Yeah, so this is going to be a long, meandering, probably very unsatisfying read. Do feel free to skim/skip it. Really. Then I don't have to chew off my fingertips as I wait for the hornets of the nest I'm about to stir to come back and bite me in the ass.


Do not be surprised if it gets buried under two or seven fluff posts immediately following hitting the publish button as that seems to be my MO with anything that even remotely looks like I might even be thinking about taking a stand.

Spoiler alert: I take a stand in this one. Mostly. Sort of.

Deep breath. Here goes.

Draft dated 12/23: I sat in therapy today, feeling rather optimistic that the clouds were beginning to part. There just wasn't all that much to talk about. Communication at home has hit an all time high (meaning: he's actually talking and I'm actually listening); I've been able to start doing some of the stuff I know best with LG and he seems to like it; I've even had a full week of sleeping ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE NIGHT, which, it could be argued, is at the very core of why I'm even in therapy to begin with. The only issue, as far as I could see, was that little matter of LG's pigheaded, stubborn, obstinate need to negotiate everything. Everything. As in

"Please use your fork to eat your peas."
"Umm, how about I can use my spoon to eat my peas?"

Which, in reality, is a non-issue, right? The kid is at least using a utensil, right? Undesired behavior of eating peas with hands has successfully been stopped, so that should go in the victory column. It's just that after the thirty-seven millionth such interaction of the day

Go get your shoes. Okay, but I will take my computer with me. And pick up at least a half a dozen other unrelated items along the way.

Please hang your jacket on the hook in the closet. Let's see. I'll take my jacket to the closet and open the closet door BUT... How would it suit you if instead of hanging my jacket on the hook, I pick up my backpack, hang that on the hook and stuff my jacket in the bag on the floor?

Let's go up to your bathroom to go potty. Okay, Mommy. I will go upstairs. I will go potty. But only in the guest bathroom.

it gets kinda tiring. Short of pulling out an "Because I'm the Mommy and I said so" which not only violates rule number 15 on The List Of Things I Will Never Ever EVER Do To My Own Children but also goes against my firm belief that the long term gain of encouraging him to question, question, question and think critically and not become a blind rule follower is far outweighed by the short term good of not having to answer another series of 50 why/why not's, I'm at a loss for what to do. And so I bring it up. The good Dr.'s a well-qualified child/family psychologist and has background in this area . What the hell. Maybe he has some new ideas I could use.

And so the Pandora's box is opened.

"I'm having a hard time getting LG to follow my instructions. Am I doing something wrong? Is this just another stage? Are my expectations out of line?" To which he responds "Well, let's explore your expectations..." which leads to the discussion of what I think a three-year-old should be able to do because here's what I remember being able to do as a three-year-old which definitely did not involve talking back or coming up with my own ideas but rather following the rules and being a good little girl and sitting still in church because that's how good little Primitive Baptist girls act and do and sit. At which point he stopped me and asked me for a little more background on the Primitive Baptist since he was unfamiliar with that particular group and all I could tell him was "Uh. Well. So it's like, um, well, there's this TULIP thing and the Lamb's Book Of Life. And no musical instruments or Sunday school. And lunch on Sunday afternoons. Oh, oh, and we would have these 5th Sunday meetings when a lot of other people would travel to our church and we would have services starting Friday night and then all day Saturday and then lunch on Sunday would be late and that's when we would meet other kids that were also PB because we were the only ones at our church..."

And that's when I realized I knew exactly nothing about the religion in which I was raised. Thankfully, time was up.


I decided I should probably look into this Primitive Baptist thing a little more closely. Growing up, it was what we did/were. As a young adult, I made some hard decisions, believing that I was following the PB way. As an adult out on my own, I reviled those same teachings, using them to define what I was not. For 32 years I have identified myself, positively and negatively with the Primitive Baptist church, and yet I found myself unable to communicate intelligently about it. So I googled it.

What? You were hoping for meditation? For a spiritual journey? Ahem, remember the 3 year old?

Right away I came across this. Then this. Then this and this and this, which led to this.
And then I realized I was clenching my fists in anger.

What I couldn't decide was if I was angry because it was inaccurate or spot on.

(Draft ends here. Just in case you're keeping track. The rest of this is part of two other drafts and part of the stew that keeps a bubblin' in my head. No wonder my sinuses have been so congested.)

Just to be clear: I am in NO WAY suggesting that this man's site is the final authority on the Primitive Baptist religion. I know from my years of indoctrination that each PB church is considered it's own entity, entirely self-governed, looking only to God* for oversight. There is no Primitive Baptist central office. There is no Book of PB. The King James version of the Bible, yes, but even those texts are subject to the particular interpretation of the congregations studying them (e.g. Should communion wine be served in individual glasses or in a single glass shared by the entire congregation? Depends on how you read the word "all" in Matthew 26:27 "And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;". Does all mean everybody? Or every last drop?)

Recognizing that the views on this site should not be taken to be any more definitive of the Primitive Baptist faith than any other gobbledy-gook that someone can throw up on the internet, and that in order to consider my "research" anywhere near impartial, I was going to have to look elsewhere. Back to Google.

I read this (in particular, this); I reviewed these; I scanned this. But the words "Because children are literally born to sin it is imperative that parents understand the corrective measures and tools God has set forth in the scriptures to succeed in rearing children." had already been seared into my brain and my search for the gentler, loving, forgiving aspect of the God of my childhood was failing under their neon glow. I called my folks, hoping for outright dismissal. "No, that guy's a known kook, " I wanted to hear them say. "That's certainly not the way we raised you kids!" But there was no categorical denial. My mom did say that they had "learned a lot and changed our views on raising kids in all the time we've been doing it". My dad agreed with me that the information I was seeking (information so that I could go in and have an intelligible conversation about my background with my therapist) would probably be more useful if it were of a factual nature and offered to send on some of his own collection of Articles of Faith. And I talked myself into believing that there is NO WAY NO HOW that I was raised like that. But I must not have been very convincing, because here I sit again, wondering. Wondering if, in fact, I was raised that way, do I now find those views abhorrent because I am, in fact, damned to hell or because they are truly abhorrent?

Understand: I have no special resentment** for the way I was raised. I truly, at my very core, believe that my parents loved me and my siblings and always, always, ALWAYS did what they thought was best for us. Which includes what they believed to be best for our / my eternal salvation.

Which brings me to the back to my original "duh, like, I don't know what we believed, we just believed it" moment and the TULIP doctrine. Most popularly attributed to Calvinism, the acronym stands for (wording may vary):

Total Depravity of Natural Man - All men are sinners by nature and are dead to spiritual things while in their natural state.
Personal and Unconditional Election - All who are to possess spiritual life were individually chosen by God to receive such life; moreover, this choice was not based upon any merit seen or foreseen in the elected; rather, this election was motivated by the sovereign love of God.
(Limited) Special Atonement - The saving benefits of Christ's death were intended for the elect only; furthermore, His redemptive work was alone sufficient to secure their salvation.
Irresistible Grace - All of the elect will be quickened by the Spirit of God at some point in their natural lives.
Preservation of the Saints - The blood of Christ is sufficient both to procure and secure salvation of all for whom it was shed. Therefore, all of the elect will finally be saved.

Growing up, we were taught that there was a special kind of comfort in the notion that, as Grandma would say "Ya are or ya aren't." That being her no-frills version of the idea of the U, the L, the I and the P all rolled into one. On the positive side, unconditional love. We were set free from the struggle of trying to get into heaven, either by faith or by works; we were delivered from the guilt of not "saving" others. On the other hand, that left the T -- unconditional damnation -- for all the rest. Thankfully, as I remember it, the T was largely a topic skimmed over on the way to one of the others, so the amount of time spent squirming (wondering how that could be "fair"****, and looking out of the corners of your eyes to see if you could tell for sure who "was" or who "wasn't" sitting there on the pew alongside you) was minimal. "They" were the unsaved. "We" could safely assume that we would be in the final count, based on the very fact that we were worried about such things. The ungodly would, no doubt, just continue to carve their initials into the back of the pew in front of them, completely oblivious to their final doom. There was but one right way and we just so happened to have it. No other variation would do. No other interpretation was valid. Time and time again I remember hearing "I believe in his sincerity. That does not mean he is not sincerely wrong." Or something along those lines. The world was split into two distinct colors: black and white.

My first glimpse of true color, or at least my first memory of such, was shortly after I received The Letter. After I got over weeping because I was embarrassed that I had "been in love" with a gay guy, after I got over the self-righteousness of sending him an ultimatum of sorts (the words I remember writing were along the lines of "It breaks my heart that you would make such a choice because I don't want your life to be harder because of the choices you make and why can't you just choose to be straight so I don't have to think this is so hard and I can't believe you are asking me to tell you that it's okay to be gay when all of my life I've had it pounded into me that those people are destined for hell and I want all of my friends to be with me in heaven so couldn't you just think about it a little bit harder and then ignore all the bad advice of the people who have suggested to you that you might be gay and taken advantage of you when you are going through such a hard time because I can't believe that someone who has been such a good friend to me might actually be someone that I have to not be such good friends with... or something equally putrid and judgmental and icky and immature and unforgivable), after I went one, two, three months without hearing from him, after I received his final, hurt-filled missive, after all of that, the pain of killing a friendship was gangrenously green and yellow and blue and purple.

Soon after, I met BG. An agnostic.
And his mother. Raised Jewish.
His father. Raised Catholic.
Welcoming, loving people.
Time spent with them took on a distinct golden hue, glowing more and more brightly as I began to daydream about a future that included them.

Then I spent a summer in upstate New York, working as a lab rat aide at Cornell University. Meeting people with other habits. Other languages. Other views. People curious about the world around them, filled with life and excitement, bubbling over the joy of exploration and learning. A memory filled with streaks of red and orange, of the vivid sunrise of self-discovery and the intense awakening of self-scrutiny.

And in the years since then, I've been privileged to travel across the country and internationally. Everywhere I look, I see shades of grey. And blue and pink and yellow and silver and magenta and brown and and and. I've seen that same look on another mothers face that I feel when LG does something to make me smile. No matter the language, the skin tone, the religious views, nothing eases a heartache like hearing your own child laugh. Nothing makes you feel more worthless than hearing your own child sob.

I've seen a mother take on a larger burden than you would ever expect her to carry, just so that she can be there in time to do the pick up from day care. Or so that she can trade the roots in her basket for a pair of mismatched shoes, size 5. I've seen 10-year-old boys and girls running and squealing along the road after the bus dropped them off, an impromptu game of tag speeding them home to a tall glass of lemonade. Taking great care not to get their school uniforms dirty because there isn't the luxury of a Target down the street and chances are good it will be worn again tomorrow. I've seen old men trading tall tales in the park, at the corner bodega. Everywhere I look, I see people just trying their best to do their best and have their best and leave their best for their children.

Which, I think, is why I shudder at the sheer arrogance of the suggestion that someone, ANYONE has found THE one true way. You may have found yours. The words you read and the songs you sing and the prayers you pray, the symbols you revere and the truths you study, the comfort and the contentment you seek: take them. Live them. Nurture them. If they make you a better person -- someone who chooses to help out others in need, someone who is quick to see and respond to the good in others, someone ready with praise and encouragement -- if they bring you peace, then you can ask for no more. From time to time it might be good practice to bring those tenets out into the light of day and make sure that they still can stand in the face of honest scrutiny. That you haven't uncovered some additional truth or interpretation to an old theme that might make them fuller. They are yours do to with as you will.

But they may not be mine. Or hers or his or his or theirs or hers or ours. And you do yourself and your views no favor by pressing them into crevices where they simply do not fit. Something is going to break if you keep shoving. I do not suggest that your views are invalid simply because I have found another path. Remember the story of the blind men and the elephant? Let me have my trunk; you are welcome to your tail.

This is the point at which I've been trying, unsuccessfully for an hour or so now (I thought I was onto something with that elephant thing, but no. Now if it had been a donkey...), to segue gracefully into my frustration with, how did I put that,

individuals expressing a desire that Obama 1) be led by god**, 2) surround himself with godly people, 3) seek god's guidance... you get the idea.

As I went on to say

My reaction, every single time is to mutter "Be careful what you wish for." Careful meaning specific.

Think carefully. What do you mean when you say "God"? I assume you mean your God... but which god, exactly, is that? The God of Il Papa? The G-d of Abraham, Issac and Jacob? JHVH? The one who led Joseph Smith to the Golden Plates? Allah? Ahura Mazda? Perhaps one of the Hindu deities? Or maybe you mean one of the supreme beings of the other 8 classical religions, each having many followers and as much a claim to longevity as Christianity. Speak carefully, if you choose to speak this way. How happy will you be with the decisions that are made should it come to light that although our leaders have been following a god, it's been the *wrong* one? If our leaders are to follow a god, then I want it to be the god whose precepts and teachings and doctrines they believe to be true in their own hearts, not this god this week and that god the next; this god when it comes to dealing with matters of the state, but that god if the need arises for a particular brand of persuasion. And who, exactly is the god of economy, anyways? I'd be particularly interested in following a little of that doctrine right about now.

No. No thank you. Let us be led thoughtfully. Let us be led purposefully, with careful consideration given to other perspectives and values and views and colors and races and religions. Let us be led by empathy, by an earnest, honest openness to hear both sides of the story. Let us be led by diversity. Let us be led by diplomacy. Let us be led by that inner instinct to do, to be, to have, to find, to leave the best we possibly can. Unless you're willing to let me choose the god to be followed. I could be all right with that.

Annnnnnd, post. Your turn.

*I debated using the little g here again since I am (obviously) not completely at peace with what/who/where the Big G is. Not exactly sure why I decided against it other than I'm already stepping out of line enough here without ruffling any more feathers.
**I would be the lyingest liar that ever lied to say that I have no resentment whatsoever at the way I was raised. I defy anyone to say that they have no complaints about their childhood. And I have no illusions that I will do any better of a job. Different, yes. Better, no.
***"God is just, not fair. All were condemned to eternal damnation, it was by His grace and mercy that a few were ever chosen," was the response should the "f" word ever arise in discussion.



Amy Jo said...

I've been reading this over and over all day. In a good way, btw. There is so much that gets wrapped up in our upbringings, religious or otherwise.

But as someone who is still searching for 'the way' it is refreshing to know that there is someone else out there that isn't planning to cram something down my throat! Refreshing, really. To each his own, Obama included!

SirvonRohr said...

Ok, I do not remember being 3 or 5 or 7. I do remember taking a can of Pringles into the living room and using my big wheel to smash them into the carpet while my dog George watched. After reading your post I now understand that I caused my mother all sorts of problems.

I do not see any issues with lg asking if there is a different way to do things. I think that it should be considered more of a game for you. How can you phrase the question to get him to do it the way you want without asking it. Get him to make the conclusion you want.

I also made my mother break down and cry in a store once while I was having a temper tantrum. I was 22. Just kidding, I was 6.

When I was growing up we had 3 channels of TV, did not have a computer, used a shovel in the desert to make a fort, did not use sunscreen.... this gen of kids have so many things going on at once that in order to make it they will have to multitask. Maybe lg is just starting to be a problem solver at an early age. He is learning to tackle problems from different angles. Understands that there are more than one way to do most things.


susan said...

Amy- I guess I knew going into this therapy thing that there would be some unwrapping involved. I didn't realize how much or how deeply I would feel each layer as it was pulled back. Maybe that's what "they" are referring to when "they" talk about the ties that bind... Anyway, thanks for reading and for reading between the lines.

R- so basically if I just had your mother on speed dial, I wouldn't need to spend an hour and we won't even talk about how many dollars every other week to stay sane? Also. It is so easy to picture you, discarded Pringles can in the background, rolling deliberately back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, a grin of sheer delight plastered on your face. THAT is the image I am going to try to call up each afternoon as we start on our 700th round of "why, Mommy?". Just goes to show I'm not the first one to go through all of this!

Lora said...

i love this post, but you probably knew i would if you were thinking about me at all during the writing.

that sounds so self-important. but to be fair i think of you all the time.

i think of people i care about all the time because i'm not much of a pray-er. instead of laying down and asking g/God to take care and bless people before i go to bed i just think of them and send along positive thoughts.

i hope they are making it all the way out west.

susan said...

Lora - I was and they are. Truth be told, it was probably one of those damn thoughts that made me push the publish button. What'd you have to go and encourage me to stand up for myself for?

Also? Keep the positive thoughts coming. They are lovely to wake up to in the morning.