Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fundamentalism, Part 4: Fright

Even misguided cult leaders think they are doing what is right.

These preachers thrive on conflict and drama - preaching about the scariest underbelly of the world draws the timid sheep in closer to stick by him. And then associating even innocuous fun with evil drives a greater wedge between his sheltered sheep and the proverbial wolves of the world. Hallmarks of an abuser (insecurity needing fulfillment from adoration) - isolate your victim from friends and family.

Lately the Pentecostal fringes have been getting a light shined on their fear mongering tactics.

Extremism has no place in any faith. Many Christians are embarrassed that extremists like this man try to speak as representatives of the faith - except those still trapped and blinded in these denominations rush to defend his vitriolic words. Can we please realize this is just another example of hatred in the style of the Westboro Baptists?

You know, I wonder, how do extremists get started? It's fright. They are so afraid. So fearful in their own hearts of the world out there. It's a scary place, fraught with danger and misunderstanding. Afraid of losing the people they need, afraid of being left alone, afraid of rejection, and so they grasp at their families like trying to hold water in their fists. People that dress and act and speak differently are frightening when you live in isolation, protected from outsiders.

This is why I feel it is dangerous to isolate children and put them in churches where they have no exposure to the rest of the world, church schools to protect their innocent eyes - from what? From love and the joy of life on this earth? Fundamentalists see exposure to the world as something to be feared and so they limit their exposure and hide away in their own communities, so the problem compounds upon itself.

On the other hand, technology makes it increasingly difficult for such extreme isolation to work effectively, and you get kids like me that learn to think for themselves, study the love in religious texts, and rebel against cultures of judgement and wrath. Naturally this leads to many in the religious fringes to reject and fear technology. Television was banned, going to movies, many types of music - when caught with my radio tuned to the local rock-n-roll station, my clock radio was taken away for three years (I got it back for my 16th birthday).

We make our children afraid
Power and drama in end time scenarios
Excite teens by building tension
Pander to tribal instincts of fear - the boogie man is out to get you if you don't behave
Look at the hell scaring films of the 80s

Are Muslim fundamentalists doing this to their youth too? They're due for their own protestant-style reformation. Or has Islam already had a reformation and it's just the conservatives hanging on by their teeth that are being all apocalyptic and shit, wooing in disillusioned youth? I can't speak to that side of the aisle but I sure would like to know. I only tangentially know a couple of Muslims, certainly not closely enough to talk about religion.

Kids in many churches of the 1980's were subjected to book and record burnings. Heavy metal music enthusiastically gave the finger to religious fear-mongering and flew the flag of demonic symbology laughing all the way to the bank at the frightened Christian parents.

Humanity has been throwing rocks at the "other" guy for eons. Spiritual leaders continuing this practice after so many centuries is simply shameful, but it happens here in the west just the same as it happens in the east. Mad men lead naive followers down paths of hatred and annihilation.



There are frustrated Muslims that are fighting for sanity even as they are misunderstood and vilified. We Christians have our nut jobs too, but ours are not getting condemned as strongly in the news, because it's a little too uncomfortable to think that we might have a stick in our eye.

Fear isn't just a religious thing, it's a cultural phenomenon. Jon Pavolvitz wrote yesterday about fearful Christians and for all but one part I see his point (as a libertarian I object to his anti-gun line and find liberals being fearful of guns hypocritical, but there's plenty of hypocrisy on both sides to go around). I wasn't afraid of gays for my kids, but of straight adults. I was afraid Christians would make my kids afraid of God.

I took my kids out of the church to protect them from being afraid of God like me. I was raised terrified that my parents and everyone were going to disappear and leave me behind. I knew I wouldn't make the rapture because I was bad. I was rebellious and wanted to do my own thing and I hid my enjoyment of "sinful" things. I wouldn't do without my "sinful" behaviors because I knew by natural law in my mind that what I enjoyed wasn't harmful to anyone, not even to me, that it was just "sinful" because the church said so. I was so afraid the rapture would strand me, yet that wasn't enough to change my behavior, because in my heart I was doing what felt right: my natural spirituality overruled my taught spirituality. I didn't want my kids to feel that terror in the night, or to feel awful about themselves, so I protected them from church.

I myself obtained my concealed carry permit because I felt such powerlessness and grief at the news of the Pulse night club shooting. I know that fundamentalist beliefs can be the root of much mental anguish; although I opened my eyes when I was age 12 and began turning away from fear of god, I know that many others do not awaken and are suffocating under that torment of their souls.

If such an incident were to happen in my vicinity and I did not have a way to put an end to such fanatical madness, to protect "sinners" in the line of fire, I would have so many regrets. So yes, I carry a gun.

When a man can be so sad and tormented with guilt over the natural desires of his heart and soul (the FBI did not find corroborating evidence but the allegations are numerous), yet religion has made him feel compelled to destroy all those who share such desires, I wish that all the beautiful souls there at Pulse would have been armed (caveat - designated drivers only - not drinkers) and could have stopped his self-destructive eruption much earlier.

I pray that people being compelled or inspired by power hungry maniacs in extremist factions to commit atrocities will begin to wake up, to grow emotionally mature and their edges will soften and join the human race.

It make take centuries, but I yearn for the progression of love and peace. The more we accept others, the less we have to fear, as they become part of our family, the family of the human race. Even in insular communities, each person is a marble that can touch the person adjacent, thus spreading warmth and compassion as much as we can.

Failing that, I suppose the apocalypse is coming after all.



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Right Religion

I stumbled across a new podcast, it just started this January, called Holy Heretics. It's irreverent, funny, and thoughtful. Since it's by a couple of Southern white evangelical pastors, it touches on a lot of topics that are relevant to my own personal story. These guys are a blessing. I was introduced to their podcast through Carlton Pearson when he mentioned that he would be on their show.

In listening to this podcast, I decided to go ahead and read Carlton Pearson's books, starting with The Gospel of Inclusion. Carlton Pearson was a tangential figure in my church experience, as some of my extended family went to his church Higher Dimensions during its heyday here in Tulsa, and my immediate family visited the church as well.

I've been meaning to read his books for awhile, after all I've been following Bishop Pearson since shortly after he was outcast from the Pentecostal ministry for his "heretical" teachings, and I consider him my primary minister and teacher now.

Although much of the book covers subjects that I have already heard him address, several things have struck me in the book with fresh revelation and clarity.

One that struck me forcefully was this: the first murder - The Very First Murder! - was all about the "right" way to worship. We stupid humans have been killing each other over 'who understands God better' since the beginning of time! Wow.

So I did what every modern human of the internet age does when they have an epiphany. I made a meme.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fundamentalism Part 3: Emotion

Thirty years later, I'm coming to terms with my religious upbringing. After having raised children of my own, blindly trying to figure out how to protect them from crazy religions without making them disrespectful of normal religions (and nowadays I think to myself, what religions are normal anyway?), I see how I stumbled and struggled clumsily through parenting.

Fundamentalism to me as a parent was something to be frightened of, to make sure my kids didn't get sucked into anything remotely cult-like, while at the same time trying to prevent them from being frightened of every innocent invitation to a church event, or flippant when their friends sincerely believed in something. Now I wish I would have understood my own journey sooner, but c'est la vie.

I saw around us the mega-churches scaring kids into heaven and picked my words carefully as I understood at the time, to protect them from falling victim to any fear-driven theologies, and pulled them out of a church we tried during their preschool years when a misguided Sunday School teacher prayed our daughter to tears to get saved while we were not with her (somehow I thought the Baptist-leaning church wouldn't pull that kind of crap, but apparently Baptists weren't as hell-bound as my Dad thought). Sure my childhood church was on the lunatic fringe compared to my classmates at school, but apparently we were closer in to the main body of the Christian rug than I previously thought.

We were independent Apostolic Pentecostals, we were told to be in the world but not of the world. This was code speak that we should look, act and think differently than everyone who wasn't one of us, because all of "them" were going to hell, all of the other Protestant denominations (they were shameful, lukewarm and not worthy of the body of Christ), all of the Catholics for sure (Catholics were heathen idol worshipers), and of course all the rock and roll legions, and every other group in the world.

My church was quite tame in comparison to some that have come to my attention recently. There are extreme offshoots, independent pastors who are on a sociopathic bender that have made many peoples' lives hell on earth. Extreme factions (what rational people would call cults) isolate their members from the rest of the world to the alarming point of not being allowed to talk to their sinful family members.

Whatever flavor of fundamentalism, it all starts with working over those irrational human emotions. A blogger who has been along this path, Glenn McGee, wrote this article in 2015.

The video he included there is reminiscent of my childhood, and my teenage years. I and my church friends would pray to the point of stammering like these girls, being slain in the spirit (example - the one girl falls over, having reached such a point of spiritual ecstasy that her muscles collapse).

While I feel the human body and spirit is naturally capable of self-inducing such an emotional high in these exercises, I believe that using these emotional highs to sway the emotions of children is irresponsible. Guidance in harnessing ones emotional state is an important step in adolescence. Children and teens exploring the limits of their emotions to the point of sobbing uncontrollably in fear of eternal damnation, well, like McGee says, that's just sick.

What's the point of these churches? The parents who bring up their kids in these churches are trying to protect their children from hell, a literal hell that they really believe exists.

A paranoid parent might raise their kid in these terms 1-4. Causality - if I want my kid to be safe from getting run over by a car, I can choose the following:

1. keep them indoors
2. describe in graphic detail the injuries and deaths that are caused by cars hitting people
3. show them videos of things getting smashed by cars
4. teach them to play in the back yard
5. teach them to look both ways and verify there are no cars before crossing the street

Comparatively, the fundamental Christian parent thinks in terms of 1-4. Causality - if I want my kid to be safe from hell, I can choose the following:

1. keep them in a church home and school
2. describe in detail the hellfire and brimstone that awaits all the unsaved
3. show them videos and play enactments of people suffering in hell
4. teach them to live exclusively around similar believers
5. teach them to look critically around their emotions and look for the existence of hell

Can we humans please all grow up, open our eyes, and leave behind this irrational belief in and fear of hell?

Part 4: Fright

Monday, January 2, 2017

Fundamentalism Part 2: Antidote

I did not suffer horrible trauma. I did not commit unspeakable crimes in the name of god but I submit that any person that uses stories of an afterlife, stories of "the foreign", "the different", "the worldly" in order to coerce desired behaviors, in order to protect a certain way of life, is playing the same corrupt game.

My story is mild, common, mundane. My only terrors were some nightmares about hell, a misunderstood attraction to death, and a fear of abandonment via god stealing-my-parents-rapture. I only share my story to add another hopeful note to the chorus of those once conflicted by religion who now sing a new song.

Ignorance leads to fear.

And as often quoted from Yoda in Star Wars:
"Fear leads to anger
Anger leads to hate
Hate leads to suffering"

There are many appalling stories coming out in the last couple decades of extreme church leaders denying their members basic human contact with their "sinful" families, cult-style stories of manipulation and control not allowing people to leave. The inherent belief in the infallible anointing of god on a preacher and condemnation of dissenters contributes to lone ministers being able to set themselves up in such positions of power, free to commit corrupt acts.

These corrupt ministers preach fear as opposed to love (do they themselves fear to lose? Lose control, lose power, lose love, lose admiration, lose followers? I suspect they have succumbed to the fear in their own hearts).

The people who escape suffer much in the loss of friends, separation from spouses and children, and years of adjustment learning to release feelings of guilt and terror that simple things such as joining another church, a woman cutting her hair or mowing the lawn on Sunday aren't going to be cause for god's wrath (I harbored this worry a few years, while arguing with myself against such silly superstitions).

There are actually some well-meaning people in the movement who follow a code of honorable behavior and aren't sociopath extremists, but controversy has followed the movement throughout its hundred year history. The history of the Apostolic Pentecostal movement is as wide and many-faceted as the varying denominations of Christianity itself.

Recently the Dalai Lama posted on twitter "If our goal is a happier, more peaceful world in the future, only education will bring change."

Education is the antidote to ignorance.

Many UPC churches prefer their members, especially the women, to remain uneducated, or at least to shun secular education as a corrupting influence, but there were other factions who balked at this idea. Mine was one of the more moderate factions, splintered off from the UPC mid 20th century. I was surprised to recently learn that most all of our church leaders were graduates of the local, highly esteemed Tulsa University, holding bachelors and masters degrees, so perhaps our leaders' honoring of education contributed to our groups breaking with the UPC.

I was also blessed with parents who read. My father read the newspaper every day, and was quite proud of his collection of National Geographic magazines. Our den at home was a library in and of itself, ten-foot tall bookshelves filled to the ceiling on three walls. My mother was once an English teacher, and her best friend in church, who sat with us in every church service and I cherished like a grandmother, was a staunch advocate of education as well.

Mom and I spent many hours in the Tulsa Central Library, a grand building that was built just a couple years before I was born. The smell of books, paper bound in heavy stock, the humid clean scent of the fountain with blue tiles, tossing a penny in for a wish. Many good memories I made there.

I went to public school, although we did move from the big city that was being corrupted by hippies. My high grades were praised, and when I got old enough and brave enough to question a church teaching, I was advised to look it up for myself using the concordance.

I studied my bible and formed my own ideas about our dress standards and other subjects that I disagreed with. I found scripture to support my more liberal ideas about dress codes especially, and I grew in skepticism that would eventually lead me to leave entirely.

Perplexed when my parents refused to complete the paperwork that would get me into college (girls need to be good Pentecostal wives, not wild heathen partiers), I moved away at age 17 in order to establish my independence for college admission, but that's a tale of angst for another day.

Society itself has moved to embrace education of females over the past 200 years, and though the church often drags its heels in fear, the young can make progress.

My hope lies with coming generations, that every successive iteration becomes more tolerant of differences, more loving, less afraid, more willing to loose the reins of control, so that humanity can continue to build a functional cooperative society, blessing each other instead of bending to fear. Only by education will humanity be free.

Part 3: Emotion

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fundamentalism Part 1: Introduction

The first in what has the potential to become a novella length collection
_________________________

"Church" is a loaded word for me.

"Church" to four-year-old me, where songs praised death and made heaven sound like such a wonderful place we should all just jump up and run to it right now because it's so beautiful, amazing, a place of wonder and glory and rapturous joy - oh to be dead and released from the sins of this world we live in - what a wonderful thing! Let's dance in the aisles at funerals, march around the church and praise Jesus for taking our precious sister in Christ home to be with you Lord! Hallelujah! I wish I were dead!

(Wait, what? What did you say? What did you hear, child? Oh my lord you poor little innocent thing what the devil are they feeding into your mind?!?)

"Church" to seven-year-old me, where Mom & Dad received more and more perfect attendance pins to add to the collection over their headboard, the dangling enameled ribbons of metal got longer and longer, where I cried and prayed at the altar to be saved, where I learned my parents could be taken away in the rapture and I could be left behind because I needed Jesus in my heart, and if I wasn't sure of my salvation he would come like a thief in the night, so I would wake up in the middle of the night terrified I had missed the rapture and check if my parents were still there.

"Church" to ten-year-old me, where I memorized Bible verses to win prizes and believed every truth that came from the word of God or whoever was preaching, where I learned that all my friends at school were going to hell, that Catholics worshiped idols and all other denominations were worldly and so could not make it through the gates of heaven, so when a friend at school was angry with me I fell on my knees right in front of her and everyone, crying, pawing at her feet, begging her forgiveness because if I had wronged someone I was sinful, and I didn't want to go to hell so I needed her forgiveness desperately because Jesus could come back any minute, any hour.

(Oh honey, you poor child [how odd she is]. Your friends at school are so embarrassed for you. Poor little crazy thing)

"Church" to thirteen-year-old me, where boys were cute and I got scolded for making eyes at them in service, so I learned liking boys was sinful. I learned to hide. I noticed the book in the Old Testament Bible, Song of Solomon, had a lot of sex in it. I looked at verses that had been preached from the pulpit and I read the surrounding chapters and found different meanings when read in context. I learned to read the Bible with new eyes. Church from then on became less frightening.

"Church" to the older me became more about just putting up with it till I was old enough to get out. I still enjoyed the music, but I began learning about love based on rock and pop songs when I would surreptitiously listen with my head on my clock radio speaker at night, and those songs told a tale now more compelling - what greater corruption of a coming-of-age Pentecostal girl is there than love and passion? I wanted to be a Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress.

I also got passed an erotic novel from a girl in high school that taught me about all sorts of sex, oral and otherwise. "As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." SoS 2:3

Sex and rock-n-roll had got firmly ahold of little ol' me (I was still scared straight of drugs since I liked being smart so much - study and smartness had loosed my bonds in that church prison of fear, and I sure wasn't going to lose an ounce of that brain that had freed me).

The last Pentecostal service I attended was May 18, 1986. Seventeen years was enough for me. I moved out of my parents home that Tuesday, the morning after graduation, and never moved back.

What is Life - George Harrison
Summer Breeze - Seals and Crofts
The Air that I Breathe - The Hollies
I'm Not in Love - 10cc
Baby, Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me - Mac Davis
Make it With You - Bread
Ramble On - Led Zeppelin

Songs like these taught me - oh so quietly in the background, in the secret, private places of my childhood I could keep hidden away - romantic love held the promise of requited passion. Hope smoldered in my heart for years and was finally let loose in a firework explosion of teen passion. I began feeding my soul the rock-n-roll dream of love, loving easy and loving often. I freed myself from fear and pain with wild abandon.

And then god took away someone precious.

"Church" to 22-year-old me became where the deacon in the prayer room (not at my childhood church) paced nervously as I screamed at god and cried, why did he take my dear friend, my young 18-year-old summer sunshine ray of light friend, why did he have to die, why was I two thousand miles away, I loved him, why god, why did he die?, the deacon that did not know me, and did not try to talk to me or comfort me (Who is she, this mentally unstable woman? Is she on drugs? Are we in danger?).

The word "church" still pains me, thirty plus years later, but I am reconciling. Slowly. Oh so very slowly. Last year, as an exercise to understand more about my religious history, a question I explored was to discuss creeds or dogmas I've struggled with. I almost laughed. Part of my answer was "In the church of my youth, we did not recite creeds. Creeds were regarded with suspicion - they were the devices of man - and all those denominations that used them were going to hell..."

I tried to explain where I was coming from, I can write about it just fine, but the tears still bubble up too easy when I try to talk about it, and I get angry that I can't just talk like a normal person, and that makes the tears come faster, and I gulp and choke and  .... sigh...  When I try to share my story, I still feel like an odd alien stray pup that has shown up at the door, being viewed with confused curiosity, like they're wondering what to do with me and what on earth kind of food do I eat (omg why is she crying? What could possibly be wrong with this one?! Poor little thing).

My journey out of Christian fundamentalism has been a long one. It will always be part of my history, no amount of analysis will ever change that. But recently I've been reading some others' stories, journeys out of the fearful (and all too often horrific) prison of fundamental religion. I begin to share my story now in the hope that I might help someone else, make the world a little better, and in so doing, find healing of my own.

Part 2: Antidote

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Leon

Leon Russell was always an influence in the background of my life, exactly how much I didn't put together until this week. His passing last Sunday November 13 brought me to reading up more details of his history, stories I had heard over the years but the details were fuzzy.

Daddy was hard working Montana stock with no tolerance for or understanding of hippie nonsense and silly kids that wanted to lay around and do drugs and protest. He served in Korea as a conscientious objector, not as a war protester, but on the grounds that killing is against the ten commandments. So in his eyes the war protestors were despicable as they shirked their duty in cowardice, where they could instead go, and refuse to kill if their conscience so led them but still put themselves in the line of fire, like he did. Dad's staunch following of right and wrong with no room for ambiguity shaped my early life.

See, I was born in Tulsa and lived next to Woodward Park during my preschool years. It's one thing to have the hippies in California and New York and grumble vaguely about their dirtiness and shirking of duty, well it's quite another when they come into the neighborhood. Leon Russell, Tulsa native turned rock star, bought a house just five blocks down the road from us in 1972.1 So! Our family left - it was time to move the vulnerable daughters out to the country before sex, drugs and rock-n-roll got their hooks in us.

So I didn't get offered brownies at the door of the Russell mansion, but the sweet strain of tinkling piano keys still reached me 40 miles away as I lay my head on my clock radio speaker with the volume turned down as low as it could go for fear of discovery.

(See when I was 13 rebellion was the first sign of me growing my wings, and my radio was taken away, punishment for listening to the Tulsa rock-n-roll station KMOD. I had forgotten to change the station back to news or gospel one day when I left for school, so my wicked wayward ways were found out. I did finally get the radio back three years later. After that I was much more careful to always set the station back to an approved channel before leaving my room.)

While Casey Kasem's American Top 40 show of the same era was entertaining in its happy and saccharine way, as I grew older the stronger appeal of deeper grittier stories led me to listen more to Rockin' John Henry instead, who educated me on music history and the role Tulsa played in shaping rock and roll. His "Saturday Bandstand" on Tulsa radio KELI played throughout my childhood and teen years, and then he expanded into the Sunday night Smokehouse Blues on KMOD right when I was at college age.2

Listening to his smooth deep voice expounding on the finer points of the origins of a song, playing two or three historical versions, and gently laughing at some silly coming of age story, oh that was magic to the soul and candy for the brain, and his lessons sunk in deep.

So over the years Rockin' John told us all the fun stories of Leon, how he rankled the Maple Ridge neighbors and built a wall around his mansion, how stars orbited Leon and of his song writing and piano playing mastery, his start as a 14 year old playing in Tulsa clubs. All these stories wove a grand picture around an already impressive persona with god-like white flowing hair and beard.

And it felt like he belonged to us, to Tulsa, like an imposing grand wild uncle of the city. Leon elevated Tulsa to a higher stature in the rock and roll culture, and we were thrilled to say we were part of Tulsa too, riding on his coattails. Us teenagers of his era were influenced, whether our parents willed it or no.

While he undoubtedly left his mark on rock-n-roll at large3, we of Tulsa still cling to him as our example of what amazing stuff can come out of our little home here on the prairie. This is what we're made of. Star stuff.


  1. Leon's Lair by Matt O'Melia
  2. Rockin John Henry by John Wooley
  3. Interviews and Video: RIP Leon Russell by Brandy McDonnell

Monday, November 7, 2016

Right to Farm - Oklahoma State question 777

I was for it - competition, and driving prices down is a good thing, and less regulation on the market. Scientifically driven efficiency is optimum. But a constitutional amendment seems silly, frivolous. Over the top hyperbole.

On the for side, face reality: small farms are a luxury, not a viable way of life anymore, this is for progress to use better technology to create more food more efficiently. While I buy seasonal items from a farmers market for the freshness and flavor that is so much better than big box grocery offerings, I do so as a luxury of my older years, and I personally know how prohibitively expensive fresh produce is for young families. Anything we can do as a cooperative society to use technological advancements to drive down the price of fresh food is a good thing.

However! On the against side: this bill doesn't solely focus on vegetables and fruit, it's also about ranching, raising livestock. It's so broad that it could be applied to any kind of husbandry, including raising pets. I sure don't want people wantonly breeding more animals. The unaltered cats roaming the street and breeding rampantly are incredibly annoying if not yet a menace. And because this bill paints such a broad swath across many markets, this can only tend to muddy things up in court - losing the best outcome, a fast and responsive free market.

For future consideration: what we really need is a mechanism to make fresh produce more affordable to young families who are often living paycheck to paycheck (with mortgage plus utilities at nearly 50% of their salary there's no wiggle room in those young budgets).

When a bag of celery and a head of lettuce costs more than an entire frozen meal, cheese crackers and potato chips, canned or frozen items in excess of x caloric, salt, sugar or fat content, need some sort of health tax imposed that gets applied directly to subsidize cost reductions for produce - balance it out. Celery, lettuce, tomatoes, apples, grapes should all cost 1/4 what they do now. A bagged salad or prepared fresh veggie box should be much cheaper than a fast food box meal. We'd solve a lot of problems, and help health issues and farmers both.