Sunday, June 30, 2013

Making Family Transitions

When we had exited fundamentalism and wrung the last nourishment we could get from the breast of evangelicalism, we switched to a church in a liberal mainline denomination (United Methodist). And the kids kept us there longer than we likely would have stayed ourselves.

Making that leap was hard on our littlest one, because she had friends at the old church and missed it sometimes. But the older two were willing to explore new territory with us. And by that time, they were beginning to be aware of the unpleasant side of fundamentalist Christianity.

We saw the continuity as important for our children. We also realized the value of socialization, especially since we were still homeschooling and few of our local friends had children.

The Methodist ladies who volunteered in the Sunday School were so nice and they adored our children. We liked the positive reinforcement from adults who generally shared our values. The church was intentional about encouraging the kids to serve the community, to think globally, to embrace diversity, and to be sensitive to the needs of others. Our kids loved the crafts (I really hate cleanup!) and the emphasis on the arts was tremendous.

So we stayed while we tried to figure things out. We prayed less and less at home, but we still read Bible stories, still had an Advent calendar. I joined the church's bell choir and C-- joined the pastor's weekly Bible study. At one point we even talked to our oldest about getting baptized.

We tried many different small groups at the church, but every one was worse than the last. We began to wonder if the church was changing, or if we were. We got invited to join a prayer class even though the Sunday recitation of the Lord's Prayer had become the only time that we prayed. We kept dropping the children off at Sunday School and choir practice, but then we would sit in the balcony with library books about agnosticism, evolution, physics.

Public libraries have often been my salvation. During our transitional year or two, I brought home stacks of children’s books: books on mythology, legends, “just-so stories”, creation myths, sages and proverbs, gods & goddesses--from every culture and era I could find. It helped immensely to see how human societies have always tried to imagine, interpret, and illustrate the intangible from what can be observed. I especially enjoyed the Jewish creation tales, which have a long tradition of maintaining relevance through addition, embellishment, daring imagination, and constant re-interpretation.

We saw how societies have always attempted to illustrate and inculcate their values through their religious narratives. And how too frequently those narratives were also used to keep the powerful strong and the downtrodden weak.

Eventually my husband and I just knew *we* were done--done with church, done with prayer, done with the Bible, done with faith and belief and doctrine and God. Done with the whole package. Life means what we say it means so let’s make it good, and better!

We'd tried to keep tabs on the kids' emotional connection to the church throughout our time there. So now we asked again how they were enjoying the programs they were involved in (which had continued to evolve while we were there). Our kids were 9, 8, and 5 at the time. And their answers surprised us. One said, “I think Mrs. _____ says some things because she thinks that what she’s supposed to say in church. I don't think she really believes everything she says.” Another said when they sang, he “tried not to think about the words”. Okaaayyyy. This was not quite the response we expected!

The youngest had the best experience there—she’s an extrovert and it was more like “playing church” for the preschoolers, complete with a miniature chapel with its own stained glass and child-size pews. But when we asked, “How would you like to stop going to Sunday School and go swimming at the Y with Daddy instead?”, she was game, too.

So we set a date about a month out—time to sing the choir songs they’d rehearsed and serve out the acolyte schedule. Being a bigger church we’d only attended for two years, it was easier to slip away from than a more intimate congregation would have been. Also, the senior pastor was transferred to another city right after we made our decision, so it was a natural time for us to move on, too. We even helped staff the kids’ activities for Easter (that was strange!). We already knew two of our kids were going to public school in August, so socialization was less of an issue by then. And though the people were kind, we hadn't developed any close friendships.

For a while I encouraged the kids to keep reading their Bibles, and we would talk about what they read. That lasted several months, until M-- reached some of the more horrible stories in Joshua and Judges and was incredulous that the God her grandparents serve would approve—even insist on—such carnage. The children started wanting to get rid of Bible story books and and Christian music and Veggie Tales movies and fish necklaces they'd received at church. We tried to make those changes at their pace. All three are happy atheists now.

Last Christmas, we pretty much hung up all the tree ornaments, religious or not. We used a secular advent calendar (our first with chocolates!). We listened to fun holiday songs with lyrics about kindness and friendship and taking time to enjoy life (instead of carols about sinners, curses, virgin wombs, and "Satan's tyranny"). We talked about the Winter Solstice and the many traditions surrounding that season. As we took the tree down in January, we considered what the ornaments represented and which ones we wouldn't really miss next year. We have a Peanuts advent calendar for this December's count down to Christmas Day.

We didn't display the wooden cross model for Lent this year, and we didn't watch The Gospel of John. (M-- says she might want to see it again sometime, but the other two have no interest.) We paid attention to the new season unfolding around us: the robins' reappearance, birds nesting, budding branches, baby bunnies in the backyard, bulbs bursting out of the ground and making colorful blooms, the fragrance of flowering trees. For Easter weekend, we participated in fun community events. We colored eggs and celebrated spring.

Sunday mornings are so much more relaxed now. We can sleep in if we need to. Nobody has to dress up. Sometimes I make a fancy breakfast or brunch. During the school year, the kids often go swimming at the Y with their dad. This summer, we've had time to sit together on the front porch together sipping coffee while the kids eat their cereal on the steps or play in the yard. We listen to the bells from the church down the street and chat with neighbors out for a stroll with their dog.

Most of our family traditions are unchanged. We celebrate birthdays the same way. We still go to see fireworks on the Fourth of July and swap candy with our neighbors on Halloween. We still roast a turkey and see family for Thanksgiving. We still put up a Christmas tree and bake cookies and watch the Rose Parade on New Year's Day.

And there is always room for trying new things that could turn into traditions down the road. Like getting milkshakes at Sonic before bed or playing along with the Beatles on Guitar Hero. 

As we discussed a church sign we'd passed last week, my daughter and I agreed that once you leave the religious mindset, it is difficult even to imagine being in it again.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

In Memory of Thomas Granger

The first juvenile executed in the North American colonies was a young servant of "about 16 or 17" named Thomas Granger, who was hung in 1642 for having sex with a turkey.

According to Governor William Bradford's well-known history Of Plymouth Plantation*:
"He [Thomas Granger] was this year detected of buggery, and indicted for the same, with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey. Horrible it is to mention, but the truth of the history requires it. He was first discovered by one that accidentally saw his lewd practice towards the mare. (I forbear particulars.) Being upon it examined and committed, in the end he not only confessed the fact with that beast at that time, but sundry times before and at several times with all the rest of the forenamed in his indictment. And this his free confession was not only in private to the magistrates (though at first he strived to deny it) but to sundry, both ministers and others; and afterwards, upon his indictment, to the whole Court and jury; and confirmed it at his execution. And whereas some of the sheep could not so well be known by his description of them, others with them were brought before him and he declared which were they and which were not. And accordingly he was cast by the jury and condemned, and after executed about the 8th of September, 1642. A very sad spectacle it was. For first the mare and then the cow and the rest of the lesser cattle were killed before his face, according to the law, Leviticus xx.15; and then he himself was executed. The cattle were all cast into a great and large pit that was digged of purpose for them, and no use made of any part of them." 

The curious can read more here.

The late Rousas J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) would have been right at home in Plymouth. Rushdoony was a racist minister who strongly influenced American fundamentalism and the religious right. Today he is remembered as the "father of the homeschool movement". Rushdoony repeatedly called for a return to the Old Testament legal code, including the death penalty for homosexual acts as well as for bestiality.

Rushdoony's ideological progeny Pat Robertson (whose law school teaches from Rushdoony's books) And Senator Rand Paul (with ties to Rushdoony's son-in-law Gary North) have each expressed concern that legalizing same-sex marriage is merely a slippery slope to bestiality.

Rand Paul's office now says he was merely joking. So he ought to appreciate this sunny response to Robertson that would have scandalized Governor Bradford:

*Strangely, I do not recall this story coming up when my dad read to us from Bradford's journal on Sunday afternoons, nor when it was read aloud to the staff at IBLP's Oklahoma Training Center. Does anyone know whether it was excised from Vision Forum's unabridged edition?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Film Favorites: The Village

An isolated community.

An older generation hiding from past pain and present fear.

A younger generation raised in ignorance and taught superstition.

Trusting children exploited, sacrificed to appease their parents' anxieties, reared in a tiny culture bubble, guarded against outside influences that would endanger or enlighten them. All significant choices made for them by their authorities.

Secrets. Control. Manipulation. Lies. Fear. Facades. All in the guise of protection and love.

But ultimately, the same evil that lurked outside the borders could not be kept out. It arises from within, threatening the security the community "authorities" had labored so hard to create.

M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village".

I don't watch horror films. But this didn't seem at all like horror to me in 2004; it seemed terrifyingly true to life. And when my husband and I first watched The Village, we wanted to shout from the rooftops. 

Finally, I had an image I could refer people to! Just as the Duggars' 19 Kids and Counting offers a narrow glimpse into the world of Quiverfull homeschooling, this film illustrates the emotional experience of growing up in an isolated Christian fundamentalist subculture: "Have you seen The Village? It's like I grew up there."

And like Ivy Walker, I walked away with fear and trembling, only to be amazed at the world outside that was so very different than I'd been told.

"There is kindness in your voice. I did not expect that."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Time Makes Ancient Good Uncouth

New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.
                                                              James Russell Lowell, 1845

I ordered David Noebel's booklet "Christian Rock: A Stratagem of Mephistopheles" from Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs as a teenager sometime in the early '90's. I needed to know that Gothard and my parents weren't crazy, that other intelligent adults had reasonable arguments with which to oppose Christian rock. From the back cover: "It is The Summit's purpose to arm Christian young people with facts and information concerning God, home and country so they will be able to hold fast to the true and the good in building their lives for the future." I wanted facts; I wanted information.

And it turned out that Noebel supported my parents' position:
"The church is beset with a relentless beat which weighs on the nerves and pounds in the head. And the syncopation evokes a most basic sensuous response from the body, since it is purposely aimed at the physical and sensual." 
"Squeezing in a few 'thank you, Jesus' or 'Hallelujah, it's done' in rock music does not cleanse rock of its evils. Indeed, the lyrics were not its main sin for some time. The beat of the music was its evil."
Noebel presented 30 reasons, plenty of Bible verses, a study involving houseplants, and claims about applied kinesiology by a John Diamond. He quoted Henry Morris (a civil engineer and ardent young-earth creationist also opposed to modern art) and had a lot to say about sex and Marxism. Additionally, he linked the rock beat to atheistic Soviet communism and objectionable art styles like cubism and surrealism.

I knew nothing about David Noebel. I was not familiar with his much earlier work Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles, published in 1965--long before my birth--by Billy James Hargis' Christian Crusade. In one reviewer's words: "Noebel is compelling because he’s intelligent, coherent, and well-researched, despite being absolutely paranoid and utterly mad. Aside from some inconsistent use of the Oxford Comma, he has a clear, if discursive thesis: rock ‘n’ roll is turning kids into gay, Communist, miscegenators."

Billy James Hargis
Billy James Hargis was a right-wing evangelist and radio and television ranter long before Rush Limbaugh. He saw communist plots everywhere: in the NAACP and the civil rights movement, in the assassination of JFK, in water fluoridation. According to TIME magazine (Feb. 16, 1976), he founded American Christian College "to teach 'antiCommunist patriotic Americanism'" from the city he called the "Fundamentalist Capital of the World". From there, he promoted a hard line against drugs, homosexuality, sex education, abortion and the Beatles and toured with the college choir.

Rev. David Noebel
David Noebel was an aide to Hargis for twelve years, speaking around the country, founding The Summit in 1962 as a Christian Crusade program to combat anti-Christian teachings from secular universities (like the University of Tulsa) and contributing to Hargis' television show where together they decried marijuana use and rock music. Later, Noebel became Vice President of Hargis' new American Christian College in Tulsa.

In 1974, Noebel was staggered when students confided to him that Hargis, ardent promoter of traditional morality and father of four, had had sex with several of them. Eventually four men and one woman exposed Hargis' sexual abuse and manipulation over a period of years. TIME reported on the scandal in 1976, Hargis was forced to resign, and the school closed its doors the following year. Noebel went on to effectively "fold" Christian Crusade into Summit Ministries, building it into a successful international worldview training/brainwashing center targeting all ages, but teenagers in particular.

Postmodernism has replaced communism as the bane of our times. According to an article by Summit's Steve Cornell,
"[The] pre-modern era was one in which religion was the source of truth and reality.... In a postmodern world, truth and reality are understood to be individually shaped by personal history, social class, gender, culture, and religion.... Postmoderns are suspicious of people who make universal truth claims.... Postmodern thinking is full of absurdities and inconsistencies."
As a postmodern myself, I find it ironic that the decades have softened Noebel's hardline position on Christian rock. Apparently Mephistopheles has released it for other uses. Students at Summit's youth conferences speak of the meaningful "corporate worship", which now includes rock songs like "How Great Is Our God" by Chris Tomlin and "Jesus, Thank You" from Sovereign Grace Music.

The teens attending the worldview lectures today were not yet born when David Noebel penned Stratagem and would likely be surprised to learn that the religious anthems they find so powerful are actually "estranging them from traditional values". According to the now retired, but still involved and revered, "Doc" Noebel, "although the lyrics might acknowledge the concept of true worship, the music itself expresses the unspoken desire to smash it to pieces."

Summit's John Stonestreet writes, "Truth does not yield to popular opinion. Unlike postmodernism, the biblical worldview can withstand all challenges and still speak to the dominant culture." This belief is at the core of Summit's "worldview" training. 

And yet, Lowell's line rings more true: time does make ancient "good" uncouth. Morality and truth are, in fact, shaped by history and culture. As Summit's stance on Christian rock illustrates so well.  

*And maybe, in another 30 years, Noebel's successors will stop fighting same-sex marriage and even give up warning kids about "the gay agenda" as they "keep abreast of truth"? One can always hope...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Strange Stories of the Bible: Jephthah's Daughter

     And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
     Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
     So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands.
     And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
     And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
     And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.
     And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
     And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
     And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
     And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed...

Judges 11:30-39

Engraving by John Opie, 1790

"The Bible and the church have been the greatest stumbling block in the way of women's emancipation." --Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wisdom is the Principal Thing

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened...
To the woman [God] said,
I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Genesis 3:4-7, 16-19

...the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered, “...You have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.... So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings."
I Kings 3:5-13

Wisdom is the most important thing; so get wisdom.
If it costs everything you have, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:7

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Strange Stories of the Bible: Lot's Daughters

Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”
Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”
That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites* of today.
Genesis 19:4-8, 30-38 (New International Version)

The same Lot character shows up as a hero in the New Testament. One wonders what led the author to regard Lot as "righteous":
...[God] rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)...
2 Peter 2:7-8

7th-century Byzantine Christians built St. Lot's church and monastery at Lot's Cave, a site in modern Jordan.

"When women understand that governments and religions are human inventions; that Bibles, prayer-books, catechisms, and encyclical letters are all emanations from the brains of man, they will no longer be oppressed by the injunctions that come to them with the divine authority of 'Thus sayeth the Lord.'"
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

*More on the Ammonites later.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


by Jeri Lofland

One morning in the middle of my childhood, Mom sat my brother and me down in the living room and presented us with heirlooms from her parents, who had divorced when she was a teenager. For me, an orange topaz ring my grandfather had once given my grandmother. To me, it was the brownish birthstone for the month after my birthday, sized for an adult finger and rejected by its original owner. My brother got a pocketknife. 

In exchange, we promised our mother to pray for her birth parents every day, according to their specific needs. I diligently kept my promise. Every night for years and years I beseeched God to “please help Gramma stop smoking”. My brother prayed for Grand-Dad “to become a Christian”.

Though Grand-Dad had given my mom a New Testament when she was in high school, he also drank, which I suppose was evidence against the salvation of his soul. A worn and troubled woman, Gramma had been a smoker most of her life, though she quit for a year when I was born, and for various periods after that when she would gain weight instead. Grand-Dad died of brain cancer the same week I got my diamond engagement ring.  Gramma died of heart failure a few years later. When Mom told me the news, my first thought was: “Well, God finally answered. Gramma’s stopped smoking.”

I was never very attached to Gramma’s ring. Mom rarely wore any jewelry beyond her plain wedding band. She had a heart locket pendant that appeared on special occasions, but owned no other rings as far as I knew. Also, I had somehow picked up the idea that earth tones like browns and oranges were ugly: Mom dressed me more in pastel pinks and blues.  Besides, the topaz seemed tainted with uncomfortable memories of failed relationships.

The pocketknife, on the other hand, was useful. It even had tiny scissors. And of course, since it belonged to my brother, I could only use it with his permission. Some years later, both my brothers received knives as gifts from our paternal grandfather. Once again, the knife became a symbol of an imbalance of power.

In a burst of youthful resourcefulness as well as asceticism, I sold the topaz ring for a few dollars at a gold & silver store in town. I was disappointed it wasn’t worth more. Mom had stayed home with the babies that day and she said little about the transaction.

I traveled to Indianapolis to stay for a few weeks at a “training center” run by the religious cult our family was part of. I was there to study music but was also making new friends, and listening to my stomach growl between the two meals we were served each day. One of the girls I met was a petite yet spunky Alaskan extrovert with a knack for discovering people’s inner cravings. On my next birthday, I was surprised to receive a package from Alaska, containing an ivory-handled pocketknife on which my friend had engraved my name.  And so my knife collection began.

Having a knife tucked away in my pocket, my purse, or my desk gave me a feeling of strength and assertiveness. As forceful as my mom’s personality appeared in some settings, she absolutely hated strangers at her front door. Heck, she didn’t like having any male knock on our door: solicitors, deliverymen, proselytizers, police officers, or homeschooling friends. Even the UPS man made her nervous. So when a young salesman rapped on the screen door (the main door was open) one hot summer afternoon while she was slicing peaches, her response was unusually bold.

Striding down the humid hallway without putting down the fruit, she greeted the youth through the screen, paring knife in one hand, the dripping remains of a peach in the other. As he tripped over his tongue attempting to explain what it was he was selling, Mom relaxed, curiosity about his wares eventually overcoming caution. When she went back to the kitchen to put down the blade and wash her hands so she could examine the books, I remained at the door, sizing up the self-conscious salesman.  “I didn’t know what to think when she came to the door with a knife”, he admitted with a nervous laugh. She ended up buying a whole trio of reference books from the guy. The story became legendary in our family and I had a new respect for the lowly paring knife.

After delivering her tenth baby, my mother had a breakdown. She was likely suffering from post-partum depression, but I’d never heard of that. I only knew that I’d never seen her throw a water glass at Dad before. Ever distrustful of medical professionals and convinced that mental health issues had spiritual causes, she and Dad decided to seek counseling help at the Gothard cult’s (Institute in Basic Life Principles) campus in Indianapolis. I recall Mom sitting on her bed, rocking back and forth, while I packed a suitcase with clothes for her and things for the baby. I was a few months shy of twenty-one. My seventeen-year-old brother and I were left responsible for six siblings (aged 2-14) with no definite word when our parents would be back.

While my parents were praying with an elderly pastor in an old hotel building in Indiana, we had as much fun at home as possible. We borrowed old movies from the library—Friendly Persuasion; Mary, Queen of Scots; How Green Was My Valley; and Bambi—and entertained ourselves as best we could. Neighbors we didn’t know left boxes of ripe peaches on our porch and we turned them into pies and cobbler and ate them with ice cream. We had grown up with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories, so this was our chance to live the week in Farmer Boy when Almanzo’s parents leave the kids alone on the farm for a week. In addition to caring for all the children and keeping the household running, I studied for an upcoming exam.

We were quietly relieved when our parents returned after a week, externally calmer. But we were observant, watchful. Weeks later, several of us were in the kitchen when something triggered Mom again. She grabbed the largest kitchen knife, a long serrated blade, and shouted at my brother, “Why don’t you just stick this in my chest and twist it?!”

I froze. My memory has buried the details of that day, but I do remember that my brother and I were traumatized. The next time Mom delegated the chore of sharpening the knives, we were triggered, and frightened. Were the children in danger? Were we?

I was haunted by the most chilling story in the entire Little House on the Prairie series: a chapter called “Knife in the Dark”. Wilder describes boarding with a severely depressed woman who waves a knife at her husband during a nocturnal argument, scaring the daylights out of teenage Laura peeking through a gap in the curtain partition. If the story gave me goosebumps before, now it knotted my stomach.

Time passed. I kept stories about my great-grandparents. I discovered that I looked good in browns and earthy greens. I wished I still had Gramma’s ring.

I married and moved a thousand miles away. In the middle of an August night, a tiny baby girl surged her way out of my body in a powerful gush of water. For all my experience with newborns, I’d never held one so small. My husband stayed home with us for the first week as we adjusted to parenthood together. Then my mom spent a week helping out.

After Momma flew back to start a new school year with her own brood of little ones, I was consumed with anxiety. This helpless infant depended on me completely. I was her lifeline, the umbilical cord connecting her to her own future. I would be all alone with her now, every day. What if something happened to me? What if I choked on my lunch? What if I tripped on the stairs?

The kitchen knives worried me most. Every time I diced an onion or chopped a tomato, the knife seemed to threaten me, reminding me how vulnerable I was, how mortal. I was cautious, gripping the handle firmly, curling my fingertips carefully away from the blade. I always carried the knives to the sink slowly, point to the ground. I wondered how long I could go on this way. But as the weeks went by and my daughter grew and my hormones regulated, the anxiety diminished.

Cooking shows on PBS became one of my favorite relaxations. Low-key and engaging, they entertained me while I nursed the baby, cuddled a sick child, or put my feet up at naptime. Let others have their superheroes and action films—I love watching men who know their way around a kitchen!

Ever ready to expand my culinary creativity and technical expertise, I soaked up information about ingredients and tools from French, Asian, Cajun, Latin, and Italian chefs. But always when the cutting boards came out—oh, my! Be still, my beating heart! What speed! What finesse! The chopping scene was my favorite in Pixar’s animation Ratatouille. I dreamed of having a superpower: the ability to slice and dice effortlessly, evenly, and safely.

I practiced my technique every time I made dinner. On date nights I would drag my husband through the kitchen stores so I could handle the knives and compare the balanced feel of their handles in my palm. I read up on the advantages of German steel, Japanese blade angles, hollow-ground indentations, and sharpeners. Not only was I proud of my kitchen skills; I was extremely fond of the cutlery that made it all look easy.

After my other grandmother died, I began having panic attacks with chest pains. I found a therapist and started counseling. I regained my balance and made changes to my thinking, my relationships, my parenting. My personal knife collection was forgotten in the back of a closet shelf, but I remembered my girlhood feelings of impotence. When I presented my daughter with her own multi-tool with knife blade for her birthday, I took vicarious delight in her pride.

Then came another triggering experience, an imbalance of power that brought traumatic old memories to the surface. Though I was in no danger, I felt trapped, weak, mousy and afraid. More distressingly, I was in pain and short of breath and my heart was racing, so I sought professional medical help. The anti-depressant my doctor prescribed to relieve my anxiety only made it worse: a dirty spot in the bathtub looked like drops of blood. Even the Pixar titles seemed too scary to watch. Suddenly I couldn’t walk into my kitchen without shivering at the thought of the knife block on the counter. Never mind superpowers, I thought. I just want to function without fear.

The effects of the drug wore off, but I was still anxious. And so began a new journey of courage.

     Of finding my own strength.

     Of allowing my mind to think freely without fear of abuse or shame.

     Of building new relationships based on individuality and mutual acceptance.

     Of challenging the culture of patriarchy and reprogramming my brain about acceptable boundaries.

     Of speaking for my silent self, empowering my helpless self, learning to be kind to my too-often critical self.

My strength does not derive from objects sharp or shiny. I gain nothing when I defend my own pain by pointing daggers at others, or at myself. I find my confidence, as well as my compassion, deep inside, in the recognition that my worth is equal to that of any human being on the planet.

When I am afraid:
                           of disappointing someone,
                                of my inner self being found out and rejected,
                                     of not being strong enough,

…neither the sweetest of blades nor the most cunning miniature scissors are of any use at all. Instead of slashing or separating, I need bonding. I need friends who infuse me with courage when they draw me into their hearts for myself, our connection based not on our achievements, but on our being, right now. Mutual respect is a beautiful thing, with no strings attached.

It turns out the Little House on the Prairie lifestyle holds little appeal for my children. Why would any family want to live independently and reliant solely on their own resources—far from stores and schools, helpful neighbors, and supportive family? All of us learn from and lean on so many others: teachers, counselors, neighbors, friends, other family members. Together this wider community forms our safety net. And as I practice better self-care, I no longer expect to be my children’s lifeline. Instead, I teach them to reach out and speak up when they need help.

But on some shaky days I still gauge my progress by how I feel when I glance at my kitchen knives. 

Are they friend or foe? Am I meat, or maven? 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Library Shelf: Dating Jesus

Today, Susan Campbell is a journalist and author in Connecticut. But she was once a young fundamentalist Sunday School teacher, door knocker, Gospel puppeteer, and Bible Bowl champion in rural Missouri.

Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl

I could relate to so much in this award-winning memoir, but it was Susan's brother, former child preacher, who spoke the book's most powerful line:

"Fundamentalism broke off in us, didn't it?" 
Yes, it did. Like a sword, fundamentalism was plunged into our bodies, and then it got broken off in us so that we will never, ever heal from the wound. Like Perpetual Jesus on the Perpetual Cross, we are the walking wounded. By now, the shaft is part of our organs and these smiling, happy people? They have no idea.

Susan writes openly and passionately, but not bitterly, about the inequalities she experienced as a girl: in her home, at her school, and in her church. I strongly identified with her obedient frustration! Ultimately, those unfair experiences, the questions she was not supposed to ask, and the thoughts she was not supposed to think, drove her--like some of her American feminist heroes--outside the church in search of justice and "the social gospel".

Although an experienced public speaker, Susan poignantly describes the anxiety that threatened to overwhelm her the first time she was asked to speak from a pulpit, which is "so not a lectern".

Still "Christ-haunted", she spends a significant portion of the book wrestling with Bible passages, seeking to reinterpret them in kinder, more inclusive ways. This is how Rachel Held Evans would sound if she exited organized religion. And because many of the pro-woman authors Susan cites (Wills, Armstrong, Ehrenreich, Rose, Stanton) are also now familiar to me, following her thoughts and reading her conclusions feels like participating in an intimate book club discussion.

Susan's church would not have acknowledged me as a proper fundamentalist. Regardless of what some of our churches may have taught, my dad never let us think we were the only ones headed for heaven. In my family, I suppose each of us devised, of necessity, our own theological framework to support the weighty framework of rules and disciplines and standards laid upon us while making allowances for believers who took a more comfortable path. Mine was a theology of superiority--a kind of lay monasticism for the ultra-committed lovers of Christ.

Fundamentalist or haughty evangelical, it was just as Susan explains: "We believed, we believed, we believed, we believed, and we acted on it, too.... And then, when the burden became too great, people like us started... running as fast as we could from the church.... We'd been lied to. We'd been misled. We were angry."

And fundamentalism broke off in me, too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Strange Stories of the Bible: The Levite's Concubine

    ...So he took [the Levite] into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink.
    While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.”
    The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.
    But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.
    When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.
    When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.  
Judges 19:21-29

"Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving. Whatever your views may be...your political and social degradation are but an outgrowth of your status in the Bible...Whatever the Bible may be made to do in Hebrew or Greek, in plain English it does not exalt and dignify woman."    
--Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the introduction to The Woman's Bible (1898)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Rights of Women

Quick history review:

One hundred years ago, women in America were still marching for the right to vote.

An American suffrage event in 1913

Jeanette Rankin, the lonely female voice in Congress in 1917, was proud to vote for woman's suffrage. Her male colleagues finally approved women's voting rights in 1920, ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment more than forty years after Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton first drafted it. Men in Switzerland did not approve federal female suffrage till 1971.

Much more recently, married women in Wichita still needed their husband's permission to get a library card and women in Memphis could only get a library card in their husband's name.

In the 1980's, I grew up in a religious cult that did not permit women to wear pants (lest they cause a man to lust after them and rape them). Contraception was also considered immoral, so my mother had 15 pregnancies: 4 miscarriages, 11 births. When I realized (just a few years ago!) that women actually have equal rights with men, I was amazed. And then I discovered that those rights are under attack right here in heartland.

For example, our governor and some of our male state legislators are continually eroding, in the name of religion, the rights of Kansas women to not be pregnant. If women were making these rules, that affect only women after all, maybe I would feel differently. But these men were born with the right to never be pregnant. Why would they insist that a woman grow another human inside her body against her will?

My daughters need to know they can be whatever they want to be. That motherhood is their choice--even if they are victims of sexual violence. Even if they are minors. Even if their birth control fails. Even if they are ignorant or irresponsible. Even if they don't discover they are pregnant until 8 weeks later. And if they choose to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion, they should not have to fight a state-mandated obstacle course of shame, fear and lies

Men, especially religious men, have a long history of telling women how God intended women's bodies to be used:
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another...
--St. Paul (Romans 1:26-27)
You really wrote that, Paul? "The natural use of the woman"? Oh, God. Got that straight from Him, did you? You'll be glad to know the church in Rome took it seriously. In fact, they've spread the good news all over the globe--letting it be known that the only morally acceptable place for a male orgasm is inside a woman's vagina. Yep. Thanks, Paul.

Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
--St. Paul (I Corinthians 11:9)
Of course. What was I thinking?

But others drink potions to ensure sterility and are guilty of murdering a human being not yet conceived.
--St. Jerome (Letter 22, to Eustochium 13)
How the heck? I don't think that word means what you think it means.

Therefore, women do wrong when they seek to have children by means of evil drugs. They sin still more grievously when they kill the children who are already conceived or born, and when by taking impious drugs to prevent conception they condemn in themselves the nature which God wanted to be fruitful. Let them not doubt that they have committed as many murders as the number of the children they might have begotten.
--St. Caesarius of Arles (Sermon 51, 4; CC 103, 229)

By that primitive name [Eve], says he, He showed for what labor the woman had been provided; and He said accordingly, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth." Now, who among ourselves denies that the woman was provided for the work of child-bearing by the Lord God, the beneficent Creator of all good?
--St. Augustine (On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book II, Chapter 12)
 I guess no one else is going to do it...

...We see how weak and sickly barren women are. Those who are fruitful, however, are healthier, cleanlier, and happier. And even if they bear themselves weary—or ultimately bear themselves out—that does not hurt. Let them bear themselves out. This is the purpose for which they exist. It is better to have a brief life with good health than a long life in ill health.
--Martin Luther (The Estate of Marriage, LW 45)
I've seen such women. It is a heartbreaking sight.

Woman is more guilty than man, because she was seduced by Satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was an instrument of death leading to all perdition. It is necessary that woman recognize this, and that she learn to what she is subjected; and not only against her husband. This is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears within her ignominy and shame.
--John Calvin (author of Institutes of the Christian Religion, cited by Brown in An Apology to Women)
So glad I don't live in Calvin's Geneva.

Woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. After the fall, she was made subject to man by the irrevocable sentence of God. In which sentence there are two parts.
    (a) A dolor, anguish and pain as oft as ever she shall be a mother.
    (b) A subjection of her self, her appetites and will to her husband and his will.
From the former part of this malediction can neither art, nobility, policy nor law made by man deliver women: but, alas, ignorance of God, ambition and tyranny have studied to abolish and destroy the second part of God's punishment.
--John Knox (First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women)

And so it goes on. From Calvin and Knox to Doug Phillips and Jim Bob Duggar. Let the women kill fleas!

Sisters, we have come far. Occasionally with the support of religious groups, more often without. Our daughters are watching us to determine their own value. For their sake, let's not give up any of our hard-won progress now.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Women's Fashions Responsible for Crime & Hellfire

Today's Christian rape culture is nothing new.

From Clement of Alexandria ("By no means are women to be allowed to uncover and exhibit any part of their bodies, lest both fall – the men by being incited to look, and the women by attracting to themselves the eyes of men") to the infamous Modesty Survey, religious men have always been good at making women anxious about their appearance.

Digging through an old folder last week, I came across this gem of a tract. Years ago, articles like this one were an encouragement to me to keep dressing the way I was told to.

Alas, there is no date on the pamphlet, but I'm figuring the article had to be written about a hundred years ago. I've posted the full text below with my favorite parts highlighted.

Are We Dragging Men to Hell By Our Modern Dress? 
The old sign of the harlot's den was a red light by night, and women sitting in front by day showing their legs. The Bible says to Christians:
"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with broided hair or gold or pearls or costly array." I Timothy 2:9
A preacher said, "Only yesterday my manhood was insulted. Across from and facing me on a street car sat a 'something' -- a female picking her teeth. Her dress was above her knees with no effort to keep them together. Horrors! What are we coming to when a clean man must cover his face with a paper or turn his head the other way to keep from seeing entirely too much? It seems that many of these she animals have lost all modesty and are out for sale, offering all that is left -- just leg! legs!! legs!!!"
A good lady said, "These knee-length dresses are not modest. The Holy Spirit showed me that at least half of the calf of the leg should be covered."
Hear what Dr. [Perry] Lichtenstein, Physician of Tombs Prison in New York City, who is able to speak authoritatively on the causes of crime, says: (He has seen, in 12 years, 170,000 prisoners pass over the 'Bridge of Sighs', and he ought to know.) "The so called crimes of passion are increasing alarmingly, and will continue to do so in my opinion until the principal cause is eliminated. This, it seems to me, is the present style of dress which, to say the least, is immodest. Rolled stockings and similar styles have a direct bearing on crime incitation no matter how innocent the wearer may be." It is safe to say that there would be much less crime today, far fewer homes whose happiness has been blasted forever by unfaithfulness, fewer divorce trials, less violations of maidenly honor, if everyone of these underworld styles could be thrown into the deepest Hell.
Dr. [Thomas De Witt] Talmadge said, "Thousands of men are in Hell, whose eternal damnation is due to the improper dress of women."
In a neighboring town lives a boy who was graduated from the State University with the highest honors. Later he had a fine position but acquired a venereal disease, went insane, and now is in the insane asylum part of the time--all because of lust. 
Low necks, short dresses scarcely to the knees, bare arms, painted faces--in a word--everything to arouse passion and lust is the order of the day.
"Everybody does it!" I know--but do you belong to the 'everybodies' or are you a pilgrim?
I went to Bible school, and one day the teacher had a special meeting of the girls and told them if they would let the Lord talk to them, they would lengthen their dresses. When the school had a social gathering, one boy left the party when the girls were playing games, etc. He could see too much, he said.
When women come with knee length dresses, and stoop to pick up apples, I think the men can see more that it is the Lord's will for them to see.
I would rather wear my dresses a longer length and please the Lord, than to try to please a hard-to-please fickle world. We surely will never send men to Hell by wearing longer dresses.
D.L. Moody in his book, Prevailing Prayer, said, "Why is it that many of our children are going down to a dishonored grave? Many Godly parents find that their children are going astray. Does it arise from some secret sin clinging around the heart? I sometimes tremble when I hear people quote promises, and say that God is bound to fulfill those promises to them, when all the time there is something in their own lives which they are not willing to give up. It is well to search our hearts and find out why our prayers are not answered."
One saintly woman, who wore rather long dresses, said, when she put on a shorter dress, the Lord would not hear her prayers.
John Wesley said gay and costly apparel tends to influence lust.
During the first hundred years of her ministry, Methodism was the greatest power for righteousness of any movement since Pentecost. In those days of her glory, Methodism always insisted upon plainness of attire.
We may say if we wear our dresses a longer length we will look differently. What does Charles Finney (one of the most God-used evangelists of the all time) say? "I will confess that I was formerly myself in error. I believed the best way for Christians to pursue was to dress so as not to be noticed: to follow the fashions so as not to appear singular. But I have seen my error and now wonder greatly at my former blindness. It is your duty to dress so plain as to show the world that you place no sort of reliance in things of fashion.
If you wear immodest clothing that offers a suggestive appeal to sex, and stimulates those baser impulses which slumber in the human breast, do you think the Lord is so likely to protect your girl and boy in the wave of immorality among youth and others?
Preachers, if you think these knee length dresses are not modest, and it is a sin for women to wear them, will you be faithful to the Lord to warn them? Can you expect the Lord to put a hedge around yours sons and daughters, and keep them moral in this immoral world, if you do not?
I am trusting the Lord to keep my three sons pure. Can the Lord protect young people? I know He can; because He has kept mine moral. I couldn't commit adultery if you would give me the whole world; neither can I get mixed up in an affair with some other woman's husband (which is so common these days). If He can keep me moral, He can keep your son and daughter moral. The power of the Devil is great; but, praise God, the Lord has more power.
I don't want Jesus to say to me some day, "By the exposure of your flesh you have dragged men to Hell." Do you?
--Mrs. Dewitt Smith   (Reprinted by the Pilgrim Tract Society, Randleman, North Carolina)

Inciting crime in Moscow, ID in 1922

It all reminds me of Corrie ten Boom's dour and outspoken aunt: "To Tante Jans, the clothes in fashion when she was young represented God’s final say on human apparel; all change since then came from the stylebook of the devil. Indeed, one of her best-known pamphlets exposed him as the inventor of the mutton sleeve and the bicycle skirt" (from The Hiding Place)

And I used to long for leg-of-mutton sleeves! 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On Growing Up Modest

My family looked like everyone else when I was little. Mom liked to be comfortable so she wore jeans a lot, but she also sewed her own dresses and liked feminine details like ribbons and lace.

Then my parents attended Bill Gothard's seminars. In the Advanced Seminar, Gothard and his buddy Jim Sammons explained why women shouldn't wear trousers. The accompanying textbook went into a lot more detail, warning against long necklaces, sundresses, false eyelashes, dangling earrings, open-heeled shoes, and t-shirts with "written messages".

So Mom got rid of her jeans and started wearing only skirts. For a while I was still allowed to wear pants to school, on Wednesdays when my class had P.E., but Mom homeschooled me the next year and got rid of my shorts and jeans. I tried to take it in stride, but I did miss those pink seersucker shorts dreadfully. I thought about them every summer.

And speaking of summer, swimsuits became an annual adventure. When I was four, I wore a pink bikini to the neighborhood pool. Later I had a blue one-piece with a little whale on it; I remember wearing it at the lake. The next year Mom had me wear a  cotton romper in the water. It tied at the shoulders and had elastic around the legs (remember the 80's?). I was 8 or 9 when Mom made me my first "swimdress": dark red floral calico, full skirt gathered at the elastic waist, puffy sleeves, a little ruffle at the elastic neck, and matching red bloomers. I stayed with my grandparents for a week that summer and Grammie wanted to take us to her pool.

"Did you bring a swimsuit?" she asked.

"I have a new swimdress," I said dubiously.

"Same difference," said she. But I doubted she understood.

I spread the red outfit on the bed for her to see. Grammie tried to cover her dismay as graciously as possible. But we didn't visit the pool.

Swimwear, late 90's
Over the years I swam in a denim jumper, a prairie dress with a tied belt and bloomers, culottes and a homemade blouse, and finally a periwinkle twill jewel-neck dress with a pleated split skirt and puffed sleeves. I wanted to put cuffs on the legs, but that was not permitted. At the time, I laughed about it. It was better than crying. When it was finished, I put on a pearl choker, put my hair up, and gazed at myself in the mirror. I sighed, I shrugged, and then I laughed.

The beach was a tricky place anyway. We generally went when nobody else wanted to be in Lake Michigan: early mornings when it was still cool, or overcast days. Though we were safe in our full-coverage outfits and the boys kept their shirts on, at the first sighting of a woman in a real bathing suit, we were packing up our beach toys and heading for the car. I bought my first retail swimsuit for my honeymoon.

From Gothard's Advanced textbook
Princess seams were often a problem. As difficult as they were to sew, I loved the smooth curves. But sometimes those curves got us into trouble. I once encouraged my teen sister to buy a floral church-style dress at a yard sale, only to have Mom tell her she couldn't wear it because the bodice fitted "too tightly". I felt terrible. Another time I made a blouse out of a rosy cotton chintz, only to hang the finished article in the storage room for a younger sister to wear before her bosom blossomed to 34B.

We bought cotton mesh polo shirts from Land's End, because they were the only knits we were allowed to wear by themselves. Jersey knits like turtlenecks and t-shirts could only be worn under jumpers, sweaters, or vests. Blouses usually needed a tank top or camisole underneath to disguise any bra straps. Bras could not be lined with any kind of padding--I wore this style until I started breastfeeding. We all wore full-cut briefs, and long homemade bloomers under our skirts. Girls wore nightgowns (sometimes with matching bloomers), not pajamas.

When I got bold enough to buy sweatpants and a pair of loose cotton capris, I sometimes wore them under my jumper on the trampoline. I also started wearing pajamas, being careful to cover up in a robe when I left my room. At the University of North Dakota, I wore shorts and a sleeveless shirt for swimming instead of my old dress.

For years, the boys could only wear shorts to the beach. I nervously went out in shorts for the first time in 1999 when I traveled with two younger brothers to visit my grandparents. I was nearly 24. It was terribly awkward, sitting in the middle of Bebop's backseat being blinded by my white thighs. But it was a hot day and I was determined to try shorts while I had the chance.

Besides dressing carefully ourselves, hiding the JCPenney catalog, and periodically asking to be removed from the Victoria's Secret mailing list, we were cautious about immodesty slipping through in other ways. Dad would preview VHS movies in his office, then show them to us with entire scenes blacked out. The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, and Chariots of Fire were all edited for modesty.

The offensive dress
I was a teenager when my dad showed us the black-and-white biopic Madame Curie, but he skipped through a couple of scenes in the most emotional part of the story, explaining that Marie's dress was  "immodest". This year, I watched the film again, savoring the chemistry of Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson as they depicted one of my favorite real-life love stories. Then came the particularly tender scene with Greer as Marie trying on a dark floor-length gown (described by her adoring husband in the film as "becoming", "very beautiful", and "a rather special gown--not low, of course"). The dress is important to the story, since Pierre has a fatal accident before Marie has a chance to wear it. But I'd never seen the scene before. I studied the dress curiously, searching for "eye traps". It was partly a relief not to understand what was wrong with the gown, partly an exasperation.

At the time, I thought my family held unusually high standards, even for conservatives. Now, thanks to the Internet, I can now read how the modesty principle worked out practically in another fundamentalist family. And another girl's story of how churches use "modesty" to shame women. I can laugh with other ex-ATI daughters about lingerie and zealous mothers as clothing police. But, like gazing at my swimsuit in the bathroom mirror, it's a strangled laugh.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mothers, Fathers, and Stay-at-Home Daughters

One of my more painful experiences as a stay-at-home daughter was my mom’s jealousy. I didn't know what to do with it. In the years since, I have talked to other homeschooled young adult women who could relate to this, having had similar conflicts in their homes.

My younger brothers were very active, hands-on little boys. One wanted to build and invent, push buttons, take things apart, know how stuff worked. The other was obsessed with the outdoors: exploring, digging, hunting, fishing, growing, collecting, tasting. Dad was neither a great sportsman nor a knowledgeable mechanic; he excelled with numbers, formulas, charts, and had a surprising affinity for the arts. He did his best, anyway, to live up to his sons' ideal.

I had little curiosity about the natural world and less about the inner workings of a toaster. The history of humanity's struggle was of great interest to me and I was content to absorb this information from books, radio programs, or adults' conversation. I devoured history books, biographies, [conservative Baptist] textbooks on government and political philosophy.

Dad appreciated the humanities, too. He had little time to read (and generally nodded off when he attempted it), but he liked to stay informed about current news topics and he loved to learn about people and places and events from history. Many of our family vacations included visits to museums and historical sites and I loved them all.

Since I was also good with numbers and computers, Dad soon had me assisting him with the family finances, his business invoices, and his taxes, in addition to doing data entry, filing, and taking phone messages from his clients. We would work together in his tiny office, sharing the cramped work space and clambering over stacks of books and packets of reports. On long drives to the state capital to collect data from public records, we would discuss theology or listen to National Public Radio or some religious broadcast.

When Dad had jury duty, he took my friend and I along to observe the court proceedings. One time Dad and I both dressed up and went to hear the governor debate a rival candidate at the fancy resort down the road. Halfway through the speeches, Dad slipped out a chocolate bar he'd brought along for us to share, reminding me of times long ago when he and mom took me along with them to the movie theater.

Another time we attended a pastors' conference together (featuring a day of lectures by Bill Gothard). Though neither of us had any intention of ever becoming pastors, I think we felt like we "belonged" in that group of men so committed to the claims of our Bible that they had made it a full-time vocation. If I had been a boy, I was pretty sure I would be training to become some kind of preacher. My Bible knowledge was as good as any pastor's, and I never mixed up Elijah and Elisha or Rachel and Rebecca.

Besides cultivating an ordinary friendship with my dad based on common interests and shared experiences, I was encouraged to "give my heart" to my father, who would in turn guide my choice of a mate. Accordingly, when I was fifteen, Dad and I signed an agreement much like this one, with our pastor as witness. Though I wasn't yet dating age, I took this piece of paper very seriously. (And shed many, many tears over it at age 24.) If Dad was to help select or reject my suitors, it seemed imperative that he know me well since my future happiness was at stake.

At home, Dad and I would discuss current events or interesting details about his clients at the dinner table. Our crowded board could be a very happy place, but it could also be a tense place. With so many ages and so many varied interests represented, conversation could easily give way to chaos. And chaos could lead to indigestion, especially for the lactating matriarch trying desperately to feed herself and the infant in the highchair next to her while straining to hear the stories her son at the other end of the long table was telling about his day away at work.

There were even periods when talk at the table was banned, or required authorization from a parent. Other times, Dad would attempt to “make mealtimes meaningful” with a planned lesson, reading lessons to us or utilizing the dry-erase board on the wall behind his chair to present a puzzle, an analogy, an exercise in logic.

As the oldest, I was a leader, or sometimes squelcher, of discussion. So if a topic interested me, I would keep it afloat. At that stage of my late teens, my interests were in travel, international affairs, public policy--how adults of the world lived and thought and how I should relate to them. Alas, these subjects were of little relevance to my mother's world of diapers, potty-training, tantrums, grocery lists, math drills and phonics workbooks.

One day my mom took me aside and told me she felt left out and didn’t appreciate these table conversations she felt were just between my dad and me. I don’t remember how she expressed it, only that I felt quite unsettled and awkward afterward. I distinctly felt like my mom was jealous of my relationship with Dad (though I didn't exactly consider us “close”, we got along pretty well back then).

From that time on, I felt uncomfortable with my dad. When he would try to kiss us kids good night, I felt Mom's eye on me, as if I was suspected of being “the other woman”. I backed off from his affection and stopped chatting with him at the table. Later on, they arranged for me to help Mom more with sewing projects instead of working primarily for Dad.

In spite of this increased tension, my mother actually insisted on Dad escorting me on my travels more than once after I reached my twenties. (That’s an awkward story in itself.) We still occasionally had good times together--and even still listened to NPR together--just not when Mom was around.

I blame the courtship process for finishing off my connection to my Dad. We talk a few times a year now, and pretty much stick to safe subjects like the grandkids. I have nice memories of playing with my dad as a kid, but feel that Mom’s insecurities ruined that relationship during my adolescence. Maybe because I was the oldest and Mom was unprepared for how it would feel to have another woman in the house, especially one who was attempting to trust God, through her dad, with her very heart.

In practical terms, I was the live-in help, something like the au pairs who helped raise my cousins. And psychologically, I believed my parents were the mouthpiece God used to speak his specific will and warnings to me. But it was often difficult to interpret these divine messages: was I supposed to keep my hands off my mom's husband? Had she said anything to him about how she felt?

I believed what I'd been told--that God intended for me to live at home under my parents' authority until he directed me to some greater ministry. But how was this supposed to work for a young woman in her twenties? This lifestyle was bewildering.