I watched Tina Turner’s Documentary last night on HBOMax.
Tina’s story is well known. Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne played Ike and Tina in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It – which came out in the 90s. Yet, watching her talk last night about her experiences pre-Ike and with Ike, it was heart wrenching.
You see this woman, this young girl, at the start of her life feeling so alone that she attaches herself to a man who brutalized and tortured her for seventeen years. And what came through in the documentary was that she never got over it. In a lot of ways – the media wouldn’t let it rest. Ike was this shadow that followed her throughout her career and her life.
But what makes it especially hard is to watch someone you love, go through something horrible – even if it’s in retrospect.
My father had always been a fan of Tina Turners. He had bought tickets for him and my mom to go to her farewell concert in 2000. However, my mother ended up having surgery and told my dad to take me.
This was years after all the physical abuse. I was an adult starting off in life and my mom and dad were in one of their ‘off cycles’ of the church and my dad had started binge drinking.
The problem I had with him was the binge drinking, wasn’t just the booze and the issues of alcoholism, it made a mockery of everything I had learned and had been put through. All the pain, all the beatings, all the time spent in church living a particular way, denied things, denied company with friends, family time given over to the institution was suddenly gone. Poof! Just like that.
My sisters and I were going to go out to a bar and go dancing and decided to take dad along. Well, he got in the car and needed an ATM.
“I’m gonna get fucked up,” he said.
That set me off. I was disgusted. Furious with him. I jumped out of the car and walked home.
Who are you, man?
Where the fuck is my father?
What the fuck is happening here and why does this all feel all kinds of wrong?
Why can’t you moderate yourself?
Why am I so goddamn mad?
And he was right. He came home fucked up laughing and ranting and ….I shoved him away from me when he tried to hug me.
My sisters made me leave with them for the night. The rage I felt was terrible and if I’m honest with myself, I was hurt and scared.
The fundamentalism backfired on me. Even out of that circumstance, the fundamentalism was ingrained. It was in my DNA. It had been beaten into me and this circumstance was an inflection point for me. Jesus had failed in doing his job in saving my father – and I didn’t know how to handle it. The ‘truth’ of our brand of fundamentalism, wasn’t true. The certainty was gone and I was adrift.
As I’ve described before the cycles of in and out for us made it feel like I was living with two separate sets of parents. It was a bi-polar existence and, like I said before, the abuse was then turned inward – at least for my father. As a kid it was hard to watch that – to watch someone you love hurt themselves even after he’d been the reason for so much pain and grief in your life up to that point.
I don’t know what it was about the situation that made me as angry as I was. Maybe it was the uselessness and unnecessary abuse that I’d gone via their dogma that had suddenly vanished and left me drifting without any mooring. Or, perhaps, it was the lack of stability that this new thing offered.
Whatever the case may be, I had learned the power of silence. For weeks afterward, I wouldn’t speak to him for getting shitty drunk. I wouldn’t say a damn word to him. He would speak to me and my replies were either non-existent or one word responses and it hurt him – I knew it hurt him.
It bothered him.
Silence is judgement. Silence is control. Silence is power.
“You have no mercy,” he said at one point during this period.
So, he decided to take me to see this concert. Tina Turner. We drove from Detroit to The Palace in Auburn Hills.
“You fight like a woman,” he said to me in the car.
This abuser was taking me to a concert to see a woman who, I would come to understand later, had been horrifically abused.
I had the time of my life. I’d never heard music that loud, that powerful, that tangible in my life. I loved her immediately after that and have carried her music with me since then.
Years later in a conversation on the phone my father was waxing nostalgic, and worried about a heart procedure he was about to have to undergo, when he brought that night up.
“You were mad at me for drinking…,” he said.
“I should have done more with you kids.”
“Life is meant to be lived.”
“There were experiences we should have had together.”
That phone conversation had, in just a few short sentences, validated my life. I wasn’t crazy. I was hurt. I was hurting. I still hurt. I’ll always hurt in that space. It’s a like bone that hasn’t set right. Like Tina hurt all those years after Ike.
The PTSD. The Trauma is still there even after we pick ourselves up off the floor and go on because we have no other choice. The other alternative is death. So, it hangs on us. It informs us. We are informed by it.
And it never ceases to amaze me the amount of shit human beings do to each other and put each other through for whatever reason.
What’s ironic in all of this, was that this abuser had taken me to see a woman whose life had been so abusive. Of course a connection would be made there and it’s a connection for me that’s lasted all these years.
“You fight like a woman.”
So did Tina when she’d finally had enough.
What’s love got to do with it? I dunno, honestly, but you better be good to me.
Author’s Note: Thank you, Tina. For the years of struggle and the music and the presence in our lives.
I woke up this morning with the news that eight people had been shot to death in a Fed-Ex facility in Indianapolis, Indiana.
I woke up the news of Dr. Fauci and Jim Jordan fighting on the floor of Congress.
I woke up the news of Tamir Rice’s family begging the Department of Justice to reopen an investigation on the death of their son.
I woke up the news that Simon and Schuster Publications will not distribute the writings of the police officer who shot and killed Breonna Taylor.
I woke up the news that the people of Brazil are dying at incredible numbers of Covid-19.
I woke up to the news that the world is on fire and is desperate for help.
It all feels incredibly overwhelming and the tragedy of it all, is that we’ve somehow become used to the idea of all this desperation clinging to everything like some invasive specie of moss.
People are scared. Scared to go to work, to send their kids to school, scared of the cops, scared of skin color, scared of climate change, scared of vaccines, scared of every fucking thing you can think of.
We don’t have to live this way.
I am no Biblical Scholar and I’m no theologian. I don’t know how ecumenical councils work, what the early fathers said or didn’t say, I can’t tell you whether or not transubstantiation is real, or if water baptism guarantees salvation. To be quite honest, I don’t really care about any of that.
What I do care about is the hyper-evangelical depiction of Jesus who is nothing more than a judgmental corporate fat cat who loves nationalism, war, and death. Worse, he seems awful apathetic to human suffering in the midst of great wealth.
This nation has had a hundred years of that judgmental Christ, going back to the days of D.L. Moody and in the process we’ve received:
Blessings that are seen as gifts
The belief that anything free must be cheap
a raging Opioid problem
a lack of adequate healthcare
incarceration rates that rival middle eastern countries
daily mass shootings
apocalyptic revelations that a number of these evangelical churches have been operated as nothing more than child abuse centers or brothels for predatory men.
We have purposeful misdirection of science and truth itself propagated by pastors in pulpits.
L.G.B.T children are being turned out by their God fearing parents or murdered for being trans.
White supremacy is raging and black people are being summarily executed in our streets by law enforcement.
The moral authority of the evangelical churches across this country is dead. When it aligned itself with the empire Donald Trump attempted to establish, their moral authority was what was shot on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
None of that is the love of Christ. None of it is Christian. Let me quote Tammy Faye Baker when she walked into a morgue and saw the bodies of AIDS victims stacked up on top of each other, “That’s not the Gospel.”
We rely on charities more and more to pick up the tab and their flailing. We rely on teachers to not only educate but socialize our children and now they have to protect them from gunmen.
We’ve allowed churches to utilize 501c3’s to expand their pastor’s wealth and create empires of their own when tent cities are being erected by homeless people the nation over. People who, at some point, were productive members of society who had fallen on hard times.
We rely, wrongly, on the federal and state governments – and their agents -to curtail more and more problems. Our governments, especially the American government, was purposefully built broken so that no one could seize power (thanks be to God), but at the same time it limits quick movement. Getting congress to pass something is as painful as a farmer, in the midst of a drought, waiting for a single drop of rain.
Phyliss Tickle said that “Societies are informed by the religion and, in turn, inform the religion. It’s a two way street.”
People see this. People look at this and say, “That’s what being a Christian is all about. No thanks.”
And who can blame them?
Churches in time’s past have been a unifier. Churches in times past have filled the gap where governments failed. In times past they were places of refuge for the desperate, the hungry, the lonely, and for those desperately seeking solace. They built schoolhouses, and hospitals, and mortuaries giving people mercy and letting them live and die with dignity.
I am not calling for a progressive Christianity. I think that’s redundant. That’s like asking for wet liquid. Christianity was progressive until the empire took over. Jesus Christ was progressive in his ministry by healing the sick, taking care of the poor, feeding the hungry, whereas the empire itself was apathetic to the suffering of people. That’s what drove these people in the thousands to hear his ministry. That’s what made Jesus Christ a threat. He set about freeing people. That’s what got him killed by the way – I think I should include that.
Humanity hasn’t changed. They still need.
I am calling for a return to the way Christianity used to be. A return to Christianity simply meaning, “To be Christ Like.” I am calling or a New Reformation.
I don’t care what we call the movement. The Emergence, the Convergent, the Detergents, but for fuck sake – enough already! The rules lawyers, the Biblical literalists, the ‘my way or the highway’ fundamentalist, hyper judgmental crap isn’t working any more -if it ever did. The world is full of judgement. It’s chock full of partisanship and holier than thou righteousness that makes the accusers of sin look like the fools they are and the accused aren’t blind.
We need mercy. We need grace. We need Jesus. I was brutally tortured under this system. Tens of thousands of people were brutally tortured under this system that is operating inside of our country. Who still are. It was a Godless, graceless, Christ-less, existence and it still is.
I bear the scars. They bear the scars.
My father used to preach something that stuck with me through the years and I think he was right, albeit for the wrong reason, “If God does not punish America, He’ll have to resurrect Sodom and Gomorrah and apologize to it.”
And, of course, that had zero to do with homosexuality and had everything to do with inhospitality.
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Ezekiel 16:49
Except destruction isn’t coming by way of God, anymore. He doesn’t have to. The churches have been hoarding the blessings of heaven for themselves and, as a result, the nation is destroying itself in the process.
We need a New Reformation and we need it now argue about the damn name later.
The fall of Donald Trump from the Presidency of the United States was apocalyptic in it’s own right. In his wake, he left the bodies of over 500 thousand Americans dead from his inaction on Covid-19.
Furthermore, the disease (and the immunization in large part) became political. It still is.
With nearly half of the Republican Party (made up in large part of Evangelical Christians) refusing the Covid-19 Vaccination, the herd immunity that people are hoping for is further away than it has to be. It’s further away than it should be.
The reason that I have for taking up this blog in the first place is to draw a clear line between what I went through and what is taking place in today’s society. As I stated before, I thought I could simply outrun it. That I could just get away and live my life as I saw fit. I could reclaim my time, my dignity, my personhood, and just move on.
Yet, that doesn’t seem to be the case. And if I were honest with myself, which I am totally attempting to be, that never was the case. For example, the marriage equality fight that took up most of the last decade and the attempts by evangelical groups to deny me equal rights before the law. Technically speaking, I didn’t even become a human being before the law until Anthony Kennedy and the majority of the court extended 14th Amendment protections to me in Obergefell vs. The United States.
However, the sinister motivations of a people hell bent on being the figurative Covid-19 bomb in a crowded shopping mall, whether they believe the illness to be lab created in Wuhan, China (which it wasn’t), or a variation of the flu (which it isn’t), or a total hoax (looks at the death toll count once more) is mentally exhausting.
Fundamentalism – or certainty addiction/ absolutism – entraps the mind and leaves the body to wander.
This is the Jim Jones Kool-Aid. People are still dropping like flies and social media is rife with videos of people acting crazy because they were denied service at a store or a restaurant because they refused to wear a mask citing ‘their rights in the constitution’ or ‘civil rights legislation pertaining to African Americans’ – neither of which any of them have read or understood (Sort of like their Bible).
Yet, the problem here is that this didn’t come up on it’s own. These people weren’t suddenly struck with stupidity one day. They were primed for this. Unlike the Wuhan theory, this was, in fact, engineered and maintained by evangelical fundamentalism. And the reason people were open to someone like Donald Trump, was due in large part to being open to the language and the imagery that he used thanks in large part to people like Jack Hyles, Jerry Farwell, and so forth. This is a result of Charismatic leaders who know how to use imagery and emotion and issues of faith against the people whom they claim to love.
Why? I think it’s good economics. Ideas like Freedom, Liberty, Faith, and Religion have been weaponized and used against the people.
It’s still maintained, here’s an interview with a Pentecostal Preacher saying he wont get the Covid-19 vaccine.
“I’ll just tell you today, if being anti-mask and anti-vaccine is anti-government, then I’m proud to be anti-government,” Spell, who has made a national name for himself protesting Covid-19 rules in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told Life Tabernacle Church congregants. He goes on to falsely state: “If you have a 99.6% survival rate, why do you want somebody to contaminate your bloodstream with something that may or may not hurt you?”
This man doesn’t hold the keys to the kingdom. He holds the cup of poison his congregants are drinking from by producing false witness against not only the government but against those inside of healthcare who are racing against the clock to save people’s lives. And this will have natural consequences. The shameful aspect is, because of the nature and the oaths taken by health care officials, they’ll risk their own lives to intercede on behalf of those who, in their flippant ignorance decided that death was the best choice for them.
Just like the January 6th Insurrection whipped up by then President Donald Trump etc et al, this ‘us verses them’ mentality has been stoked for generations in this country by these religious leaders. The same methodology has been used in large part by people like the late Rush Limbaugh, its been used by Brietbart, Fox News, used by 4Chan, the Klan, you name it.
When the fact of the matter remains that it isn’t “us vs. them” it turns into “us vs us.” Meanwhile, back at the bat cave, the projectors of lies and misguided information count their cash. THEY have access to good healthcare whereas their followers don’t (thanks in large part to a lack of universal healthcare)
What’s the difference between them and some imam who makes a video inciting violence? He’s not out front leading the charge? He has stooges to do it for him. Think of Osama Bin Laden. He wasn’t in one of those airplanes. Think of any other high profile terror target of the United States who made videos encouraging their followers to go out and martyr themselves.
Who makes up the government in a democracy but the people of that democracy? Who makes up the healthcare industry but the people who go to work for it? Who swear oaths to defend and protect in the best of their ability to do so. This doesn’t mean they’re without flaw or mistake, or that bad things won’t happen, it means that human beings are doing their utmost to actually do something for the greater good. We’re not importing Martians (spell check totally capitalized that word haha). These are not Artificial Lifeforms.
If their people were to suddenly turn around and accept Covid-19 as a reality and to do the things the CDC has begged them to do, and it actually saved lives, then the people would be forced to acknowledge that perhaps these imposters don’t have their best interests at heart – which they don’t.
They never have.
Instead, the Jim Jones purple Kool-Aid that was disbursed in Johannesburg, South Africa is being disbursed throughout the nation one church service, one Fox News segment, one Karen, one intentional misdirection at a time.
The psychoses of it all, however, won’t just kill those who drink. It’ll catch everyone else in the process.
…and in the end, it’s just good economics for these super rich or wanna be super rich people. Just like the worship of the second amendment, Covid is another way for them to say, “Kill yourselves. Go ahead. We’ve been trying to kill you for ages.”
That is the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ the whole time.
Except they’re up by 500,000 and we’re down that amount. How many more will it take before we see these people for who they are?
I was awoken to the sound of my mother screaming from downstairs that “We were under attack.” I’d gotten off shift the night before as a Wal-Mart unloader around midnight and came home and went to bed, late. Her voice startled me awake and I thought to myself, “We’re under attack? By whom? The neighbors? Has Canada finally had enough? What?”
Stumbling down the stairs in my sleep addled state, I made it into the living room at precisely the right time to watch the second plane slam itself into the World Trade Center in New York City.
“Dad, what movie are you watching,” I asked dumbly.
“This isn’t a movie.”
The fear I felt that day was immeasurable like so many other Americans. We watched the towers fall, we watched the Pentagon burn, we saw the scar left in the Pennsylvania field by the heroes who took down that flight.
Fear is a funny thing. It is either a motivator or it absolutely debilitates a person. And someone growing up Fundi – 9/11 felt apocalyptic. End of the world stuff. Jesus Christ is imminent and all hell is about to break loose.
I wasn’t suddenly struck with patriotism, although I felt patriotic in the days, weeks, and months after the event. I was struck by how afraid I was and I couldn’t stand the thought of ‘waiting’ for the end times. I would go and meet it.
I would sign up for the military a couple of months later and by February, I’d be off to basic training at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri. (Fort Lost in the Woods – for those of you who know – ha ha)
Well, the end didn’t come.
At least not for me.
The deaths of nearly 3000 Americans drove me, and the rest of the military, into a conflict with Iraq that was both unnecessary (there’s that word again) and a foreign policy disaster which we are still feeling the effects of to this day, 20 years later.
In the process of learning my M.O.S. as a Chemical Operations Specialist – I wanted to know as much about the events of 9/11 as I could. So I read the 9/11 Commission Report from cover to cover and one of the things that struck me about the whole thing was a portion of the book which declared that, “…the warning signs were all blinking red.”
Just like 9/11, growing up Fundi (of a different brand than those who committed the 9/11 atrocities) I was kept from the warning lights that had been blinking red all around me.
As a mater of fact, the warning signs had been produced by a local television station Fox 2 News in Detroit had produced an expose on then North Sharon Baptist Church – a church Southwest of Ann Arbor, and the man accused of sodomizing (raping) young children in his bus ministry. The news station connected this institution by way of Mark Foeller (the accused at the time) and his Bible that had been signed by “…controversial minister Jack Hyles. Hyles presides over First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.”
The expose, entitled “Preying from the Pulpit – Channel 2 Reporter Vince Wade” goes on in seven separate clips I’ll list here: (Due to the age of the video and quality you may want to turn on closed captions. Also: Trigger Warnings Abound. Please proceed with care).
Right away the links between Hyles and the word “Cult” is formed. Later on, as I’ve put up in previous blogs (and I’ll do again here), his own daughter would confirm the ‘cult’ accusation in a Ted Talk.
However, through it all the word ‘abuse’ takes center stage. Abuse of children, abuse of women, abuse of power, authority, that is shocking and alarming not only to those on the outside, but those that lived inside the cult as well.
I remember the North Sharon Baptist Church Scandal. I was a kid. I remember attending Metro Baptist Church in Belleville, Michigan where, from the pulpit, Mark was admonished as being righteous and ‘falsely accused’ and that ‘this was an attack on the church’ by ‘the world’.
I was 12 years old at the time of this incident and I was unaware that my local news station was trying their very best to inform the public of what had occurred and that the narrative had an origin point. Jack Hyles and Hammond, Indiana.
Which adjacent reporter Rich Fisher asks Vince, “What did Hyles followers saying about this if anything?”
“Well, they’re in the dark about it for the most part because Hyles has conditioned them through mind control and brainwashing over the years not to listen to anything bad…”
That’s the truth because this isn’t the only time that Hyles and his brand of fundamentalism (whether linked directly or indirectly) comes under investigation by the media.
The expose goes on to describe “Sadistic Torture” of children in abusive situations. They go on to describe the death of Brenda Steven’s (David Hyles second wife) children by a former marriage – a homicide investigation still unsolved and …”open till this day.”
The lights, as I said before, were all flashing red. But even if I could see them, as a child, I had no power to do anything about it. As a matter of fact, I was brainwashed right along with everyone else in this extended network of churches, to believe in the divinity of Jack Hyles.
We were, indeed, in a cult. It was a merciless existence. It was hell on earth.
Like the 9/11 terrorists, these members weren’t just victimizers. They started off victims themselves.
Its easy at this point to lose my mind to all of this. To fall victim again to the trauma all this drags up and the fear and the wastefulness of human beings and bodies and lives. Its easy to get angry and upset and to want to lash out and scream and cry for in injustice of it all. The urge to run from it is strong. The urge to just shut if off and shut it out and not deal with it, is equally strong.
I did that through my entire adult life. God, I ran. I ran and ran. I found men, and booze, and irresponsible behavior, and dangerous behavior, and no matter how much I ran, I couldn’t outrun me and what had happened. What I was connected to.
I was a victim, then and in that mindset I stayed a victim. I stayed hapless, and helpless, and life happened TO me. I remained re-active instead of pro-active.
Yet, even as I tremble going through these videos and writing these words, even as the urge in my body to just stop it all and succumb to feeling bad for myself and all I endured, I have to be thankful for it.
I have my mind. I have my body. I am here. I endured it. I survived it. I survived them. And I have the power and the wherewithal to tell you that yes, the lights were blinking red.
And they still are. People were getting hurt and even killed. And they still are.
Authors note: This scandal should be as big as the Catholic Church Sex Scandals. Please make this happen. I want to personally thank Fox 2 News Rich Fisher and Vince Wade for trying their best to uncover this. Even though it didn’t help me then, with the advent of the internet and Youtube, I was able to find you and your work. You probably saved someone’s life.
Here’s a list of exposes that I could find through a simple Google/ Youtube search: (These links are legitimate news sources such as A Current Affair, BBC, The Dallas Star Telegraph, and 20/20).
“Why are you here, dear memory? You see it’s well after midnight;
but you’ve crept into my thoughts, you see at least you got your timing right;
I said goodbye and farewell to you, love when you decided to walked away;
but let’s talk now, dear memory ’cause tonight I’m not afraid;
so let’s talk now, dear memory of the day you went away;
let’s talk now, dear memory about what it was you could not say;
tell me about the needle and your black tar heroin;
it’s been twenty-one years, dear memory but a part of me still lives back then”
Dear Memory – F.E. Feeley Jr
I dove into this blog headfirst and started somewhere in the middle of my life and since then have been skipping all over the place. Thank you or being patient with me as I work through some of this stuff. I didn’t know what would happen as I started to unravel some of this mess. Honestly, I didn’t think it would come to me so easily.
When I’d tried in the past to sit down and work on any sort of memoir my brain would just go blank. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know how to finish. What I did know is that all this stuff was rolling around up there in between my ears and had been all my life and I’ve been desperate to get it out of me.
I tried eking it out in books and that helped a little, I talked it over with therapists (ditto with the help), I’ve talked it over with my husband, and so forth. But talking really doesn’t do much at all other than reinforce it in my mind. This platform has allowed me to see these things, these events, in front of me on a laptop, and they ceased to be this amorphous thing that was just floating in the synapses and electrical discharges of the computer on top of my shoulders.
Here, in front of me, these things became real again and her, in this space, I’ve been able to make value judgements of those events in real time. I was able to figure out just how I actually felt about things that had gone on, about the people surrounding the events, from friends to family to the institution of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church.
There’s an inherent fear in putting all your stuff out there for the world. I feel like I’ve taken off my clothes in front of a horde of people and just stood there waiting for a response of some sort. The things that I’ve shared have been deeply personal and really difficult to share. And yet, while I know some people have read this blog, and some have even liked and followed the page, it’s been fairly quiet. It’s been peaceful.
Yet, the fear of exposing all of this really isn’t hitting me like it would have before when I was in my thirties. It certainly wasn’t poisoning me like it had been before in my twenties.
I’m older now. Something has changed, somehow. Is it turning forty? I think that may have something to do with it.
I lost my best friend two days before my eighteenth birthday to black tar heroin. Lee Estes Crank was ‘my cousin’ (his mom and my uncle had been together since before the wheel was invented) and he was the first person in my life to ever treat me like I was an adult and like he really cared about me. He was almost twice my age but he was a really good person. He just happened to have a very serious addiction problem that I thought I could love him through by being supportive and being there for him.
We can’t know what fate holds in store for us. We can’t know the lessons life is going to teach us. We can’t know the future and we can’t protect our hearts from the pain associated with giving it to someone else. That’s the risk regardless of what type of relationship we get into whether its by birth or by choice.
But I loved him, nonetheless. I still do. I’ve carried his name, his memory with me all these years as I’ve carried all the other ones. Tucked safely in the corner of my mind somewhere like a box of old pictures I’d stashed in an attic.
Lord, I cried for him the day he died even though, somewhere in my mind, I knew that his death would probably be the outcome of his addiction. I wept for the futility of it all. I wept for the bitterness of it all. I cried because he’d died alone on the corner of some city street and someone else had gone through his wallet and robbed him of his paycheck. I cried because his heart stopped so suddenly he didn’t even have time to brace his fall.
“Lee was saved,” my dad told me in the living room as a way to – somehow – assure me that at least he wasn’t burning in hell.
I railed at that. Fuck, I railed at that. I told my dad to, “…stop talking. Shut up. I can’t listen to this right now!”
Much to his disappointment and protestations at my attitude.
It did nothing for me. I didn’t want him in heaven. I wanted him here, with me, laughing at something we saw on TV or listening to the stereo. I wanted all of that to just be a bad dream. Instead, I was dealing with the very harsh reality of the result of addiction, but this time it wasn’t my parents addictive behavior that resulted in them being absolute shits to their kids.
This addict, though flawed, was a good person.
That dichotomy tore at my mind because in fundamentalism, addiction was a moral failure and not a disease. Yet, he had been saved. Yet, he was dead. Back and forth these things raged in between my ears for days, weeks, months as I grieved.
He was thirty three when he passed. The same age Christ was when he died on the cross.
I’m forty years old as of thirty five minutes ago.
To use the attic analogy once more, perhaps Phyliss Tickle was right in calling this new age we’re entering in, the Great Emergence she referred to as, “A Rummage Sale.” That’s what it feels like writing these blogs, to be honest. It’s like I’m carrying down these old dusty boxes, filled with stuff, down from the attic of my mind to give away to the world because, unlike before when I tried, it is simply time to do so.
As the evangelical church hemorrhages members, as fundamentalism is rising in response to an ever changing world, as this Emergence Period is upon us, it’s time for the world to see what I’ve been carrying around with me all these years. The weight is too heavy, has been too heavy, to carry all by myself.
It’s just time. I think God may have been staying my hand until the right moment. I think this is that moment.
For those of you who light candles in memory of people, would you light one for me?
His name was Lee Estes Crank. He was a good guy with a terrible addiction. He wasn’t bad. His addiction wasn’t ‘a sin’, it was a disease. Saved, unsaved, or whatever else – he was kind, and funny, and worthy of love and I loved him. I still do.
I have two older sisters who are like night and day. Spring and fall. Fire and Ice.
Dee is dark haired, olive skinned, regally beautiful. A real stunner. With a great sense of humor, she’s a hard worker and a dedicated mother. She was a teacher, a fierce and loyal friend, a mother, and a confidant.
Samantha is everything you love about springtime. She’s tall, blonde, and supermodel pretty.
I adored them growing up. They were the gospel. They were the truth and I hung on every word they uttered.
I didn’t have big brothers to toughen me up. I had big sisters who existed in the world we existed in and were tough in their own right. Dee was a scrapper from way back. Emotional and explosive – she could render someone worthless on the floor in a moment.
Samantha was calmer, cool headed, and operated as ‘the family lawyer’ often times deflating situations before they spun out of control.
If I were a prince in this white trash, overemotional, overwrought fundamental nonsense play we were acting out in the asshole of a post industrial, modern, (post Apocalyptic?) city, they were the princesses who I had, despite not wanting to in any way, deposed. Mostly, I think, because their dads were no longer in the picture and my father was now “head” of the household. (I put that in quotation marks because that, too, is the joke. My father was never ‘head’ of anything. Mom was. We learned that early, as well.)
They raised raised me as I was pawned off on them in my early years and because of that, I had made an unspoken alliance with them. I was loyal to them because they showed me affection and attention – everything a child desires from their parents, my sisters provided.
So, in a way, I was raised in a familial same-sex group (don’t be gross, you know what I mean). Instead of having a father and a mother, I had two mothers. Two very young, very inexperienced, very powerful mothers while my mom and dad sort of hung out on the periphery. And like those moms who have children at very young ages, we grew up together.
I adopted their sensibilities. Their words were like mana from heaven. They snuck music into the house when my parents were away and introduced me to acts such as The Judd’s, Garth Brooks, Reba, to Prince, and Michael Jackson, Motown, to Journey, Boston, Foreigner, Bad Company, En Vogue, I mean – you name it. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was getting an education by the best of the best in all genre’s of music.
They taught me how to dance. We’d laugh and fight and laugh some more. They once even dressed me up in a dress, put finger nail polish on me, a pom-pom on my head and made me perform for them.
Yes, my sisters – before we knew what the hell that meant – had put me in my very first drag show. (Years later, as a fundraiser, I did it once more and would have done Bea Arthur proud, I tell ya. I nearly killed myself in heels. I’ll stick to my sandals thank you very much).
The abuse that went on in my home often times found the eldest the worst. All of the responsibility in the world was placed squarely on inexperienced shoulders and a lot of that responsibly had to do with me and my two younger brothers. Should something go wrong, the eldest caught ten kinds of holy hell for it.
My sister Dee, was dating a guy named Chuck when she was sixteen. I remember he was a poster child for the eighties bad boy. Feathered hair, muscle shirts, those colorful sunglasses, and some beaten up version of a hotrod. He was a kid. She was a kid.
But my parents wanted my sister to date a man who was well into his thirties. She was sixteen. The difference was, however, that this dude went to church with our family and our family had known theirs for years.
Well, Dee didn’t want to. (I don’t fucking blame her, ew and ….illegal…but that didn’t fucking matter in that system!).
Now this is the part that, to me, screams feudalism in the midst of a democracy.
This was an arraigned relationship and because my sister rejected this creeper, and embarrassed my mom and dad, I watched them brutalize her before tossing her onto the street with nothing more than two hefty garbage bags of her stuff.
All these years later, I can see this in my head as I type this out. My mother, on whose handlebars I rode, in whose wagon I was pulled, in whose shadow I walked in in my formative years, was being tossed out of my life.
I remember quaking at the knees as I watched helplessly from the living room. She was sitting on a couch in the dining room of our A-frame, post WW2, house in Detroit as they leered over her and she shrank into it.
That memory fades to black.
Dee didn’t learn to play, or had learned to play and simply dismissed it out of love for a boy, this game. This barn yard, ramshackle, idiot version of familial alliances like we were some kind royal family in waiting.
Just like that, she was gone.
Samantha, on the other hand, learned quickly ‘the rules’ of this game and this world within a world.
She worked. And worked. And worked some more.
As a matter of fact, she became partial breadwinner (and sometimes more than partial. Sometimes she carried the family.) at eighteen.
Samantha had wanted to go to college in the next town over, Dearborn. There, Henry Ford Community College, was getting ready for open admission when she took me with her down to get some registration paperwork.
Mom and Dad told her that if she decided to go there instead of Hyles Anderson College (there’s that fucker again) she too, would be kicked out.
So, she didn’t.
Instead, at eighteen years old, she dedicated herself to factory work.
Years had gone by, Dee had been in and out of our home. In and out of our lives. Here one minute with the grace of Mom and Dad allowing her to return, only to be turned out again.
Meanwhile, Samantha had developed an eating disorder and had lost a lot of baby fat. She had been beautiful prior, but she’d become thinner. Men took notice. Boobies and booty, and blonde hair.
It was then my sisters both received a letter from my parent’s pastor. In this letter, he condemned them for “ruining my parent’s ‘walk with god’ ” Dee had bore her first child, unmarried, and the pastor said her child was conceived in sin. Samantha had a rack the pastor couldn’t stop staring at – and holy obvious, he looked and had himself some impure thoughts and, on brand, it was her fault.
(Helloooooo rape culture)
Anyway, my parents defended him when they came to my parents outraged over it. I remember that day, too. I also remember my parents defending him over them (because he was the ‘man of god’ and blah blah shoot me now).
Later on, when my sister’s money ran dry and her attention was placed on a new beau in her life, suddenly she, too, was cast aside.
Still working for that factory, that dee worked with also, my mother had just left for work when my dad slammed Dee into the wall, after dropping Sam off home, and accused Samantha of sleeping with this guy.
I remember flagging my mom down in the car and her coming back into the house and into the melee. I was afraid my dad would beat them.
Once again I stood on quaking knees, and watched as my other sister was tossed out. Just like that.
I feel like in some kind of way, God made me an observer. I didn’t move to intercede, nor did I walk away to deny myself the trauma of those scenes as they played out. All I could do was watch and I watched and I watched and I watched…
Dr. Maya Angelou said something to the effect of, “…the miracle of history isn’t that it happened but that we managed to survive it, somehow…”
That we’re here, despite everything, we’re here. Alive, somehow.
That’s the miracle.
My love for my sister/mothers have never wavered. Sure, we’ve had our moments, our fights, and disagreements, but through their love and through their humanity, their compassion, and empathy, and because we endured together – I aligned myself with them. My parents never had the loyalty from me, that they would have, simply because they weren’t parents.
(Woooooow – that’s an aha moment)
We were the black sheep. We still are. And y’all might understand this from your own situations, the funny thing about being black sheep is those given that title are simply the ones in a family who could see past everyone’s bullshit and right into the heart of the truth despite the front put up. Despite the masks that are worn. Despite dogma and image and religious context.
The truth is the truth is the truth.
Two bad bitches raised me and showed me what strength is.
I guess that makes me a bad bitch, too, because I am both of them. Day and night. Spring and Fall. Fire and Ice. Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues. I am their child, after all.
“You’re feeling nervous, aren’t you, boy? With your quiet words and impeccable style. Don’t let them steal your joy and your gentle ways, to keep them from running wild. They can kick dirt in your face, dress you down, and tell you that your place is in the middle, when they hate they way you shine…The Joke’s on Them.”
Brandi Carlile – The Joke
Our sexuality is an inherent thing to who we are as people, straight or gay or otherwise. It isn’t just ‘a part of us’. It is us. It’s way too entrenched in our development to not be despite what people may think. There’s overt homophobia which will shout “faggot” out of window as a car drives by (a phenomenon I think gay men know especially well) or through violence etc. And then there is the subversive homophobia such as, “Well, you’re not like those ‘other ones’. You know, those flamboyant ones who sashay all over hell’s half acre.”
No, I’m just as gay as they are.
On top of everything else going on in my life at the time, I was constantly tortured with homophobia growing up. I wasn’t out. I wasn’t even dreaming of coming out because I was in denial of it, myself. The truth is, I was a very effeminate boy growing up.
The idea that gay people recruit is nothing more than an obnoxious fundi-babble talking point from the pulpits in churches across America. No gay organization knocks on the doors of people on Saturday morning to inform them of the ‘Good News’ of Elton John. It’ doesn’t happen. Religion, recruits.
Anyway, all throughout middle school and high school I was made fun of because I wasn’t like all the other boys. I was a reader, I was a geek, I was overweight, with bad skin (acne), I was in misery and all of that showed up physically on my person. And it wasn’t just in school that I was made fun of.
“You need to watch how you walk,” my mother said once I got into the car after fueling up at a gas station on my way to school.
“You sway when you walk,” She said flatly.
What do you do with that? You ingest it. You drink it down. You pull it inward. It becomes a part of you.
There were jokes in my family and from friends of the family about it. Friends of my brothers, and my family would laugh and I would hear it.
I drank it down. I ingested that, too.
The actress Dame Helen Mirren was asked about anything she regretted in life and in her brilliant way, which is evergreen, she replied, “I wished I had learn to say ‘fuck off’ earlier in life.”
Me too, Helen.
There’s a reason gay people flourish when they remove themselves from the sewer of religious group think. When they get out of the intellectual petri-dish or still pond of where ever life had happened to dump them. When they find their tribe, their people, their community and suddenly they’re ‘born again’ into a world that has been anticipating their arrival for some time.
The judgement still exists, sure – especially in familial circles because while the Queer kid has evolved, the others haven’t. They’re stuck where they are. In my circumstance, that was especially true.
I had joined and served in the military. I had gone to college and received degrees for my academic work. I’d traveled the world, the country, I’d been independent of their influence and, because of that, had begun to change and flourish and grow.
In the interim, I had managed to ‘butch it up’ quite a bit. I think that was a necessity in the hyper masculine environment of the military. And I often wonder if that wasn’t, somehow, a betrayal of myself. An internal homophobia that I carried with me that saw effeminacy as weakness. As girly. That has led me to the conclusion that all homophobia is, is just concentrated misogyny.
And that’s not a difficult line to draw. Mostly, because women are so despised in our society.
As persistent as racism is in our culture, if racism were the depths of the ocean, sexism is the Mariana Trench. It soul crushingly obvious even in our modern society as it is, even now, that of course homophobia would be it’s ugly step sibling. How could a man reduce himself to the ‘role’ of women? How can a man be submissive to another man? Or, how could a woman not want anything to do with my very powerful penis? How is she not beholden to my authority? Or, how could a man want to be a woman? How could he….see where this goes?
I don’t simply lay this at the feet of fundamentalists, although they share part of the blame, I lay this at the feet of church, Christianity, and religion, period. We’ve been so devastatingly wrong on gender and race, that it was no wonder why we fucked up on the L.G.B.T.Q community as well and set forth traumatizing the bejesus out of them as well.
…and I do mean, “We”.
Because while I am still a Christian (despite protestations of those in Christianity itself who believe otherwise) I’m also part of the L.G.B.T.Q community and “WE” have our own issues with Misogyny that has transferred over to internalized homophobia. Even when women have become our fiercest allies in the fight for things like marriage equality and trans equality.
And no, the debate over sexuality in Biblical text is faaaar from settled. As a matter of fact, there’s a movie being produced right now called 1946 which argues that the term ‘homosexual’ was added at the height of the red scare, intentionally, to Biblical Scripture and this mistranslation would be used to devastate lives henceforth. (I linked the movie’s website so you can read up/ support it should you care to).
But no, the debate still rages on and for good reason. As we become more knowledgeable about the human body, the human genome, and the human psyche, we’re determining quickly that the nonsense shoveled at queer people is just that, nonsense.
I keep coming back to this word as a write this blog, and that word is ‘unnecessary’ and I can’t help but think that so much of my fundamentalist upbringing can be placed under that label.
Fucking unnecessary bullshit.
What a waste.
I often wonder, as I alluded to in my previous blogs, why I’m still alive or how I’m not some kind of drug addict or hell, why I am not positively sociopathic. You know, one of those people who’ve taken in so much trash the world threw at them and who turns around and throws it right back at them.
And I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t my sexuality, that space where that exists in my person, that makes up a part of my personality, that was able to absorb it and hold onto it until I was ready to deal with it. Perhaps my sexuality, the gentleness of my femininity – inherent to who I am as a person – was able to subdue it long enough for me to get ahead of it and handle it as an adult in an adult way my masculinity couldn’t.
I know for certain, what I went through would break a grown man. It would have devastated him on all levels.
Maybe that’s the difference.
If that’s the case, then that’s not just a blessing from God to me, it’s a blessing from God to the world because what I carry with me, is dark as pitch and as cold as the grave.
Because in the end, that’s all fundamentalism really is, it’s death culture wrapped up in anticipation of an apocalyptical end of days, that doesn’t move from where it stands. Its incapable of learning, of evolution, its immune to facts, its unmoved by reason, it does nothing but waits to die and demands others wait, too. And if those ‘others’ refuse, that is when the bomb goes off.
Don’t believe me, here’s an article shared to me by a friend detailing just who the January 6th Insurrectionists came from and their racist motivations.
One of the most important aspects of healing, for me, was in the stillness that I found post nervous breakdown.
I can’t help but think of Sigourney Weaver’s character in Copycat when she says something to the effect of, “That’s the beauty of a nervous breakdown. You don’t give a fuck anymore.”
Isn’t that the case, though?
I had gone through a major breaking point in my life. All the things that I had been carrying with me, all the burdens of life, all the worries, all the pressure to succeed, all the plates I’d been made to spin both from society and from those I’d added unto myself, suddenly all came crashing down around me to shatter on the floor at my feet.
It was like my brain said, “You’re done. You’re overwhelmed. It’s affecting your body, now. We’re done here.”
Bluescreen! It’s time to reinstall Windows and go back to factory settings.
It was a hard reset.
In the early days of this, it was all I could do to get out of bed and put my clothes on and attempt to get through the day.
I had to re-learn how to live. I had to reprioritize my life. I had to figure out a reason to live since all my goals and ambitions and hopes and dreams were suddenly gone.
Yet, in those days I began to sit with myself and reevaluate everything and I did so by journaling everything. Random thoughts. Feelings. Fears. Hopes. All of it I just scratched on paper, page after page, filling notebooks and letting ‘it’ all out.
I had no distractions. Nothing that was pulling me anymore. I had no job. School. I had a husband and was able to make time good with him but even that was iffy at best because he was terrified I’d hurt myself because I had fallen so hard and so completely.
And unlike the first breaking point in my life that ended up with me in a psych ward of an indigent hospital, I didn’t run. I’d gotten too old. I was too enmeshed with my significant other. I couldn’t/ wouldn’t just leave him – I needed a rock and like Sade sings I clung to him in the storm.
It was in that period that therapy began, it was that point that medication began, I started my writing career, I began to bring together what my life would be like going forward from that space. Slowly, I began to add plates back to my life that I could manage and learned to be more selective about how much pressure I added to my life.
Yet, here comes Covid-19 and everything shut back down and suddenly, despite having to take care of my in-laws, my world went still again. I couldn’t work even though I had plenty of free time. I couldn’t bring myself to write anything other than a few songs I’d put together and sent to a musician friend of mine.
The reason for this? As a trauma survivor, I realized that I was being reintroduced to trauma in real time and knew it for what it was. I felt it washing over me. I felt myself recluse, draw inward. I distracted myself with pithy things like video games, movies, errands, daily life.
Fear and anxiety had found me once more and it found me when Trump joked about Pence wanting to hang gay people. Charlottesville. The assasination of the worshippers at the AME church. Covid-19 and all that anxiety. And finally the January 6th Insurrection.
I realized that I had still been running from Fundamentalism only to see that it had reared up like a tidal wave – a tsunami- and I was standing, and the secular world was standing, under it’s long shadow.
We think we’re over things. We think that time makes things better or that with a bit of therapy and meds and good love we can get up and get on with life and, for the most part that’s true.
However, with this shut down and the end of the Trump presidency and all that chaos, my shadows came out to play once more. Yet this time, since I’d done some of the work prior on myself, I was able to sit back and observe what was happening with a gimlet eye toward the links between political upheaval and what I’d gone through as a kid. Lo and behold, it was there all along.
I question this, often and by ‘this’ I mean, “Why me?”
Why did I have to go through this? Of all the fucked up nonsense in the world to place someone under, why this? What was the purpose? What was the reason? Why was a little boy made to suffer in ways that I truly believe would break a grown man? In ways that, had it happened during war would have lead to Geneva trials for violations of the rules of war? Things that would have and probably still would astonish a world that had become sort of numb to bad news?
Perhaps, I had been made to go through this to speak up and speak out in a way that would explain to people who grew up in a world dissimilar to mine as to what it was they were seeing. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in Detroit that gives me enough piss and haughtiness to dare call powers and principalities to account. Perhaps I am simply a child of Tickle’s Emergence and I can’t help myself.
I really don’t have the answer to that but what I can tell you, is that when my shadows reemerged from the back of my mind once all those new plates had been set aside (gently this time), I was ready for them. I could name this demon.
Yes, this time, I was ready for them and hopefully, as that wave of fundamentalisms descends, I can lead people to higher ground and let it wash itself out to sea and back to oblivion from whence it came.
Last night my husband went to his church for Mass and I stayed home to cook in preparation for our Easter Sunday meal with the family. And by cook, let me explain. I live in the south. Deep south and food is religion down here and cooking in something I absolutely love to do. I also love feeding people and them enjoying the food that was prepared. To me, and to Jesus from what I understand, are a big deal. So yesterday, I cooked a turkey, corn bread dressing (with chicken, sausage, bell pepper, onion, and celery), green beans with mushrooms, deviled eggs, and made mashed potatoes before dashing out the door this morning to take all this food over to my sister-in-laws.
So, needless to say, I was too busy to go to mass with him last night.
However, Jesus was on my mind. I mean, duh. It’s Easter and I felt kinda bad for not having participated (even online) with services this week ( I attend an online ELCA Lutheran Church). I had my second covid shot earlier in the week, so that laid me up for two days and there was other stuff going on, so I had simply hadn’t made the time.
Yet, like Christmas, there is Easter Music. Easter Gospel Music. Of course there is and, after I’d gotten most of my work done, I found myself in the shower as a flood of those songs came back.
“Then Came the Morning.”
“Arise, my love.”
“In the Upper Room.”
“The Scarlet, Purple Robe”
..and so on and so forth. Well, I got out of the shower feeling all sorts of vulnerable and wandered into my bedroom and pulled out my laptop and clicked on Youtube.
Now, I think there needs to be a bit of a sidebar here to explain that I wasn’t just raised on Gospel Music, but that I was raised on Southern Gospel Music (thank you very much) and within that genre of music are very famous (at least in certain circles) names. Names like Bill and Gloria Gaither, Mark Lowry, The Happy Goodmans, Guy Penrod, The Cathedrals, I mean, you name it.
I loved them, I loved the music they performed and produced, I loved the imagery, the emotion, the hopefulness of gospel music – period.
So, I found a performance of Guy Penrod performing “He lives” and listened to it.
Now, to be honest, with all this blog writing, and bean spilling I’ve been doing, I felt conflict in listening to the song. Not like a conflict of my conscience telling me what I had been doing was bad, but sort of an understanding that what I had been writing carries weight and has consequences. Real consequences. Real decisions I would have to make both now and in the future.
I was also conflicted by the imagery and emotion that this song, I’d listened to a thousand times before, was suddenly evoking and I became suspicious. Why? I don’t know. But I think the sentimentality got to me. So, after the song was over I went and found an interview Penrod and his wife gave on some religious channel. I wished I hadn’t.
Now, whenever I see someone in the comment section of a popular artist talking about something concerning a political belief, I roll my eyes when it comes to their protestations and their ‘disappointment’ in such and such’s stance on yada yada, right? We’ve all run into those comments. People have a right to them as much as the artist has a right to their own beliefs.
Yet, this interview with Penrod and his wife Angie with this couple made my skin crawl. The dude Penrod, apparently performed at Trump’s Inauguration. Which is fine. Garth Brooks performed at Biden’s, whatever, right?
Yet, Penrod goes into the lecture being unhappy about the counter protest, the things that he apparently overheard, the behavior of the crowd, intimating that those people were “lost” and “full of hate” and “had abandoned their conscience” or “were ignoring the voice of God” before he went on a tirade about the redistribution of wealth and how evil it is.
It was gross.
Now, let me explain something, I’m an American. I like my ‘stuff’. However, I know unchecked Capitalism is as evil as Communism. All one has to do is look at the early days of the industrial revolution to see the horrible things done to the poor in the name of making money to discover that. To me, all socialism does, is become a check on that power to ensure that the distribution is fair.
We used to have Unions that protected people but they’ve waned in the past 20 years and federal law doesn’t make up for that loss.
I got twenty minutes into the damn thing before I had to shut it off. Afterward I went over to Google and looked up the man’s net worth and, lo and behold, Mr. Penrod is worth about 3 million and I thought to myself, “There it is.”
“It’s the economy, stupid.” Or, at least, it’s economic.
I was mad. I was like, “Fuck! I can’t even have gospel music?! I LIKED that part of it all!”
Nadia Bolz-Weber describes this period of time right now as an Apocalypse and in the Greek, all apocalypse meant was “…to uncover or to reveal. A revelation,” and with #metoo and #timesup the entire world was shuffling through one and still is. Her premise was, and you can watch it here, that there “…isn’t a sudden uptick in sexual assault and misconduct in our country, the #metoo and #timesup movements have been exposing what was already there. The male domination at the center of the sexual harassment issue is being revealed apocalyptically and in prime time.”
Phyliss Tickle thought that perhaps we were even in a new reformation called The Great Emergence (The link is to a 4 part lecture series on the subject) which has apocalyptic tendencies and, to be honest, I think they’re both absolutely right.
The hardest part was seeing American Christendom, both fundamentalists and evangelicals, align itself with Trump and all of his anti-Christ-like persona. I don’t care who you are or what your political leanings are, the man was awful. He is a pig of a human being who was not only unworthy of the Presidency, made a mockery of American Democracy, but was the cause of such an internal upheaval in murderous racism and white supremacy that we’re still dealing with and will have to continue to deal with it for God knows how long.
That’s the revelation, right? We got a good eyeful of just how nasty we are as a country and in all of that unveiling lies the gross distraction that comes with protecting a certain economic system we call Capitalism.
To me, all evangelicalism has shown itself to be, has been revealed by Trumpism, to be nothing more than the bastard child of Christianity and Capitalism. That’s how you can go to church on Sunday, be filled to the brim with The Holy Spirit, wander into a restaurant, and be a right prick to your server who had the misfortune of your presence during their shift. Furthermore, that’s how a bunch of political yahoos can love their country but hate the people who live in it. All of that bleeds out into the everyday lives of people who take it in because of the inherent relationship, this two way street, between religion and the society it exists in.
That’s not Christ’s message at all. Like, AT ALL.
Evangelicalism packaged Jesus and Christianity into a product to be bought and sold.
So, yeah, I felt like a fool. I guess even now, after all these years, I can be shocked.
Someone needs to explain to Penrod, “…that dominate powers are not ultimate powers.” and Trump was never meant to stay.
The past several days I’ve been laying my heart open in ways that are both healing and in the same breath, absolutely terrifying. It’s also been heartbreaking.
I’ve opened old doors. I’ve disturbed dust that had settled. I’ve looked at things in my mind that I hadn’t look at and it hurt. It was scary. I was upset. I cried. I felt sick. Unsure of myself. Unsure of the purpose of this blog. Unsure period.
What would people think of me if they read this? Do I care? What about my family? Would they care? Do I care if they care?
One of the things that I want to make absolutely clear in this blog, is that the road back from living in a cult or undergoing trauma isn’t super easy, although the steps are solid. It takes work and it takes work on your own as well as with professionals who want to help you. I also don’t want to create a false sense of ‘okay, I’m fine now.”
I feel like, my last couple of blogs may have been misleading in that way.
Sometimes I’m not okay.
I take medication for anxiety and sometimes I have to take more medication if the anxiety turns into a panic attack. (Aren’t those the worst?)
But that’s part of it all. That’s part of the healing and to be fair, some parts may take longer to heal than others and some maybe won’t heal…ever. But for me, that’s better than the alternative.
Things that happen to us HAPPEN TO US. Do you understand? We call this experience. We’re not reading it in a book. It’s not part of a lecture by your favorite professor. You’re not watching it on television. It’s happening to us.
Experience can be a brutal teacher and the lessons they teach are equally brutal. Writing this blog, too, has been an experience with a lesson attached to it.
So sometimes you’re not going to be okay. And that’s okay. Sometimes you need space in which to fall the fuck apart. To just fly apart and grieve for whatever it was that happened to you, whatever you lost, what you wished for deep in your heart. Secret wishes and dreams that never came true.
Those feelings are valid. That loss, is valid. Your grief is valid.
So what do I do afterward?
I really want to be very careful with what I say next because I don’t want it taken the wrong way, so forgive me if I don’t say this clearly or if I mess up:
I absolutely fucking hated every single moment of every goddamn fucking thing that ever happened to me that brought pain in my life. I hated it. Despised it. Despised it, despised the people who did it to me, despised not being ‘strong enough’ to stop it, despised watching it happen to my sisters, despised being afraid, despised no one interceding on my behalf, despised how scary it was, despised how intimidated I was around them years later, how easily I slipped back into a ‘role’ after I’d come home from the Army, and how easily I got sick when I went around them after that.
Hated it. Hated it and hated myself.
And it didn’t do a damn bit of good to hate it because, in that regard, all I could ever do was despise myself because I am the sum of my experiences in life. Good, bad, and in between.
Here I am.
It was when I started to be thankful for the things that happened to me, is when it all began to turn around.
***I’m gonna let you digest that one for a second.***
I described in my earlier blog, how I felt disconnected from the world at large. How I felt like I had a glass wall between me and the rest of the world.
Well, when I became a writer, I used all of my past experiences as writer fodder. You write what you know, right? Isn’t that the rule? So I did.
And when people began to respond to that, in a positive way, when someone left a review for my book, Objects in the Rearview Mirror, that read, “This was a genuinely scary and deeply emotional book. It holds a lot of meaning to me, as a survivor, and was beautifully written.”
That was a healing moment but it was more than that, it was validating. It meant I wasn’t alone, as sad as that may be.
It was also the sound of that glass wall being hit and a crack forming. Other reviews showed up, and another crack formed, and another, and another, and then I realized something was happening here.
That glass wall was shattering and the connections I had longed for, that I couldn’t find through booze or sex or running from place to place – were suddenly being made in ways that I could never have imagined. These connections also wouldn’t have been made if I hadn’t had gone through what I did.
I cried when I wrote that book. I cried when I wrote this blog. My hope is that my experiences of having lived this life, can help someone else. My hope is that I can touch a life and show them that they’re not alone. My hope is that someone who has lived a similar life can break that glass wall they’re living behind and not feel like such a weirdo. And if I can inspire someone to take their grief and turn it into art – mores the better.
Take that grief and make something with it. Channel it into something good. Use it for the betterment of people coming up behind you.
“When you get, give. When you learn, teach” – Dr. Maya Angelou.
“Take your broken heart and turn it into art” – Carrie Fisher.
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, when I happened upon a Ted Talk that would change my life, forever.
Scrolling through Facebook, I happened upon a Ted Talk given by Doctor Nadine Burke Harris on How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime. Doctor Harris explained how she started her career caring for the disadvantaged in San Francisco, and kept seeing A.D.H.D referrals in her pediatric practice. Well, she soon discovered that these kids were not, in fact, suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but were suffering from varying levels of , what she calls, Adverse Childhood Experiences (A.C.E.S), in their lives that resulted in a toxic exposure to adrenal hormones secreted by the brain in times of high stress.
Watching this fifteen minute lecture, did four things for me. First, it informed me that A) I wasn’t some freak walking around the world B) that my recently diagnosed Anxiety and Panic Disorder was rooted much earlier and C) that the shape of my brain had been effected by my upbringing which was causing and had caused erratic behavior and D) That I had some work to do to address this otherwise I could die an early death if I didn’t.
I was still living in some kind of denial of my past at that point. There were things I should have known because of my military training about what I’d grown up in, but I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) bring those two things together and see just what the hell had gone on.
I mean, really, who wants to admit that the church they grew up in was an extension of a cult? Who wants to go there? Especially when we think of cults as people like David Koresh or Jim Jones – obvious examples of cults and only obvious in retrospect after things go sideways.
Especially the faith aspect of it, because religion is supposed to be this beautiful experience and represent the relationship between an individual and their God? That this was supposed to be a safe space. A place of healing. A Place of nurturing. A place of holiness.
Who wants to admit that because of the poverty they’d grown up in, the economics of it all, played a big role in the type of discipline carried out in the home?
Who wants to go there, especially when society side eyes anyone who looks to their childhood as problematic in the way they turned out as an adult? (Mostly, I think they do this because society knows what they’ve done or allowed to be done and feel guilt over it.)
Nadine Burke Harris made it perfectly clear that, because of the level of trauma I had experienced in my life, statistically speaking – 20 years had been potentially shaved off my life because *how* this exposure to toxic levels of adrenaline and cortisol had been introduced into our systems.
She made it clear that my brain had been built for fear. I had programmed to live this way.
It’s no way to live.
After I watched that lecture, let me tell you, I went through a cascade of change.
I immediately looked up the ACES test and found one on the CDC Website. I took the test and found my score.
I quit smoking, immediately.
I threw myself into therapy.
Got on Medication to handle the anxiety and panic disorder.
Started eating better and working out almost daily and have continued to do so every day since then.
All my prior thoughts that surrounded me, were simply not true:
I wasn’t cursed.
I wasn’t broken.
I wasn’t unloved by God.
I wasn’t damned.
I wasn’t lost.
I wasn’t being ‘punished by God.’
I was sick. That’s it. That simple. None of that silly superfluous nonsense, that fundi babble, that utter nonsense was true. I was sick and my illness was and is completely treatable. Totally treatable.
Isn’t that great?! 🙂
In the process, I began to bring these disparate worlds together and face down just exactly what had gone on. Through self actualization, through the ‘work’ of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, through creating art, through yoga (Shoutout to ‘Yoga With Adriene’ on Youtube) and other work out regiments, through diet and exercise, I started the healing process with determination and vigor.
I was hurting. I had been hurting for decades and oddly enough, a great deal of the hurt had been self inflicted because I was afraid to live life beyond the pain that I’d had become accustomed to.
Yet, there was power in having a diagnosis by a licensed therapist. There’s power in giving something a name. There’s steps to take, real, clear, positive steps to take to regain your life back.
Instead of being reactive to life, I became proactive in life. I moved from a victim mindset to a survivor mindset.
My world came together and I was able to see things, clearly, for what they were and I’m able to do something, now, about it.
I thank God, daily, for the work of that doctor and her colleagues and their effort to educate people.
She saved my life.
One Ted Talk.
That’s good shit.
(Authors Note: If you have experienced Trauma in your life, please take this test and figure out your score. While we are not responsible for the life we lived when it was out of our control, we are responsible for our own health outcomes. No one else can ‘fix us’ but us. But don’t be afraid. There are so many people who want to help, whose job it is to help, and I promise, it’s probably the most empowering thing you’ll ever experience.
Thank you Dr. Harris and Ted Talk. I’ll always be grateful.
“There are moments that the words don’t reach There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down So they move uptown And learn to live with the unimaginable” – Kelly Clarkson’s cover of Quiet Uptown – Hamilton Mixtape
My sister sent me an email yesterday containing a news article out of Missouri. According to the Springfield News-Leader “Boyd and Stephanie Householder, founders and owners of Circle of Hope Girls Ranch in Cedar County, were charged with more than 100 felonies this week in connection with a sex abuse investigation recently undertaken by the office of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who assisted a local prosecutor.”
This article, and the details therein (which is linked above) are horrific and yet, for us in this world of fundamentalism, this is typical.
This movement, this fundamentalist movement, attracts sociopaths, child rapists, child- abusers, perverts, and other shady people like chum attracts sharks.
“Fred I’ve read everything you’ve written,” My sister said.
“I have a theory. Now I don’t want you to get upset with me, but I have a theory,” she replied.
“Okay. Go on,” I said as I sat down outside and away from listening ears.
“You’re afraid to say that mom and dad were bad people.”
I listened to her make her case.
“Fred, they beat you so bad over a couple of puddles outside that you couldn’t cry anymore. I had to run in my room, shut the door, and put my fist in my mouth because I was too afraid to help you,” she said.
“That’s not fundamentalism. They did that on their own.”
“We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable,” Kelly Clarkson sings.
I spoke with a professor friend of mine who teaches Criminal Justice in California, where she specializes in hate crime.
“How do I tell people all that happened? How do I describe this for them in a way that would be believed?”
She replied with, “Fundamentalism wasn’t the cause, probably. In fact, their own issues led them to fundamentalism as well as abuse. But fundamentalism helped them rationalize it, maybe.”
Rationalize it. Justify it. I wonder if Boyd Householder did just that as he made those girls perform oral sex on him? I wonder if his wife did so as well.
So much went on in our home, so much vile, awful abuse took place that if I was to talk about it all, you wouldn’t believe me.
What I am going to tell you is The Unimaginable. Even to me. And I lived it.
My sister, Dee, was raped by her stepfather’s (my father) father at the age of 12. He stole her innocence. His punishment? The church got involved and gave him a choice, go to church or go to jail by then Pastor Larry Dennis of the Open Door Baptist Church (A church we would continue to be affiliated with long after he stole the church’s money and ran off to Vegas.)
What do you think he chose?
My sisters were molested by outsiders for drug money when they were little – even before my mother’s involvement in the church.
When I was made to drop my pants at the age of fifteen so that my father could beat me – I think there was a sexual undertone there. Humiliation and degradation were present but when you look at the F.B.I’s crime statistic information, it informs you that rape usually has less to do with sex than it does with power.
We were punched, slapped, held down, beaten with extension cords, wire hangers, switches, belts, open hands, closed fists, you name it. We were demeaned, degraded, and made to feel less than worthy of love. We were made to live in fear of our parents. Just the sound of my father walking down from the upstairs would send us into a panic. I watched powerless as my sisters were accosted, brutalized, thrown out, called unmentionable things, and went through it, finally, myself before I took them to court and ended their reign of terror. At least physically.
We were those girls in that home. I am one of those girls, in that home.
The uncomfortable truth, the unimaginable truth, that America needs to face is that The Slave Master isn’t dead. He didn’t die in the conclusion to the Civil War. He moved places. He found a shady spot in evangelical and fundamentalist religion and then rang the dinner bell for the rest of the criminally fucked up.
There is a persistent, vile, violent, belief in this country that a human being has the right to physically own another. That some people, to them, aren’t people but property. Property, you know, things. People CAN’T be hurt but things, can. An owner of a thing can do to it whatever he or she pleases.
I think of George Floyd – in this regard.
I think of Sandra Bland, I think of Kitty Genevieve, I think of those girls from Rebekah home for girls in Corpus Christi, Texas under Lester Roloff that the Texas AG shut down, I think of any victim of domestic violence, abusers of children, hate crime, those young women at the Circle Ranch, as well as my sisters as I.
I was horrifically abused by bad people and you know what’s really fucked up?
I still love them.
That is the unimaginable.
Author’s Note: My hope and prayer is that the young women from this ranch find peace and justice in their lives now that their tormentors have been captured. It’s a long road back, ladies. It’s a hard road.
America, I hope you find it in your heart, to hunt the rest of these homes down and shutter them. They’re nothing more than places of torture hidden behind the name of Christ.
“Some say love, it is a river That drowns the tender reed Some say love, it is a razor That leaves your soul to bleed Some say love, it is a hunger An endless aching need I say love, it is a flower And you, its only seed”
– Bette Midler The Rose
I’ve been throwing a lot of information at you over the last several days. A lot of it is disturbing, upsetting, and bleak. I get that. Trust me, I do.
I was telling my husband this morning, that the process of writing this stuff has been tough. It was like walking into a room in a closed off section of the house and seeing all the furniture draped in white sheets, the chandelier cold, the smell of dust and stale air around me and being afraid of the darkness within.
It’s a haunted house where the spirits wait in silence. That’s the funny thing about ghost stories, isn’t it? Along with the spooky aspect of it all, there’s an undercurrent of sadness of a life departed. A death.
I think during those years I died a thousand little deaths. A little bit of me was torn away from the whole and that sadness I carry with me for what ‘could have been’ or ‘what should have been’. And I carried that sadness with me. It touched all aspects of my life.
It was this boogeyman waiting in the corner for a moment when I wasn’t on guard and watchful to spring out and have its way. It was fear. Isolation. Mistrust. Anger. Helplessness. Hopelessness. Pain. Suffering.
I think you, the reader, can relate to that in some regard for your own life.
What is important to understand, I think, is the relativity of pain and suffering. We all go through it on some level. It’s an aspect, an important aspect, of being human. Some theology and philosophy insists that we are ‘made to suffer’. It’s our condition, it’s the price we pay to live in this world.
To some, including fundamentalism, suffering is the product of sin (which is always an accusation and never a point of self reflection for them as if their own sin doesn’t show up in that moment and makes a fool out of them.)
While I think that’s true in some regard, I think the emphasis on suffering get’s muddled in our inability to capture or describe the purpose in all of this within the limits of human language.
Maybe we suffer not to separate us but to unite us as human beings. This universal experience holds within the power to bring disparate groups of people together in a kind of understanding of humanity. Despite all the boundaries that separate us, real, imagined, or simply a byproduct of social construction, struggle is present in our daily lives.
Look at the humanities. Look at art. Consider the works of mankind since the dawn of recorded time and you’ll see that struggle embodied in everything we touch. We try, desperately, to reach out for each other. To touch, and be touched, to love, and be loved, to understand, and be understood, to see and be seen. Whether its a movie, a book, a painting, a song, sculpture, a poem, we create things that say, “Here I am. This is my experience.”
C.S. Lewis said that, “We read to know that we’re not alone.” But how true is this statement in other mediums? A concert where thousands of people sing the artist’s song back to them? An opera where the crowd is swept away in the music even if they don’t know the lyrics? A ballet? A play such as The Color Purple (Cynthia Erivo was fantastic) when the lead character sings, “…and I’m here!” Or at the movie theatre when Captain America is able to finally pick up Thor’s hammer and the crowd went nuts.
In that space, in that brokenness, lies an opportunity to reach beyond the event and touch the lives of people and say, “I’ve been there. I understand. This is how you get through this.” And it’s those expressions of art that save us over and over again.
This past Sunday, my pastor gave a sermon for Palm Sunday about The Crucifixion of Christ and his great suffering. I have struggled with faith, I have struggled with these questions that people ask after a tragedy, after a death, after the truth of something is revealed in all its horror.
“Where is God in all of this?”
Where is he? Why doesn’t he put a stop to this?
I was in the church! I said the words. I prayed the prayers. I sang the songs. I believed!
I became an author back in 2012. I’d been a writer all my life, it was my thing. It was something I was good at throughout school (it probably saved me in high school and enabled me to graduate. They were safe to assume I wasn’t some idiot they were letting out into the world).
A professor I had criticized my writing once as ‘too romantic’ and I thought, “Well, shit. Maybe I can do something with that,” and I did. I started writing novels about ghosts and romances and blah blah blah and I began to draw on my own personal life experience to create these works of fiction and it was in that space, when I started receiving these wonderful reviews from readers that, I knew there was something to this. Not simply because I spin a good yarn, but because – from drawing on personal experiences in life – I was able to touch the lives of other people.
I was able to take that nasty, jangly, jagged, mess I carried with me – that had been weighing me down – and create something that brought joy to someone else’s life because perhaps, they too, were seen for a moment. Also, in that space, I found validation, healing, hope, and encouragement that this is what I was supposed to do with my life.
I found purpose.
I thought fiction writing would be enough for me to handle and process all of which had gone on in my life in this sort of filtered way. I never thought I could handle talking about the events, what I’d witnessed, what I’d been told head one like this in a way that wasn’t overwrought with emotion and bias. I feared all I would be doing is screaming into the void like a mad man.
In that space, I think, God appears. And so, as the sermon went on, the pastor described to us that – “When we suffer, God suffers right there with us.” and for me that’s enough to begin to alleviate some of the weight of all this in knowing that I wasn’t carrying it alone all this time. So during those ten thousand little deaths, I was resurrected ten thousand little times to put my feet in front of me and go on. I realized Christ had been there, with me, the entire time suffering right along with me.
We never ‘get over’ anything that happens to us. Ever. Anyone who tells you that is full of shit.
Christ was resurrected WITH his scars not without them. Not healed from them, although they’d healed over, but present and visible for his disciples to see.
We know too much about how the brain works, psychology, the relationship between psychology and physiology, and through expressions of the humanities. Hell, Herodotus described Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D) as far back as Ancient Greece when he wrote about a soldier being assaulted by a phantom of a man who’d been killed next to him in battle.
And we know that, if trauma goes unchecked, we will deliver that trauma to someone else in some form or another, therefore perpetuating a cycle of it. You will give away, in some form or another, what ever has been given to you but you can choose how and when that happens and in what form.
However, you can get THROUGH an event(s) and pass along those stories to bring comfort and hope for those we leave behind. That, for me, is where God is in all of this.
That’s why whenever I see people being critical of artisans for speaking up and speaking out against things and the comments are a variation of “Shut up Act or Sing or…,” whatever the case may be, I can’t help but laugh at the irony of it all. The paradoxical demand for silence from people who built their entire lives around the practice of empathy.
Art doesn’t exist solely for entertainment purposes, it can change the world. Don’t believe me? Look up Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
“I can’t stay on your life support There’s a shortage in the switch I can’t stay on your morphine ‘Cause it’s making me itch I said I tried to call the nurse again But she’s being a little bitch I think I’ll get outta here, where I can Run just as fast as I can To the middle of nowhere To the middle of my frustrated fears And I swear you’re just like a pill ‘Stead of makin’ me better You keep makin’ me ill You keep makin’ me ill”
– Pink Just like a Pill
For years and years following my leaving the church and the absolutely radioactive environment that had been my family, I ran both literally and figuratively. I ran out of fear, out of necessity, out of desperation, and out of the desire to physically put distance between me and it, them, and us.
We all run in some way or another.
Some run to alcohol, to drugs, to sex, gambling, carbohydrates, you name it. And they run with all the baggage that they have thinking that they can out-run their problems only to find out that, in the still of the morning or the quietness of the middle of the night, their problems show up like phantom shadows along the wall.
I could recite my story a thousand times and it do nothing for me other than make me relive the events. People knew, I talked. I talked and talked and tried like hell to make this stuff leave me or I tried like to get people to understand just what was happening in between my ears.
I realize now that a part of me was banging on the door of my brain to be let out. I lacked something. Some key element was missing for me to deal with this stuff in a productive way.
I was a shit ass high school student. Out of 180 people graduating from Southwestern High School in Detroit, Michigan in 1999, I graduated 101st.
On paper, there was nothing special about me. Nothing unique, nothing to recommend me to anything beyond that institution. And looking back, I realized that I wasn’t engaging in studies not through some fault of the Public School System of Detroit. I wasn’t disenfranchised because I was a white kid who grew up and attended a predominately black high school where I was somehow bullied for being white or gay (although I wasn’t ready to admit it then) yada yada.
That’s all bullshit and just stupid racism people use to undermine Public Education. Period.
No. I couldn’t focus. Too much was happening in my life and around my life. I was a mess of a kid.
Hell, it was between my Sophomore and Junior years that I had been beaten so badly that I actually went to school and called Child Protective Services. I’d had enough. I had been beaten with a ‘paddle’ that was two inches thick and the length of my forearm and had holes drilled into it.
My dad had brought it home from work excited to use it on us and I pulled the short straw.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
I had bruises all up and down my back, my ass, my legs, but that morning, I chose to fight back.
I chose to resist.
I said, “No,” for the first time and tried to escape.
He’d had me drop my pants before the beating. 15 years old. The pain was excruciating. The nakedness below the waist, humiliating.
My mother stood in the doorway and encouraged him.
“Beat the hell out of him!” She said.
My crime? Refusing to dry my hair because I was late for school.
When people are used to having control over you, placing a boundary down to stop their abuse or control over you is often met with anger. It’s as if a right they never should have possessed is now being threatened.
When I think about situations like this, I think of the Black Lives Matter movement. Our brains and our bodies are designed with a self defense system. When alerted, our Amygdala sends a message to a pituitary gland, which sends a message to our adrenal gland that says “Give me Adrenaline! Give me Cortisol!”
We enter fight or flight mode. It is a desperate situation.
So when I see a person of color being beaten by cop, I think about my time under the hand of my father. His ‘absolute power’, or the absolute authority I was convinced that he had kept me in stasis. I could neither fight, nor could I flee. I had to deal with this biological impulse in the midst of dealing with the violence.
It’s tantamount to torture.
I pulled and yanked, and screamed, and cried to be let go. “Let me go!”
My father raised his fist, “You’ll take this or you’ll take the beating!”
Something in me had changed at that moment. Even though I couldn’t flee, because he held on to more, nor was I willing to get into a physical altercation with him (because I’m not a violent person) I knew I was done.
“If you take me to school today, it will be the last time you see me,” I said flatly. Emotionless. Matter-of-fact.
They called my bluff.
They shouldn’t have.
Child Protective Services were called and six months later I we stood in front of a judge and I told him what had happened. I attempted to gain emancipation but, unfortunately, it had been outlawed a year before and, despite my story, I was ordered home.
Although I failed in that regard, the judge asked my father a question.
“Did you hit him?”
“He was rebellious,” My father replied.
“That’s not what I asked you. Did you hit him?”
“He was being rebellious,” my father insisted.
Angrily, the judge responded, “Sir, that’s not what I asked you. Did. You. Hit. Him?”
“I’ll be making an note about that in your record.”
I lacked the education and knowledge of the legal system to mount a better case and the outcome wasn’t exactly what I wanted or needed, but the beatings had come to an end.
The only way I can talk about this, the only way I could begin the process of healing, the process of dealing, was through education. I was born speaking English, obviously, but education provides an ability to discern truth from lies. It gives you a language. Education isn’t conservative nor liberal, education liberates the mind of the individual from the comforting blissful darkness of ignorance and absolutism and brings the individual into the harsh light of day.
Education doesn’t teach someone what to think. It teaches them how to think and how to think critically.
We don’t know, what we don’t know. For me, I didn’t know that all the stuff I had been taught as a kid, all the insane fundi-babble that circulated around me, was just that. Fundi-babble. When I think about it and those that profess it from their pulpits, when I think of them, this line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth comes to me.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
It is nothingness that they espouse.
In her autobiography, Malala Yousafzais, the young Pakistani woman who stood up to the Taliban for her right to an education and who was shot in the head for her trouble, said this in her book, “They’re not afraid of bullets and bombs. The Taliban is afraid of little girls with books.”
Fundamentalism is nothing more than a Shakespearean power grab whether its done by the Fundamental Baptist Church or the Taliban. It’s all the same. It consists of nothing more than captive fools trembling in their darkened caves while their captors scare them with shadow puppets on the walls.
When you think of this, think of the war on education playing out across the country and remember, someone warned you. This isn’t a “Middle Eastern Phenomenon.” It’s happening here. Right here.
“And there was a God in Heaven And the world made perfect sense We were young and were in love and we were easy to convince We were headed straight for Eden It was just around the bend And though I had forgotten all about it The song remembers when”
– The Song Remembers When by Trisha Yearwood
I was 25, a year out of the Army, and my world was falling the fuck apart. I had made the unfortunate decision to return home after serving in the military and, found myself sliding right back into the world I had left years prior.
In the service, I’d deployed to the Kuwait for the war effort. Stayed there a year. But I had been stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and suddenly – away from home – I had something I’d never had much of in my life up to that point.
I was free.
I’d come out of the closet, completely. Totally did so while I was overseas because “Fuck you, send me home if you don’t like it.” I’d even come out to my mother (well, I didn’t someone did it for me without my permission) and when she gave me shit about it – I told her to, “Get over it or get out of my life.” It’s that simple. I was a grown man (or so I thought), making grown man money, doing grown man shit.
In my off time, I’d partied hard. Danced and sang, drank, and ate my way across Kansas one weekend at a time. I’d made friends in and out of the service. I had my own money. My own car.
I had lived.
Surprisingly, despite my arrogance, I’d been convinced to move back home by my father. Come back, he said, and you can ride your unemployment till you could find a job and go from there.
I don’t care what people say, I don’t care what the law says, I don’t care if you can vote at 18 and get drunk at a bar at 21, until you are 30 – at least – you don’t know shit about fuck. You are NOT grown. You are nothing but a walking hormone, completely unreliable, and you’ve got to figure out if these traits your developing are a phase or if you’re going to be an asshole for the rest of your life. Period. Everyone goes through this.
(Side note: There are no wars fought by old men. They’re kids we send ‘over there.’ Put that in your patriotic pipe and smoke it.)
Well, that was just about the time the market began to sag before the ’08 crash. Jobs were scarce. I’m sorry, that’s not true. A job is a job. But at that age I wasn’t looking for a job, I needed a career. I needed forward momentum. I needed to resume this thing called life and a ‘job’ wasn’t going to cut it.
No big deal, right?
I’d go to school.
I’d received 24 k in a Montgomery G.I. Bill and Boy, Howdy, I was shittin’ in high cotton! Oh, youth, how you are wasted on the young.
Less than a year later I would be admitted into Detroit Receiving Hospital – an indigent hospital I might add – because I’d taken a butcher knife to my arm in an effort to relieve the pressure between my ears.
Trauma takes compound interest out on a person. One thing adds to another, and then another and then, before you know it, you’re caught in an avalanche of shit and nothing is pulling itself together the way you’d imagined it.
Especially if you’d done everything right – at least on paper. And Especially if the foundation on which you’d built your life, is garbage.
You’d finished high school, you’d served in the military, your country looooved it’s veterans, you were in hot pursuit of higher education, and had signed up to serve in the national guard part time because, why not? You loved your job in the army? Do it from home!
I was admitted into the hospital where I stayed for 72 hours, and made higher than a fucking kite. Seriously? A Klingon could have walked by and it wouldn’t have phased me. I couldn’t speak. I could think but I couldn’t make the words come downward from my brain to my mouth in any coherent way.
My sisters, who’d been the ones to force me into admission after I’d told them what I’d done during an argument with my then boyfriend, told me afterward that they’d gone to confront my parents about my condition. A move I thought was particularly brave given their history with my parents and the abuse they endured.
“Mom said you couldn’t really be saved if you are having mental health issues,” Samantha, my second oldest sister, reported to me once I had been released.
One of the more insidious aspects of Fundamentalism is the belief that “Getting Saved” can somehow cure mental illness or chemical dependence.
My father was/is an alcoholic, drug addict, per his own testimony. My mother had also had her turn with the rougher side of life and I do believe, in her way, she too dealt with addiction.
I am no psychologist, but I would guess that the emotional impact of ‘salvation’ as well as the emotional heights brought on by fundamentalism, can be a powerful replacement drug for substance abuse users. Powerful enough, perhaps, to make an alcoholic/ drug addict, stop using.
I’ve observed this to be true in our family’s case. The substances were gone (for a moment anyway), but the behavior remained and it remained untreated.
My father and mother were untreated alcoholics high on the emotional buoy of fundamentalism.
As a matter of fact, this was part of the dogma. If a person ‘backslid’ or fell of ‘the wagon’ so to speak, they were once again sinning. It was a moral flaw and not a disease and the pastors who preached against this ‘sin’ mocked the psychological and medical field. These pastors sell certainty, remember? That certainty, or that absolutism, is itself an addiction. AA/NA and other programs required the patient to be accountable for his or her own actions, through a sponser, and through meetings – knowing that this was a disease they would have to fight for the rest of their lives.
In short, these pastors sold Snake oil Salvation.
During this time, we as kids, were abused unmercifully and I think part of that has to do with Dry Drunk Syndrome. The symptoms are, according to Cigna’s website:
Acting self-important, either by “having all the answers,” or playing “poor me”
Making harsh judgments of self and others
Being impatient or impulsive
Blaming others for one’s own faults
Being dishonest, usually beginning with little things
Acting impulsively or selfishly
Struggling to make decisions
Having mood swings, trouble with expressing emotions, feeling unsatisfied
Feeling detached, self-absorbed, bored, distracted, or disorganized
Longing for the drinking life
Fantasizing or daydreaming
Backing away from or dropping out of a 12-step program
Alcoholics Anonymous, a medical treatment plan, a psychological treatment plan, Narcotics Anonymous, etc. could have curbed a lot of this. This is a miserable existence.
How do I know this?
Because my parents sometimes fell off the wagon. They stopped going to church and when they stopped going to church, all that they once were, they became again. This cycle would repeat itself constantly throughout my entire childhood growing up.
It was absolutely a bi-polar existence. It was like living with two separate sets of parents that were identical to each other. They shared the same name, same address, same places of work, they came home every night, but were decidedly different from the ones that had raised us in church.
So much so, that the first time they left, we (my two younger brothers and I) were absolutely scandalized that my mom and dad were smoking and drinking and not going to church anymore.
We didn’t understand. We had been raised in this movement, had bought into it, lock, stock, and two smoking barrels. For God sake it was BEATEN into us!
He was sinning. They were sinning. What’s happening here?
Now to you, reader, our reaction may seem fairly silly. Their leaving may even be viewed as good that they’d vacated that organization. In a way it was because we got to experience how the ‘others’ lived life. But the target of the abuse then shifted. The physical abuse stopped dead in it’s tracks. Dead. Gone. The abuse was now directed inward.
During one of these ‘off the wagon’ periods, we’d be allowed everything we’d been denied prior. We were finally ‘normal’ kids. Music, movies, the beach, you name it. But it too, wouldn’t last and suddenly we found ourselves in church again, the booze was gone, the ‘worldly things’ we had were gone, and the abuse would again start.
It was maddening. Especially for young kids who crave stability.
Back and Forth this would go on for years, to the point it had become a joke. One evening, during one of their ‘in’ cycles – I heard my mother practicing a song for church, I once knew, downstairs. So, I wandered down there and for about twenty minutes or so we had a good time.
I still remember the song:
“Love Grew, where the blood fell. Flowers of hope sprang up, for men in misery. Sin died, where the blood fell and I’m so glad, his precious blood still covers me.”
Trisha Yearwood had been right.
Now, music had always been my thing. My mom sounds like Patsy Cline when she sings and I admired her up on that stage. She was my first rock star. I thought she was so pretty, so talented, so cool.
“It’s a shame you’re gay. You could come to church and sing this with me,” she said to my face.
I died right then and there. I was miserable. The blood of Jesus that once saved me no longer did and I didn’t give a flying fuck anymore.
“Mom said you couldn’t really be saved if you are having mental health issues,” Samantha, my second oldest sister, reported to me once I had been released.
“Oh yeah? Lot a good it did them,” I replied. We laughed and laughed. Afterward, I fled to Omaha, Nebraska and drank and fucked my way across that state until finally I pulled my shit together, returned home, finished my degree, and got the fuck out of there for good.
Things could have been different but coulda, shoulda, woulda, right? The truth is, they weren’t. They never would be. A friend once said to me, “Misery is the failure to give up hope for a past that never was.”
I lay these things at the feet of my parents. I believe that while you are not responsible for the things that happened to you, you are absolutely responsible for fixing it. I’ve been in therapy and on medication for years dealing with this garbage. Yet, I also lay this at the feet of the Snake Oil Peddlers and Poverty Pimps that call themselves pastors of The Independent Fundamental Baptist Church.
Addiction is NOT a moral failure. These people are sick. It’s a disease. It’s a treatable disease, like cancer.
God may save our souls, folks, but he will not save us from the natural consequences of our actions.
“….and then I asked a corner preacher, I couldn’t hear him for my youth. Some people get religion. Some people get the truth. I never get the truth. I never get the truth.” – “Looking out” Brandi Carlile
This is the part of the story where I describe for you the doctrine of the Independent Fundamental Baptist. I am going to list these things in bullets for you. I am not going to get into the chapter/verse this is all drawn from because I really don’t care to. I do believe that the Bible has been so abused over generations to manipulate people that I approach the thing as if it were the Ark of the Covenant itself. Meaning, in the wrong hands, it’s an incredibly powerful weapon. And there are damn good reasons I feel that way:
Independent Baptists believe:
King James Version (1611) Only – meaning, they believe this version and this version alone is the holy, inerrant, **Infallible**, word of God. They believe in a literal reading of this book.
– I’ve often wondered at this, especially later on in life once I spent some time studying history and political science.
Despite King James being rumored to be Bisexual (George Villiers), he was a Protestant King, head of the Church of England, and married to Anne of Denmark until her death.
But why this version? I don’t believe for second their claim as to “best translation” of the scriptures. King James wanted a return to Absolute Rule for the throne. Even then, the powers of the monarch had begun to wane (Remember the Magna Carta from highschool?) . Wealth and power had started to distribute itself thanks to an emerging ‘middle class’ thanks, in part, to exploration of the world and the slave trade.
I think his political ambition has more to do with why they chose this version than any other ‘translational’ issues they may have.
They preach Separation Theology – “Come out and be ye separate sayeth the Lord”
From a literalist standpoint, this is the verse (among others) that fundamentalists use to draw their people ‘out of the world’. Also, it pulls them away from Christendom as a whole as well, even among other sects of Baptist.
Yet, it’s not just the withdrawing of their people that occurs. They vilify ‘the other’. From the government (local, national, international governing bodies such as the UN), Hollywood, the music industry, culture, education (especially higher education and secular universities), The Catholic Church (and all other sects of Christianity for that matter), and all other unsaved people, including old friends and family.
The above mentioned and more are a threat to fundamentalism. Other ‘ideas’ that may cause their members to second guess literalist interpretation of the Bible and the absolute authority of the Pastor and the rules of the church.
Extra-Biblical Teaching – This is cultural preferences taught as Biblical truth but can’t be found nowhere in the Bible or is purposefully misread. aca
Racism can be found here. I was taught in my church, in the early ’80s that it was sinful for white men to marry black women so on and so forth. That the ‘intermingling of the races’ was against God. ***Note: I was living in Detroit when this was being taught to me for those of you who still feel the south has the market cornered on ignorance.
As a matter of fact, the issue of Abortion, once thought to be a “Catholic” issue was used as a shield to undo Civil Rights Legislation concerning African American people in the early 1980’s with the rise of the Moral Majority and The Religious Right.
The Southern Baptist Convention was actually formed in a response to the anti-slavery movement that predated the Civil War. However, often times culture influences theology. Racism is a problem within this country and it’s a problem within these churches as well. This was one of the reasons, as mentioned in my early blog, as to what began to put the cracks in my faith because I actually went to school and lived around, people of color.
Sexism can be found here. The submissiveness of women to their husbands can be found here which is not only present in churches, this is a cultural phenomenon which also impacts the faith. Women not wearing pants, women not working, women being not allowed to speak up in church, have any sort of leadership role, etc. It is in this space that opens women (and by proxy their children) to predation. It is a peculiar place that women are put in. Men are all powerful in this institution except when it comes to sexual indiscretions. Then they become wimps who can’t control themselves and its all the woman’s fault for ‘influencing the man of God’.
This is where things get really twisted with the next bullet point.
Purity Culture – Lord, okay, here we go. The twisting of sex and sexuality is absurd and has disastrous consequences.
I’m going to let Nadia Bolz-Weber have her say in this: From an article entitled The Lutheran Pastor Calling for a Sexual Reformationthe New Yorker February 8th, 2019: “Purity culture equals rape culture,” she told me, by placing the onus on women. “It says to young women that your bodies aren’t your own and you can’t be a sexual being until you are the property of your future husband.”
Earlier in the article she states that, “The hypocrisy of purity culture, she argues, has recently been exposed through the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, as survivors of sexual violence within the Church speak out about abuse.”
Expose after expose over the years from local and national news papers, magazines, and television have been present in the media that should have had the weight the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church had and still continues to have throughout the known world.
The reason I feel it isn’t is that this country has historically been anti-Catholic. To some people, including fundamentalists, Catholics aren’t even Christian. Here in our country, an historically protestant country, the scandal is perhaps too much for people to bear so, to the detriment of people, it’s ignored. It’s a phenomenon that happens to ‘those people over there’.
Yet, here are a few recent examples that it is, in fact, happening here:
LGBTQIA – The abuses directed toward people of this community cannot be overstated. From the insertion of the word “Homosexual” in the Bible in 1946 during the height of the Red Scare to a purposeful misreading of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, gay folks have been absolutely tormented and made victims of cultural and religious abuse.
From barbaric pseudo-psychological conversion ‘therapy’ to disowning children and sending them out into the street, this is a major problem. According to statistics provided by Lesly University, “… up to 40 percent of them identify as LGBT. Because LGBT youth represent only 7 percent of the total youth population, there is a staggering disproportion of homelessness among these populations.”
From my perspective the church has been so catastrophically wrong on the issues of women and race that even if they were right about homosexuality, myself included, who’d believe them? A fool, that’s who.
Authors note: It isn’t just gay youth that are sent to homes like this to be ‘converted’ back to the ‘faith.’ Correctional homes for children, run by ministers with zero government oversight exist throughout the country for decades. Most notably is the famous “Christian Alamo” case where the late Lester Roloff ran a home called The Rebekah Home for Girls, in Corpus Christi, Texas that was so bad, so abusive, that the Attorney General of **Texas** shut it down.
See why ‘the world’ and in this case, as oddly enough has become the case overall in America lately, as to why the “Media” is the “Enemy”?
Rejection of facts, science, psychology, ad nauseum.
From the famed Scopes Monkey Trial concerning Evolution, to psychology, Climate Change, to COVID-19 inoculations (as well as Anti-Vaxxers period) and everything in between can be found here.
While the Anti-modernist, anti-science view isn’t enough to send them back to live like the Amish (because the Amish don’t have Cadillacs and wealth and other modern amenities that make them comfortable) this filters into our marketplace. Don’t believe me? Look at Social Media concerning any of these issues, read the comment section. Have you ever gotten into an argument with some obnoxious opinion on such matters?
These ideas threaten a literal reading of the Bible and, in turn, the foundation Fundamentalism is built on. Rational thought takes a back seat.
Cancel Culture -its not just for liberals on Tik-Tok. These folks started it. Or, can you say, Dixie Chicks?
Figurative Book Burning can also be found in this area as well – banning of art, fiction, movies, or any other work that is not explicitly Christian. Even more… Their type of Christian.
This evokes memories of my childhood when my own father would, ‘come under conviction’ and go through our house sobbing, with a garbage bag, and tossing out movies, music, and any other ‘ideas’ outside of ‘approved’ media.
As a matter of fact, as a young man, my father approached me one Sunday after church and told me that if I threw out all my secular music (which I had stored in a shoebox under my bed) that he would replace it, dollar for dollar, for Christian music (that he knew I also loved). When I said no, he lost his temper. He snatched my box of music, which was on top of the refrigerator and began to cry and stomp them into pieces and then ordered me to throw them out in the dumpster.
Crying, I did so. Shaking, I did so. But I also salvaged what I could and, because I was starting to pull away from the faith, ferreted them off to a friends house for safe keeping.
Fear had given way to anger at this point of my life and I resented this more than words can say.
I still do.
—Man of God / Authoritarianism.
The Preacher speaks directly for God and is not to be criticized or questioned. Not coincidental that many of the IFB kickstarters (like Jack Hyles) had military backgrounds. Their belief in order, subordination, and chain of command translated directly to their ministry, setting them up to grab their unchallenged place of power.
The pastor is the ultimate power (King) in the organization
The man, head of household is the next in line. He ‘Lords” over:
His wife and She:
In that specific order. That order must be maintained at all times or it all starts to fall apart.
(Luckily for us, my mother was really bad at following directions, but more on that later)
This power structure invites, as we know in political science as well as history (including 1776, Hello?!) , all sorts of abuse. And that’s how I want you to look at it. Fundamentalism is inherently political.
It is a clarion call to all sorts of abusers, sociopaths, sexual deviants, because they can hide behind the shield of faith, and, because of the power structure, are protected by this political formation. And while not all pastors or people of the faith are perpetrators of these heinous things, the atmosphere creates a perfect breeding ground for them so that when abuses are discovered, or an abuser is found out, it’s unfortunately way too late for them.
This is why I refer to the ‘cult’ as a feudal system. A kingdom inside a democracy that goes unnoticed by the public and, because of political leaders turning a blind eye, flourishes. And don’t let them fool you, the Independent in their name is also bullshit. While it is true there is no hierarchy, no Bishops, no governing bodies above the Pastor of his church, they are all ideologically linked together.
And perhaps even that is misleading, for as long as Jack Hyles was alive – he was their, for lack of a better term but one I think will suffice, Pope.
The key difference between Pope Hyles and say, Pope Francis of the Catholic Church is evident in that, The Catholic Church, for all it’s faults (and there are many) at least has a philosophical background going back 2,000 years and beyond. There’s an ocean of work, bodies of work, that you could spend a lifetime swimming through.
If you jumped into a pool of IFB theology, you’d break your neck.
—Hell and eternal conscious torment theology
That’s the threat. Your soul is dangling over perditions’ flames vis a vis Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
This includes Rapture Theology (because kids aren’t really afraid of death, they’re kids so lets scare them with the idea that God is imminently upon them).
Guilt trip preaching and promotion of self-hatred… the flesh, depravity of man, “a wretch like me”, even our righteousness as “filthy rags” (Purity Culture). This is the belief that mankind, and anything he creates, is, was, or ever will be – abominable. That there is no inherent worth present in a person.
Authors note: My heart is broken over this. Reading it all like this, laid out this way, from experience and observation from living this life, it just comes back to me with one word: Unnecessary. Grief, despair, Loneliness, Violence, Judgement, Godless, Christ-less, merciless.
Yet this was my life. This was the world I lived in. Church should be a place of healing. A place of comfort. A hospital. A home. A place of refuge for the weary in heart, mind, and body. It should be a place where people gather to comfort each other, and share the good news of the Gospel. This should be a place to break bread, to drink the wine, to celebrate a new birth, and mourn a passing.
It shouldn’t be a place of ruthless ambition where words and deeds are always observed with a suspicious eye. It shouldn’t be a place of rampant abuse, lies, secrets, and fear.
That’s not a church, that – my friends – is a cult. I don’t believe Jesus Christ would have condoned any of this.
“Make me a witness. Take me out; out of darkness; out of doubt…will we burn in heaven? Like we do down here? Will the change come while we’re waiting? Everyone is waiting.” – Sarah McLachlan “Witness”.
Before I go on with this blog any further, I wanted to take a moment as I sit out among my flowers and among the roses, with Sammy my dog snoozing in the shade, the statue of Mary in the garden, the sculpted angels that surround her, to make it clear that I am in no way attacking Christianity as a faith practice for billions of people world wide.
I am no atheist – although I understand them and, given what has been handed to me in my life there are certain aspects of the faith, especially fundamentalism, that I am a complete non-believer of. Frank Schaffer in his book, Why I am an Atheist that Believes in God, does a magnificent job in detailing this state of being better than I can. I can’t recommend his work more.
I am not an agnostic – although I went through an agnostic phase in my early years of deconstruction. Mostly, this was academic. As a lover of history and political science, I knew that our founding fathers were Deists. It was the Age of Enlightenment that our bedrock principles were laid out in the Declaration of Independence by Jefferson, The Constitution, and the debates and written works, such as The Federalist Papers, by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were also made available to the world.
That didn’t last. Or, rather, I just didn’t have the discipline to sit in such a grey area, intellectually. ((I also tried Buddhism too, and that didn’t work for me either. I’m too impatient for Nirvana.))
It was the gospel music in my life during my IFB years that I hyper focused on. ((Heh. A gay man involved and loving gospel music?! Say it ain’t so! It’s Baptist Broadway! LOL. ))
It wasn’t just the performance aspect alone, however. It was the lyrics that held me and still do.
Could we with Ink the ocean fill;
and were the skies of parchment made;
if every stalk on earth a quill;
and every man a scribe by trade;
to write the love of God above;
would drain the ocean dry;
nor could that scroll contain the whole;
though stretched from sky to sky
It was that God, I heard in my youth. It was that God that beckoned to me. It was the poetry, the lyrics, the music, the musings, the witness, the grace, the passion, of people who saw a merciful, bountiful, forgiving, loving, and powerful deity. It was the artistry, the human expression of the divine that made me latch on to those songs.
What I couldn’t understand, however, was in the moments between the final note of the song, and the time it took to walk the ten feet between the piano and the pulpit, the sudden and jarring and almost schizophrenic change in God’s demeanor.
“The image of God I was raised with was this: God is an angry bastard with a killer surveillance system who had to send his little boy (and he only had one) to suffer and die because I was bad. But the good news was that if I believed this story and then tried really hard to be good, when I died I would go to heaven, where I would live in a golden gated community with God and all the other people who believed and did the same things as I did…..this type of thinking portrays God as just as mean and selfish as we are, which feels like it has a lot more to do with our own greed and spite than it has to do with God.”
I didn’t understand that transition and something inside of me knew something wasn’t right. I didn’t possess the language to articulate it, but I instinctively knew there was a problem. As a matter of fact, at that early age was when I learned how to stare at someone (the pastor) for an hour or so, and completely tune out every single word they said. ((Because when you’ve heard one racist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-social, rant. You’ve heard ’em all)).
Yet, I could not tune out the effects of it. God was someone to be feared and that emotional upheaval of a people who were angry that the world wasn’t bowing down to their brand of Christianity, focused all that angst, and fear of God’s judgement, on the weakest of their members.
Children. Or on their women.
Mostly, I think, because they were too chicken shit to take it elsewhere. And, because we were so insular, so closed off, so isolated from the world, they knew that – or they were somewhat sure of – the fact that no one would take it outside of their organization for fear of “destroying the man of God.”
I am no theologian. I am a writer of romance novels, horror novels, poetry, and music. I am an artist, as pompous as that may sound, I’ve come to embrace that title and all the hippie, lovely, funky, fun, and societally side-eyed, weight it carries.
But it is through that medium(s) that I began to understand, or was pulled toward, the creator as an artist himself. I mean, think about it, whether you’re a staunch Creationist or an Evolutionist (or a combination of both as I am) – the created world (or the world as it happened to form by chance if you’re of that mindset) is breathtaking.
But so are we.
Look at all the shades of color we come in. The languages. The culture. The songs. The music. The FOOD. ((The whole anti-immigrant warning of, “There’ll be taco trucks on every corner!” to me, wasn’t a threat. Bring it on!))
If we are made in the image of God, than we are as he is: creators. Storytellers. Professing his majesty, our majesty, with tales of tragedy and triumph throughout the world because we can’t help ourselves. It’s who we are.
No, I don’t approach the Throne of God with a sense of fear. (I don’t think I was willing to ‘approach it’ at all then because of the fear, thank you very much) I approach it with a sense of wonder, now.
So when I hear, or when I think upon some of the things I’ve heard fundamentalists say concerning the wretchedness of mankind, I’m offended not simply because of the damage it does to the listener – but because they’re also talking shit about God via his creation.
((They’re either really brave, or really stupid. Either way that takes brass balls. ))
Why would you, then, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and take care of the weakest among you? They think men, God’s perfect creation, are all disgusting.
Their misery, our misery, misery period – is something we deserve and not something that should be alleviated by love and care and mercy.
Why did we take the most merciful God, the most beautiful, radical, passionate, loving, healing, bronze skinned, woolen haired, homeless, penniless, friend to Lazarus and Mary Magdalene, healer of the leper, the blind, the deaf, raiser of the dead, life changing, Jesus and turn him into a sociopathic, narcissistic, racist, asshole?
Fear is a money maker. It’s an empire builder. It’s a power collector. It’s a divider. It’s an accuser. It’s an assaulter. It enables the worst behavior mankind can come up with. Fear also brings with it, Judgement and it was our judgement, that killed Christ.
There’s no money to be made in Jesus’ words and fear, that primal, primitive, evolutionary instinct is powerful and loud.
And people who are afraid of the inherent fears of the unknown (Life, death, weather, societal changes, life after death) need certainty. And that certainty, or the mirage of certainty, can only come by way of a fearless leader. They’ll worship that man who brings them calmness, peace, even if it’s a false peace and a false calm, even at the expense of their family, they community, and their nation.
Yet, fundamentalists don’t suffer from an overabundance of faith, otherwise they wouldn’t do what they do – the suffer from a lack of it. They’ve been made afraid of the God that adores them, as they are. That God that loves them and loves us all in our condition as human beings that none of us can escape no matter how hard we try. No matter how much we revile it.
The same humanity, I might add, that Christ also experienced.
But the kicker is, it’s our shared humanity, that brings us together. As an artist, I’ve come to understand that. It’s what Nadia Bolz-Weber describes as our “…jagged edges…that give us texture. It gives us something to hold on to.”
It’s a little before Two P.M on this beautiful March day. The skies are a robin’s egg blue, with white puffy clouds floating lazily by. At my bird feeder, a male and female cardinals are hopping about foraging on the seed that’s dropped to the ground. Sammy, my dog, has awoken from his nap to shift places on the deck. The bees are about their business, attending to the flowers in the bed, and a breeze wraps itself lovingly around me from moment to moment.
My God is here and he’s here with me. I am a witness to it and for it and for him.
The seeds of faith were planted by my parents – and for that I will always be grateful despite the abuse, despite the nonsense of the church(es) we were involved in. The Absurdity of it all. But since I’ve left fundamentalism aside, my faith hasn’t waned. In fact, because of my husband’s influence as a Catholic, and my own curiosity at “God” and all that he is, my faith has grown.
No, I am a Christian. Or, rather, I’m practicing to be a Christian.
I’m okay with that.
((Authors note: I want to take a moment to thank some of the author’s of Christian works that I’ve read. Some were mentioned in the article, others not. I do, however, highly recommend their work for people looking for cracking good books to read about Christianity. Thank you, Nadia Bolz-Weber. Frank Schaeffer. Rob Bell. Rachel Held Evans (R.I.P) and Phyliss Tickle (R.I.P). Your works have inspired, healed, and – in some kind of way – handed my faith back to me. I will always be in your debt.))
Fundamentalism in the United States isn’t very old. As a matter of fact, when you see people quoting scripture on social media concerning a progressive church or progressive minister they loved talking about ‘itchy ears’ in the latter days of time – as if their movement wasn’t only 100 years old, give or take.
(Don’t bother, these people are immune to their own irony)
In 1912, in response to the works of Faraday, Darwin, Einstein, and the demystifying of the universe thanks to science- a meeting was called where Christians gathered to reinforce what they referred to as “The Fundamentals” of the faith.
According to the late Phyliss Tickle in her lecture on The Great Emergence, this movement was brought on because, ” Zeus had lost his thunderbolt.” It was a response to the shrinking of the world, thanks to changes in technology and communication, as well as shifts in society, the teaching of other world religions in America, as well as immigration of non-protestants after the First World War, and the Bible itself coming under the scrutiny of higher education. (Grant Wacker, Duke University)
It’s power would swell over the years, through court cases such as the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, through legislation, and would help lead various religious movements throughout the early 20th century.
“Historic Fundamentalism, largely forged before World War I, helped to produce the massive evangelical, pentecostal, and charismatic revivals after World War II, as well as the Christian Right in the 1970s and 1980s.” (Wacker, 1)
I was born April 12th, 1981 and I was born into this belief system. This kingdom. This world within a world and for years, it was all I knew. And to say that it was all bad would be a betrayal of the truth. I have very fond memories – early on – of houses filled with people. With food, with conversation, with laughter, and singing. One of the pastors I knew from such an early age that I considered, and still do consider him, to be a part of my family tree. His children and I are good friends to this day – all these years later.
I remember the first time I met him, I was a little boy. It was Easter Sunday, and we were going to a new church, mom and dad put me in a little suit with patent leather shoes, and I remember arriving on this beautiful, bright, sunny day and having this man open the back door of the grocery getter. He was so tall, he blocked out the sun and I remember wondering if it was God I was meeting.
That memory makes me smile.
We don’t get to choose the time and place of our birth, nor the circumstances surrounding it. We don’t choose our parents, our skin color, sexuality, economic status, nor our gender. I was post industrial age, Post Vietnam, Post Civil Rights movement, Post Women’s movement, Pre-Aids, Pre-internet, baby. I didn’t know it then, but I was the first of the “Millennial” generation.
(It’s in this space, where I feel stuck. Not that I can’t think of things to say but because all I want to say is rushing forward all at once and I’m afraid I’ll omit something important, so please, bear with me. )
By then, abuse was happening inside the house and had been taking place long before my arrival. Tempers were flaring in my parents. Traumas had already been present in young lives. Machinations of the church intervened in some of the more disturbing cases that I would learn about later on in life. But the abuse was there, beatings, sometimes over the simplest things such as clothes folded wrong or put on the wrong hangers. My older sisters (who had different fathers than mine) were the focus of most of the abuse, although it managed to filter downward to us and would later transfer specifically to me once they had gone out on their own.
Jack Hyles (who often referred to himself or was referred by others as Doctor, although he had no legitimate degree in theology or anything for that matter) had already been writing long before my arrival. And in a book he produced called, How To Rear Children(mind you he had no qualifications to write on this subject), advocated “Breaking the Will of Child”. This means, he advocated corporal punishment on children as young as infancy. (The Book is still available on Amazon, btw) His belief is that you beat a child into submission to the parent’s authority.
My father would even bring this, “Breaking the will of a Child,” up in conversation in our lives before a beating or on the subject of whipping children – later on in our lives.
Dr. Maya Angelou said “People live in direct relationship to the heroes and sheroes in their lives. Always and in all ways.”
Jack Hyles was my father’s hero. But he wasn’t just his hero. Jack had cultivated a cult following in the Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement. Dad owned his tapes of sermons, his books, went to ‘Pastor’s School’ in March, and whenever Jack came into town – or nearby within reason, my dad would take us all to hear him preach.
They treated him like some kind of religious rock star. Looking back, the infatuation was worse than that. Jack had become a king and we, his church and the movement had become a cult, even as far away as Detroit, were his loyal subjects.
((His own daughter, Linda Murphy speaks about his influence in a Ted Talk you can find here. ))
In his book, The Future of Faith (2009), Harvard Theologian Harvey Cox makes the argument that Fundamentalism (pg 14) is in decline. While I somewhat agree with him, Fundamentalism doesn’t go gently into that good night.
It creates false certainties in a world with very few real ones outside of death and taxes.
Fundamentalism gets agitated when their ‘certainty’ becomes uncertain, when their absolutes dissolve into a maybe, not likely, or worse – being flat out wrong. That uncertainty or that challenge to their absolutes brings agitation or flat-out fear. And fear can lead to anger, anger to hate, and hate to the dark side per Master Yoda.
Marcus Aurelius once said that, a man couldn’t really be imprisoned because you could never imprison the mind. Well, with all due respect to that great Roman, Fundamentalism found a work around. It has been my observation that fundamentalism, or certainty addiction, absolutism, whatever you want to call it – imprisons the mind and leaves the body to wander and that body is a potential bomb.
The secular world, or the outside world, will catch a glimpse of this boiling over of fundamentalism (9/11, The shooting of the Asian people in Georgia recently and with the Purity Culture that lead to it, the assasination of Yitzhak Rabin, domestic violence, etc.)
It’s important to note, as mentioned before, it’s their certainty that allows them to conduct these acts. No one flew a plane into a building or shot an abortion doctor shouting, “I’m not sure.” Or “Just in case.”
They are 100 percent convinced of their ‘rightness’.
Doubt, uncertainty, or change causes an inflection point that’s built into Fundamentalism. It’s like riding a sugar high (or whatever high you can get, I imagine) and it has to come down
It either causes an implosion – where the Fundamentalist is shaken out of their belief system or it causes an explosion – where damage is done even to their own families.
And damage was done.
I had a bad life. There’s no other way around it. There’s no other way, as Tina Turner puts it in her new documentary, to tell the story.
Jack Hyles was an insidious, evil, man who had no grasp, no understanding of human nature, other than his own ambitions. My will was never broken, it was forged in hellfire and Brimstone.
But my mind did go. It broke. I suffered. I suffer – present tense. I am aware of things I never wanted to be aware of. I know things I never wanted to know.
It is through the Grace of God alone, and the love of a good man, a good husband, therapy, medication, and art that has brought me back from the brink – and I’ll use my history however I see fit.
And I see fit to speak about it and, as Jefferson wrote in his Declaration of Independence, “I’ll let these facts be submitted to a candid world.”
Jack is dead but his movement is still alive. His victims, and the victims of fundamentalism in general, number in the tens of thousands. It’s time for the world to see this kingdom for what it is.
I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan to a lower middle class working family. I think that is where the story is. In some kind of way, I think if perhaps the economics surrounding my arrival into this world were different, if money wasn’t as tight, or if desperation wasn’t so familiar a scent at the beginning of my life, things would have been different.
Perhaps, then, we wouldn’t have been swept up into the fundamentalist movement. Perhaps God wouldn’t have been the task master, the all seeing eye, the angry, vengeful dictator that lorded over us.
I know there is a connection there as I think fundamentalism is about economics. I think, like military recruiters, it preys on desperation and disenfranchisement. Strike that. I know that’s who it preys on as they are more receptive to it’s influence.
They’re receptive to a religion that promises to fix their problems.
That was the case for us.
Detroit at the time, and still is if the stories I hear coming from home are true, is a place of desperation now that the world has, in the words of Stephen King, moved on.
Known as the Motor City, known as Motown, Detroit has it’s own reputation for being a rough place. And yet I feel a fondness for it even now. Those streets, those houses, the schools, the zip code of 48209 raised me. I am and always will be a Detroiter. There are fond memories there even amidst the trauma. Neighbors I knew and loved who have passed on from this world. Times when things were good, even great.
But with the sweet often comes, especially in a place like that, the sourness. Detroit was a place of shifting extremes. It had become a ghost of it’s former self.
In the summer months chaos reigned with gang fights, drive by shootings, auto thefts, fire bombings, and so forth. Yet, in the winter months, when temperatures dipped well below freezing, the desperate beasts that roamed the landscape in the summer months and early fall, hibernated.
We were all beasts of varying degree making our way in a savage world a day at a time. A circumstance at a time. There’s a kind of barbaric pride in that, in having survived it, in having been able to cope in those circumstances. A pride.
“Yes, I am from Detroit,” is a badge of honor. That name carries weight. It means you’re a bad bitch.
Yet when people talk about these cities, especially in conservative circles, it’s often code for Black. Especially when they talk about our sister city, Chicago when it comes to issues of gun violence. And yes, there were a high concentration of African Americans in our city as there were Mexican, Puerto Rican, Irish, Italian, and Arab American.
And the one thing we shared in common, the one thing that made us all equal?
You guessed it.
Poverty, or near poverty.
And poverty creates desperation and desperate people do desperate things to survive.
Poverty is it’s own culture, it’s own way of life. It has it’s own language. Speech. Ways of being.
Yet for every Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia used by people to talk about ‘those folks’ I can lead you to a rural spot outside of these places filled with white people who speak the same language and live the same lifestyle.
As a matter of fact, if the statistic still holds they way it did when I was a kid, 20 percent of all drugs were inside the inner city. Guess where the other 80 percent existed?
That’s the irony. That’s the joke.
Yet one of the things that helped me escape fundamentalism, or at least started putting the first and finest of cracks in the theology for me, was the exposure to people of color and different cultures and ethnicities.
See, the God of our theology was white.
The rainbow of culture, art, music, dance, language, was all there in that city by the river. It was alive, and in it’s own kind of way, thriving like a dandelion that managed to bust through the concrete specifically engineered to keep it down.
I started peeling away from Fundamentalist Christianity when I was a kid. It was the 1990’s. I was living in Detroit. The racism displayed in the churches I attended, in the doctrine, and in the behavior, was inconsistent with what I was witnessing outside the church walls.
What I mean to say is, If African Americans were so bad, how come they were richer than us poor white working-class folk?
Why did they have titles in my school such as Doctor Hines and Doctor Granderson?
How come they drove nicer cars, wore nicer clothes, were better people? How come the secular schools I attended were safer than the neighborhoods I grew up in – if “God wasn’t allowed there”?
How come black people, especially black women, loved on me a great deal more than my white church did?
How come Whitney Houston could sing like that? En Vogue? Anita Baker? Tina Turner? Aretha?
How can something THAT beautiful come from someone lesser?
What about Black People’s faith which was evident even in secular institutions? It was present on little shelves in my counselors office. It was unspoken, but they evangelized with their presence and the way they comported themselves.
I know a lot of this may sound silly, but when you’re indoctrinated with a certain mindset as a child when racism is in the faith, one has to peel layers back and ask the simplest of questions.
I remember asking a pastor of ours at the time, a man of mixed heritage of Hispanic and Maltese, “What do you tell people who believe that mixed marriages are a sin?”
“It depends on the crowd,” he responded.
How is the truth any less true or more true depending on the crowd?
It was because of his mixed heritage that I asked the question.
I was thirteen at the time. His words stuck with me.
Yes, economics played an important role in my life – in all our lives.
Fundamentalism is also very much economic for the leader(s) as men desire power above all else. Racism, sexism, homophobia, etc are the distractions used by a figure (figures) to attain wealth.
White Supremacy was used in the past by the Southern Aristocracy to convince poor whites to fight and die for their right to own slaves.
We were fighting hyper capitalism not southern genteelism, or grandmas banana pudding, (my God these people can cook.)
Not much has changed since 1860. But what makes it stick so damn bad, is that this lie is not perpetuated by politicians alone. The seeds were already planted and they were planted by the transmission of the faith by pastors.
It came from the pulpit.
So while the followers and the victims wallow in self inflicted misery – the perpetrators count their cash (Jack Hyles, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Bob Jones Sr. Southern Baptist Convention, )
Furthermore, it won’t be eradicated by simply shaming racism, White Supremacy, or the fundamentalists who perpetuate it, out of society. Nor will it be eradicated by engaging the politicians and making demands for change in the structure of how the government operates.
While changes in laws are necessary for obvious reasons (Civil Rights Acts, Abortion, and Gay Marriage) All that does is create a greater rift between a reasonable populace and those held sway in the grip of this fundamentalism. Fearmongering has to be challenged and addressed at its source. Whether you like it or not, agnostic, atheist, secularist, Christian etc. religion informs the society in which it exists and is, in turn, informed by the society.
Therefore we cannot be afraid, especially those of us who carry on the religious traditions, to confront other sects of denominations that perpetuate this god awful theology and call them out on it.
White Supremacy, like it had in the past, is also being used now for economic reasons and it is still coming out of the pulpit.
Yes, Detroit raised me.
While chaos reigned outside, it reigned inside as well and for a child whose soul had been saved at seven years old through confession and acceptance of Jesus into my heart, with the promise of Heaven, I was living in Hell.
This is what people have been calling right-wing fundamentalists for some time now. Why? Because somewhere in their consciousness they know what it was they were looking at.
I served in the United States Army from February 2002 – to February 2005. I joined after and because of September 11, 2001.
Now if you can journey back with me to that day, to the media coverage of what was transpiring on the eastern seaboard, you’ll remember at a certain point in the broadcasts, regardless of stations you were watching, new words were being used into the American vernacular. New names.
Some of them were:
Osama Bin Laden
Khalid Sheik Mohammed
Because of my M.O.S in the Army, 54 Bravo (Chemical Operations Specialist) these names and all the politics that surround them, all the history that surround them, etc. became especially familiar to me. Antiterrorism was my job. It was a job I loved, that I took seriously, that I understood in some kind way.
As a country, we’ve lived the past 20 years associated with the events of 9/11. We’ve fought two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve lost thousands of soldiers in the Global War on Terror, we’ve spent trillions of dollars trying to eradicate this menace to civilization as best we can.
So what is Fundamentalism?
In my personal opinion, based upon experience and observation:
Fundamentalism (not to be confused with Orthodoxy) is not a facet of religion alone. Fundamentalism is inherently political as it is a lens in which one views the world.
It is a distortion of the world and the distortion process is rather simple.
1)You bring someone into the fold – via a natural desire for community (or a person is born into it)
2) they are in turn indoctrinated.
3) They are then isolated and turned against the world (society, communities, families etc) they live in – via that indoctrination.
And the way out – is also surprisingly simple.
Fundamentalism dies a quick death when exposed to scrutiny or new ideas, hence the isolation.
So, the fundamentalist will seek out and attempt to destroy any other influence on its subjects whether it be other religions, other sects of the same religion, art, history, music, or any other thing that can cause the subject to doubt its infallibility and inevitability less they find connection to the secular world thereby drawing the subject out and away from under the power of the leader. (I.e. the destruction of antiquity in Iraq by Isis)
Yet, this is also happening here in America.
There exists no war against religion in this country but there damn sure is a war against secularism – and it’s a threat to democracy.
In our context, despite what Fox News, Brietbart, 4Chan, etc. will have you believe, the radical fundamentalist is not a Muslim, a Mexican, or an angry black woman.
He’s White and Male.
We were introduced to this reality in 1995 with the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh.
We saw this in Charlottesville with the marching crowd made up with a majority of white men holding tiki-torches shouting, “Jews will not replace us.”
We witnessed this in the assassination of the 7 African American parishioners at Emanuele AME Church in Charleston by Dylann Roof.
Fundamentalism also has within it a sort of natural inflection moment. It’s like riding an emotional Sugar high.
A) it’ll either implode – whereas the fundamentalist finds a connection to the secular world and simply leaves Or
B ) an explosion – whereas the fundamentalist turns violent against the world, a target, or their own families. (9/11, the shooting in Georgia, the assassination’s of Ytzak Rabin, domestic violence, etc., and the aforementioned events here by white men)
It’s important to note, as mentioned before, it’s their certainty that allows them to conduct these acts. No one flew a plane into a building or shot an abortion doctor shouting, “I’m not sure.” Or “Just in case.” They are 100 percent convinced of their rightness.
From People Magazine:
In a 2015 manifesto seized by authorities, written after his arrest, Roof offered no apology for the murders.
“I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did,” he wrote, according to the New York Times. “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
That is a fundamentalist. Those folks on January 6th, religious or otherwise, are fundamentalists. And we’re in trouble…