The voices shift

In fourth grade, I had a pixie cut I hated, and got a D in math.  Two column multiplication and long division were a nightmare, and I refused to learn the multiplication tables beyond the sixes. On the up side, I was a wiz at grammar.  I stole a copy of the grammar books for fifth through eighth grades and happily worked my way through them in secret.

GLC schools have operettas, which are little musical plays where every grade has a moment in the sun.  In kindergarten I was a mouse.  In second grade I was a flower.  Fourth grade was my big chance to break out of the chorus.

The play was called “Spring Is The Season of Happiness”  and I got the part of Spring!  Finally something was going right.  The day I got the part, when all the other children had gone home, and I ran through the halls to tell my father, who was principal and teacher.  He probably knew about the casting of the play, but I would tell him anyway.  “Dad, Dad, I got the lead!  I’m going to be a star!”

When I saw his face I knew I wasn’t running into his arms for an atta girl.  “Keep talking like that and we’ll take the part away from you.”  He turned and walked away.

Pride.  I had shown pride.  We were humble because anything we did was far lacking god’s glory.  We didn’t toot our own horns or praise each other because god forbade it.  How could I forget? There were so many rules and in my excitement I had forgotten this.  In church the next Sunday I recited the liturgy so sincerely:  “Oh most merciful god, I a poor, miserable sinner confess unto thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended thee, and justly deserve thy temporal and eternal punishment.”

They didn’t end up taking the part away from me, but the joy was gone.  I learned my lines and smiled when they told me to.  At the conclusion of the play, I walked down the aisle alone as the school sang about the joy of spring.  I wasn’t sure what to feel.  The forbidden pride and shame both.

Over the years, my parents told me that I was in the highest level on the state achievement tests, but it was not that important and I shouldn’t feel pride.  If I got high marks, I was told I didn’t have a balanced life and should play more.  Any career I proposed was reaching too high. There was just no way of succeeding.  The voices in my head started in on a refrain, and they increasingly were more accusing.  You’ll never be anything.  You can’t do anything right. They said you’ll never rather than I’ll never.  The voices of my parents and the church began to take on a personality of their own in my head.

 

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Adoption as sons

There are some who would say that there is something wrong with adopted children, something that their biological mother sensed, and so she gave up the child.  Even God agrees.  The bible says humans are sinful and wicked, and are adopted as sons to be holy and blameless in his sight.  Adoption is something that happens to the sinful and wicked.

In my case, my biological mother, Diana, remembers nothing of her childhood due to abuse. She had even forgotten she had me until I wrote her.  I was the product of premarital sex – a bastard –  grafted onto the GLC tree of righteousness.  Nourishment came from the tree, but my grafted branch would only bear the wicked fruit of the original tree.

From Diana I was adopted into a cult of sorts.  My parents never lived or worked a day in the secular world.  I was not adopted into a conventional conservative family who voted for Nixon and followed the ten commandments.  I was adopted into the ranks of GLC leadership.  The liturgy is harsh, and the theology is fierce.

The wicked fruit showed up for me in my contemplative nature.  When I was about 10 we went camping where the park played a cartoon on evolution.  From one generation to the next the creatures changed from fish to frogs to ground hogs to humans.  The idea clicked for me, and I was sold on it.  Back at our campsite, my parents lectured on the errors in the movie:  God had created each species individually, and in only seven days.  I contemplated.  I had to admit I believed in evolution.  Why would my parents deny something so clearly true?  If I believed in evolution, was I still a Christian?  Was I still saved?  I pretended not to believe and asked for forgiveness for my wayward brain.  But I couldn’t stop my brain.  It was the wicked fruit.

 

Psalm

Antiphonally.

 

My parents were great; for their power lasteth forever
Their praises resound in the GLC. 

They took us to the library,
Their praises resound in the GLC. 

My parents were great danes and they took in a mutt,
Their praises resound in the GLC. 

They were good dogs and the making of rules was neverending
Their praises resound in the GLC. 

I loved the great rules and feared their punishment
Their praises resound in the GLC. 

When I cried from the depths they taught me to endure and not fight
Their praises resound in the GLC. 

Glory be to the spiral of time and to the memories and to the voices
As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever.

My parents were great; for their power lasteth forever
Their praises resound in the GLC. 

When I was a child

When I was a child, I drew endless crayon drawings of cliffs cut by a river with a bridge across the divide.  In Czechoslovakia, I bought an etching of the same dream scene by a Slovak artist.

Although you can’t see it, there is a great chasm between the column on the left, and the one on the right.  If  you build a bridge between those cliffs you have one kind of religion; if you do not, you have another.

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  Matthew 22: 37-39 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.  2 Cor. 6:17

 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  1 John 4: 7-8 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.  Ephesians 5:11

In the LCMS*, Paul trumps Jesus every time.

I thought long and hard about drugs, alcohol and sex.  I didn’t want them for their own sake, but for the experience of them, the life outside of the LCMS.  And it all came down to what I would tell my parents about them.

  • If I didn’t do them only because my parents didn’t want me to, did I have any merit myself? I was simply acting out of fear of my parents.
  • If I did these things and lied to my parents, I would be internally accepting that there was something wrong with them. I would be living something I didn’t really believe was morally right.
  • If I told them, they would shun me, damn me, cut off contact with me. I would have to drop out of school and embark on the unknown alone. But I would be living an honest life based on my own values.  (I had recently read Thoreau.)

In February 1984 they shunned me.  My mother said, “You don’t get between me and my religion or you’ll lose every time.”  After some time, we did talk again in a stilted, pleasant way.  They still held their disapproval over me high, and I felt that if they just understood why I was making the choices I made, they would agree it was the most upright way to live.

The next time they shunned me was when I came out to them a decade later.  My mother said, “You don’t get between me and my religion, or you’ll lose every time.”  She said, “I don’t know how we can possibly be happy in heaven, knowing you’re in hell.”  I still felt that if they only understood why I made the decisions I made, they would see things my way.

Before she died, my mom said, “Why is our approval so important to you?  You know you can never have it.”

They had mini-shunned me all my life when they disapproved of me.  My husband pointed out that when I get mad, I cut people off:  Shun them.  Shut down.  Not a bridge between cliffs, but a gulf.

The bridge in my dream is rope, with ropes sides to hold on to as the bridge sways.  There are missing boards under your feet, and cows on the ground far below.  I’m wearing a red triangle dress, like on the bathroom signs, as I cross.

 

*Lutheran Church Missouri Synod

 

It probably won’t happen: Part 2

I see him and wilt.  I’m an unwatered tomato in August, smelling putrid.  His hands are kitchen mitts; no fine embroidering or texting possible.  They’re always slightly cupped in a relaxed C and I imagine that C at someone’s neck, my neck.  I am a big person, and you wouldn’t want me to step on you.  But now I feel flattened under the weight of his uncomprehending gaze.  He smiles at me and puts his arms out to engulf me in an embrace.  He hasn’t showered in days, maybe a week, and his stench adds to my lightheadedness.  I hug him back.  He says he loves me.  I say yeah.  I go to sit at the computer and play the music for church.  He sits in the back row and falls asleep.

The last time he molested someone he was punished with not being able to go shopping for two weeks, a punishment I was assured that he sorely felt.  They said he felt bad about it, but I think he felt bad about having gotten caught.   I think he should be in jail, but they say he would be victimized there.  I’m a monster for even thinking he should be punished more severely.

I can’t let it go.  After being family of his for eight years, I can’t let it go.  I have tried to feel compassion for him, to think about how he’s been horribly victimized.  How brain trauma interferes with self-control.  Let it go, please let go.  I can’t let it go.

We had lunch, the whole family, and I sat as far from him as I could.  I smile placidly. He teases, cutting you down in that elementary school boy way.  He makes hints about the food on other people’s plates that he wants.  He pouts.  He judges the brother who molested him (Adam) because his brother smokes too much pot.  He orders the most expensive things on the menu, which I will pay for.  How can I be so petty?  Was I raised in a barn?  Once, just once I want to say, “Don’t touch me!”   Why can’t I let it go?

Christmas, my birthday, every family gathering:  He’s always there.  If I don’t want to go, well, that conversation goes nowhere.

They have tried different kinds of counseling, but he refuses to go.  He is medicated.  He was, after all, not able to go shopping for two weeks.  Now he has a watcher at work who has eyes on him at all times.  Your tax dollars.

I am a good Unitarian Universalist.  I support Black Lives Matter and a variety of anti-poverty campaigns.  Mental health care reform.  Jill Stein for god’s sake.  But I can’t let it go, sohelpmegod I can’t let it go.

Link:  It probably won’t happen Part 1