Blogging on Patheos Today

I was invited to contribute to a “public square” discussion on Patheos. The question is, “Why do you homeschool?” It’s a really good question for any of us who came through Bill Gothard’s spiritually poisonous system.

Here’s my answer. It’s For the Children

I’m impressed at the lineup of authors that the editors editors pulled in for this topic. It gives a wide variety of homeschool viewpoints. Check it out!

Advertisements

Phantom Enemies

ghost-1-1312149-1280x960One day on the battlefield, I looked up and realized I was fighting phantoms.

Before I go any further, I’m going to say this:

  1. I’m not going to apologize for being cautious around a person or situation that feels not-normal. I’m a woman and a mother, and God didn’t give me deeply-imbedded survival instincts just for kicks. I’m also a rational human being, so I can evaluate whether those instincts ring true or not; but meanwhile, if I feel uneasy, I will take precautions to keep myself and my children safe.
  2. Predators and terrorists are real dangers. That’s why they’re so frightening. The possibility of a zombie attack at the grocery store doesn’t make your throat close up with fear.

That said…

Two remarks recently revealed how hard I was fighting illusions.

The first was while I was having coffee with some other women. We were talking about what our kids enjoyed doing, and I lamented that I couldn’t let my children walk anywhere. “We live right off a highway and people drive fast. It’s just not safe.”

The others nodded, and one added, “And you never know what the Muslims will do.”

We were in a hipster coffee shop in a predominately white Christian town. In my middle-class suburban bubble, I hadn’t seen a non-white person all morning.

The second remark was in some discussion about transgender bathroom policies. Someone declared, “I work hard enough to keep my kids safe as it is, without this added risk!”

I’ve probably used a public bathroom with a transgendered person without knowing it. Still, I do think that we’d do well to acknowledge the risks of allowing predatory men easier access to women’s bathrooms. But I heard that comment and thought, “How many times have you had to defend your children against attackers this week?”

She would say, “Every minute of my day!” What she means is, “I’m on alert every minute of my day.” But as for actual attacks? In a typical week in my circle of friends, that would be zero.

What these two comments clarified for me was that I spend a lot of energy defending myself and my family against enemies who might be, but aren’t actually, attacking me. When I took a step back to see who my actual attackers are, I was stunned.

I’ve had a very good life, but not a perfect one. Throughout the years, people have hurt me. And that group of people—the one that I by all rights should be wary of now—has been

White

Middle-class

Heterosexual

American

Christians

It makes sense. That’s who I am, and that’s who I associate with. If I were to guard against the actual “enemies” who have hurt me, I’d be cautious around smiling men in dark suits who teach toxic theology. I’d protect my children from manipulative women who just “want the best” for my family. Stories of terrorists and predators would concern me, but an ordinary guy who assumes I’m not as good as he is because I don’t think like he does—that should terrify me.

They don’t, though, because they’re known enemies. It’s the unknown that scares me.

It’s good to be aware of trends, movements, and dangers. As I said to begin with, I don’t apologize for being careful in situations that make me uneasy. But the thing about phantom enemies is that you never, ever beat them. They always come back. So I end up enslaved to fear, which makes me want to follow anyone who promises safety… which is often someone who preys on fear for his or her own selfish ends. And in my life, that’s almost invariably been a white middle-class heterosexual American Christianish kind of person.

Phantom enemies deliver us into the hands of real ones. And that’s really what should scare us most.

Bleeding Praise

They opened a Bible and
Drew out a gleaming
Metal sheath, polished silver
Studded with rubies.
They said it was good.

They said the beautiful sheath
Enclosed treasure to
Carry deep inside my heart –
God’s gift for God’s child.
I stretched out my hand.

They unclasped a silver lock.
The sheath broke apart
Revealing a slender smooth
Steel blade, thin and sharp.
I accepted it.

I took the chilled metal blade
Which did not warm to
My touch, and they showed me just
How I must hold it.
Poised over my heart.

Together, we drove it in.
Easily, it pierced
My chest. The handle snapped off,
The blade disappeared
Deep within my heart.

They looked at the bright red blood
Welling from my heart,
Smearing and staining my skin.
Blood is life, they said—
God’s abundant life.

They reproached me for my tears,
Said I must be strong,
Said my heart was rebellious
Said it was Your gift.
I must love the pain.

I loved the pain, rejoicing
In abundant life.
My bleeding and wounded heart
Sang praises to You
In grief and despair.

I cherished the deep-set blade
Having forgotten
That it was not part of me.
Not remembering
That they put it there.

You came near to me and saw
That I was dying,
Slowly, while gasping praises
As each new heartbeat
Tore wider the wound.

You whispered in my anguish,
Said the sharp steel blade
Was not a treasure of Yours.
Pain stopped up my ears
I couldn’t hear You.

You slid Your fingers into
My agonized heart.
Then I knew You were with me.
Fear and pain burned me.
I begged You to leave.

Peace, be still, is all You said.
You drew out the blade.
It was pitted, slimy, dark.
My torn heart closed up.
I cried soft, warm tears.

Quietly You embraced me,
Stanched the bright red blood
With Your own bloodstained fingers
Said You don’t love pain.
But You love to heal.

You washed my skin and my clothes
And bound up my heart.
You shattered the ugly blade,
Asked for no praises.
Told me to just breathe.

Abigail, A Dangerous Woman

The Bible doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to exposing dangerous women. The first one who comes to your mind, just like mine, is Abigail.

Lest you think we’re talking about two different Old Testament characters, I’ll give a rundown of her story. It’s found in 1 Samuel 25.

In the years before David became king of Israel, he was on the run from Saul–the current king–and building up his own following. They happened upon the fields of Nabal during shearing time. David sent ten men to Nabal saying, “Hey, we didn’t mess with your shepherds or steal any of your sheep or goats. So could you give me food for my men?”

It was a big request. But Nabal was a rich man. More to the point, he was still rich thanks to David’s honorable treatment of his property. Also, David’s men had weapons. Like any reasonable man, Nabal saw that it was to his advantage to pay up his part of the bargain.

Oh, wait. Nabal’s name means “fool.” He did not pay up. He insulted David and told him to get lost.

David got mad and began mobilizing his men for wholesale slaughter of every male in Nabal’s household.

(See, class? We sure do need for men to be in charge all the time because it always goes so much better that way.)

Abigail was Nabal’s wife. When a servant came to her in a panic, telling her what was going on, she swung into action. She gathered up food, freshened up, saddled a donkey, and went out to meet David herself. She apologized for her husband’s foolishness and begged him to spare the household.

David, hotheaded though he was, was actually a reasonable man, especially by ancient warlord standards. He agreed to call off the attack. In fact, he was relieved that Abigail had kept him from unnecessary bloodshed.

Abigail went back and told Nabal what she’d done. Nabal was furious. So absolutely, intensely furious that he had a stroke and then died.

So the household was saved, Nabal disposed of, and David took Abigail to be his wife. Which really was the best a woman could hope for in that time.

Okay, so I admit that at first glance, it actually looks like Abigail is the hero of this story. But one of the tricks of a patriarchal worldview is that it can use one or two details to twist the whole perspective into the proper shape.

To start with, you’ve got to keep the most important principle in mind at all time. That principle is: Authority. Every situation, even a story told for centuries around campfires, must be filtered through the grid of Authority.

Who was in authority in this story? Well, David, because he’d been anointed the next king of Israel. Who else had authority here? Nabal, the husband and owner of the property.

Who did not have the authority to make any decisions or take any action? Abigail. Because she was married, she was bound to obey her husband no matter what.

There are two telling details in the passage of Scripture. One, the servant came to Abigail behind Nabal’s back, and even said he was wicked and foolish. Abigail did not rebuke the servant for speaking against their authority. Two, Abigail made her plans and headed out to see David, but as the story notes, She did not tell her husband.

But… but… she spared every  male in the household! Including Nabal’s worthless hindquarters!

Yet you see what her rebellion–yes, she was rebellious–led to. Her husband died. David might feel like God had vindicated him, but Abigail had to live with the knowledge that her actions killed her own husband.

But… but… Abigail became David’s wife…

Pfft. She became one of his wives. Who wants that? (What woman had a choice back then? Hush, you’re cluttering up the narrative.) And she did have at least one son who should have become king after David, but we never hear anything about him. That’s the third devastating detail in this story: God punished Abigail by not letting her son become the next king.

I’m not exaggerating this interpretation. This is what I was taught as a student of Bill Gothard. He embroidered a lot of the details*, but there’s a long tradition among hardcore patriarchalists to demonize Abigail. She usurped her husband’s place and was the cause of his death.

Girls, do not grow up to be like Abigail!

You should instead hope to be like… well… how about you just don’t read ahead in your Bibles until we have time to explain how Ruth, Esther, Deborah, Jael, etc. are also cautionary tales. Here, instead we’ve rewritten history and also these stories with passive obedient heroines. We’ll get back to God’s Word when you’re ready to understand the truths hidden within it.

Good thing you’ve got men to illuminate it for you.

*Gothard claimed that if Abigail hadn’t intervened, then David would have had the guilt of unnecessary bloodshed on his conscience; years later, when he got Bathsheba pregnant, he wouldn’t have sent Uriah into battle to be killed because he’d already know how wrong that was. I didn’t make that up.

** I hope it’s clear that I’m not claiming all Christian men believe this way. But there’s a slice of Christianity that does. If you’ve never encountered teachings like this, you might not realize the enormous effort it takes to re-read the Bible in its own words, not the twisted interpretation we were given.

Orderly Umbrellas

3050_10201307520445888_2703518072495550916_n

“So pastors are under God’s authority,” Bekah explained. “Families are under the pastors.” She held her hand in the air and moved it down levels as she spoke. “Husbands are in authority over wives. Wives are in authority over children.”

When Ty didn’t respond, Bekah added, “It’s all very orderly, anyway.” But of course Ty didn’t give “orderly” as much weight as she did. In the Fellowship, orderliness was nearly one of the Ten Commandments.

The FellowshipChapter 5.

The “umbrella of authority” is a concept that’s been around for many years. I was taught this very “order” as a teenager, although the charts I saw weren’t illustrated with patio umbrellas. It gives it kind of  an easy-living vibe.

It’s a clean, logical graphic that makes its point with a single glance: The Umbrella of Authority concept effectively protects Jesus from getting cooties from women!

Haha, not really. We all know that in Christ, men and women can approach God as equals. So this chart isn’t saying that a woman can’t get to Jesus except through her husband.

Of course, if you look at the husband’s share of life responsibilities, you’ll see that he’s supposed to be the spiritual leader. And underneath the woman’s cute little umbrella, you see “Submit to husband’s authority.” So a woman could approach God on her own, but to be honest, that really does mess up the Natural Order of the Family, doesn’t it? And God is a God of order, so he actually prefers you to go through the proper channels.

So… just go through your husband, okay?

There’s certainly nothing here that a man could object to. Shouldn’t a man lead his family spiritually? Shouldn’t he provide for his family? Shouldn’t he love his wife?  Well, then, what’s the problem?

What do you mean, these responsibilities don’t have to be limited only to husbands?

Oh. Hold on. We need to get something clear here.

You can’t shift these categories around. The umbrellas are impermeable when it comes to proper roles and responsibilities. You let a woman provide for the family or exert spiritual leadership, and the next thing you know, the husband will submit to her authority on some issues, and that’s it. The umbrellas disintegrate in a fiery, bloody, toxic meltdown.

This catastrophe completely incapacitates men. They won’t read their Bibles, won’t hold a job, won’t take out the garbage, nothing.* But they probably will look at porn and run away with another woman (probably some woman who usurped her husband’s authority, destroyed her home, and is now going to destroy yours). Why would you even want to mess with that?

No, this is the Natural Order of the Family. It looks great and worked really well in Victorian times, assuming you happened to be white and middle- to upper-class.

Just go with it.

Just hush.

Just obey.

It’s the Natural Order of the Family.

*Very recently, I read an admonition written by a man to younger women, advising them on how to find good answers to their questions. He explained that they were, first of all, to read their Bibles. Then they were to ask their husbands any questions they had. Don’t worry if you, the wife, knew more about the Bible than your husband did; your questions would motivate him to study! But the flipside is that he won’t read his Bible at all if you bypass his authority and seek out answers on your own.

I heard this same idea very often growing up. Men in patriarchal circles are badly prone to wind down to complete nothingness if their wives aren’t there to motivate, bolster, and reassure them that they are big strong leaders.

**By the way, why doesn’t Jesus have to do anything in this umbrella system?

***Seriously, it’s like its all dependent on our own works or something.

 

The Patriarchy Shop

The smiling man, dressed in a tailored dark suit, leaned over the polished oak and marble counter. “Welcome to the Christian Patriarchy Market! How can I help you?”

His new customer, a young woman, smiled tentatively back. “Hi. I’m looking for a new one of these, and I was told I had to get it here.”

She laid a large purse on the counter top. It was dark leather with “life” stamped on it in faded yellow letters. “I just turned twenty-two. I feel like I’m ready for a bigger one.”

His smile broadened. “I’ve got exactly what you need!” He opened a cabinet and withdrew another bag. It was much larger, and engraved into its smooth leather surface in flowing silver letters was Life.

“This is ideal for a woman in your situation,” he explained. “See how much bigger it is. You’ve got a lot more space to serve others. There’s a special pocket here to store your heart — I assume you’ve got it locked away in a box and you’ve given the key to your father?”

“Well…” she said hesitantly.

“Because you’re ready for a lot more responsibility, you’ll see that this one has lots of different sections. Here’s where you put your church ministry, here’s where you add your advanced homemaking skills, and don’t forget to fill up this baby pocket with lots and lots of longing! You’d be surprised at how many women in your stage of life don’t give any thought to wanting babies, but you can’t start too soon.”

She examined the bag with interest. “It’s really lovely, but I’m not sure it’s everything I need. I really, really love working in the yard…”

“You can put that with homemaking skills!”

“… and I’m really good at organizing events…”

“Church ministry! But you’ll need to tuck it way down so it doesn’t spill over into all the rest of the bag.”

“And… to be honest, I really want to learn to fly a plane. I’ve kind of looked into being a private pilot.”

The man paused. Then he cleared his throat. “I don’t think there’s really room for something like that. You could get your father to authorize an add-on for missions, but I’ll be honest with you, it’s bulky and doesn’t really fit.”

“But my brother’s accommodates all of that!”

“The men’s line is designed a little differently, of course.”

She fingered the soft leather. “I’d noticed that. Well, anyway, this won’t really work for me, because I’m getting married this summer.”

The clerk’s face lit up with excitement. “Really? Oh, you should have told me that to start with! You don’t need this old thing.” He swept the bag off the counter. Opening another cabinet door, he withdrew a leather bag so large that it took two arms to lift it onto the counter top.

It was made of leather, dyed deep red and purple, and fastened with brass. Surrounded by intricate scrollwork were real gold letters spelling out LIFE.

“This is everything you need!” the clerk exclaimed. “Look at this capacity–you’ll never run out of space for your desires! Lots of room for serving, huge section here for children, just look at your household work space! And right here–almost the entire middle section–is dedicated to your husband. You’ll have a lifetime job just filling this up!”

He looked at her expectantly, but she didn’t seem to share his enthusiasm. “There’s no room here for piloting a plane. Or organizing events. What about knowing God? I was hoping that my new bag would have a lot of space for that.”

“That’s the great thing about the patriarchy design,” the salesman said. “Watch this.”

He walked around to the front of the counter and opened two large double doors on the front. Using both hands, he extracted a rolling leather bag, reinforced with steel and decorated with images of swords. “This is the married man’s bag. It’s extra-double capacity because once a man is married, he’s basically responsible for everything relating to his wife and family. Pretty hefty weight to carry. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to worry about all this?”

“Well, I could help carry it.”

“Oh, no! This isn’t designed for a woman! But let me show you the best feature here.” He opened the man’s bag. Then he picked up the woman’s bag and tucked it inside. “See? It fits right there in the section for ‘spiritual maturity.’ As long as you keep all your things there, you’ll know everything you need to about God.”

She pointed to a small zip pocket on the side of the woman’s leather bag. “What’s that for?”

The salesman’s smile was bright. “You just stuff all your bad feelings in there and zip it up. That’s the feature that makes our design workable.”

The woman stood silently, taking it all in. Then she burst out, “But I don’t want to put all my stuff in there! And that’s way too heavy for my fiance! What happens if I have too much to fit? Or if his bag tears open?”

The clerk was no longer smiling. “I thought you were a serious customer.”

“I am! There’s just some serious flaws in your design.”

“Excuse me. It’s not my design. It’s God’s design. This is the way it works. You can go shopping at some other bag shop, but I warn you, those are badly-made and will rip open at a moment when you’re least expecting it. You’ll lose everything.”

She cleared her throat. “Just curious… have you ever used the woman’s bag to see how it really works?”

The salesman gave a short, derisive laugh. “Well, no. I don’t think God even uses it. He’s male too, you know. So, can I ring you up?”

“I… think I need to think about it.”

“I warn you, if you walk out of here, you walk away from this exclusively-designed line and away from the God who designed it!”

The woman shouldered her small bag again. “I think I saw God in some other places. He really seems too big to fit in here, actually. And so am I.” She turned and walked out of the shop.

Speaking of College

Allison from Presentmindedly just read The Fellowship and commented with the perspective of an “outsider.” I asked if I could turn her comment into a post.

For a little background, Allison and I grew up in the same hometown–attended the same church, in fact–but our paths didn’t cross too much. Public schooled while I was homeschooled, she was a few years ahead of me: always determined, ambitious, and very kind to the younger girls. Recently I was thrilled when she said she was reading the novel, and as usual I find her perspective very valuable.

Her words are in bold, and I’ve added my own observations in plain text. I’m not commenting to disagree, but to discuss two sides of the question. It’s a sort of call-and-response post, I guess.

Allison:
I understand how young people told that they can’t attend college and having that option for their future totally removed from them would want to explore the option of going to college, and how women might see a need for college so that they have a way to support their families should their husbands pass away (or leave).

Sara:
In the Fellowship, Bekah knows that college is not an option if she wants to remain in good standing with the church. This aspect of the Fellowship reflects my own experience with IBLP, which discouraged both young women and young men from seeking higher education. (But it was especially forbidden for women.) A lot of heavily-controlled religious systems push the line of thought that college introduces young people to worldly ideas, which shipwrecks their faith. When it comes to questions about their future, these groups insist that God will provide whatever training is necessary to make a living as an adult.

Most of us spend our 30s scrambling to catch up, or living with the insecurity that one twist of fate could leave us unable to support ourselves and our families (again, especially women).

And we think, if only we’d been allowed to go to college…

Allison:
In my experience and observation, though, college is not necessarily an avenue for job training or even job preparation. I write this as a summa cum laude graduate of the Honors College at University of Southern Mississippi, with a degree in Environmental Biology and a minor in Chemistry.

All those A’s, all that studying, all those classes and labs, and all it really prepared me for was–wait for it–more school. I had no desire to go to grad school and wanted to be a missionary at that point, anyway. At Awards Day at the end of my senior year, my father asked (with slight disappointment), “You’ve never wanted to go to med school, have you?” Nope, never had. Got accepted to grad school but declined it because I went to Romania to serve for a year.

Many people I know graduated with degrees that, while perhaps fulfilling on personal levels, didn’t necessarily prepare them for a job. I had a delightful professor who once quoted somebody else (no idea who now) in one of our classes… “College is the babysitter for tomorrow’s workforce.” I took offense at the time, but I kind of get it now.

Sara:
Although it doesn’t come through strongly in my novel, I’m very disenchanted with the college system. I love the idea of alternative training and seeking knowledge outside the approved channels of learning. But that’s a harder road to walk, and most of us weren’t actually given the choice. We were forced to walk it… often by men who were actually interested in keeping their empires going.

It’s also easier to have the degree and say, “I didn’t need it,” than feel trapped by a life where you can’t seem move ahead without that degree.

Allison:
College did give me opportunities to grow personally and spiritually and to grow up. To discover more about myself, to learn more about how to think critically and to engage in the world. But it wasn’t particularly fun, and although I met great people, I don’t have lifelong close friends from college (and I had counted on that). It was honestly often lonely and lots of hard, hard work. So it provided opportunities for personal challenge and development.

Sara:
This right here is part of what many of us feel we missed out on–some much more extremely than I did.

My parents didn’t forbid college; we sure didn’t have a lot of extra money and I wasn’t gung-ho to go. They believed that the program we were in was a viable alternative (It looked very good on paper, as the saying goes.) So we all bought into the idea that traditional college wasn’t worth considering.

So all that growing, figuring out who we are, what we believe, thinking critically, and engaging in the world — that’s part of the “college experience” that we feel we were denied.

The truth is, of course, that you don’t need college for any of that. But in our subculture, the reason that college was discouraged or even denied to us was to keep us from developing, exploring, and engaging. So that’s how we think of it: if I had been allowed to choose higher education, I might have been allowed to grow.

Allison:
But what college did not give me was what I expected going in–-training, credentials, and an open door to a career of helping protect God’s green earth in some way. God used college in my life, certainly; but I don’t think of my degree as something to fall back on. And I’m not alone in that.

I suppose I’m just bringing this up because I sensed several times that there was a thought in the story [of The Fellowship] of college giving women (and men, too) abilities to provide for and support their families that they couldn’t get without a degree.

Sara:
This was my personal insecurity shining through. I’m entirely dependent on my husband’s ability to bring in income. I consider myself very well-educated; but I don’t have the degree and work experience for a decent job. We do have life insurance (again, possible because of DJ’s money, not mine); but still, if something happened to DJ, I’d be trying to find a minimum-wage job to support myself and my four children.

My dad died when I was three, and my stepdad died when I was twenty. I have no illusions that God keeps men alive just to support their families. For those who have read the novel, this situation is spelled out pretty clearly in the story.

Allison:
Certainly some degrees are necessary for certain jobs–social work, teaching school, physical therapy. But most degrees don’t carry with them an accompanying certification.

Because I’ve been to college, I think “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” But if I hadn’t been to college, I’d probably think, “I wonder what I missed.”

Sara:
I didn’t have enough room in the novel to explore college vs. alternative education. My point wasn’t that Everyone Should Go To College, but that the Fellowship limited and controlled the lives of its people by refusing to let them make their own way in life.

I posted Allison’s comment here as encouragement to those of us who have come out of a controlling system. College wouldn’t have eliminated our struggles, just given us a different set of problems. It’s tough living with the consequences of a choice we didn’t really get to make. But once we’re free from whatever “Fellowship” once controlled us, we really do have the freedom to make our own choices, learn from our own mistakes, and build our own lives.