Introduction

I'm a gifted adult survivor of child abuse by my adopted parents, who left me with chronic depression, PTSD, and a touch of autism for good measure. Here I examine the fragments of my past. It's enlightening but not pleasant. You've been warned.

If you want to see my lighter sides, here's a list of my other blogs:

We Have Always Lived in a Homeschool my blog about homeschooling my three gifted children

Lioness' Fandom

My Pinterest Boards where I express myself without words

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Three Steps Part 4: Feminism and Fellowship


So what do you do when it seems like your birthparents, your adoptive family and your church tell you that you, the individual person, are worthless? You start looking for other ways to make progress.  In the 1970s there was another way that had made astounding progress in recent years, and that was through collective action and identification with a movement.  Perhaps that could work for me.  If I was not allowed to help myself as an individual, perhaps I could work for the advancement of a group that would benefit me in the long run, such as feminism.

By the mid-1970s my family was settling in to a new life in Birmingham and it seemed like my country was settling in to a new life as well, one that seemed sincerely interested in using reason and compassion to fix the errors of the past.  Progress had been made on ending racial and gender discrimination, and more progress was coming.  These developments were hailed as Good Things by our leaders and in the press.  There were a few people grumbling about the changes in private conversations and letters to the editor, but never in public.  It didn't seem important.

School started to become interesting when they decided to start one of those newfangled "gifted" programs.  I was ostracized by my peers for reasons I did not understand (high IQ and trauma), classes were deadly dull, and I had stopped paying attention and just sat there reading whatever I had checked out of the library.  My reading teacher fought to get me tested for the program even though my grades were poor because I was reading a different book every day.  The tests revealed that I was gifted, and I was put into the new class on probation over the strenuous objections of the principal, who apparently thought being bored in his classrooms was somehow inherently immoral.

I learned the two most important things I would learn in elementary school about that time, and oddly enough both of them were taught to me by male military veterans.  The first lesson was taught to me by my new gifted-ed teacher, a 50s-era Army veteran who had used his benefits to earn a Master's in Psychology.  He taught me that the things which made me look at the world so differently than everyone else and isolated me from my classmates were matters of psychology, not moral failings on my part.  They were in the process of being named, studied, and understood.  I took a great deal of comfort from this fact.  In the lifetimes of my adoptive parents and grandparents these same types of researchers had worked diligently to eradicate so many of the great plagues that had swept over mankind, like smallpox and polio.  Surely they would be no less diligent in finding productive ways to deal with depression and anxiety.

The second lesson came from my new P.E. coach, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran who had been stationed in San Francisco and learned about yoga and meditation while he was there.  I don't think the school approved of such things, but he would mix in as much yoga and meditation as he could with the soccer and gym hockey.  He taught us meditative breathing, and practicing that form of stress relief helped keep me from cracking under the stress.

Meanwhile I was noticing some discrepancies at church.  People talked about gender equality in church, but like the Queen's jam in Alice in Wonderland, it was always equality tomorrow, never equality today.  Women would be allowed to preach any day now, but somehow never today or any other day on the schedule calendar.

By now I had noticed that most people didn't come to hear the preacher speak in the first place, they came to take part in the activities going on in the Fellowship Hall.  These activities were organized by the church ladies.  Therefore the big draw at the church was the work of the women, not the work of the all-male clergy.  Yet, when the preacher called out the names of the notable members who had helped the church at the beginning of the service and asked them to stand and be recognized he only called on men.  After they were honored there would be a general platitude about the "wonderful work done by the ladies of the church", but no women would  be named and recognized, and no individual women's work would be  held up for commendation.

There were also definite differences between "women's work" and "men's work".  Women in the church cooked, cleaned, decorated, organized events, and took care of children.  Men in the church wrote and administrated.  Even at that age I knew that my God-given gift was writing.  There was no place for a women writer at my church, even with a gift coming from God.  God had not seen fit to gift me with any talent at all for cleaning, decorating , organizing or anything else which women were allowed to do.  In fifty years I have picked up some skills along those lines, but nothing that will ever approach my ability to string words together.  So if God truly meant for men and women to occupy different spheres, why had He given me a gift that did not fit in with my gender?  It didn't make any sense.  Either God had made a mistake, or the church had.  The latter seemed far more likely.

Meanwhile our preacher was getting ready to retire.  A new minister had been found by the steering committee, and exciting new things were being planned by the church organizers.  Maybe it would finally be the day for that equality jam.

I had a lot to learn.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Three Steps Part 3: The First Step

Introduction
Part 1:  Recollection, Remembrance, and Discovery
Part 2:  That Old Time Liberal Religion
 
And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
 
None other has ever known.

1974 - A few months before we had moved from Vicksburg to Birmingham, from a small ranch house to a split-level ranch house, from a traditional elementary school to an "open format" elementary school, from the big Southern Baptist church in a small town to a big Southern Baptist church in the suburbs of a city.  The least turbulent transition was the church.  There was a distinct change in decor -- the Vicksburg church had a huge mural of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden behind the baptismal font, quite unusual for a Protestant church but very welcome for wandering eyes to rest on.  The suburban church had varnished pine boards, with nothing for a bored child to do but resist the urge to count them, for once they were counted, what else was there to do?  Fortunately there wasn't much boredom at that time, as the services were very similar.  There was an emphasis on free will and God's love to provide an answer to all our problems, on God's expectation that we would stand on our own feet, work together, and get things done.  The ideal relationship with God was the one described in the song above, although the song itself wouldn't be composed for almost another decade.  With intellect, love, and will-power, any problem could be solved.  I had just turned eight; and I believed, I believed, I believed.

But church wasn't only the calmest place in my life, it was the most intellectually stimulating.  School was deadly dull, and there was no other place around me where people were having interesting, open-ended discussions about life's problems.  In the early 70s there were a ton of problems to discuss, and many people were getting all gloomy about them.  But not the church, which was a haven of optimism and reason.

When we joined a few months ago, the preacher had welcomed us individually, shook my hand, and told me that if I had any problems I could come see him.  When I felt comfortable there, I took him at his word.

I must have just turned eight.  My sister and I had been dropped off there for some children's function, and I found the opportunity to speak to the minister alone in the sanctuary.  I told him that Mom and Dad were doing things to us that they shouldn't, and, maybe, he could talk to them and make them stop?

The preacher thought for a moment and then asked if my father sang in the choir.  Yes, he did.  He asked if my mother was the treasurer of the PTA.  Yes, she was.

He did not ask why I had requested an intervention.

Then he kindly explained things to me.  He explained that since my parents were members of the church in good standing, they couldn't possibly be doing anything wrong, especially not to their own children.  If I thought that members of the church in good standing were doing something wrong, there could only be one explanation.  Somehow I had become possessed by Satan, and Satan was inside me making me believe lies about my parents that could not possibly be true.  Then he prayed to Satan to leave my body and stop plaguing my thoughts with such lies, and sent me on my way.

I was dumbfounded.  I may have just turned eight, but even then I knew the only thing I was possessed by was the good sense to realize how ridiculous the preacher sounded.  It was without question the single stupidest thing I had ever heard in my life, either in stories or in real life.  But if he took it seriously, then that could only mean -- dangerous things. I remember staring at the thumbs of his clasped hands in shock, not daring to look him in the face.  Then my mind started to work.

This was a modern, liberal church in the early 1970s and he's threatening me with Satan.  I don't think half the congregation even believes in Satan!  It's not a serious topic of conversation in or out of sermons.  Here people talk about using love to solve real problems, they don't threaten people asking for help with stuff that belongs in old movies.  It's like be threatened with leeches or water torture or -- or footbinding or some other bit of antique nonsense.


But if there were even a tiny minority out there who actually believed such things, then I could never, ever tell anyone about my own spiritual experiences.  I had never told anyone about tallking to God because I had never met anyone who would have a positive reaction to the news.  The negative reactions would fall into two camps, the ones who would want me shipped off to a loony bin and the ones who would want me burned at the stake.  Of the two I figured I could talk my way out of the loony bin easier than I could talk my way off a burning stake.  I seriously thought the latter camp only existed in old books, but apparently I was wrong.

 That hurt.  I'd been looking forward to talking to someone about it someday.

Obviously I couldn't talk to any spiritual ministers about anything else going on in my life.  And I had made a mistake not waiting until I knew someone long enough for them to trust me before asking them for help.  Next time I would wait longer.

That was what went through my concious mind at the time.  For over 40 years whenever I consciously remembered it, that is all I thought about, that and the image of the thumbs of his clasped hands.  It was not until I finally committed to writing about it after years of dithering that I realized my subconscious had ruminated on it for a long time, and reached conclusions that I did not fully realize were connected to this memory.

In my subconscious I realized other things as well.  I realized that my parents could do anything they wanted to my little sister and I and no one would rescue us.  According to the preacher, they weren't the only ones.  Any "member of the church in good standing" could do anything they wanted to us and if my parents didn't stop them no one would.  That meant no one would protect me not only from my father but from any man at church who wanted to abuse me in any way.  It meant that the church would attract abusers who wanted to be "members in good standing" for the cover it provided for their abuse.


But it's church, right?  There can't be many abusers there.  At the time I believed that.  I didn't have any evidence of any other abusers -- other than the preacher's disturbing response.

Time would prove me wrong.  The evidence would mount.  And I would have a hard time feeling safe in a church ever again.

Meanwhile I had a decision to make.  I was being abused at home, and apparently the larger community in the form of the my community's spiritual leader thought that my abuse was the right and proper way of the world.  Where did that leave me?  At this point there were two things I could believe.  Either 1) there was something wrong with me that made people think they could get away with treating me like shit, or 2) the whole damn system was fucked.

I'll take Door #1, Monty.

I can hear the chorus now.  "You just wanted to be a special snowflake!"  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I knew that what distinguished the scapegoat from the rest of the herd was the mark that others placed on it.  If I could figure out where the scapegoat's mark was on me, I could wash it off and vanish into the crowd. If #1 was correct, that meant I could someday escape.  If #2 was correct I could never escape an entire world that saw all children as suitable playthings for monsters.  I originally chose to believe #1 not out of shame, despair, or any perverse pride; but out of a desperate, desperate hope.  In time that hope would fade, and despair would take it's place.  In even more time I would realize that what I had refused to believe was true.  The whole damn system was fucked and no one was doing anything to fix it.

And then I would begin to get angry.

But I was eight and still in the grip of Persephone's cruelest demon, hope.

(It would be 41 years later before my husband pointed out the most disturbing part of that conversation:  the preacher did not stutter or fumble his words.  To the veteran schoolteacher that meant only one thing -- he'd had plenty of practice on other girls and boys.)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Messed-Up Family Tree

My adoptive father and adoptive aunt came from there. They'd say the name, and nothing more. They'd been trained never to talk or think about it and trained their own adoptive children to do the same, but it hurt them deeply. A two-generation adopted family -- we were supposed to role models. I guess we were, if you looked beneath the surface.

The Hollywood Baby Snatcher: The sinister story of the woman who stole children and sold them to the stars

For 30 years, Georgia Tann made millions selling children. A network of scouts, corrupt judges and politicians helped her steal babies. She also targeted youngsters on their way home from school, promising them ice cream to tempt them away from their homes.

 As she watched her baby coughing in her cot in a corner of her tiny apartment, Alma Sipple felt increasingly desperate.
A single mother in Tennessee, she could not afford medical care for ten-month-old Irma. Suddenly, a knock on the door heralded a turn in her fate: there stood a woman with close-cropped grey hair, round wireless glasses and a stern air.
She exuded authority as she explained she was the director of a local orphanage and had come to help. Alma rushed to show the lady her sickly child.
Examining the baby, the woman offered to pass her off as her own at the local hospital in order to obtain free treatment. She warned Alma not to accompany her, explaining: ‘If the nurses know you’re the mother, they’ll charge you.’
Lifting the child from the cot, the woman turned on her heel and disappeared. Two days later, Alma was told her baby had died.
In fact, Irma had been flown to an adoptive home in Ohio. Alma would not see her daughter again for 45 years.
For far from being her savior, the woman who had taken Irma was a baby thief.
For 30 years, Georgia Tann made millions selling children. A network of scouts, corrupt judges and politicians helped her steal babies. She also targeted youngsters on their way home from school, promising them ice cream to tempt them away from their homes.
Legal papers would be signed saying they were abandoned – most would never see their families again.
Now, her story has been revealed in a new book. After painstakingly contacting her surviving victims and a forensic search through the archives, Barbara Bisantz Raymond calculates that Tann sold more than 5,000 children – and killed scores through neglect.
During the time she ran her ‘business’, the infant mortality rate in Memphis was the highest in the country.
Tann molested some of the girls in her care and placed children with paedophiles.

She charged fees to couples desperate to be parents

Some victims were sold as underage farm hands or domestic skivvies. Others were starved, beaten and raped. The lucky ones were sold to wealthy parents, with Hollywood stars, including Lana Turner and Joan Crawford – who adopted twins Cathy and Cynthia – lining up for babies.
Some of the children were featured in magazine articles. A number were placed with families in Britain.
So, who was Georgia Tann and how did she come to ruin so many lives?
Born in Hickory, Mississippi, in 1891, her father, George, was a high court judge and her mother, Beulah, a Southern belle. Inside their lavish house, all was not well.
Tann’s father was an arrogant, domineering womanizer. From an early age, it became clear Georgia was a disappointment to her strait-laced parents.
Big-boned and broad-shouldered, she wore flannel shirts and trousers: unacceptable clothing for a woman at the time. A car accident had left her with a limp.
Social work was one of the few acceptable careers for women of Tann’s class, and despite having no empathy with the vulnerable, she saw it as an escape route from her staid home.
She developed her own theories on society. In eugenic language which would be echoed to infamous effect in Nazi Germany, she described wealthy people as ‘of the higher type’.
After getting a job at the Mississippi Children’s Home-Finding Society, she began to translate her beliefs into action.
At the time, adoption was uncommon in the USA. Tann would change that.
At first, she simply placed orphans for adoption. But soon, she realized she could make money by charging hefty fees to couples desperate to become parents.
Mothers were falsely told their newborn had died
By 1920, exploiting the lack of regulations on adoption and her father’s position as a judge, Tann began placing children she had kidnapped from poor women.
Asleep inside was pregnant Rose, who was young, poor, widowed and suffering from diabetes. Her two-year-old son, Onyx, was playing on the back porch.
Tann lured the sturdy, black-haired, brown-eyed boy into her car. Her father signed legal papers declaring Rose to be an unfit mother and Onyx an abandoned child. He was placed with an adoptive family. Rose engaged a lawyer, but was unable to regain custody.
In 1924, Tann started work at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, where she turned part-time baby snatching into big business.
‘I can still hear her steps down the hallway. She had big feet and wore black lace-up shoes,’ says a former resident at the children’s home.
‘She always went upstairs to see the babies. There would be masses of them one day. They’d be gone the next.’
Tann acquired the protection of Memphis’s corrupt and all powerful mayor, Edward Hull Crump, and eventually set up her own orphanage, at 1556 Poplar Avenue.
By then, she had met her lesbian partner, Ann Atwood Hollinsworth, who helped Tann ferry babies around the country – as far from their natural parents as possible.
Tann adopted a daughter, June, in 1922. June’s daughter, Vicci, says: ‘Mother said Georgia Tann was a cold fish; she gave her material things, but nothing else. I don’t know why she bothered to adopt her.’
By the Thirties, Tann was charging wealthy couples up to £100,000 in today’s money for babies. So, how did she arrange a steady flow of children she could sell?
In some cases, single parents would drop off their children at nursery – when they came back to collect them, they would be told they had been taken away by welfare officers.
Tann offered accommodation to children whose parents were in trouble and targeted the most beautiful infants she could find, dressing them in lace outfits to meet prospective clients.
Older children would be instructed to ‘sit on that man’s lap and call him daddy’.
Newborns were most in demand. Tann bribed maternity hospital nurses, who falsely told mothers their babies had died.

Irene Green remembers being told her baby was stillborn. ‘But I heard him cry!’ she protested. She asked to see the body, but was told it had been ‘disposed of’. In fact, Georgia’s workers had snatched the child.

 Tann would falsify birth certificates
Mary Reed was a typical victim. In 1943, aged 18, she gave birth to a baby boy. She was barely conscious when she was presented with a ‘routine paper’ to sign by a woman dressed in white.
By the time Mary came round and asked for her baby, the child was in New Jersey.
She hired a lawyer but never got her child back. Tann would alter the children’s records and falsify birth certificates to make them more appealing to prospective adopters.
Their mother would be described as ‘the daughter of a doctor’ who had fallen pregnant accidentally, while the father would be ‘a medical student’.
She knocked years off the children’s age, so they appeared precocious – and to stop them being traced.
Some youngsters were accused of disappointing their adoptive families. Joy Barner was told as a teenager by her father: ‘I paid 500 dollars for you – I could have gotten a good hunting dog for a lot less. You come from the lowest scum on earth.’
She later found out she had been stolen in 1925 from a loving family living on a houseboat.
Many of the children were abused. Jim Lambert and his three siblings were taken from their mother by Tann in 1932.
The Chicago couple he was placed with divorced and Jim’s stepmother hung him up from a hook in the basement.
He and his siblings eventually traced their birth mother, only to find she had died. In her Bible, beside the names of her stolen family she had written: ‘The children of a brokenhearted mother. I have no one to love me now.’
He later said: ‘I feel angry, frustrated, as if I was cheated out of a whole lot of life.’
Billy Hale recalled being driven away from his mother, crying, in a limousine, with two women in black.
His loving adoptive parents repeatedly reassured him no such event had occurred.
Through his childhood, he suffered from seemingly motiveless rages. It was only many years later, when he researched his background, that he realised his memory was correct.

He tracked down his mother, Mollie, only to be told by her brother she had died of cancer eight years previously, calling out for her son at the end.
He was told: ‘She looked for you all her life, Bill.’

By 1935, Tann had placed children in every U.S. state. A social worker who knew her says: ‘She placed with no regard to whether children would be happy in their adoptive homes. She wanted to get her hands on every child she could.’
Among the most disturbing cases are the adoptions by single men of young teenagers – Bisantz Raymond suspects they were paedophiles.
Keen to make more money, Tann began running ‘Georgia’s Christmas Baby Ads’ in the local newspaper under the headline: ‘Want a real, live Christmas present?’
A brilliant publicist, she gave lectures on adoption, arguing that adopted children ‘turn out better’ than birth children, saying: ‘Ours is a selective process. We select the child and we select the home.’
She was lauded in the national Press as ‘the foremost leading light in adoption laws’.
Eleanor Roosevelt sought her counsel regarding child welfare, and President Truman invited her to his inauguration.
But by 1940, alerted by the rising infant mortality rate in the city, some people were on to Tann.
‘She was a relentless, cold-blooded demon,’ says a paediatrician who tried to curb her. ‘She got bigger and bigger the more power she had. She was pompous and self-important, riding around in a Cadillac driven by a uniformed chauffeur.

She terrorised everyone.’

By 1950, officials began a long-overdue investigation into Tann’s business. State investigator Robert Taylor reported the horror of what had taken place at Tann’s orphanage, saying: ‘Her babies died like flies.’

Infants were kept in appalling conditions in suffocating heat. Some were sedated until they could be sold. Many were ill. Some were sexually abused – Tann preyed on young girls and a male caretaker would take little boys into the woods.

A news reporter believed he saw a body being buried in the garden.

In 1945, a bout of dysentery caused the deaths of between 40 and 50 children in less than four months.

The net was closing, but Tann would evade justice. Three days before her death due to cancer, the governor of Tennessee revealed at a press conference that Tann was not the ‘angel of adoption’ she claimed to be.
He did not mention the grieving parents or dead babies, but focused on the illegal profits she had made while receiving state funding.
Conveniently for the corrupt politicians who had collaborated in her black market baby trade, Tann was too sick to be questioned about her crimes. She died in her four-poster bed at 4.20am on September 15, 1950.
What became of her victims? Many never saw their families again – after Tann’s crimes came to light, there was no attempt to return children to their rightful homes.
They were granted rights to their birth certificates and adoption records only in 1995, after a long battle. A small number were reunited with their birth mothers, but the damage they had suffered at Tann’s hands could never be undone.
Forty-five years after Tann had walked into her apartment, Alma Sipple finally found Irma, but they were unable to form a lasting relationship.
‘Only someone who has lost a child this way can know how horrible it is,’ says Alma. ‘There’s a hole in my heart that will never be filled.’

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sorry I've been away so long.  This season's flu hit me like a train wreck:  three months and three relapses.  Right now I have the stamina of a kitten, but at least I can breath.  And think.  Most of the time.

I'm working on my next post.  It's a tough memory that turned out to have a lot more packed up with it than I realized.  But I'll beat it into shape "with all deliberate speed".  (Two points if you get the joke.)

Hope you had a Merry Christmas.  Happy New Year.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Chasm

Staring into the unfathomable abyss that is the Grand Canyon, my first coherent thought was a renewed appreciation of domesticity, i.e. everything the Grand Canyon is not.  There is nothing soft, easy, or uncomplicated about it.  The very name "Grand Canyon" is a misnomer.  Not the "grand" part, it's certainly that; but this is no more a "canyon" than New York City is a hamlet.  What started out ages ago as a simple riverbed has grown over time into hundreds of fissures at different depths veering off and doubling back in every direction.  "Canyon" implies a slit in the Earth's skin, this is more like the shrapnel damage from a grenade. We were told the gap was unfulfillable, the width was unbridgeable, the river at the bottom was all but unnavigable, the traverse was perilous, the environment at the bottom was wildly different from the environment at the top, and the trip back up was four times harder than the trip down.  I challenged none of these assertions; I was saving my strength.  After this stop I was going to meet my mother for the first time.

My second thought was about how hard the land had fought the water.  The earth had not simply lain there and been washed away.  It had resisted time's efforts at every turn, and thanks to its resistance it was still standing -- as a monumental, awe-inspiring wreck.  Were it not for the human tendency to turn anything unusual into beautiful, inspirational metaphors we would be overwhelmed by the destruction endured by the earth in that savage, millenia-old elemental combat.  I know something about that kind of resistance; growing up it was my specialty.  Not the sort of active rebellion that brought retaliation; I got hit often enough already, thank you very much.  But passive resistance, enduring the unendurable because there was no choice, that I know to my core.  I have come so far, endured so much, my soul has been etched and corroded with so much pain, how could anyone else possibly understand me?  I 'm not the unblemished babe she left behind.  I
wish I was.  I  have this primal, instinctive ugre to fall sobbing in her arms and have her kiss away my tears while I tell her, "You know how they told you how they were going to give me to good people who would take good care of me?  They lied."  I have dreamed of that moment for so, so many years.  But now that it is upon me I don't know how I could do that to someone, anyone.  There's too much to tell, so much more than a body should bear.  Time and again even a tiny fraction of it has proven too much for other people and I watch myself transform in their eyes to something resembling the Great Stone Face of New Hampshire, something that time and erosion have etched into a thing remotely resembling a human being but not really human.  I am so very tired of not being human.  I have no idea how to be human.

The land had endured by being patient.  I must be patient.  I had to keep it together no matter what.

And -- I did.  I kept it together all through our first meeting, because that was what she obviously wanted.  And at the end she shook my hand and said it was nice to meet you and seemed flummoxed when I said we were going to be in town for a few days.  And we kept it together through two more days of talking only to break down crying on the phone while we were pulling out of town.  And then we drove back to Mississippi and I spent the next six weeks in bed from exhaustion.

Now -- I have no idea where we are now.  I don't know how to navigate this unfamiliar terrain.  I talk about awful things that happened to my friends and its brushed aside.  I mention something mildly unpleasant that  happened to me and it's "OMG That's The Worst Thing Ever!" and everyone starts talking past me instead of to me and I'm going, "For real?  How y'all gonna handle the bad shit?"  I'm lost in the back country and I have no idea how to find my way.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Class of 1983

My husband met an old friend from high school last week in the small Mississippi town where they'd grown up 32 years ago . They chatted about their classmates from the white, middle class private school they had attended. Slightly less than half of the men had graduated from college and gone on to get jobs in business, teaching, and civil engineering. Slightly more than half of the men had not gone on to graduate from college. They were all dead, mostly from drugs or suicide. 10% of all the men in their class had committed suicide in the last five years. His friend noted that more men had died from their class than had died so far from his parents' class -- and his parents had graduated at the height of the Vietnam War. While the women had done slightly better, there had been fewer children born to the members of their class than had been in their class. It was a sobering experience.

I think we might have a problem, folks.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Three Steps Part 2: That Old Time Liberal Religion

Introduction
Part 1:  Recollection, Remembrance, and Discovery

Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
It's good enough for me. 

The church that I was brought up in no longer exists.  The buildings still stand, I could lead you inside and give you detailed tours.  They still have the same name, and are still used by an entity that calls itself Southern Baptist.  But how they define themselves is completely different.  The Southern Baptist Church I grew up in was proudly liberal.  At that time God was thought to be too big for the human mind to define, and any attempt to limit God's nature beyond the broad outlines set out by Jesus was thought to be dubious.  The important part of the Bible was the Gospel, everything else was just there to provide context.  Homosexuality was not an issue.  Abortion was a medical procedure that was best avoided, but sometimes necessary.  My husband remembers a local Southern Baptist church holding a divorce ceremony for a couple who had married there.  I remember my church kindergarten teachers using a crystal ball in class.  And a book written at the time by a woman Southern Baptist theologian celebrated the ordination of women, which was just around the corner.

We never turned that corner.  We turned back instead.  But how did we reach that enlightened position in the first place?

I was taught in church that the bedrock foundation of our Southern Baptist faith was "soul competency".  God created everything, including each and every one of us, and gave each and every one of us the ability, the permission, and the responsibility to develop a personal and unique relationship with God based on both our personal experience and our own reading and interpretation of the Bible.  God would hold each of us personally accountable for our actions when we met Him before the Throne, and we better be ready.  There would be no one else to hide behind, and we couldn't use anyone else's interpretation as a shield to cover our theological nakedness.  However, the same God that made us also made us competent to do the job.  We were God's children, and we were up to this task.

Soul competency was popularized in the Southern Baptist faith by E.Y. Mullins in 1908.  Here is the Reverend John Dee explaining it:

 To me it means that the individual Christian is unassailable in her interpretation of Scripture and in her own understanding of God's will for her life. It means that when someone says, "This is what the Bible means to me," I cannot tell her she is wrong. I can merely say that her understanding is meaningless for me. Only the preacher's understanding of Scripture is expected to be generally meaningful for the whole community, and it is up to each individual to decide whether the preachers' words are useful or not. Soul competency means to me that anything I understand to bring me closer to God is true and cannot be taken away from me, because my life is unique and there is a way of understanding Scripture which is unique to me. Soul competency means to me that I find truth when I am furthest removed from distractions and contingencies of people and things and authorities- again, when truth takes forms which are unique to me and my understanding of the Bible.
In his book The American Religion Harold Bloom argues that this belief in soul competency aligns the Old School Southern Baptists with the earliest Christians, the Gnostics, in their belief that the close, personal relationship with God is inviolable.  As a young mystic who already had a close, personal relationship with God I had no problems with that at the time or since then.

Soul competency led directly to another core Southern Baptist belief, the priesthood of the believer.  All who believed in God stood equally before God.  Some might be more learned or more gifted, but no one stood higher than any other.  In practice this meant that as long as you founded your beliefs on your understanding of the Bible, no other Christian could tell you that you were wrong.

As competent priests who took charge of our own souls, there was one doctrine we were strongly against -- predestination.  Our fate, like our relationship with God, was subject to change at our own hands depending on what we did.  If we didn't like our fate, we could walk with God and talk with God and take it up with God directly.  And then we could get out in the world and do something about it.  Calvinist predestination was roundly mocked as foolishness.

The great virtue of soul competency is that it inoculates against atheism.  If you are taught that the Bible is the only place where one looks for God, then when you realize the Bible is a collection of old books of questionable value in today's world you have no fallback position and become a skeptic by default.  If there is another place where you are taught to look for God the break is not as traumatic.

 But how did this play out in my head?  Well, here's an example.  The year must have been about 1972.  I was around six or seven, and my family was attending Sunday Service at Bowmar Baptist Church in Vicksburg, MS.  The preacher was telling the story of Moses, and how as a youth Moses had killed another man in a fit of rage.  The preacher said that the young man thought he was alone, but God was there.  It got me to thinking:  was God also young at that time?  It would fit, the God of the Old Testament was certainly more hot-tempered and less mature than the God of the New Testament.  Perhaps the entire Bible could be read as God's coming-of-age story, as He grew into a more responsible deity.  I hadn't heard anyone mention that idea before, and I knew some would object to it.  But I was just as competent to interpret the Bible as they were.  I would hold on to that thought until I was old enough to discuss it with other believers in a thoughtful, non-judgmental place.

I never found that place in the Southern Baptist church.  By the time I was old enough to discuss theology they had changed beyond recognition.  I was able to eventually find a thoughtful non-judgmental place to discuss theology with other worshipers, but that would have to wait many decades until I found the Unitarian Universalist Church.

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There was one other thing we learned in church.  This being the '60s and early '70s we all got a good dose of anti-communism.  It was considered your patriotic duty to preach anti-communism everywhere, including the pulpit.  We were taught that communism was evil for three reasons:

1)  Communists told people what they had to believe, instead of letting people make up their own minds,

2)  Communists punished people who questioned them and did not believe what they were told to believe, and

3)  Communists rewrote their own history to erase any evidence that disagreed with them.  That one seriously freaked me out as an adopted child, probably because it had been done to me personally.  (Although why it was acceptable when done to me and not acceptable when done by communists was a question I never found the nerve to ask.)

Keep those three things in the back of your mind; we'll return to them later.

Coming Soon:  The First Step

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Original Sin Disproven by Science

People really are good, and our first reactions are selfless:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-probe-human-nature-and-discover-we-are-good-after-all/

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Three Steps Part 1: Recollection, Remembrance, and Discovery

Introduction

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world. 

In trying to write down my memories, I find that the earliest part of the story has changed the most.  There is what I recalled, what I remembered, and what I later found out about.

I recall only scattered memories of the late 1960s from around 2 1/2 years (when my adoptive sister was brought home) to 3 1/2 years, leading up to a moment a few months before my fourth birthday when I realized I was recalling more details, and would in general recall things from then on.

I later found out I had a rotten start.  I was adopted at birth by an unrelated couple looking for a baby to save their second failed marriage (each) and give them social credits.  My adoptive mother had been rejected as an adoptive parent in her first marriage, and it took three years for my adoptive parents to pass a home study before adopting me (average time is three - six months).

Apparently she couldn't handle a baby.  I found out later she'd bitten and pinched me when I cried, and her own mother had moved in and actually taken care me until her death when I was around 3.  I don't recall any of that, but found out about it later.  The only thing I recall of Granny is going to see her as she lay dying in the hospital, and looking at a figure under an oxygen tent.

After that Mom took a low-level clerical job, even though we were debt free and fairly well off, so she would require a maid to look after my adoptive baby sister and me during the day.   Dorothy was efficient, but neither she nor Mom was into cuddling or other shows of affection.

What do I remember?  I remember being very unhappy and not knowing why.  I remember being alone almost all the time.  My working class parents bought me the toys they thought were appropriate, but made no attempt to learn anything about early childhood development except through hearsay.  This made their purchases somewhat scattershot and focused on what was cheap and trendy.  It also meant no puzzles until much later, few manipulatives, and never, ever any of those nasty building blocks.  There were dolls, but dolls always upset me.  I didn't know how to play with them except to treat them the way I was treated, and I didn't want to do that to anything.  I didn't tell anyone, but I never saw a doll without wanting to cry my eyes out until I was over 30.

(When I was older my adoptive mother complained that I had loved her completely and we had been perfectly happy until I turned two when I suddenly hated her, and she still had no idea why.  You see what I mean about her knowledge of childhood development.)

(And that didn't gel with the later information I found out about her abusing me as an infant.)

Dad had a traveling job, and was only home on weekends.  Mom worked during the day, and Dorothy was busy with my baby sister and cleaning the house.  We weren't allowed outside to play much.  As for entertainment, video games didn't exist yet, and only my parents were allowed to touch the TV. 


Of course there was another player in this drama -- me.  Although I am a Myers-Briggs INFJ with the ability to read emotions, from an early age I repressed my empathy because the emotions I was picking up were too harsh.  I still to this day have trouble picking them up.  From early on I tried to function as an INTP.  I got pretty good at it, and had everyone convinced I was an INTP for decades. I got very good at looking at the world as if I were an INTP, which meant I devoted my time to trying to 1) concentrate, 2) sift through large amounts of data, 3) notice discrepancies, and 4) solve puzzles.

I spent most of my preschool years alone in my room with nothing that really engaged my mind.  I had a lot of mind to engage and not much inside it at the time.  But being highly intelligent and not yet literate, I found it easy to concentrate on a single thought until I fell into a trance and entered an altered state of consciousness.  Through trance I met other beings and saw things that did not exist in the here-and-now.  It's incredibly hard to do that now because there are so many thoughts in my head that I have to shut down, but back then it was relatively easy.

I didn't tell  anyone.  I didn't have the vocabulary and nobody cared enough to ask me what I had done that day.  Nothing was broken, so nothing got their attention.  I recall one time when I tried to make them realize how unhappy I was.  We were going somewhere, and I slipped unto the floor of the back seat of the car (seat-belts were optional and infant car seats were nonexistent) and began pulling the hair out of my head in huge chunks, hoping they would ask me why.  They didn't.  They just yelled at me for making a mess.  The hair never grew back, and I have an elongated forehead to this day.  But it convinced me of the futility of self-mutilation as an attention-getting ploy, which kept me out of a world of trouble in my teenage years, so it was a win in the long run.

Anyhow, thanks to my mystical experiences I was not as lonely as I could have been, and I became a lifelong theist.  Those experiences would become a great source of comfort to me growing up and provide a solid foundation for my religious education.

Part 2:  That Old Time Liberal Religion