Saturday, November 30, 2013

Faith and Hope

Eleven months ago I wrote about things we were leaving behind in 2012. At the time, I was hanging onto this plaque in my dining room "as a reminder of what 'living by faith' was like".

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for
and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1

Well, it has served its purpose. As I passed it every night after supper, the message sounded stranger all the time. Sure of what we hope for? What exactly does that mean? Is it like knowing what you are getting for Christmas? Can you still hope for what you know?

A few weeks ago, I took the plaque down for good.

I am not sure of many things. I am often uncertain. Sometimes I encounter people of "faith" who are sure and certain. But these days, I am much more into hope.

HOPE: (n) the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen

Instead of telling myself "I believe" and waiting for miracles, I now use my energy to transform my own hopes into my own reality. Rather than trusting an invisible someone to know what is best for me, I am trying to determine what I really want from life, and what I am willing to invest to get it.

"So for tonight we pray for
What we know can be
And on this day we hope for
What we still can't see
It's up to us to be the change..."

Loaded Language: Gothard Style

Conservative and evangelical homeschoolers often have their own jargon, casually using words that represent entire concepts that would be foreign to mainstream Americans: "courtship", "betrothal", "modesty", "purity". They talk about "lapbooks", "the co-op", "the book fair", "our support group", a "parental rights amendment", or "anonymous tips".

But if homeschooling creates its own terminology, members deeply involved in the Institute in Basic Life Principles and its derivative organizations use another language entirely. Below is a list of some oft-repeated IBLP terms that have been imbued with layers of inside (and extra-biblical) meaning. Though seemingly innocuous to outsiders, they can be used by the initiated to quickly control or emotionally manipulate others who have been or are being brainwashed by the cult, short-circuiting attempts at logic or critical thought and bringing independent-thinking members back into line

  • yielding rights
  • clear conscience
  • moral freedom
  • defrauding (immodesty, flirting)
  • umbrella [of authority]
  • scripture meditation
  • wisdom vs. knowledge
  • character qualities
  • bright eyes
  • sharp arrows
  • my pineapples
  • speaking in the gates
  • rejecting God's design
  • five types of fools
  • three kinds of smiles
  • ten unchangeables
  • seven motivational gifts (as in, "I'm a prophet", "she's a mercy") 
  • irritations
  • apprenticeship opportunities
  • free time wisely
  • birth order (as in, "Oh, he's a secondborn")
  • cautions of the wife
  • high places 
  • "others may, I cannot"
  • standing alone
  • death of a vision
  • courtship
  • a dating spirit
  • an independent spirit
  • servant's spirit
  • cause-and-effect
  • [strict] navy-and-white
  • Knoxville
  • law of the harvest
  • sin of Bathsheba
  • baby wood duck
  • strongholds
  • give ground to Satan
  • eye traps
  • cutting off children/cutting off blessings
  • God-ordained authority
  • mind, will & emotions
  • carnal Christian
  • benefits of fasting
  • financial freedom
  • early rising
  • slothfulness
  • blind spots
  • waiting for God's best
  • Satan's best
  • opening the womb
  • bitterness
  • taking up an offense
  • self-acceptance
  • and many more... 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Making a Difference

Some weeks I am painfully aware of the rest of the world. Disasters both natural and man-made leaving grief and misery in their wake. This has been one of those weeks.

I read about the terrible typhoon in the Philippines... a place that holds a special place in my heart. I can picture the people, the sights, the smells. I can feel the humidity, smell the  taste the ocean. But I was well-fed when I was there. I had my own room and a big warm bed. I had fresh water, a cool pool for swimming, a hot shower, an air conditioned office. I had friends surrounding me, family waiting for me, and a sparkling new diamond on my finger.

I read about a priest spending the first day after the storm going around blessing corpses. Of people gathering at the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Tacloban. "I do not think that word means what you think it means." Some thank God for sparing their lives, others ask "Why?". A priest tells them God could not prevent the storm. Scared and confused, victims pray for no more calamities.

I wish I could do something for the hundreds of thousands of pregnant women in the area affected by Typhoon Haiyan. I picture the many women giving birth without proper assistance or sanitation, early labors precipitated by stress or dehydration. Struggling to breastfeed and care for newborns without adequate shelter or clean water. All while the Catholic Church fights government attempts to distribute contraception and education.

My first real information about contraception came from single Protestant missionary women in the Philippines. No one had ever told me how my fertility worked. As I edited simple little picture booklets for a language group on Mt. Apo, I was so grateful. Armed with new knowledge and curiosity, I headed to the library and pored over old books describing "the Billings method". It wasn't much, but it gave me hope that motherhood could be a chosen calling, rather than a cross to be borne.

I look at pictures of life in a camp for Syrian refugees. Women younger than me with twice as many kids, trying to create a stable life for their families who will be grown up too soon. Trying to keep them them clean and fed and clothed and safe. Sleepless nights in drafty tents worrying about the next day and relatives left behind. Children who will learn, but what lessons they absorb depends on how the adults in their lives interpret the world for them.

So I am reminded of Mr. Rogers' quote, "Look for the helpers."

The world is a big place. I can do a little to shine a light in the dark places, but at the end of the day my sphere in the wide, wide universe feels woefully small, my efficacy minuscule.

I stop looking at the distance and focus on what is around me. My children. My husband. I am still the brightest star in their sky. I light their world, interpret it, in many ways define it. And there are so many ways I can take care of them, show them that they are valuable and worthy of respect. In numerous little ways I am able to make their lives easier, their bodies more comfortable, their hearts strong and courageous.

My voice may not carry across the globe, but I am teaching my daughters to speak up for themselves, to defend the less fortunate, to hunger for justice and thirst for understanding. I may not be able to do much for my traumatized sisters in Southeast Asia, or in the Middle East, or even in Illinois and Indiana, but I can inspire and support and cheer on the amazing women with whom I share mitochondrial DNA--my younger sisters, now scattered across the globe, who are making their own brave choices every day.

I can create a safe and happy space for my own family. I can make space for beauty, for kindness, for leisure. I can invest energy in making my tiny piece of the planet a little bit cozier.

So this week I brightened a hallway with a new coat of paint. (My husband always feels like he lives in a new house when I finish a paint project, and he likes that feeling!) I bought a new plant. I replenished the cracker jar with homemade treats. I served a dinner with everyone's favorite foods. I gave my morning girl a special breakfast before she left for school. I took my youngest to the optometrist to have her glasses readjusted properly; she felt special getting so much attention and looking at herself in the mirrors. I'll visit her classroom this week, and listen to my son sing in his school concert.

Today I will make a pot of chili and when the onions make me cry I will think of all the women around the world working hard in all kinds of ways to create environments of warmth and stability for themselves and the people they love. We are making a difference.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Kitchen Fun with Jeri: Homemade Crackers

For more recipes, check out my food blog at Jerusha's Kitchen!

With all the kids in school and no classes for me this semester, I've had a lot more time to play in my kitchen. It's been good to remember how much I really enjoy cooking, for its own sake.

This week I restocked the cracker jar. Crackers are fun to make and my children look forward to grabbing one for a snack when they get home from school. Even my Cheezit-loving husband likes these!

Wheat Crackers

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4-6 Tbsp. milk

Cut butter into dry ingredients. Add 1/4 milk and stir till dough comes together (use the rest of the milk if mixture is still too dry to clump). Dough should be very dense.

Lightly flour the counter and roll dough thin, to about 1/8". Prick all over with a fork. (You can do this step before you pop the crackers into the oven, but it's easier to do it before cutting them.) I've been cutting my crackers out into fun shapes with small cookie cutters, but you can also use a knife to cut squares, rectangles, or diamonds. Arrange pieces on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 400 F for 15-20 minutes or till crackers just begin to brown. (The thinner they are, the faster they will burn, so keep an eye on them!)

Cool crackers on a wire rack and store in an air-tight container. (If they are not completely crisp, crackers will keep longer stored in the freezer.)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jim Logan, the Stephen King of Fundamentalism

Did you know that demons can be sexually transmitted? That many Vietnam veterans' problems are caused by demons picked up from prostitutes? That a person can be "demonized" through listening to music, watching TV, or by playing Dungeons & Dragons?

Welcome to the world of Dr. James Logan, "the demon whisperer", "the Stephen King of ATI", pastor, adviser to missionaries, and conservative fundamentalist exorcist.

Jim Logan

Logan told one audience that he gets calls about house hauntings every day: "We dedicate the ground. Many people miss the ground." He tells about a missionary in Vienna, Austria who had to leave Europe because his "fourteen-year-old son got full of demons from listening to rock music". Logan claims parents in Missouri are teaching fourth and fifth graders to call up demons in the mirror and he believes government officials have demons assigned to them to influence them to oppose Christianity.

I would not know Jim Logan's name were it not for Bill Gothard. Gothard's signature teaching on the "Umbrella of Authority" taught followers that obedience and submission to the will of "authorities" (husbands, parents, employers, pastors, law enforcement officers, and government officials) would protect them from the attacks of Satan, which could not penetrate the "umbrella". Thinking for one's self or acting against the wishes of authorities was venturing beyond the safety of the umbrella and would expose one to the invisible danger of demonic influences.

But the Umbrella of Authority teaching would have had no teeth if we had not been convinced that demons were real, and scary. And that's where Jim Logan comes in.

Jim grew up in an "ungodly" home; years later his stomach still knotted at the sight of his father. Logan was drafted during the Korean War; he converted to Christianity when he was 19, through the ministry of Dawson Trotman and the Navigators. He attended Biola University, and then Biola's seminary, Talbot School of Theology. But he received his training in "deliverance" straight from Fred Dickason at Moody Bible Institute. Dickason, a professor and theologian, authored Angels: Elect and Evil and other books on demonology and "warfare".

Jim Logan spent over seven years with Child Evangelism Fellowship in Warrenton, Missouri where he served as a vice president. He also pastored at least two churches.

In 1987, Dr. Mark Bubeck founded the International Center for Biblical Counseling (ICBC International) in Sioux City, Iowa. (Read more about Bubeck's belief in demons here.) Jim Logan joined the ICBC staff in 1989 and stayed for sixteen years. Eventually, new centers were started in Indiana, Colorado, and Texas, becoming independent over time. (ICBC International has since merged with Deeper Walk Ministries to become Deeper Walk International.) Logan started his own Biblical Restoration Ministries in Sioux City in 2005. According to Logan's website, none of the counseling staff or their associates are "professional or licensed counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, medical or psychological practitioners." Logan has carried his "expertise" to numerous countries counseling missionaries, working especially with CEF, Navigators, and J.A.A.R.S.

Somewhere along the way, Logan became pals with Bill Gothard. Gothard was stuffy compared to the irrepressible Logan. Logan liked to tell how he was the last member of his family to give up television, watching his favorite shows alone in the garage after his wife and kids refused to have anything to do with it anymore. Logan like to joke and tease (behavior that would earn IBLP staff a rebuke for "folly"), and he would frequently interrupt himself with loud laughter, releasing the tension in an auditorium made anxious by tales of noises in shadowy rooms and men's voices coming out of small children.

The two men had at least one thing in common: a love of stories. Gothard soon invited Logan to speak at numerous Institute in Basic Life Principles seminars around the country, addressing homeschooling parents and pastors. Logan and Gothard frequently told each other's stories and recommended each other's teachings and materials. Logan helped Gothard write an IBLP publication (Life Purpose Journal Vol. III) that is no longer available. More recently, Logan helped lead IMI, an IBLP program developed to train young men to be pastors.

Gothard and Logan shared similar views of "iniquity", "warfare", and "ancestral spirits". A fetus conceived out of wedlock, for example, had to be prayed over to break the ancestral demons passed on by his/her conception. The brightness of the eyes were supposed to reveal an individual's spiritual state: "The eyes show me if Satan's clouding your mind" (Logan). While Gothard tended to avoid talking about demons directly, he had a lexicon of coded terminology he was comfortable with: carnality, evil, spirit of rebellion, heaviness, darkness, principalities, ground, hedge, attacks, tormentors, protection, and deception. Logan didn't beat around the bush; he was matter-of-fact about strange voices coming out Christian missionaries who had been invaded by demons.

Logan became a fixture at Gothard's ATI conferences. After listening to his tales of hallucinations, seizures, and demons being let loose in homes because of Cabbage Patch Kids or evil art objects received as white elephant gifts, or even "twin beds gotten from homosexuals", families would go home frightened. Some parents burned their children's toys, even putting dolls on barbecue grills while the kids watched in anguished terror. Parents like mine cleansed our home of Winnie-the-Pooh and all other "talking animals". Others banished Cabbage Patch dolls, My Little Ponies, clowns, superheroes. We knew our parents were dead-serious about our welfare: they were willing to make burnt offerings to keep us safe.

Despite having no credentials, Logan was frequently sought out by ATI parents at a loss to "fix" their rebellious or depressed sons and daughters, who must be affected by demonic influences. But he could be contradictory. Despite recommending Gothard's book against Christian rock music, calling it "awesome", Logan still found some Christian artists acceptable. He told one family that he listened to Amy Grant, and recommended Michael Card's "Sleep Sound in Jesus" album of lullabies at an ICBC conference, saying that the songs would keep children from having nightmares. Far more disturbing is the allegation that he failed to report claims of sexual abuse made by those he "counseled".

Gothard had been teaching his "Umbrella of Authority" for decades, when he had a new breakthrough. In 1992, Gothard introduced his Strongholds concept. He soon developed it into a fancy new package complete with diagram illustrations explaining how any sin or disobedience or "bitterness" could "give ground" to Satan in a person's soul. And if Satan had enough "ground" on this imaginary chessboard in the mind/heart, the victim would be plagued by temptations and troubles.

Notes from a lecture by Gothard, 1992

For years, Logan says, he helped people gain freedom from demons using the "direct confrontational method": he would speak to the evil spirits and command them to speak back. With the discovery of Strongholds, he could switch to a "less invasive" approach, helping people pinpoint the acts of disobedience whereby "the enemy" had been given permission to invade their inner being. By confessing and renouncing these "sins", a Christian could be "freed" from cross-dressing, anorexia, depression, "bondage" to masturbation, or any number of "torments".

In 1995, Moody Press released a book by Jim Logan entitled Reclaiming Surrendered GroundThough written by a ghostwriter (provided by Moody), it was based on Logan's messages, with a foreword by Baptist preacher Charles Stanley. The book, along with some of Neil Anderson's writings, is still a standard resource recommended by Gothard for those who want to conquer "lust". It also received endorsements from Erwin Lutzer and Warren Wiersbe.

That same year, Dr. Kenneth Copley joined Jim Logan and Mark Bubeck to open an ICBC branch in Carmel, Indiana. In 2001, Moody published Copley's book on spiritual warfare, The Great Deceiver. Jim Logan himself wrote the foreword. Besides offering "counsel" in spiritual warfare, Copley was an instructor for teenagers in Gothard's EQUIP program at the Indianapolis Training Center. The ITC worked closely with Judge James Payne of the Marion County Juvenile Court, who sent young offenders to the ITC to be mentored by graduates of the EQUIP training.*

In one talk available on YouTube, Logan addresses a group of young people at an unspecified IBLP Training Center. Uninhibited as usual, he rambles about "helping" counselees with anorexia, who can never have "victory" as long as they have pride in their life, because God resists the proud. "If God himself is resisting you, you're doomed." Likewise with rebellion: "When I push away authorities, God will push me away," says Logan. However, Logan then turns to complaining about the food served at the training center, seeking support from his listeners who dare not express their  "rebellion" for fear of unpleasant consequences.

"If I'm nasty, it's for fun. If I didn't like you, I wouldn't be nasty... I've earned it," Logan bluntly reassures his nervous audience. One minute he is claiming that he came upon an altar where human sacrifices had been made in the woods on on the JAARS campus ("human bones, that used to have meat on them"), and minutes later he is mocking the modesty of Islamic women.

Logan seems to find Hell particularly amusing. At one point he chuckles, "Look at all the brilliant people going to hell". At another conference he breaks out in a loud belly laugh describing a small child being threatened with eternal torment in flames. Could it be that, deep down, this "good news of the Gospel" is just a joke?

The people who come to Logan may be suicidal, homicidal, depressed, or mentally ill. His office provides a data sheet where they are instructed to mark if they have hostility toward those in "deliverance work", if they gossip, if they have practiced any martial arts, and if they have desires for bestiality or premarital or lesbian sex.

While he may not come across as especially bright, Logan captivates audiences with his rambling yet spellbinding yarns of what he describes as encounters with demons.  And far from being politically correct, Logan can sound downright racist, warning against the "animism" inherent in native American, African, and Filipino culture. He has a story of demons "throwing dishes out of cupboards" because a house was built over an Indian burial ground and another of an African musical instrument causing a child to threaten a sibling with a butcher knife. The sister of the Ambassador from Togo asked Logan to come pray for her children and bless their new home. Logan says his interpreter saw Chinese spirits in the house, which had formerly housed a family from China.

Sometimes, Logan progresses from simply rambling to incoherent, weaving yarns that don't even make sense. For example:
In Indiana, they wrap an egg with yarn and put the egg in fire but the yarn doesn't burn and they bury it; "...and that group of people has the highest suicide rate of teenagers in America".
"The same spirits that stalked the Philippines walk in the Caribbean and terrorize the people on the island of Maui."
Logan claims one of his CEF missionaries, Larry, was a "self-styled Satanist" before converting and going to Indonesia. To break ties with his old life, Larry got rid of a glass pendulum he had used in Satanism, throwing it into a city dump near Seattle--but it beat him home, sitting back in its box at his house when he returned. So Larry and his family took it back in the dump and prayed that God would keep it there and this time it stayed. According to Logan, Larry still has "spooky eyes" from his previous occult involvement even though he is "clean".

These stories, and many others like them, are what I grew up on. When I ask myself how I could ever have accepted some of Gothard's most egregious "principles", I think of Logan. That's how. Because Logan claimed to have evidence that the spirit world existed, that Satan wanted to kill me, that there were real unseen dangers I needed to be kept safe from, that obeying my parents would keep strange voices from coming out of my mouth, or books from flying off my shelves. That the name of Jesus was my talisman against evil (unless God wanted me to learn a larger lesson from suffering).

My parents believed it, too. To them, Logan was just another Christian voice telling the truth, like Hal Lindsey (author of Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth) and Mel Tari (author of Like a Mighty Wind). That's why we turned the placemats upside down when we ate at a Chinese restaurant (don't read the zodiac!) and asked the waiter for almond cookies instead of fortune cookies. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary that I've owned since I was twelve, the chart of zodiac signs is scribbled out in black marker. We never took a newspaper because it would be too easy for someone to read a horoscope.

Mom chose to give birth without assistance rather than trust midwives who might be into "Eastern religions". We left church services when demonic music was played under the guise of worship. We did not acknowledge Halloween.We said a prayer for safety before each and every road trip, even we were only headed to the post office.  And Mom refused to consider using the Saxon math curriculum (popular with other homeschoolers) because she had seen "ghouls" in a word problem.

So it was huge for me to reconsider the nature of Satan. Ultimately, my faith in God required a cosmic enemy--an evil being trying to snatch my soul and longing to drag me into hell. My theism rested on a belief in a "personal" devil, and when I lost my fear of the demonic, my fear of god went tumbling after! My husband, who sat under Ken Copley's instruction for an entire week in the EQUIP program, lost a lifelong fear of the dark after finally reaching the conclusion that the "spirit world" is nothing more than a fantasy of human imagination.

Jim Logan has spent his life alternately frightening people of, and presuming to rescue people from, a phantom menace. Despite his lack of credentials, many badly hurting individuals have unfortunately been led to believe that Jim Logan's teaching could provide the help they sorely needed, and many more children and teens were further scarred in the process.

*Last year Dr. Copley's adopted daughter came forward, accusing him of sexually abusing her even while the family lived at the Training Center. Another victim has come forward accusing Copley of sexually abusing her while she was seeing him for counseling at ICBC. By the time Copley's daughter decided to seek legal action, Indiana's Department of Child Services was being run by Judge James Payne himself. Dr. Copley is currently a pastor at The Cross in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Crosspost: Dear Parents, The World Does Not Have to be Cruel

These beautiful and inspiring thoughts by my friend Darcy first appeared on her blog Darcy's Heart-Stirrings on November 7, 2013 and are reprinted here by permission. 

People think kids must be treated a certain way because "the world is a cruel place" and kids should just learn that from the start of their lives. It's true that the world is a cruel place and my kids will discover this eventually. But I am not the world. I am their mother. I am the one that should show them a haven in a cruel world. I am the one they should be able to come to when they are tired of the cruel world. I should be their safe place, not just an extension of the cruelty they will find when they leave me. *Perhaps the world is a cruel place because we think we need to teach our children that the world is a cruel place.* Perhaps if we instead taught them that the world doesn't have to be cruel, if we send newly-made adults out into the world, having been taught kindness and respect and justice, they will in turn create a world of kindness, respect, and justice. 

I think what our world needs is adults who were once children who know first hand what respect means because the adults in their life modeled it every single day. Children learn what they live, and they become the next generation to raise more children who learn what they live and the curse of authoritarian bullies that rule the world, turning it into a cruel place continues. What are we teaching them by our interactions with them? That the biggest and strongest can impose their desires on the weak? That leadership is about oppressing people? That the smaller you are, the less your desires and ideas matter? This is what I see when I look around me, at parents and children. This is the brokenness that will carry on to the next generation if we don't stand against it and show a better way.

I see parents getting patted on the back for making their teen stand in shame on the side of a road, holding a sign that says "I disrespected my dad". It is obvious to me where they learned such disrespect. But, hey, do as I say, not as I do, right? I'm bigger and that's all that matters? That seems to be the most popular parenting method these days. It is no wonder our world is cruel when the ones who are responsible for teaching respect and kindness are teaching shame and hatred instead. 

I refuse to perpetuate the brokenness. To show with my life that the Golden Rule only matters if you are not a child. To prove by my actions that only the biggest are due respect. I prefer to teach my children that a person is a person, no matter how small, and that everyone matters."Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly" begins with me, the mother, the molder-of-lives, the hand that rocks the cradle. It begins with us who, with words and actions, influence the next generation. It begins with how the powerful treat the smallest and weakest. And actions scream louder than our words ever can. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Crosspost: Tomatoes and The Hunt for Truth

This post by Lana Hobbs articulates a journey very like my own. It was originally posted November 6, 2013 at Overturning Tables by R. L. Stollar and is gratefully reprinted by permission:

Lana Hobbs blogs at Lana Hobbs the Brave, where she wrote an absolutely stunning series on her fight to overcome the stigma of talking about mental illness. Lana describes herself as a “post-Christian” — which is interesting, because some days I describe myself in the same way. There is something about growing up in the fundamentalist circus act that is the Religious Right that makes Christianity taste bitter. When you separate from that world, whether you separate to find the “real” Jesus or decide religion of any sort just isn’t for you, there is often this need to keep Christianity at arm’s length. There is also this fascinating sense of community, an intersectional sense of community, emerging from the ashes of our childhood fundamentalism. We are all putting our pieces back together, in public and on blogs, so we are learning together how to respect one another’s journeys. Lana’s voice is important to consider in that process and so I am happy to share with you her journey away from Christianity and towards Freethought. I don’t know what I think about Freethought, but I do know this: that I’m just “trying to love and hunting for truth,” just like Lana says she is. And we could all use more love and truth in our world.  --R.L. Stollar

This summer, as I was picking tomatoes in my garden, I wondered to myself, “How did tomatoes become tomatoes?” Once upon a time I would have said, “Well, God made them, and then men developed them through breeding.”

But this summer, I didn’t believe in God.

I think about life apart from the doctrine I was taught. I change my mind when confronted with facts and logic that merit consideration. This year, I became a Freethinker. A Freethinker is “one who has rejected authority and dogma, especially in religious thinking, in favor of rational inquiry and speculation.”

So instead of telling myself “God made tomatoes,” I wondered, what animals ate them? How did they become tomatoes before they were bred by humans? What were early tomatoes like? What were their ancestor plants?

My childhood wonder was coming back, replacing the certainty of “God did it.”

I grew up with utter certainty. The Bible was God’s perfect word. Jesus lived, died, and rose again so I could go to Heaven instead of Hell. God was good and perfect and wanted me to be perfect also.

I always loved the story of Elijah calling down fire from Heaven because of the utter certainty it represented. The Lord was God and Baal was not, because when the servants of Baal prayed, nothing happened, but when Elijah prayed God sent fire to consume the offering. Clarity, blessed clarity. And the Bible said it so it must be true, therefore God was the one true God over all others.

But as I grew, I began to notice problems. Things like, how can a good God send the majority of the people who have ever lived to Hell for sins they apparently couldn’t help due to being born with a sin nature? How is that just?

And questions like, if God made the earth exactly like the Bible says he did, then why does evolution seem so very true and have so much science to back it up?

And if God is always the same, why don’t we have wonders and miracles like Elijah did?

And if people were filled with the Holy Spirit, why were people often nastier in the church than out of it?

And oh so many more questions; mostly I wondered, “Is God really loving?”

Of course, I always strove to find the biblical answers to these questions. I fought, I struggled, I read book after book, trying to reconcile my faith and my doubts, trying to believe that God is good. I read Disappointment with God. The Ragamuffin Gospel. Crazy Love. Love Wins. A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I left my sometimes-toxic church, and during my break, which I meant to be temporary, I devoted myself to studying finding answers to my questions, until I had a faith I could live with, a faith I knew was real.

I had to save the faith because the faith was my life. As the disciples said, as my dad reminded me to say to Jesus anytime I thought I saw problems in Scripture, “You have the words of life, where else could I go.”
I was sometimes accused of wrestling with questions too big for my mind.

I think people can genuinely wrestle with these questions and remain Christian — I am not trying to talk anyone out of faith, just telling my story. And for me it eventually became too many questions; I struggled to justify my faith in God and the Bible.

But then came the deathblow question. I asked myself: “What would make me believe this if I hadn’t been taught it as truth from childhood — what would convince me this was true over Buddhism or Judaism or Islam?”

And I had no answer.

I know the hope of the gospel convinces a lot of people, but for me it wasn’t enough to believe it was real. After months of hunting for the answer to that question, during the most severe and debilitating depression of my life — in which my faith crisis certainly played a role — I decided to take a break from the search for truth in Christianity. If Christianity was Truth and I was hunting for Truth, I would find it. If the Bible was right and all of nature pointed to God, then I figured I should be able to find Jesus without Bible scholars telling me what to believe about the Bible.

I had finally reached the point where I wanted truth above wanting to keep my childhood beliefs.

I believe it was at that moment that I became a Freethinker, when I decided to set aside all preconceptions and dogma and hunt for truth. Only I still sort of thought it might lead me back to the Bible. It hasn’t.

Once I decided to stop trying with all my might to believe the Bible, I figured I should go ahead and start reading about other beliefs. I started with one little book about atheism: Why I Am Not A Christian by Richard Carrier.

And suddenly, I had changed my mind completely.

An interesting thing happens when you leave your faith and become a Freethinker:
Some of your friends get selective amnesia.

They forget how well you argued for the Bible, how much you loved it and how well you knew it. They forget how on fire you were. They forget all the service you did for the God you loved.

Suddenly you become The Other. The Unsaved. The Immoral. They use the same old arguments to try to convince you back that you once used to convert people.They lament that your children won’t have godly parents. They post trite conversion stories on your Facebook wall.

You become a project, where you used to be a friend. This hurts.

I didn’t suddenly forget the Bible. I know it quite well, thank you.

I don’t need to hear the Gospel. I know it, I just don’t believe it.

I’m not out to make you lose your faith, I just don’t want you to push my old faith back on me; it doesn’t fit me any more.

I don’t hate Christianity, although I hate when it causes injustice, hatred, and pain.

I’m not in favor of outlawing religion, although I will defend the separation of church and state.

I’m not against you talking about your faith with my children, although I won’t let you scare them into a decision with talk of Hell.

By the way, I do parent my children with love and I do have morals. I just don’t get them from an ancient book. I may have changed a lot since questioning my faith and becoming a Freethinker, but really I haven’t changed as much as you might think.

I’m still just a person, trying to love and hunting for truth.

This post by Lana Hobbs was originally posted November 6, 2013 at Overturning Tables by R. L. Stollar and is reprinted by permission.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Of Beef Stroganoff and Italian Subs

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

Scene from the film "Babette's Feast"

Funny how our senses are tuned differently. While my husband is so sensitive to musical detail even his dreams can have soundtracks, my brain assigns high priority to flavor.

So many of my memories revolve around food, transporting me to times and places far away.

Sitting here in my kitchen on a cloudy afternoon, I can recall the tang of Russian black bread, of calamansi juice squeezed over sweet ripe papaya, of the Vitamin C lozenges Mom used let us suck on when we had sore throats. I can compare the tastes of three different bread recipes Mom used during my childhood. I can travel back in time to taste her favorite chocolate cake with coconut sprinkled over the icing, her homemade turkey stuffing, the broccoli casserole she used to make with blue cheese in the sauce and Ritz cracker crumbs on the top.

Mom taught herself to cook after she was married, and then she taught me. From the time we were able to crawl, we were allowed in the kitchen (there was always a drawer or cabinet the babies were allowed to play in) and she got us involved in food preparation quite early. We helped plant and weed the garden, snap the beans, husk the corn, pit cherries, and turn the handle on the food mill when Mom made gallons of applesauce or tomato sauce. Of course, she had us help with the clean-up afterward, too.

Food became part of my childhood identity.

Mom was zealous about serving her family nutritious food, so while my classmates brought sugary snacks and brightly-colored fruit leather to school, I brought a Tupperware bowl of Mom's strawberry-rhubarb sauce. She made sure even our desserts had "redeeming value" most of the time: all-natural ice cream, peanut butter cookies, peach cobbler, pumpkin pie. I eventually learned that some other children's mothers were "health nuts" and that put me at ease. There was still a place for treats: Mom enjoyed Pepsi on occasion, and pizza was a craving we were all happy to indulge. We ordered it from a place in town or made our own, with mushrooms from a can labeled "Pennsylvania Dutchman". Since my parents and I were born Pennsylvanians, I felt a kinship with the brand every time I opened a can.

But when I was seven or eight, our lives--and menu--changed dramatically.

My parents had attended Bill Gothard's Basic Seminar, but about this time they must have attended the Advanced Seminar. Mom quit wearing jeans, and got rid of all my pants. It was jumpers, dresses, and skirts for us females from then on. There were no more bathing suits, and my parents informed my grandmother that she could make the boys pajamas, but the girls needed nightgowns. Dad put a rock through the front of our television so there were no more evenings of "Little House of the Prairie".

And just like that, we developed our own Talmud.

Mom stopped wearing her prettiest cardigan vest--a lacy blue garment I loved but whose scalloped pattern was knit of cotton & ramie yarn. In those days before Google none of us were quite certain what "ramie" was, but it sounded suspicious. God had instructed Moses not to let the Israelites wear clothing of mixed fibers: the American colonists' "linsey-woolsey" was a direct violation of God's Law. Cotton and polyester, we decided, was not a problem since polyester wasn't actually a fiber but a petroleum product.

Leviticus prohibited hybrid animals (mules, for example) and planting two kinds of seed in the same field. So Mom stopped buying tangelos. Oranges, yes; tangerines, yes. But not tangelos. I remember trying to reconcile my confusion over the Burpee catalog, which was bursting with hybrids.

Genesis said God gave us "every seed-bearing plant" for food. Well, what of mushrooms then? They may be sold in the produce aisle, but seed-bearing plants they are not. No more little Pennsylvania Dutchman cans. No more of Mom's favorite omelettes at the best breakfast place in town. No more steaming cream of mushroom soup with a winter lunch. No more of Mom's rich and creamy beef stroganoff. How I missed them all.

The stroganoff was out on two counts--because it also mixed meat with milk, which was banned under one strict interpretation of an obscure rule repeated three times in the Torah. Mom adapted her meatloaf recipe accordingly, omitting the mushrooms and substituting water for the milk. For a while, her caution against fungi extended to blue cheese, resulting in the demise of her flavorful and creamy broccoli casserole. (I rebelliously continued to choose blue cheese dressing at salad bars and to argue that the yeast that made our bread rise was essentially another fungus.)

And then there were the unclean meats. Seafood wasn't a big deal for us--living so far from the coasts, we weren't used to crab cakes, shrimp, or lobster. But our German ancestors loved sausage. It was a sacrifice to lose bacon with pancakes, ham sandwiches, Mom's baked orange pork chops, and pepperoni pizza*--not to mention hot dogs!

Thus began a new era in our family history. Eating out became an exercise in selection by elimination. If six of out of eight entree choices contained pork, shrimp, or mushrooms, and one had something else you hated, you knew what you were ordering. When we were invited to other people's homes, which became a rarer event the larger the family became, Dad was sure to mention to them that we followed certain dietary restrictions. Church folks volunteering to bring us meals after Mom had another baby got the same information (resulting in three variations of chicken and potato salad in one week).

There were exceptions, of course. When our new neighbors invited us across the street for hot dogs the day we moved in, Mom was glad enough not to cook and we were permitted to receive with thanksgiving what was set before us, without inquiries as to the ingredients. When we were visiting family out-of-state and a sweet elderly relation baked a ham, there was a whispered discussion behind the scenes. Dad told us that it would be okay for us to eat it. Seeing that she had prepared it out of generosity and ignorance, it would be gracious of us not to turn it down. I stepped up to that table in her blue dining room with mouth watering, endeavoring to mask my anticipation. It was the last ham I would taste for over a decade.

Our hot dogs were all-beef. (Soy weiners were nasty.) We cheered when turkey pepperoni hit the market, and when we could serve turkey bacon planks as a salty side to a breakfast of waffles. By then our parents had relaxed on combining meat and dairy, so we could enjoy cheeseburgers again, and browned hamburger on our pizza. We found the stores that sold beef sausage links and became adept at rapidly scanning labels for offensive ingredients. Jiffy cornbread mix and some refried beans contained lard, which was "unclean". Mom once came home with frozen Salisbury steaks. When I found them in the freezer, I dutifully read her the ingredients. When she realized they contained pork, she threw the boxes in the garbage in exasperation.

When Dad accompanied me to San Francisco where I sat for a law exam in 1996 (required for students of Gothard's unaccredited correspondence law school), we were served breakfast sandwiches aboard the jet. I remember being annoyed that the diced ham was cooked into the egg, so it was nearly impossible to separate the two. I would have happily eaten the sandwich all together, but dared not appear to do so with my dad watching from the seat next to me. I remember looking sideways at him to see how he would handle the awkward situation, but I think he felt the same way. Sightseeing later on Pier 39 in the Fisherman's Wharf district, we carefully avoided the clam chowder that smelled so delicious in sourdough bread bowls. Shellfish, having neither fins nor scales, are an abomination, no matter how beguilingly disguised.

Ironically, the only times I was served pork during that long period was when I was volunteering for IBLP and they ordered pizza for the staff! (IBLP training center kitchens did not ordinarily serve pork products.)

I knew from my own reading of the New Testament that I had never shared my parents' interpretation of the Old Testament code. When I left home for the first time at age 22, I lost no time shedding the "standard" I had resented for so many years. My first day as an IBLP staff member was spent traveling from Chicago to Oklahoma City. When we stopped for lunch at a Subway, I ordered the Italian sub, chock full of forbidden salami, pepperoni, and ham. Two years later, I savored every morsel of the first real breakfast bacon I'd tasted since childhood. Each first made an impression: crab Rangoon, New Orleans shrimp, Maryland crab cakes, scallops in a pasta dish, calamari, lechon, pulled pork, BBQ ribs.

When I tell my kids about the way I grew up, they are aghast. They know religious kids in their classes who are vegetarian, or don't eat pork, or don't get candy at Halloween. But it always jars them to imagine their mother swimming in a dress, or kept from eating bacon, because of what an ancient scroll said that God told an old man on a mountain in a middle eastern desert.

*The famed Duggar family--equally zealous followers of Gothard--also stay away from pork. One episode of their "Nineteen Kids & Counting" showed them visiting a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. and enjoying pepperoni pizza. Curious viewers looked up the pizzeria's website and discovered that Jumbo Pizza uses all-beef pepperoni.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

In Which the Pieces Come Together

At some point in my growing up, I realized that my family was dysfunctional. While outsiders saw us as picture-perfect and held us in regard as a model of the ideal Christian family, we knew our Sunday-best was an illusion or at best, just one facet of who and what we were. There were a lot of good times, certainly, but there was also tension. And no matter how much fun we were having, we never let our guard down.

I have spent the last year seriously unpacking what I've carried from my family of origin. In the process, I've gradually learned a new vocabulary describing the ways that dysfunction affected me:

According to a report on Developmental Trauma Disorder by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk,
When children are unable to achieve a sense of control and stability they become helpless. If they are unable to grasp what is going on and unable do anything about it to change it, they go immediately from (fearful) stimulus to (fight/flight/freeze) response without being able to learn from the experience. Subsequently, when exposed to reminders of a trauma (sensations, physiological states, images, sounds, situations) they tend to behave as if they were traumatized all over again – as a catastrophe. Many problems of traumatized children can be understood as efforts to minimize objective threat and to regulate their emotional distress. Unless caregivers understand the nature of such re-enactments they are liable to label the child as “oppositional”, ‘rebellious”, “unmotivated”, and “antisocial”.
When trauma emanates from within the family children experience a crisis of loyalty and organize their behavior to survive within their families. Being prevented from articulating what they observe and experience, traumatized children will organize their behavior around keeping the secret, deal with their helplessness with compliance or defiance, and accommodate in any way they can to entrapment in abusive or neglectful situations.
These children... tend to communicate the nature of their traumatic past by repeating it in the form of interpersonal enactments, in their play and in their fantasy lives.

So many of Dr. van der Kolk's observations resonate with me. And in an odd way, I find it reassuring to discover that professionals can accurately describe the ways in which my siblings and I coped with our traumatic upbringing. We were not anomalies; we were not "broken"; we were not "messed up". As children, we responded understandably--even predictably--to unsettling circumstances beyond our control.

Our parents were told by Bill Gothard and Michael Farris and Mary Pride and Doug Phillips, by Raymond Moore and Gregg Harris and even James Dobson, that God had given them (parents) responsibility for their children's education and that by taking our education into their own hands, they could have the loving, God-fearing family they always wanted. Our parents accepted the challenge, choosing to raise us in an environment totally different from any they had known before. In a system totally different from their own experience. In a culture totally different from that of our peers. But in some cases, that system failed dismally.

My ten siblings and I are only a tiny representation of the thousands (millions?) of children who grew up in conservative religious homeschooling homes. Many of those homes were unhealthy, and socially isolated; many were abusive. And many of us are survivors. The symptoms we have dealt with along the way are not signs that we were rebellious or lazy or crazy or influenced by demons--they are simply signs that our young brains reacted normally to the challenges our parents created for us when we were vulnerable and doing the best we could to make sense of the strange and sometimes painful world in which we found ourselves.

Now that I have children trusting me to show them the world, I am finally able to feel empathy for my younger self. I see myself at my children's ages, and grieve the losses that little girl was not able to properly mourn at the time because she had to be strong and she had to be good. That little girl discovered early that it was safer to ally herself with her caregivers--who were bent on pleasing God--than with the rest of her culture--who were displeasing him every day. That little girl learned to cooperate with and even defend the very people who were traumatizing her, even when this only created more cognitive dissonance.

Now I find nurturing my children and tuning in to their specific needs to be healing to me. Observing them, I am better able to recognize my own likes and dislikes and fears, the things that make me feel supported, the things that make feel threatened, the things that make me feel brave.

I have carried a lot with me since leaving the home of my childhood. I felt I had to hang onto it to find out what exactly it was. Now that I am able to label the way I felt as a girl, it is easier to let those feelings go and move on with a better, healthier life.