Here I stand. I can do no other

When I first tried drugs, It’s not like I was handed a joint and had to make a split second decision on what to do.  I had agonized for years over whether I would do drugs (and every other moral decision facing a teenager), and if so, whether to tell my parents.  I was my parents’ child. I had to determine what the morally right thing was to do and stand up for it come what may, just as they told us to do.  Since forever I had been told about Martin Luther’s, “Here I stand; I can do no other” when on trial for his life for his beliefs.  Except I’m sure I was supposed to just accept the church’s beliefs and stand up for those, not study the bible and think about it like Martin Luther.

I read the bible and thought about it, and decided there was nothing wrong with trying drugs.  The harder question was whether to tell my parents about it.  I would only lie about it, I reasoned, if I felt I shame over my actions or was unwilling to take the consequences.  I felt no shame and was willing to take the consequences.  I wouldn’t bring the topic up, but tell the truth if directly asked.

Of course I was asked.  I was a teenager in the 70s. I was berated, bullied, and then shunned.  They argued their biblical interpretations, and I argued mine.  I would not back down; I was acting in accordance with the moral code I had been indoctrinated into. It went on for ages.  My brother and sister learned from this to lie in order to avoid these dire consequences; they saw what happened to me and vowed it would not happen to them.  It was ironic:  I was the sinner who came out with a clean conscience, and they were the good children who felt shame.  All from the church’s demand for blind obedience to a man who thought for himself.

I have a theory. Each church is forever plagued by the original “sin” that led to its inception.  The Anglicans and Episcopalians are forever arguing about disobedience and sex.  The Baptists started with salvation available for all, and ended up doorkeepers of heaven.  The Methodists wanted faith and ended up dogmatic.  And the Lutherans were based on one man’s individual interpretation of scripture, and ended up sheep.

In my family of origin, we dance this dance over and over.  I stand up for a belief, they shut me out. Somehow there is a rapprochement after a year or so.  There was premarital sex in my early 20s.  Coming out in my 30s.  Now it’s even more complicated, and I’m tired of this on-again off-again love.  I can’t play it anymore, and I doubt I’ll ever see my father again.  Here we stand.



O most merciful god, I a poor miserable sinner

Are zebras black over white, or white over black?  Black over white — you are at core good, with black stripes of evil trickling down.  That’s for all the denominations who believe unbaptized babies are saved and children are innocent.  White over black — you are at core evil, with stripes of good.  That’s the GLC, where unbaptized babies are damned and children have an evil, sinful nature.  Here’s the basic GLC prayer, memorized long before I could read.

O most merciful god, I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee.  Every night when we went to bed, my mother would crawl in bed with us to hear our confessions for the day.  While other children prayed, “God bless grandma,” we said, “I didn’t come to dinner when you called me.”  Since it was all home-based, and my mother was the one who enforced the law, it felt more like confessing to her than to god.  She was my first image of god:  full of rules and yet lots of fun, withholding love when you’re bad but warm and happy when you’re good.

I justly deserve thy temporal and eternal punishment.  I deserve any bad thing that happens to me on earth or in the afterlife.   Non-GLC people said that “Jane didn’t do anything to deserve that kind of treatment.”  We knew better.  Whatever happened, you deserved worse.  Salvation was the only hope; life on earth would be grim.

But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them  My sister thought we were saying “hardly” for “heartily” for a long time.  We were so bad, we weren’t even sorry for our sins.  I was very sorry for all the things I did wrong, and always had a long list at the ready.  I started then in keeping track of every way I fell short.

I pray Thee of Thy boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.  Salvation was never earned, and no good thing you did would put you in good favor with god.  The only thing that mattered was faith in Jesus.  Any good you did was only because of your gratitude to god, and you deserved no credit for it.  When complimented on good works, the response was, “To god alone be the glory.”

And then, tucked into our beds, we fell asleep all forgiven for our little crimes.


Thou that takest

Oh lamb of god who takest away insurance of the world,
have mercy upon us
O lamb of god, that takest away insurance of the world
have mercy upon us
O lamb of god, that takest away insurance of the world
grant us thy peace

It is a sacrament to take away my life-giving supply.
Good people with baby sheep in their jaws lovingly tell me
(to my face)
It’s the most loving thing to do, for the larger picture.
The two mites they gained from my loss are really not
The point.

The collaborators.  Dona nobis pacem.
My anger seethes, but even that
Is not my own:  I shouldn’t open my mouth
If I’m to be a holy sacrifice,
Thou that takest away

Grant us our peace.  We have done thy holy will.  Take
That uninsured, dying woman away.  More mutton.

For those who takest away
Miserere nobis.
Say it again:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere
nobis. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata
mundi, dona nobis pacem.

(NOTE:  OK this has a lot of religious imagery and Latin in it.  Good stuff.  Enjoy.)

Learned behavior: Unlearned behavior

Tomorrow a bullying will happen.  My father and his girlfriend are driving 1,000 frozen miles to bully my aunt.  We’re both scared.  Angry.  His MO is to get you in a situation where it’s difficult to leave – a restaurant where the food has just been served, or a car miles from home, and start in.  You leave bloody and bereft of any feelings of self-worth.  He’s proven his case against you theologically: He’s against you, God’s against you, you are a piece of shit.  His draconian actions against you are totally warranted.

When I was very little, my mother would make us confess all of our sins to her every night in the dark, and ask for forgiveness.  I remember white baby-print sheets bunched in my hand, tears, and “you have to tell everything or you won’t be forgiven and will go to hell”. Every secret sin, mean feeling, childish jealousy, and plea for privacy was harboring sin.  I felt worthless, naked and ashamed. All information garnered could be used against you later.  Scientology without the hardware store components. Thus began my nightly reviews of all the evil I have done, which continue to this day.

But back to my aunt who will be bullied tomorrow.  We are scared, trying to think of how to minimize the damage, cowering, making plans for getting away.  A wall of anger in me wants to stand up and threaten my dad with something he so dreads that he will keep his maw shut.  It’s still bullying when you protect someone else by bullying, isn’t it? But not protecting is complicity and falling into learned behaviors of helplessness.  You can’t win.  Just a little something to beat myself up about later.

It’s beginning to make sense why he didn’t defend me from bullies when I was in school.  He thinks victims are weak and deserve what they get if they don’t stand up for themselves.  Well.  I think it’s time.


Tim and not-Tim

Tim was wounded, kind, respected me as a person, smart as a whip, innocent or vulnerable or something like that.  We planned our lives together, and if there were one cis-male human who could have made me happy, it was probably him.  I trusted him.

Sweet hippy-looking girl with pig tails and Levis sings Cat Stevens and American Pie.  Conversation with boys consisted of really?, wow, and then what did you do?  I hated these boys who could be so manipulated by my blank-personality facade and hip-hugger jeans.  They somehow reminded me of my molesters.  I still sometimes confuse the two.  Here was my manifesto:

  • Men don’t feel things as deeply as women do.
  • Women are more empathetic.
  • Men use force of will to make institutions like the LCMS or the government to legitimate their power over moral considerations.
  • When men use logic or empathy, it is usually only from a male perspective: e.g. missionaries. zoos.
  • Men are more linear; women are more holistic.
  • Men underestimate women.  They never expect me to think for myself until it’s too late for them.


So I decided I would never raise a boy.  I still am puzzled that so many heterosexual relationships work:  I feel I would rebel against unfair distributions of work and wealth and other things.  But I haven’t been in the cis-het world for decades, so maybe that has changed.  I try not to judge so much, but I am so triggered when I see men exerting their power because they can.  I feel unsafe and want to fight.  I know I can beat them.

I think that Tim would have been different.


Lisa 2, Mack

The first week of my sophomore year of college, a cute blonde sat near me at lunch, and mentioned being adopted.
–Well.  I was adopted, too.
–Really? I’m Lisa and I’m new here.
That’s how it all started.  Lisa 2 had seen me in a play the previous spring, found out information about me from my friends, and arranged the accidental meeting.  It was love at first sight.

Lisa 2 and I spent weekends at her (wealthy) parents’, tried hard to get drunk one night, watched Fame and Cabaret a thousand times.  Her roommate moved out, and I moved in.  I watched the way her eye lashes almost closed as she studied intently.  I had protective feelings I’d never had before:  I would go to law school, I decided, to be able to support her in the way she was accustomed.

loveWe never touched touched.  We had every meal together for a year, and never held hands.  We had bunk beds, and she would climb up to me in the top bunk and burrow her head into my neck holding each other until I drifted off to sleep.  Then she’d move down to her bunk. I couldn’t imagine my life without her, having had such beauty, humor, those eyes looking at me with love and acceptance.  She was heaven.

Summer came and went, and we drifted apart.  I don’t know why.  I went to the university, and came back to see Lisa at the Lutheran college.  I told her I loved her in that way, and she was shocked and appalled that I would sully our friendship in such a disgusting fashion.  Thirty years later, she’s a lesbian, as were most of my friends from that little Lutheran college.  Lisa and I reconnected, and recently met for coffee.  I remembered all the reasons I loved and wanted to protect her.

At the university, I soon decided to seduce my English professor, Mack.  This time, I was the pursuer, and I analyzed his desires.  Hippy.  Intellectual.  Deep.  Naïve.  I gave him my poetry, but not my phone number and my trap was set:  He would be thinking of me all weekend before we met the following week, with no way to contact me.  I came to class late, with my guitar.  I stayed after class, and he asked me out.

I became overwhelmed by the pursuit, by being something, someone desirable and worldly.  I was more naïve even than I pretended to be.  Making love in a real bed in a real house affected me deeply.  I felt some necessity of loving Mack if I were to sleep with him.  I soon had hallucinations that blew apart my mind; scenes of molestations from years before played back in my mind in psychotic colors and sounds.  Mack would touch me, and, as if in an echo, I could feel Seth and all the others touching me.  At first, I tried to cover this up, pretending I was shy.  But before long, I was hugging my knees, teeth chattering, stuck in a horror of repetition.

Mack found this all very moving.  I watched his face, a mass of cross-hatched wrinkles, and felt I loved him.  I was shattered when he finally left me.  But that crash was just the delayed reaction of losing Lisa 2, I think.  An appropriate time for that grief to finally be released.  Maybe that’s too complex an analysis.  I don’t know.


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.