier to repeat what I said a little sharply. But then I have trained the child to know that I do not really mean what I say the first time.... [The Lord] then gives me grace to get up out of the chair, put the baby down, take up the switch, use it patiently, take my child on my lap and comfort him.

Our youngest boy has a strong temper.  It was revealed long before he could talk.  As a toddler when we crossed his will by saying, “No” to him, he would not directly disobey.  Instead he would throw himself down on the floor and kick and scream.  At first I would go over, pick him up and say, “No, no,” and set him on my lap to make him hush.  However, I realized that, though I relieved the situation for the time, I was not training him to love outside himself. 
The next time he was disappointed by a “No” and he threw himself down and screamed right in the middle of his tantrum I spanked him on his bottom. Then I went to a chair, set him on my lap, made him hush, and loved and comforted him.  He came to the place when his will was crossed, where he would throw himself down, begin to scream and right in the middle of it catch himself.  By the time I got to him with the switch, he was up, walking around, busying himself as through everything was fine.  Of course, he still got the switch because he had to learn to accept my will immediately.  

Do the stories above make you shudder? It would appear from these paragraphs that the Fabrizios would be right at home in the company of Bill Gothard's principle of authorityMichael Pearl's philosophy of spanking, and Larry Tomczak's "art of loving correction".

In one example Pat gives, her husband was convicted of his reluctance to discipline a tearful child, who had gone to bed without giving in to his parents' coaxing. [Coaxing to do what? We are not told.] Mr. Fabrizio went to the child's room, took him out of bed, spanked him, then put him back to bed. We are assured the son slept "more secure in Daddy's love".

Author Zenon Lotufo, Jr. expresses concern about the effect of such "training" on the child:
"He learned to 'live above his emotions'. That is, the fear of punishment surpassed every other emotion, even spontaneous and legitimate ones, that contradicted his parents' will. It is likely that under these conditions, a child not only stops expressing his feelings but also stops staying in touch with his feelings; he begins to want what authorities want, to like what he is demanded to like; his most authentic feelings cause him anxiety and are quickly repressed. There you have an example of 'reverse pinocchization', that is, how a healthy young boy is transformed into a wooden doll..." [emphasis added]   (Source: Cruel God, Kind God: How Images of God Shape Belief, Attitude and Outlook)
As a child raised in such an environment, I could not have expressed it better.

Pat Fabrizio was the primary author of the piece, but her husband Al contributed his thoughts and endorsement. Sometime before 1983, she released what was described as "a more wholesome revision" under the name Why Daddy Loves to Come Home. That title is no longer in print.

I was curious to find out what became of the Fabrizio family of Palo Alto, CA but my Internet search yielded very little.

A contributor on this forum, Lynn Heidebrecht, left the following information for a questioner in 2010:
"Al & Pat Fabrizio are no longer married. Al lives in Mountain View, California, and can be readily found online (he is a musician and owns a publishing business). He has remarried. I'm not sure whether Pat has remarried. Of their four children, I have not heard an update in some time. Last I knew, when the Fabrizios switched their faith from Christianity to Judaism, they moved to Israel and their children served in the Israeli military. One of them died of a snake bite at some point. I could not tell you whether either Al or Pat still espouse the same principles of disciplining children (these came from Pat, mostly). If I were you, I would look to the Bible yourself directly for guidance on raising children, and more to the New Testament than the Old Testament, because Jesus fulfilled the Law, and brought the Grace we all badly need. The Fabrizios method was based on the Old Testament alone, which is not the whole picture."
A musician in the San Francisco Bay Area, Al (Anselmo) Fabrizio of Heartstrings Music, has reconnected with his Italian family roots and now performs the most cheerful and romantic songs on the mandolin. He makes no mention of children. I contacted him via email to inquire if he was the co-author of the parenting pamphlet, but have not yet received a response.

I was steeped in these philosophies of child training for many years. But I am glad to say that my husband and I have broken free and are able to espouse a kinder view of parenting that allows us to teach respect, self-control, and non-violent communication by modeling those traits. Obedience is not a primary value in our home; rather, we aim to raise compassionate and thoughtful individuals who evaluate a claim before they act on it and follow only those who have proven themselves worthy of their trust.