Saturday, August 31, 2013

Obsessive Confusion

I am reading through a journal I kept when I was fourteen. Some entries make me smile; others just make me shake my head. I have posted here about how isolated I was as a homeschooled adolescent, but some memories shock me even now. I'm glad my daughter will never be able to relate to my teenage self:
"You know, I’m kinda strange. It’s been over a year since I've talked directly and individually with a teenage guy, excepting the time I found out Greg S----’s name."
The result, of course, was that I obsessed for weeks anytime a boy at church smiled a greeting in the hall or said "good night" before heading to the parking lot.

I would go home and study passages about "holiness" and make lists of things I thought God wanted me to do to remain "pure", such as:

  • keep my knees covered
  • wear only necklaces with short chains
  • wear sleeves to my elbows
  • "use lace sparingly"

Then I would weep the next week because I saw a guy from the youth group wearing an earring. 

I was so lonely.

So confused.

And so obsessed with not acknowledging my sexuality, even to myself.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Voiceless Women: Elizabeth Zwecker Sheffey

BJU's 1977 film "Sheffey" leaps lightly across the protagonist's marriage to Elizabeth Zwecker, a union which spanned more than a decade, allowing her just five nameless seconds of the two-hour movie: "I did have a wife," the Sheffey character allows, "but she died ten years ago."

That lonely sentence piqued my curiosity. But when I got my hands on the biographical novel on which the "Sheffey" screenplay was based, I was soon so disillusioned I had to put the book aside for many months--a rarity for me. Not only did the movie version omit the first Elizabeth Sheffey, it showed Sheffey as father to only one devoted son--passing silently over the six children he fathered with his first wife.

As a Quiverful "sister-mom", I found myself identifying with Sheffey's wife, with his children, with his sisters-in-law. I was repulsed by the callous way this "saint of the wilderness" treated his wife and family. I wondered why Unusual Films chose to leave out that--to me, significant--part of the story. By then, though, I was realizing how frequently Christian biographers painted their subjects only in bright, cheery colors.

Here, then, is the story of that wife that Robert Sheffey "did have", drawn largely from Jess Carr's now out-of-print book The Saint of the Wilderness.

* * * * * * * * *

Elizabeth Zwecker was born in 1817 and spent her entire life near Cripple Creek in Wythe County, Virginia. Elizabeth had little education. She was apparently introverted and sensitive, probably illiterate, a melancholy temperament, perhaps? Life wasn't easy in Cripple Creek, but the Zweckers were a large family (four girls, five boys) and Lizzie was especially close to sisters Leah--an "old maid" in her thirties--and Sarah, who was just two years older than Lizzie. After being abandoned by her first fiance, Elizabeth was in her mid-twenties and gun-shy when Robert Sheffey proposed marriage. She turned him down at first, then reconsidered his offer.

Who was this generous schoolteacher who was so taken with her? Robert Sheffey had been raised by a well-to-do uncle and aunt, who brought him up in a mild Presbyterian tradition in Abingdon, VA. After his uncle's death, the young Sheffey fell in with a different crowd, which indirectly led to a religious conversion at a lower-class revival meeting. As a result of this and other tensions, Robert was estranged from his aunt, leaving the comforts of her home and heading off to have his own youthful adventures which acquainted him with the more rough-hewn side of life in Virginia. He was eventually persuaded to attend college for a while but was a dismal orator, frequently violated curfew, and never could muster much appreciation for higher education. Wisdom, he explained, was more valuable than knowledge anyway.

The increasingly eccentric young man was increasingly attracted to lively revival meetings and didn't mind traveling long distances to participate in them. After he dropped out of college, he was employed at a store for a while. When locals invited him to take the tiny school along Cripple Creek, Robert accepted. And then he fell in love with Elizabeth Zwecker.

Elizabeth was 26 when she married the little schoolteacher, three years her junior. He could read, write and teach; he noticed details no one else paid attention to; he was never at a loss for words and he was so sure of himself! He could have had a city girl with smooth hands and a parasol, but he had chosen her. How she wanted to be worthy of his love! Everyone liked Robert, and he would stay by her side always.

The newlyweds lived with her parents for the first couple of years. Robert, who was teaching school at the time, missed the birth of his first child. As the arrival of their second child drew near, Robert continued to travel all over Virginia to attend revival meetings, mixing with the audiences and encouraging potential converts to repent. For a while, his brother rode along on these trips, but Daniel decided the travel was too exhausting. Robert found the trips invigorating, always meeting new folks, staying in the homes of strangers.

And while Robert traveled, friends and relations were constructing a new cabin for the growing family. Sure, he helped with some of the work, but others did the lion's share. Robert would include the building project in his lengthy classroom prayers which bored and confused his students who expected to see someone else standing the room when they peeked from behind their folded hands. Two of the four rooms were still unfinished when the family of four moved in at Christmastime. They were also $100 in debt, which worried Elizabeth.
Not the Sheffeys' cabin

By the time the school year came to a close, Robert was itching to be back at his hobby--and maybe not just exhorting this time, but even preaching. He tried to help Elizabeth get the garden in, but he was really daydreaming a sermon and had trouble multi-tasking.

The babies kept arriving: James and Hugh were followed by Daniel in 1848 and Sarah in 1849. Sarah's pregnancy had been rough for Elizabeth, who begged her husband to stay close to her for a while. So while his wife slowly and painfully recovered from the birth, Robert curtailed his travels, staying within a day's ride of the cabin all summer long, thus discovering many tiny church groups he had hitherto overlooked. At one such meeting just twenty miles from home, he had his first opportunity to preach.

Robert went through the motions of teaching the following school year, again helped Elizabeth with the garden, and tried not to make too many trips that summer. But he had found his passion. He would join the Methodists, he determined, and maybe he would even become a licensed preacher. He forced himself through another year of teaching, itching for summer to arrive. Elizabeth was pregnant again, but James was six and could be a help. Leah and Sarah Zwecker often came by to help their sister with her house full of children.

Robert made his first missionary journey early that spring, in April, before the garden was even planted. But he was at home in August when Elizabeth delivered Margaret. This time, she hemorrhaged so badly that she could hardly hold the infant, let alone feed her. Robert called a doctor the following week, who said Elizabeth needed rest. Robert negotiated with a slave woman's owner for her service as a wet nurse and tried to stay close to home. He studied the Bible, read the newspaper he subscribed to now, helped in the garden, and taught school.

After a few months, Elizabeth had improved enough to visit the city with Robert, but she was anxious about her health, still unable to breastfeed little Margaret, and she dreaded the arrival of another spring. "Please don't leave me--stay home with us," she begged him. And come summer, she was still far from well. Robert planted more crops that year and imagined getting a license to preach in local churches. That fall, Elizabeth helped her husband as she was able, until he decided she should save her strength. Poor Elizabeth was pregnant again.

She was 35 when she pushed baby John out into the world in 1853, her sixth delivery in less than nine years. A month later, she was still frail, able to stand up for only an hour a day. They had to hire another wet nurse. Robert promised he wouldn't leave them, but he made exceptions: a trip to see a dying slave from his childhood home, visits to the Methodist district presiding elder to seek a preaching license.

Poor Elizabeth wished Robert would stay put. Months after the birth, she continued to battle hemorrhages. The doctor put her on bed rest and Sarah and Leah took turns helping with their six nieces and nephews. After Christmas, as Elizabeth's life continued to leak away in red blotches, Aunt Sarah moved in with the family to stay. Two of the older kids were home sick with mumps in February, 1854 when Elizabeth suffered a massive hemorrhage and bled to death in her bed. She was 36 years old.

Though Elizabeth's story ends there, she lived on in the hearts of her grieving husband, her loyal sisters, and her motherless children. Sarah and Leah Zwecker had grown close to their nieces and nephews and were glad to share the responsibility of mothering them in their sister's stead, leaving Robert free to travel as he chose. And he did choose, after his initial sorrow. He left teaching and took up independent itinerant work for the Methodists--praying, preaching, and discouraging the distillers of moonshine whiskey.

Robert Sheffey
As the years passed and the older boys left home, one to join the Confederate Army, another for employment and further education, Sarah Zwecker urged Robert to allow the remaining children to move in with their grandparents and doting aunts and uncles. The younger two had no memories of their mother at all, but were very attached to the aunts who had raised them from infancy. Robert withheld his blessing on this plan, however. He had met an attractive woman on his journeys and had begun to build a new castle in the air.

When Robert Sheffey announced his plans to marry Elizabeth Stafford and move his family to another part of the state, his sister-in-law was incredulous. Aunt Sarah had devoted over nine years of her life to raising her nieces and nephews, while their father traipsed all over the countryside, and she became their advocate now.

For nearly a decade, the Zweckers had been all the family these young ones had known. And Robert--this man known far and wide for his obsessive compassion for the smallest creatures: rescuing tadpoles from a shrinking puddle with his handkerchief, righting overturned beetles and moving insects away from wagon wheels, insisting on the best care for his horse--this preacher wanted to uproot his children from their home and give them a new mother they'd never met? Robert was always quick to make demands of his hosts for his own comfort (requesting different bedding or dishes prepared a particular way) when he stayed with strangers, yet when it came to the emotional needs of his own flesh-and-blood, he seemed both deaf and blind.

In the end, Sarah's pleas prevailed. Robert did remarry in 1864, but Elizabeth's children were settled at the Zwecker home "in a manner that was pleasing to all". Robert let the empty cabin out to tenants and split his non-preaching time between visits to his children in Cripple Creek and stays with Eliza and his new son Eddie in Giles County. Unlike the first Mrs. Sheffey, Eliza knew from the start that she was marrying an itinerant Methodist and their largely long-distance marriage was a happy one. They are buried side by side in a churchyard in Trigg, VA.

Biographer Jess Carr wrote in his introduction: "Perhaps this old Methodist circuit rider was really crazy after all. Plenty of people thought so."

I wonder what Elizabeth Zwecker Sheffey thought. Was she happy? Did she have regrets? Did she love Robert in spite of his eccentricities? Because of them? Did she feel that her husband loved her? Did she ever believe he was off doing God's work?

"To love another person is to see the face of God."
                                                                        Victor Hugo

Perhaps Robert Sheffey was the one who missed out, after all.

Friday, August 23, 2013

In Praise of Pluralism

"Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which we live today, our ignorance of one another will be increasingly costly."      --Diana Eck

When my daughter came home with a worksheet summarizing "The Five Pillars of Islam" a couple of years ago, I must admit my eyes widened and my eyebrows went up a little.

For decades I'd been warned by the likes of Phyllis Schlafly and Bill Gothard that "government schools" were bastions of secular humanism. That they were hostile to religious faith. That Christians were persecuted in the American education system. 

So I was truly startled to encounter a picture of Jesus hanging in the corridor when I first toured our local elementary school. Still more amazed to find Little Pilgrim's Progress in a classroom library. By the time my kids came home with papers advertising the after-school Bible club, I was figuring out that I'd been misled about public education in America!

At our kids' school, several teachers wear crosses. Fourth-graders attend the play "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever". The third grade holiday concert last year included Hanukkah songs. A patriotic concert included "God Bless America" and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The Boy Scouts recruit during school hours. 

The student body is as diverse as they come. When my kids talk about their friends, I have no idea how to spell the names. English is not every student's first language, their families come from all over the world, and many kinds of costumes appear on picture days when the usual dress code is set aside. The school menu notes which meals are vegetarian, and which contain pork. When I pick up my kids at the end of the day, I see other moms wearing head scarves, bindi, traditional harem pants, nursing scrubs, office skirts, skinny jeans, shorts, yoga pants, and baby slings. It's awesome, one of the things I love about public education.

Clay Bust of Martin Luther
And in this multidimensional environment, our kids are being educated. In history and science and math and social studies and music and so much more. One day at the end of a unit on Medieval Europe and the Reformation, my daughter brought home this piece of artwork (which bears a striking resemblance to one of her German-American ancestors). 

While surprised to encounter Brother Martin again--right in my kitchen!--I was also impressed. I might be tempted to avoid Luther for the rest of my life because of the messy theological and family issues he represents to me, but we can't afford that kind of selective memory. Fact is, he impacted history significantly--world history, German history, American history, my history. 

Avoiding things that make us uncomfortable only shortchanges our children. And our discomfort will be no excuse if they grow up ignorant of the world we brought them into.

Similarly, after my initial surprise at finding the "Five Pillars of Islam" on my kitchen table, I felt grateful. Grateful that the school's curriculum allows my kids to learn about topics that I might let slide, just because they intimidate me. As a homeschooling mom, alas, I didn't have anyone looking over my shoulder or pushing me to cover any topic I didn't want to. Fortunately, my kids' education is no longer dependent on my comfort zone! 

Then this week my kids brought home the following letter from their principal:
      "... Religion is an important component of the history of civilizations. Your students at Minneha cover the five major religions of the world – Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam – as part of their Core Knowledge magnet curriculum. Students study civilizations throughout time, throughout the world, and cover religion with a focus on history and geography in the development of civilizations. 
     "Over the last several days, questions have emerged about a bulletin board in our 4th grade hallway that represents the 5 Pillars of Islam. This display represented one aspect of religion in a historical context. Other aspects of religion in a historic and geographic context will be taught in 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th grades this fall. The purpose of this study is not to explore matters of theology, but to understand the place of religion and religious ideas in history."                                    (excerpt)

Now, I was disappointed to learn that the poster (representing some teacher's effort) had been temporarily removed because it made an adult uncomfortable. I was nonplussed by the fact that ours is the only Core Knowledge school in the district. (Do any other children get to learn about the major religions?) But I was exceedingly grateful to whatever luck allows my children to benefit from this particular curriculum. I plunked down in front of my laptop after dinner and sent off an email to our principal:
"Just wanted to say I am very pleased with Minneha’s approach to the subject of religion. We are not theists, and some of the hall displays do make me uncomfortable, but when I see multiple religions being presented in an even-handed way, I feel much better.
"As an inescapable force in our society, religion must be a part of any complete social studies or history program. And I am pleased to say that when my son was being bullied about religion by his classmates, Minneha teachers were swift to deal with the issue and use it as an opportunity to teach about respect for others and religious tolerance.

"Cultural diversity is probably what we most appreciate about Minneha. Our kids will live in a globalized society. It is invaluable for them to be able to relate to friends who hold different beliefs and traditions."

The flap over the poster has sparked both controversy and conversation. Ultimately, I like to hope it will deepen into a demand for pluralism in the community, helping us come together for common goals--like the education of our children--with understanding and concern for others' well-being. Goodness knows the future of humanity depends on our ability to understand each other and deal with our differences like grownups.

Diana Eck, director of Harvard's Pluralism Project, says pluralism is:
  • The energetic engagement with diversity--not diversity alone
  • The active seeking of understanding across lines of difference--not mere tolerance
  • The encounter of commitments--not their dismissal
  • Based on dialogue--not on agreement but on give and take, criticism and self-criticism

Clearly, this is a dialogue we still need to have. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

On Raising a Woman

Yesterday I took my daughter to the library.

We walked to the back wall, pushed open an inconspicuous door that matched the wood paneling, turned a corner, and suddenly found ourselves in a conference room with one glass wall and chairs set up in anticipation of our arrival.

For the next four hours, my daughter and I worked together, learned together, had fun together, and practiced communicating on subjects like beauty, body image, puberty, emotional health, peer pressure, menstruation, the reproductive system, and self-awareness. We did a craft together, cutting and pasting and designing posters highlighting that characteristics of our personalities that we are proudest of. We learned things about each other. We ate pizza. We watched videos, including this one:

We were all shy at first, even though we knew we were there to talk about "the girl things". But, guided by three confident and cheerful women in pink t-shirts, we soon realized we were completely safe in our little room tucked away in the depths of the library. We settled in and got comfortable, with each other and with ourselves. We talked about shaving, about acne, about eating disorders. We learned about pads and tampons, how to use them, when to change them, how to dispose of them. And the discussions we had set the stage for conversations to come, when we work through the rest of the material in the take-home packet: conversations about dating, about privacy and trust, about the many facets of sexuality and respect and responsibility.

I went away feeling that my bond with my eleven-year-old was closer than it had ever been, even as she differentiates and grows ever more independent. I felt supported as a parent and nurtured as a woman. My daughter left feeling empowered, confident that she can talk comfortably to me about anything, that she has the information she needs and that there are numerous resources she can turn to for more.

The entire event was such an invaluable resource that it saddens me to report that only five of us moms showed up, that only six girls walked out with these fun shoulder bags that will remind them of the messages shared at the Mother/Daughter Workshop.

Which was all offered free of charge....

     by the lovely ladies at...

          Planned Parenthood. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chapter 6: Finding Harmony

In the summer, I went away to a real university to study linguistics with Wycliffe Bible Translators. (See a picture of me here!) Finally in a predominately Christian environment without the influence of IBLP, I was able to evaluate my own values for the first time as an adult.

I enjoyed the chapel services with slow, rich, harmonic, sacred choral songs equally with the mornings when Dan Everett jammed on his electric guitar. I attended "normal" church services and instead of fleeing, I let the songs fill and move me. I even danced if I felt like it! I still had a lot of hangups and anxieties, but I was breaking free! I tried my wings in other ways--buying my first jeans, swimming without sleeves, going to a movie theater, taking communion with real wine, chatting with a male friend unchaperoned. Every step was tentative, I was always figuratively looking over my shoulder, watching for evidence that God had removed his protecting hand.

Returning to my parents' home in August was. . . stressful. As soon as I could afford it, I flew to the Philippines to spend a few months with a team of Wycliffe linguists. I had just settled in when I had a little shock. I was working on a slow computer project when my missionary friend . "Put on some music if you want to," she offered, gesturing to her CD collection. "Who do you like?"

I reached back quickly across the years, aware that my musical tastes didn't match my age. "I kind of like Twila Paris," I said, scarcely believing my own voice.

"We have this one," she said, pulling out The Warrior Is A Child. At the sight of the album cover, my head began to whirl. I was thirteen again, rewinding the borrowed tape again and again. I loved that song! But I wasn't prepared to face those emotions--not here, not now. I turned back to the computer and mumbled something noncommittal.

Over the following weeks, however, I did plunge into those emotions. Deep down I was still afraid--afraid the music would expose me in some invisible way to dangers or temptations I couldn't handle. But I had no desire to be controlled by fear, much less fear of a mere fantasy.

The couple next door spent most of their time living in the mountains with their language group. Becky left me with a key to their house and invited me to use her piano or borrow from their music collection. Entering the dark, silent bungalow was like going through a wormhole. Becky had been a young adult when I was just a kid, and her cassette cabinet was a treasure trove, my own little Narnia. Inside its doors I encountered all my old favorites: Twila Paris, Michael Card, Sandy Patti, Michael W. Smith, John Michael Talbot, and even made some new acquaintances, like Rich Mullins.

And so I recovered my childhood faith, starting not exactly from scratch but from where I left it when I turned fourteen.

Talbot sang me to sleep with songs about love, Card affirmed the value of wisdom and truth, Mullins expressed my deep conflicted hopes, and I sang Twila's songs about trust and mercy nearly every day. When she sang "Daughter of Grace", I saw myself as in a mirror.
She spent half her life working hard to be someone you had to admire
Met the expectations and added something of her own
So proud of all that she had done...
So proud at all she had not done...   
Broken and discovering that she could fail
Heard her own voice crying for help and she was
Carried in the arms of love and mercy
Breathing in a second wind Shining with the light of each new morning Looking into hope again 
Finally ready to begin
Born for a second time in a brand new place

I now recognized legalism as a poison, and like Luther, I saw grace as the antidote. The picture of God that I constructed that year on a tropical island in Southeast Asia was a beautiful one. I had lots of guidance from friends who had seen more of life than I had, but the finished product was my own. And that God sufficed for quite a few more years during which I moved back to the States, started a family, and found a church that worshiped the same God I did.

My husband and I collected numerous contemporary Christian albums from the 80's and 90's that we would have enjoyed if we hadn't been giving heed to Gothard:  Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, Rich Mullins, David Meece. We went to to hear Michael Card sing in person; we attended a Phil Keaggy concert. I even performed in church with an accompaniment track.

The years of internal trauma left permanent scars, though. My parents went back to the church we used to walk out of. The baby brother I used to carry out to lobby started a praise band there. I was happy for him, but when we visited, sitting through a service in that sanctuary filled to the rafters with memories was emotionally exhausting. Dancing at weddings also attended by my parents would leave me agitated to the point of physical symptoms.

And when my husband and I found ourselves looking for a different church, I would frequently have panic attacks in the pew. Sitting in a beautiful auditorium, surrounded by symbols of hope and peace, listening to sweet songs of grace based on the Beatitudes, the tingling would start in my feet and creep up my legs while I silently reminded myself that I was safe, that there was nothing to fear, no invisible enemies, no one to throw me out or send me home.

As I moved out of fundamentalism back through evangelicalism and kept on going through liberal American Christianity, I inevitably outgrew the concept of God with which I had begun. I found I actually had more in common with Michael Jackson and Katy Perry than with Rich Mullins or Michael Card, though I remain grateful to them for helping me along the way.

Because, in the end, music is (or should be) art, an expression of the heart, a tangible sharing of intangible perception. It may be lovely, it may be angry; sometimes it is hilarious, other times it may not even make sense. What speaks to me will not be the same as what speaks to my husband, or to my kids. It won't be the same every week, or every year. Art is not algebra; it is not static, its meaning is not intrinsic. Like life itself, we imbue art with meaning according to what we bring to it. 

Music can be a powerful means of uniting people, or of separating them; a means of broadening our understanding of each other, or of isolating ourselves. There will always be artistic expressions we don't understand. If we approach them with fear, we will inevitably view them as hostile. But if our hearts are open and our minds curious, each composition becomes a way to enter another's experience.

Music is not a force to be feared, but a gift to be shared. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Chapter 5: Cognitive Dissonance

I kept playing the piano for the itty-bitty Baptist church until the pastor (another ATI dad, who was abusive to his family though I didn't realize it then) kicked us out. Our doctrine allowed us some flexibility regarding denominations, but we weren't Mennonite and already knew no other local churches would meet our exacting musical standards.

We visited farther afield for months, finally settling on a small fellowship of families that met in a school library in a neighboring county. The pastor was also an ATI dad, but he was gentle and kind and helped heal our wounds of rejection. So many years before, I had roller skated to Michael W. Smith tracks with his daughter, and I had taken my birthday Walkman to their house.
Indianapolis Training Center

I often played the piano for Sunday morning services. I taught myself to sing harmony. Now in my twenties but still living under my father's authority, I traveled to IBLP's Indianapolis campus to take several courses in music. I even composed a few sacred songs of my own.

One Sunday a nice older man in our church group led the "worship". During "communion", he started quietly singing in the back of of the room with an accompaniment track he'd brought along. It was mellow by contemporary standards and should have created a peaceful mood, but I was highly sensitized. I started shaking and weeping. I went up to him and asked him to please turn off the tape. Seeing the state I was in, he was quick to oblige. A click of the tape player and the room went silent. Poor man wasn't even a Gothard follower; he just got broadsided. He must have been so confused.

* * * * * * * *

I went away to work for Gothard's organization: first in Oklahoma City, then in Indianapolis, and finally at the IBLP headquarters offices in Oak Brook, Illinois. Spunky, casual, curious, and tenacious, I wasn't Gothard's type. The aging stature-challenged bachelor with a penchant for bluegrass, who dyed what was left of his pompadour, had a decided preference for quiet willowy brunettes or blondes who looked good in blazers. Being neither, I only saw him at staff meals and staff meetings I couldn't avoid. (Oh, and I rode with his entourage on one road trip, during which I assured him I would never grow a beard.)

I thrived on the camaraderie at IBLP, especially at the more relaxed Oklahoma campus. I sang all the time, added to my personal hymnal collection, and joined the staff handbell choir. My new friends introduced me to all kinds of fun music--Broadway show tunes, Celtic folk melodies, Hollywood soundtracks, and even gentle jazz--but we dutifully skipped the tracks that were at all questionable, particularly when certain people might overhear.

I played the piano for fun, for staff meetings, and sometimes for a retirement home. Gothard's brother-in-law even took a group of us to Pacific Garden Mission, where I sang 19th-century Gospel hymns to the "lonely, empty, sin-twisted, neurotic" men on Chicago's Skid Row, just like the Unshackled broadcasts, or a scene lifted from In His Steps.

And then, on a warm night in June, Gothard called my parents to collect me and my things and take me home. I was gone by noon, with little explanation and few goodbyes.

After a few months of aimlessness, I finally applied for part-time office job in town. At the interview, I explained to the owner that the radio kept on low volume in the office area would be a problem. If they wanted to hire me, the radio would have to be kept off on the days I worked. A pious Catholic himself, he agreed.

* * * * * * * *

I drove my parents' truck to work. It was a 20-minute drive through familiar territory. With ten siblings at home, I wasn't used to being alone, especially in a vehicle. To keep myself company, or to drown out my thoughts, I sometimes listened to cassettes. Stopping at the Christian book store on an errand one day, I picked up an instrumental praise album that offered to connect the dots between the church songs I sang as child and the musical style I embraced as a teen. The sound was as shimmeringly beautiful as an Impressionist painting, but my antennae stood up when I detected, even through the background noise of the V-8 engine, the slightest backbeat. Oh, no!

That tape caused me so much consternation over the following weeks. I loved it, I was ashamed of it. It soothed me, I needed to be rid of it. I thought about throwing it away, but I didn't want my parents to know about it (thanks to my little brothers, there were no secrets in our garbage!). By now I was a 24-year-old woman and this was a decision I would make for myself.

I stuffed the tape in my purse and took it with me to work. Then I would stand indecisively in front of the trash can in the ladies' room, holding the cassette over the opening. To drop, or not to drop? The tape always made its way back into my purse, as if protected by otherworldly forces, its fate postponed until my next scheduled work day when I would repeat this bizarre bathroom behavior.

One morning I turned the radio on instead. I hadn't turned on a radio in ages, not since Mom coerced me into signing a paper that said I wouldn't. I was only familiar with two or three stations. Would it be secular public radio, or Christian WLJN? I was already breaking a promise, or disobeying an authority, or stepping out from under my umbrella of protection, no matter how you looked at it. I flipped on WLJN.

And caught my breath.

The song was familiar. It was the beautiful new one we'd recently learned at church. But it sounded so different with the rich orchestration, the drums keeping time, the soloist belting the lyrics out effortlessly. I shut it off. I would have to think about this. It was the horrible music that Gothard and David Noebel and Inge Cannon and Peter Peters all said was "music from hell", a weapon of Satan. He wanted nothing but to steal, kill, and destroy. If I allowed myself to "vibrate in sympathy" with this sound, I would be vulnerable to his attacks, no longer protected by my spiritual "umbrella". I might even have a car accident this morning!

I switched the song back on, to be sure, and then back off to ponder some more. Yes, it was the same song I had sung many times with a simple piano accompaniment, and yes, the original version had an unmistakable rock beat. Listening to it would violate all kinds of rules and commitments. On the other hand, the lyrics were praise to God. The artist could be described as a modern-day David. Could a fountain yield both salt water and fresh?

Determined to tease out the truth, I commenced an experiment. I would listen to WLJN, or even the adulterated praise album on my way to work. Only for a few minutes at first, as my anxieties would get the better of me. Then for longer periods, and nothing bad happened. I arrived just as safe and sound as when I conscientiously stayed under the umbrella of protection. I began to suspect that things were not quite as I had believed.

Read Chapter 6: Finding Harmony

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chapter 4: The Lord's Song in a Strange Land

Continued from Chapter 3: Discord.

IBLP distributed a letter, supposedly signed by Peter Peters, pleading with American churches not to export Christian rock music. Below are some excerpts from the letter:
For thirty years we have suffered intense persecution. Now freedom is bringing another great harm to our churches. This damage is coming from Christians in America who are sending rock music and evangelists accompanied by rock bands. 
We abhor all Christian rock music coming to our country. Rock music has nothing in common with ministry or the service to God.

We were in prison for fifteen years for Christ’s sake. We were not allowed to have Christian music, but ROCK MUSIC was used as a weapon against us day and night to destroy our souls.

Now it is Christians from America who damage our souls. We do not allow this music in our church, but these “evangelists” rent big stadiums and infect teenagers and adults with their rock music. We, the leadership and congregations of the Unregistered churches urge you to join with us, and we advise you to remove rock music from America.

We call this music, “music from hell.” We urge all Americans to stop giving money for the organizations of such concerts in Russia. We only want traditional Christian music in our churches. This is the unanimous decision of all our leaders.

Peter Peters and Vasilij Ryzhuk, Unregistered Union of Churches, Moscow, Russia, April 15, 1992

I had grown up on Iron Curtain stories. Nothing motivated me like a martyr! In solidarity with the suffering of the unregistered church of the former Soviet Union, I was determined to stand against this soul-destroying music, alone if necessary.

And it was necessary, at Drivers' Ed. My parents sent me to the public high school for driver training and I was immediately on guard. I hadn't been inside a state school since second grade and I was uncomfortable in a group of my worldly peers. On campus in my long skirts and prairie dresses, I definitely stood out. Since this was my first encounter with the "unsaved" in a long while, I brought a few tracts to distribute to my classmates. And I tried to control my laughter at the jokes that seemed risque but still struck me as funny.

I had no trouble learning the highway signs and proper following distance, but a problem arose when the instructor popped in a videotape. The overhead lights were switched off and the intro music swirled through the room. In no time, my heart was racing and I was suffocating. I left my seat and walked out to the hall, warm, still, and empty on a summer morning. During the next break, I explained to the instructor that my faith in Jesus Christ did not allow me to sit through the training videos. Whenever he played one after that, I would wander the campus outside or diligently study my book. My parents were proud when I reported back on my time out in "the world". Heck, I was proud! My convictions had been tested, and I had stood firm.

A few weeks after my driver's license arrived, I boarded an Aeroflot jet to Moscow with a group of bright-faced, homeschooled kids dressed neatly in matching white and navy blue. Our parents were followers of Bill Gothard and we shared a common coded vocabulary from his seminars: "motivational gifts", "birth order", Wisdom Booklets, "clear conscience", "umbrella of authority", Wisdom Search, "courtship", and "Godly music".

Rock music was very much in vogue in the post-Soviet era of glasnost and perestroika. Eurodisco and technopop blared from kiosks everywhere, as ubiquitous as stumbling drunks and softcore porn posters, as we traversed the city making presentations in the schools. Often the schoolchildren would have cultural presentations prepared for us, as well, and we would thank them graciously. We were there to teach them good character: truthfulness and attentiveness and obedience and gratefulness, with a smattering of American history and Bible stories thrown in by way of illustration.

During my 10-week stay, I was taken to several different Russian evangelical churches. The ones our group attended used fairly traditional hymns, but one Sunday there was another American group visiting the same service. They presented a special musical performance that I found rather appalling--"Listen to the Hammer Ring!", in English. Disturbing lyrics aside, I felt uncomfortable. Was not this the sound Pastor Peters had denounced, the beat we had been trained to resist? My instinct was to flee, yet as a foreign female minor representing "the Institute" in a school building I didn't know, it hardly seemed appropriate to leave. Feeling like a caged animal, I tried to distract myself by focusing on the interpreter signing the lyrics for the deaf (pause here to savor the irony!).

Back at the ship, our floating hotel, leadership piped soothing or inspirational instrumental albums from Majesty Music over the sound system into our rooms and we felt cleansed. The closest any of the approved recordings came to syncopation was an Easter album with a choral cover of Annie Herring's "Easter Song". This very slight variation of timing lifted our spirits in the same way that Bill Gothard's arrival with a Snickers bar for each of us cheered us like Christmas. We prayed, we fasted, we had hymnsings on the upper deck, we learned to sing hymns in Russian, we rehearsed testimonies and prepared evangelistic skits and practiced Gospel piano duets, we invited teachers and students to our weekly evangelistic meetings. We were there to do spiritual battle in a formerly atheistic communist nation, after all.

We were not there to find spouses, as the leadership reminded us often. Though most of us were high school age, and we lived and worked in very close proximity to one another, dating was strictly forbidden. Dress was professional, never less than semi-casual, and girls and boys maintained a physical and emotional buffer at all times. If a boy asked us to as much as sew a button on his shirt, we were instructed to refuse and direct him to one of the married chaperones instead.

IBLP Russia Team, 1993

IBLP was officially working under the Russian Department of Education, so we were sometimes asked to participate in special events. That spring our group was "invited" to attend an inter-school performance in a crowded arts center auditorium. Even the Patriarch of Moscow was in attendance. The lights beyond the stage were dimmed and the show began. Children in colorful costumes and bright hair ribbons danced and sang and performed puppet shows. Then a teenage couple took the stage. A rock song began to throb through the auditorium and they danced--a beautiful but intense and [to me] sensual dance.

I was agitated. I looked around to see how the others in my group were responding. Some seemed as uncomfortable as I was. I thought about Pastor Peters' letter and I felt terribly, terribly guilty. I leaned over to the Russian interpreter beside me, "We did this to your country, Sveta," I whispered. "I'm so sorry." Then I began shaking in my seat, my heart was racing, a full fight-or-flight response. I felt sure I was feeling demonic oppression. How long could I resist? I left my seat and fled for the outer concourse where I found the matrons of our group trying to calm several other girls who were in similar states. Twenty years later, I realize I was simply having my first real panic attack.

I had been conditioned to fear a certain beat, and I developed a fear response. It was as simple as that.

My experience with the outside world was fraught with unseen dangers. By now, I only really felt safe within the safe bounds of ATI and those who shared my beliefs about music. It would take years, rejection by Bill Gothard, and another missionary venture to free me from the legalistic bondage.

Continued at Part 5: Cognitive Dissonance

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Chapter 3: Discord

Continued from Chapter 2: Musical Chairs.

I didn't know about panic attacks yet. I only knew I hated the feelings that preceded walking out of the service when everyone else was listening politely.

It was worse when the soloist was a girl my own age. She sang "Lamb of God" one Sunday night. I spent most of the evening entertaining my baby brother in the lobby while feeling ready to burst into tears. Twila Paris had been one of my very favorite artists just a few months earlier, so the song stirred up all kinds of conflicted feelings.

Whether to proselytize her or to spare myself more discomfort, I listened to the Striving for Excellence tapes, then found the courage to loan them to Kim. We had been mere acquaintances; I don't think she ever spoke to me again. After a few weeks, when I left a phone message for her, she discreetly left the cassette album in the church's food pantry bin for me to collect.

Wandering the halls in the church basement, my whole day could be ruined if I encountered a poster like the one on the right outside the youth room. I loved church, but described it as "the happiest and hardest, saddest and gladdest place I ever go". I even prepared some kind of speech to share with the youth pastor "how ungodly music almost destroyed my life". I was nothing if not intense.

Some cousins came to visit us from another state. While they were very musically talented, their church had an even narrower view of wholesome music than we did. They introduced us to Majesty Music, a music publishing and recording company with close ties to Bob Jones University--an organization we had mostly associated with homeschool textbooks.

I am indebted to my cousin for introducing me to music theory, patiently teaching me the names of the notes on a hand-drawn staff. But the night before they left, her parents must have helped my parents cull their tape collection. Over the next week, I noticed some of my favorite albums missing: Joni Eareckson's musical debut, for example; the lyrical folk-rock anthems of John Michael Talbot, the Catholic troubadour; and Dallas Holm's Easter cantata that moved me to tears the first time Dad played it for us. Really? Were the voices of these Christian brothers and sisters too dangerous to keep in the house? These deeply emotional expressions had always helped me to reconcile my Christian faith with my experience. I was confused, I missed the familiar sounds of my childhood, but I was determined to hold up the new standard anyway.

I wrote continually in my journal about music. It symbolized the gulf fixed between me and my peers at church--the only place I saw other teenagers. When the church started offering a contemporary early service, with a drum set on the stage, we finally left. (The elders weren't happy with us continually walking out anyway!) But church was hardly the only problem.

Eating out, a treat that became more rare as more babies arrived, was fraught with anxiety. We would choose a restaurant, drive there, then wait in the parking lot while Dad went inside alone to "check it out". He would ask to look at a menu, I think, but really he was listening for evil sounds. If it was acceptable (usually that meant silent), or if they were willing to turn their music off, he would come out and collect us. If not, well, we'd have to try another place. As the oldest, I felt tremendous internal pressure at such times. I wanted to anticipate the dining experience, but was afraid of having my expectations disappointed. So I would scan Dad's face when he exited the restaurant doors, searching for a clue to the result. Unfortunately for me, Dad's expressions can be hard to read. We never really knew the verdict until he announced it. By then my stomach would be in knots.

Shopping was another danger zone. I learned to mentally block out background music at Kmart or the mall. My husband is still incredulous when I don't recognize a song, "But it was so popular! It got played everywhere!" Maybe so, darling, but I was busy jamming the frequency in my head so I wouldn't get demons of rebellion or want to have sex. I didn't know the Beatles from the Beach Boys. Despite growing up in the 80's and 90's, I never listened to a Michael Jackson song till after he died.

Visiting other churches was really awkward. For a few years we settled at a tiny Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church that met just a few miles from our house. I took piano lessons from the girl who played the piano there. When her family left for a bigger, friendlier church, I inherited her spot on the piano bench.

As I got older, we became more entrenched in ATI teachings. I soaked up the student materials like a sponge, eagerly reading the newsletters from Gothard's "Headquarters" and imagining myself dressed in a navy skirt suit "giving the world a new approach to Life". At age 17, I was at last invited to join a missions trip to Russia to teach "character" in the Moscow schools. Some of my dad's clients helped sponsor my trip. Surrounded by other teenagers holding to the same standards, I was so thrilled to be having an adventure!

Read Chapter 4: The Lord's Song in a Strange Land

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chapter 2: Musical Chairs

Continued from Chapter 1: The Composition of Anxiety.

The anxiety didn't cease when I got my Walkman back--oh, no. That was just the beginning.

Now that I was "on board", it was as if my parents and I became accountable to one another to hold up the new standard. I had heard them complaining about rock music in the church before, but ignorance had been bliss. I had puzzled over what they were talking about, but all I knew was that we sometimes sang songs like, "Blessed be the Rock, and let the God of my salvation be exalted." Now I knew exactly what they didn't approve of. My newest favorite songs about Christianity. Christian contemporary music. Steve Green, Sandi Patty, and maybe even Michael Card.

Mind you, the most secular songs I'd heard up to this point were "If I Had a Hammer" and "Frosty the Snowman". A band called Guns N' Roses just sounded dangerous; I could easily assume their songs were Satanic in some way. And for the life of me I couldn't figure out what a group like Stryper was doing in the religious book store. So I figured there really must be something morally corrupting about drums.

It took a while, but I developed a taste for the albums in my parents' collection that I had hitherto despised: choral hymn arrangements and orchestral soundtracks approved by the Gothard organization. I was proud of my new appreciation. It was most likely a maturing awareness of chords, but I chalked it up to God working in my heart and giving me a "hunger and thirst for righteousness".

There was a downside, however. One of my mom's homeschooling friends couldn't conceive of the late Keith Green's music being anything but holy--he was practically a missionary, for God's sake! She and my mom quarreled, the friendship cooled, and I didn't see her daughters anymore, which was sad because they were two of my dearest friends. Their house had been like my second home. They had introduced me to Twila Paris, and cut my bangs. I had tried to defend my mom's position against Keith Green, but her argument did seem weak and I missed my girlfriends, right or not. There were probably other factors I wasn't aware of, but it seemed like music was a divisive issue, even among the godly.

We were attending a Baptist church. Their service format typically included a vocal solo performance immediately preceding the sermon. Sometimes the soloist was accompanied on the piano, but more and more frequently he or she would opt to use a recorded accompaniment track. The Christian music accompaniment tracks followed a predictable pattern: a simple, melodious first verse with the faintest beat entering during the chorus; a richer second verse with the beat building for the chorus; then [usually a key change and] the stops came out with a strong beat, loud backup vocals, and stirring chord progressions leading either to a climactic cadence or a hypnotic fadeout with the music continuing after the singer had lowered the microphone and dropped her head.

The first part of the song was not a problem. But when the demonic backbeat showed up, we had to make a choice. We could "sympathetically vibrate" with it, opening our souls to mysterious evil influences (a typical example of Gothard's poor exegesis), or we could resist the devil by resisting his music. And so Sunday services became a spiritual minefield.

I'd check the bulletin first thing to find out who was singing. Some individuals were more likely to utilize the piano. If I couldn't tell, there was nothing to do but wait. We sang, greeted each other across the backs of the pews, bowed our heads for prayer, heard the scriptures read. At last the sanctuary would go silent, the soloist would step to the podium, and I'd hold my breath.

If she (it was almost invariably a she--would we have walked out on a man?) looked to the pianist, we were safe. If she looked to the back of the room to cue the guys in the sound booth, we were doomed. But I'd wait, hoping that this time it would be okay. First verse, no problem. As she went into the refrain for the second time, the drums would strengthen. My pulse would quicken, my muscles would tighten. With pounding heart, I would scoot to the front edge of the pew and watch Dad. When he glanced back at me, it was time.

We would stand up, all seven of us plus the baby who didn't walk yet. We would file quietly out of the pew and out through the doors in the back of the sanctuary to the lobby. There we would stand around waiting till the song was over when we would file back into our vacant pew as silently as a family that size can manage. Week after week. We started dreading church, sitting in the back row, arriving late to miss the music. And then stay late to socialize after the service. It was horrible.

Small wonder I didn't make any real friends at that church. We were the largest family, the homeschoolers, the only females who didn't even own a pair of jeans. We didn't attend Sunday School or youth group. We didn't approve of the Christian concerts the youth attended, sponsored by WLJN, which was sponsored by the church. The WLJN station manager was one of the deacons!

I tried to carry my head high. I was making a bold stand because of my superior commitment to Jesus and following the direction of my God-given authorities. But oh, it was agony. My heart would pound, my breaths would get short and shallow, I'd sweat through my church dress. And then it was over. Till next service, anyway.

Read Chapter 3: Discord

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Chapter 1: The Composition of Anxiety

"When all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up."                                                                                                                                                                   Daniel 3:7

On a chilly autumn day in 1989, a little country girl turned fourteen. She blew out the candles on her apple-spice cake and eagerly took her birthday money to Kmart to buy a flannel-lined denim jacket with pleated sleeve caps. She had been eyeing the latest portable cassette player/radios behind the counter at the drug store, but her mother was not keen on a teenager listening to who-knows-what under her headphones.

The girl's uncle knew what she really wanted, however, and he mailed her a birthday surprise: a Sony Walkman.

The girl was so excited!

The next day she wore the new jacket to a sleepover at her best friend's house, accompanied by the new Walkman, of course. The two girls talked about prayer and boys and periods and their mothers and listened to [religious] music together till six in the morning.

Days later the birthday girl's mother confiscated the Walkman.

* * * * * * * *

Despite being a small town, Traverse City boasted its own Moody-affiliated Christian radio station, WLJN. Since we had gotten rid of our television, we took great pleasure in listening to the children's shows on Saturday mornings and dramatized history or adventure stories at night. We grew familiar with all the actors' voices from MBI in Chicago and it was a great treat to attend a live Children's Bible Hour rally in Grand Rapids, or when their tour reached our part of the state. During the day, Mom liked to listen to "Unshackled" and "Focus on the Family", and I would listen along with her. The tale of faith, forgiveness, diligence, and kindness overcoming abuse, injustice, and bad luck always thrilled me.

When the weather was right, we could sometimes tune the car radio to Christian station from farther away. One spring they were broadcasting a dramatization of the Easter story throughout Passion Week (still winter in northern Michigan). Dad would help us bundle up in our coats and then we all sat together in his car in the driveway while he carefully adjusted the tuner so we could hear every episode.

Moody Church
Photo by David DeJong
As I grew out of the single digits, I began to appreciate music as well as stories and gradually grew to appreciate adult vocalists over Sunday school marches. I would crank up Carey Landry's Catholic folk or an acapella Mennonite quartet covering Amy Grant on a beat-up boombox while I roller skated for hours in our basement workshop. My chore list lengthened as I hit my teen; I would tune in to WLJN while working at solitary, time-consuming tasks like ironing or sewing. The Moody Broadcasting Network played a mix of boring old choral pieces and current new solo artists on Saturday afternoons. The "Friday Night Sing" was a live concert from Chicago's historic Moody Church. The featured musicians were the popular "easy listening" Christian singers my parents' friends listened to: Steve Green, Steve & Annie Chapman, Annie Herring, Christine Wyrtzen, Larnelle Harris, Michael Card. Sometimes I would listen to my parents' record collection: mostly the evangelical Swedish sweetheart Evie.

By then my girlfriends (all from strict religious homes) had introduced me to Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Petra. I knew those performers were too "hard" for my parents' taste so it seemed prudent not to mention them at home. And then--my very own Walkman, so I could listen to whatever I chose, "clandestinely", my uncle wrote in the card. Since I was the firstborn, I should have expected this step toward independence would make my mother anxious.

I was listening to WLJN on the Saturday after Mom took my Walkman when this song came on. Mom objected to the sound and made me shut it off. I was quiet, but vented my exasperation in my journal later. On Monday, I heard from my penpal--our parents had been Bible study friends when we were babies. Rach wrote about the musicians she enjoyed, including Amy Grant. Mom was very concerned. She announced that in order to get my Walkman back, I would have to go through a "music evaluation course" she and Dad had purchased from IBLP.

"Striving for Excellence: How to Evaluate Music", consisted of two audio cassettes and a booklet. No author's name appears on the booklet but the audio material is presented by Inge & Ron Cannon. (ATI families are encouraged to use this course as an education resource, along with Frank Garlock's book Music in the Balance, formerly available from Bob Jones University Press.) So, after tucking the the younger kids into bed, my parents and I settled into the sofa in front of the cassette player. Inge Pohl Cannon, enunciated her lines of the script with clipped precision while her husband read alternating sections in his soft, lazy Southern drawl.

The Cannons began with some music theory that was way over our heads. I looked at my parents and raised my eyebrows. They shrugged back and we returned to following along in the booklet. Then there were some odd bits and pieces about rhythms causing riots or neural damage in mice and a Wichita newspaper article from 1977 that quoted a kinesiologist denouncing the rock beat as the "most serious form of pollution we have". We didn't really know what kinesiology was, but with a name like Dr. Diamond it must be legit, right? (Diamond's website was unavailable at the time of this writing.)

Another doctor translated DNA into musical scores. (Don't ask me how.) He described how cancer genes sounded different from enzymes and antibodies and compared the scores to the music of his favorite classical composers. That was followed by a titillating paragraph by Frank Zappa (whom I'd never heard of). He said the Beatles didn't just want to hold your hand and compared Jimi Hendrix' musical sounds to "orgasmic grunts, tortured squeals, lascivious moans..." I had no idea whom or what he was talking about, but I felt very grown up just reading all those fascinating phrases!

Now we came to the heart of the argument: rock music, the very beat itself, was equated with rebellion and unbridled sensuality. It would make listeners want to take drugs and have sex. (Yes, I shared this handy fact with my daughter this morning and she looked at me like I'd lost my mind.)

Ron & Inge Cannon
And if we still weren't convinced, the Cannons explained that rock songs were imbalanced, like asymmetrical architecture. The best forms of art or music were those from the Age of Classicism: a definite beginning, a climax point, and a satisfying conclusion. With echoes of David Noebel's publications against rock music, this one deprecated Impressionism and Cubism while celebrating the Baroque and the Classical periods. "Rock isn't music, it's sound....Rock coarsens all it touches," they intoned gravely, oblivious to the fact that those words were penned by a humor columnist and entertainment critic with his tongue in his cheek.

We were then warned about an unseen danger that could have mysterious evil effects: "Undiscernible [sic] to the conscious mind, this technique, called backmasking, is able to influence a person through subliminal persuasion. The only way to determine the content of such messages is to play the recordings in reverse, a practice not recommended because of its ability to open a person's spirit to demonic oppression."

And the world of Christian music was no safe haven. Backbeat or not, there could be other hidden dangers lurking in the songs, what with the deceptively humanistic lyrics, treating the Lord with the familiarity of a friend, all while breathing seductively into the microphone. They played audio excerpts of popular "sacred" artists to illustrate these corruptions: I recognized Sandi Patti, and Michael Card. We enjoyed cassettes by each of them in our home: a Christmas album, and a collection of gentle lullabies. We had certainly never before linked their music to the [supposedly] blasphemous film The Last Temptation of Christ!

The course concluded with a prayer of commitment:
"Heavenly Father, I desire to excel for You and Your Kingdom, and thus, I yield to You my rights to music. I purpose now to cleanse my life and home of any music which violates Your principles and replace it with music which is consistent with the "new song" You want to develop in my life. I ask for Your blessing on my life as I obey You. In Jesus' Name, Amen." 
* * * * * * * *

The girl sat in the cozy living room and listened quietly to the "Striving for Excellence" audio presentation, keeping most of her thoughts to herself. When the cassette player clicked off, she took a pen and scrawled her teenage signature on the commitment line at the end of the booklet, under the prayer. Her cooperation was rewarded: she went to bed that night restored to parental favor and with her Walkman back in her possession.

And the brainwashing went on.

Read Chapter 2: Musical Chairs

Monday, August 5, 2013

Un-Natural: Family Planning

Libby Anne's post about Natural Family Planning this morning triggered some powerful flashbacks for me. Our experience with abstinence as birth control had life-changing effects, raising questions I had never before allowed myself to ask and permanently altering my worldview. A decade later, the memories knot my stomach and leave my body shaky.

We were young married newlyweds, parents of a tiny newborn. We had spent years immersed in Quiverfull theology and had been virgins all the way up to the honeymoon. Our daughter arrived before our first anniversary; we had zero knowledge of birth control. And after all those years of abstinence, we were far from bored with sex!

But... my fertility cycle resumed eight weeks postpartum. We wanted more children, but we certainly didn't want them a year apart. Still newlyweds, and now first-time home owners as well, we were overwhelmed by the sudden changes and challenges of parenthood  including a home birth, lactation difficulties, sleep deprivation, and friends with various opinions on vaccination! Financially, we were comfortable enough, but we were struggling to find a supportive social network and we had only barely begun to recognize the harmful psychological effects of the cult we had only recently separated from.

Trying to be responsible parents while not compromising our moral convictions, we considered our options. At our doctor's recommendation, we started using the Creighton model of Natural Family Planning, paying $25 a session to meet with a certified trainer and discuss our charts, with our baby in her infant carrier on the floor of the tiny office a few doors down the hall from our doctor's practice. We liked our coach. We visited her church once, borrowed books from her, read quotes from the Pope on the office walls, and even toyed briefly with becoming Catholic.

Practicing NFP involved a steep learning curve, but we are both smart and we had years of experience with following rules to the letter. We wanted each other desperately, but since I was breastfeeding, it seemed there were only about five days a month when the method gave us a "green light" to have intercourse. It was so complicated, we even got a sheet of yellow stickers to use besides the basic set of colors. And it soon became clear that sex would always be forbidden on days when my libido was high. NFP may have been "100% natural", but we were certainly fighting hard against God-designed nature!

When I found myself pregnant again before M was even seven months old, I was dumbfounded. I couldn't believe it. We were at a loss to know how this could have happened when the method was promoted by doctors and on city-wide billboards as 99% effective. After all those weeks of stress, tears, and painfully conscientious hugging, how could we be the 1%? We showed up for our next appointment, and told our [to us] shocking news. The method had failed us.

Our coach looked at me compassionately. "Merciful Mother-!" she murmured under her breath. Then she reviewed our chart, to figure out what had gone wrong, I thought. "Here," she tapped on a square. "This should have been a different colored sticker. You had intercourse on a day when you were actually fertile, and you achieved desired pregnancy. The method worked the way it was supposed to." Achieved desired pregnancy! Wha-?

So that's how they get their statistics. NFP works to avoid pregnancy (on infertile days), and to achieve pregnancy (when a couple makes love while fertile). The mystery is figuring out which ones are which ahead of time. When our coach submitted our records, we were considered a "success". We used informed abstinence to successfully achieve a pregnancy. I left her office feeling embarrassed, ignorant, and ashamed. I had to read the fertility signs, after all. Only I could tell if the cervical mucus felt "slippery", "lubricative", or just "smooth". Rather than an excited and responsible couple expecting their second child, we felt like scolded teenagers who'd just been grounded for accidentally breaking a rule. We just loved each other too much.

That was a hard year for me. The next two years are really kind of a blur. I had to wean the baby girl I adored. When she injured her elbow and was taken away crying for x-rays, I had to wait in the lobby with tears in my own eyes. I didn't have the energy to be the mom I wanted to be. I was anemic, slept a lot, and gained a lot of weight. I prayed to miscarry at first, then felt guilty when I had early contractions at 30 weeks. During that pregnancy I rethought my theology, read up on all kinds of birth control methods, and learned a lot about human biology. I wasn't ready to give birth again, but I did it. I only remember the following months because of the photos we took.

After the delivery, our NFP coach called us to set up appointments again. We hadn't come far enough to be honest yet. We said we weren't sure; we were considering other methods. "Condoms aren't effective," she warned, sounding anxious. We said we'd call her. We never did.
Fertility awareness is a wonderful and important part of being a woman, but it is no substitute for contraception when a sexually active couple is unprepared for pregnancy. And it is morally wrong for religious or health professionals to suggest that it is. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Voiceless Women: Arda J. Rushdoony

Arda June Gent Rushdoony has become an invisible woman.

When her youngest child, Mark Rushdoony, wrote a 20-page biography to celebrate his famous father's 80th birthday, he made no mention of his mother. Not a word about the couple's marriage, their life together, or their divorce.

How does a woman vanish so completely?

* * * * * * 

Born in 1915, Arda Gent (sometimes misspelled Orda) was in Moffat, CO with her parents at the time of the 1920 census. A Lionel Albert Gent (her father's name) was buried in the Moffat cemetery that same year, at the age of 51. By the 1930 census, the young teen Arda and her mother Ida May (Hall) Gent were living in Los Angeles.

Arda Gent's yearbook photo, 1941
The trail picks up again in Spokane, WA where Miss Arda Gent was enrolled in the Presbyterian school Whitworth College (now Whitworth University) in 1939. She was active in the Volunteer Fellowship there, and in demand as a speaker.
Sunday morning the [Whitworth college] male quartet will sing at the Knox Presbyterian church. Sunday evening a gospel team from the Volunteer Fellowship will conduct the senior Christian Endeavor service. On the program will be Carl Blanford, Eugene Marshall and Arda Gent, speakers, and Ellen Menge, pianist. The theme will be "The Christian Life".
Spokane Daily Chronicle, Nov. 1940
In February, The Spokesman-Review listed Arda as an honor student near the top of her class. She was a senior that year; the Whitworth yearbook for 1941 tells us that Arda was the "proud owner of a Ford" but hated "any kind of flat tire".
"A gospel team from Whitworth College Volunteer Fellowship will conduct the Christian Endeavor service Sunday evening at Fourth Presbyterian church. Taking part in the meeting will be Miss Arda Gent and Roy Howes, speakers; Miss Marianne Dresser, soloist; Miss Eleanor Hunter, pianist; John Hook, song leader, and Sydney Eaton, violinist."  Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 8, 1941
Roy Howes was the treasurer of the Volunteer Fellowship at Whitworth in 1939. He graduated in 1942, married a member of the Whitworth women's drill team, and went on to seminary in San Francisco. Eventually, he returned to pastor Millwood Presbyterian Church in Spokane. Ten years after graduating from Whitworth, Roy was still in demand at Whitworth--as a chapel speaker, or toastmaster for the college alumni association banquet. In 1960, Whitworth awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Did sharing a platform with Roy make Arda nervous? Did she blush when their names appeared together? At what point did she plan on becoming a missionary wife--a calling held in high regard at Whitworth? When and where did she meet the philosophical idealist scholar Rousas Rushdoony?

Rushdoony had received his M.A. in 1940, then attended Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley and had a ministry to Chinese Americans in San Francisco. Rousas and Arda June married in San Francisco the week before Christmas in 1943, at the beginning of the winter college recess. The following year, at 28 years old, Rousas graduated from seminary, was ordained by the Presbyterian Church, and was sent forth as missionary pastor to the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, Nevada. Together he and Arda packed his extensive library into a truck and headed for the wilderness mission where they would live for the next eight and a half years.

Rousas found the wild beauty and the isolation of the desolate reservation just south of the Idaho border awe-inspiring. He found he enjoyed hunting and would wander off on lengthy fishing trips by himself, apparently leaving his new bride back at the parsonage ("manse", in Presbyterian parlance).  He wrote to a friend, "I love it here and would gladly remain all my days if God so wills."

Conditions were difficult, however--even primitive. Snows arrived in November and would continue for weeks without respite. Travel was impossible until spring, and even then the muddy roads were frequently impassable. Communication by telegraph and telephone was limited. The mission church was collapsing, with snow drifting through cracks in the walls. Finances were tight. As the months passed, the missionary's enthusiasm predictably cooled.

Rousas reported that the social order of the reservation was threatened by alcoholism, excessive gambling, teenage sex, marital infidelity, and rape. On a Saturday night, Arda would be out till 9:30 using her elocutionary abilities to persuade girls off the street. Then it was Rousas' turn: he would send drunken teens home or put them to bed himself, break up knife fights, and rant about the rampant lawlessness to the government superintendent. At 6 a.m., he would collapse on the day-bed, still fully dressed, for an hour's sleep before getting up to conduct the Sunday service. Rousas described his ministry there as "harsh and ruthless"; he was waging war in God's name, but he wasn't at all sure their side was winning.

Restless and impatient with the work, Rushdoony let his ambitions soar beyond the reservation. He submitted a manuscript to the University of Chicago Press for publication and dreamed of a career in academia. When his work was ultimately rejected, his disappointment was sharp. His dreams shattered, the shepherd felt lost and his letters took on a pessimistic tone. Even as he continued to preach and write, the Reverend Rousas Rushdoony was depressed.

And Arda was exhausted. How could she not be? She bore Rousas four daughters during those eight years and each was given a strong Biblical name: Rebecca, Joanna, Sharon, Martha. Did she deliver at Owyhee's little 20-bed hospital, the one built of native stone? Did Rousas hold her hand, or wait properly outside, or maybe he stayed at the manse to care for the other children? Was Arda's mother ever able to come visit her granddaughters? Was her mother still living? Could she get emotional support from the Native American mothers around her carrying their infants on cradleboards? Or were the cultural differences too vast? Did she learn to speak Paiute or Shoshone?

Owyhee must have been lonely for Arda, especially when Rousas was off traveling. He was invited to speak in New York and made the long journey from city to city by train while she stayed in Nevada waiting for spring. Did she envy his freedom? Did she remember her own popularity as a speaker? Could she still recall, between dishes and diapers and naps and runny noses and quick trips to the latrine, what she'd said at those church meetings back in Spokane? Besides their own little girls, Rousas and Arda had adopted a Native American boy, Ronald Rushdoony. The missionaries had their hands full, at home as well as serving the mission congregation.

In 1953, the Rushdoonys left Duck Valley.* Rousas took a Presbyterian pastorate in Santa Cruz, CA, a retirement town. Their three-bedroom home was adequate, but cozy, especially after Arda birthed another baby. A boy at last! They named him Mark.

Arda and R.J. separated in 1957. According to the court documents, R.J. had custody of the the six children (aged approximately three to eleven years by this time) at their home in Santa Cruz. A year later, Arda filed for divorce, custody, child support, and court costs. She charged her husband with "extreme cruelty" and inflicting "grievous mental suffering" on her. The fight must have been bitter. When the divorce was finalized in 1959, R.J. kept the house, the Plymouth, and custody of the kids. Arda was awarded $1 a month in alimony, and the freedom to be single again.

Around the same time, Reverend Rushdoony transferred his membership (from PC-USA ) to the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination. The OPC has a comparatively narrow interpretation of the Biblical texts dealing with divorce, remarriage, and post-divorce ministry. Supposedly, the presbytery investigated the circumstances of R.J.'s divorce and pronounced him the blameless party (and thus still qualified for the ministry).

In May of 1962, The Presbyterian Guardian reported: "Rev. R. J. Rushdoony has resigned as pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, reportedly to devote his time to writing and lecturing." He also remarried--to Dorothy Barbara Ross Kirkwood**.

That year, the court granted Arda custody of the three older children, while R.J. kept the younger three. Both parents were forbidden to discuss, or even mention, each other in front of their offspring. Perhaps this is part of the reason Mark was silent about his mother at his father's birthday celebration.

The divorce, and its terms, certainly scarred the children deeply.

In a 1986 Chalcedon publication, Mark wrote about divorce: "The divorce problem will be solved in a society under God's law because any spouse guilty of capital crimes (adultery, homosexuality, Sabbath desecration, etc.) would be swiftly executed, thus freeing the other part to remarry..." This statement echoes his father's own advocacy for Old Testament-style capital punishment in Institutes of Biblical Law: "Divorce by death made remarriage possible, and freed the innocent partner from bondage to a guilty and unclean person."

Rousas J. Rushdoony died in 2001.

He is remembered in many ways: as the father of Christian Reconstruction, father of the home schooling movement, prolific author, controversial theologian, founder of the Chalcedon Foundation, philosophical influence on America's religious right, and more.

Arda June Gent Rushdoony died in Santa Cruz in 1977.

She is not remembered at all.

*A Wycliffe linguist named Ed Andrews arrived at Owyhee in 1953. He and his wife, Neva, were tasked with translating the New Testament into Paiute. They parked their house trailer behind the Presbyterian "manse". Did Neva get to know the Rushdoonys, or did she arrive after they'd gone?
Lester Pontius replaced Rushdoony as the Presbyterian missionary pastor at Owyhee. He and his wife Margaret had also attended Spokane's Whitworth College, graduating together in 1948. The church's outhouse was in poor repair when Lester's brother visited in 1954, so he dug a new one. He later attended Whitworth College as well.

**[Edited 8/4/13] Dorothy Barbara Ross was born in Pennsylvania.  She and Thomas Gilbert Kirkwood, both aged 21 and residing in Pittsburgh, PA, were issued a marriage license from Brooke County, WV in August of 1932. It appears Dorothy had at least one son: Thomas Kirkwood, Jr., born in 1946 and later living in Santa Cruz.
Mr. Tom Kirkwood was an elder in Rushdoony's new Orthodox Presbyterian Santa Cruz congregation. Dorothy Rushdoony died in California in 2003 and was buried beside her husband, R.J. Rushdoony.