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House Update May 2015

At five years in we started on the dining room.  We routed and put up a chair rail, so our two-tone walls finally make sense.  We painted the chair rail and all the matching trim.  We repaired the built in cabinets, which had numerous internal flaws.  In the process we found where a secret compartment  had been installed in the 1920s, only to be taken out by the renovations of the 1970s.  We painted the outside of the built-ins to match the chair rail and the trim, lined the shelves, rehung the doors and installed new hardware.  There had been a misguided attempt to drag the interior into the Modern era which it resisted fiercly.  We gently took it back to the time of the bungalow, and the house looks much happier.

Then we fixed up my adoptive parents' faux-Victorian china cabinet and moved it into the dining room, where it fit the china-cabinet space perfectly.  To be honest we had looked at some Craftsmen-style pieces, but the modern reproductions are too big for the space and the originals are too expensive.  But what matters is that after 27 years of marriage I'll finally be able to unbox the good china.

There's still the curtain hardware and some decorative pieces to install, but at 5 1/3 years the majority of the work on the dining room is done.

Second Opinion

We had biscuits today.  My helpful six-year old starts to get the butter.  "We don't need it, we'll use this instead," I said, putting down a trial batch of honey butter I had just made, on the theory that old-fashioned snack food had to be healthier than modern commercial snack food.

"What's that?"

"It's a surprise.  Try some and I'll tell you what it is."

"I don't what that!  I want the regular!"

"Have a taste."

He licks my finger.  "I don't like that!"

He keeps protesting as the honey butter gets further down the table and more used up.  Finally he cries, "Oh, all right!", flounces to the end of the table, and gets his biscuit slathered.

By the time he's set himself back down in his seat, the biscuit is gone.  "I like that!  Can we have that all the time?"

That may be a new turnaround time for new foods.  As for the rest of the family, a three-way arm-wrestling contest nearly broke out between my husband and my teenage daughters over the last drop.  I think this one's a keeper.

Catching Up With the Flash

It's spring 2015, which marks the 10th anniversary of the new Doctor Who and more importantly for parents, the 10th anniversary of the return of new, good family-friendly programming to our screens after a very long absence.  The fact that I can still count all the currently-running live action shows that fit that description on the fingers of one hand is a pain, but it's a big improvement over the way things used to be.  A recent entry to that list is the 2014 version of The Flash.  We're up to episode 8, and my family adores it.  We're trying to watch the other episodes this week to get caught up.

The Flash brings a lot of good stuff to the table and lays it out in a very pleasing arrangement.  First off is the source material.  I was delighted to learn that this show isn't just about the Flash.  It draws from the late '80s Flash, Firestorm, and Captain Atom comics, with just a hint of Suicide Squad thrown in for flavor.  These were some of the best super-hero comic books ever, not cutting-edge but right behind it, with a level of polish and self-confidence to their work that has seldom been matched.  They're in a completely different class from the dog's breakfast that DC is putting out now, about which -- no, I won't say, "the less said the better".  Textbooks need to be written about what DC is doing now, and taught from in classes on "How to Screw Up Your Franchise:  Don't Try This at Home".

As for the TV presentation, it's nice to see that WB/CW has put their 18 years experience at making superhero TV shows to good use and removed most of the problems that plagued past attempts.  It's even nicer to see that they're finally putting their expertise into a family-friendly show.  Keep that up and we may rear another generation of fans in spite of DC Comics.

There's a lot the show does right, and most of that is a combination of confident writing and directing paired with an impecable cast.  I could rave for hours about casting director David Rapaport's genius in hiring the perfect actor, time after time.   And since the slow dibbling out of multiple sub-plots which takes turns on the main stage was originally invented for comics, it's the perfect format for this story.

But it's the most contemporary element of this show that really stands out to me.  The Flash is set squarely at the end of the War on Drugs.  In the Henry Allen plot, the show deals frankly with the fact that there are parents in prison, that their children have to grow up living with this fact, and that there are all sorts of accomadations that have to be made for those children.  I can't think of another era in which this situation would have been such a small, ordinary, background detail.  It's heart-breaking, but for the sake of those real-life children I'm glad it's out there so they won't feel alone.  Now we just need to see "Cameron Scott" working in Central City's medical marijuana dispensary (He's here!  Bette Sans Souci was living with him!) to finally bring that misguided war to a close.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of this both refreshing and delightfully familiar universe.

The Class of 1983

My husband met an old friend from high school last week in the small Mississippi town where they'd grown up 32 years ago . They chatted about their classmates from the white, middle class private school they had attended. Slightly less than half of the men had graduated from college and gone on to get jobs in business, teaching, and civil engineering. Slightly more than half of the men had not gone on to graduate from college. They were all dead, mostly from drugs or suicide. 10% of all the men in their class had committed suicide in the last five years. His friend noted that more men had died from their class than had died so far from his parents' class -- and his parents had graduated at the height of the Vietnam War. While the women had done slightly better, there had been fewer children born to the members of their class than had been in their class. It was a sobering experience.

I think we might have a problem, folks.
Introduction
Part 1:  Recollection, Remembrance, and Discovery

Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
Give me that old time religion,
It's good enough for me.

The church that I was brought up in no longer exists.  The buildings still stand, I could lead you inside and give you detailed tours.  They still have the same name, and are still used by an entity that calls itself Southern Baptist.  But how they define themselves is completely different.  The Southern Baptist Church I grew up in was proudly liberal.  At that time God was thought to be too big for the human mind to define, and any attempt to limit God's nature beyond the broad outlines set out by Jesus was thought to be dubious.  The important part of the Bible was the Gospel, everything else was just there to provide context.  Homosexuality was not an issue.  Abortion was a medical procedure that was best avoided, but sometimes necessary.  My husband remembers a local Southern Baptist church holding a divorce ceremony for a couple who had married there.  I remember my church kindergarten teachers using a crystal ball in class.  And a book written at the time by a woman Southern Baptist theologian celebrated the ordination of women, which was just around the corner.

We never turned that corner.  We turned back instead.  But how did we reach that enlightened position in the first place?

I was taught in church that the bedrock foundation of our Southern Baptist faith was "soul competency".  God created everything, including each and every one of us, and gave each and every one of us the ability, the permission, and the responsibility to develop a personal and unique relationship with God based on both our personal experience and our own reading and interpretation of the Bible.  God would hold each of us personally accountable for our actions when we met Him before the Throne, and we better be ready.  There would be no one else to hide behind, and we couldn't use anyone else's interpretation as a shield to cover our theological nakedness.  However, the same God that made us also made us competent to do the job.  We were God's children, and we were up to this task.

Soul competency was popularized in the Southern Baptist faith by E.Y. Mullins in 1908.  Here is the Reverend John Dee explaining it:






 To me it means that the individual Christian is unassailable in her interpretation of Scripture and in her own understanding of God's will for her life. It means that when someone says, "This is what the Bible means to me," I cannot tell her she is wrong. I can merely say that her understanding is meaningless for me. Only the preacher's understanding of Scripture is expected to be generally meaningful for the whole community, and it is up to each individual to decide whether the preachers' words are useful or not. Soul competency means to me that anything I understand to bring me closer to God is true and cannot be taken away from me, because my life is unique and there is a way of understanding Scripture which is unique to me. Soul competency means to me that I find truth when I am furthest removed from distractions and contingencies of people and things and authorities- again, when truth takes forms which are unique to me and my understanding of the Bible.





In his book The American Religion Harold Bloom argues that this belief in soul competency aligns the Old School Southern Baptists with the earliest Christians, the Gnostics, in their belief that the close, personal relationship with God is inviolable.  As a young mystic who already had a close, personal relationship with God I had no problems with that at the time or since then.

Soul competency led directly to another core Southern Baptist belief, the priesthood of the believer.  All who believed in God stood equally before God.  Some might be more learned or more gifted, but no one stood higher than any other.  In practice this meant that as long as you founded your beliefs on your understanding of the Bible, no other Christian could tell you that you were wrong.

As competent priests who took charge of our own souls, there was one doctrine we were strongly against -- predestination.  Our fate, like our relationship with God, was subject to change at our own hands depending on what we did.  If we didn't like our fate, we could walk with God and talk with God and take it up with God directly.  And then we could get out in the world and do something about it.  Calvinist predestination was roundly mocked as foolishness.

The great virtue of soul competency is that it inoculates against atheism.  If you are taught that the Bible is the only place where one looks for God, then when you realize the Bible is a collection of old books of questionable value in today's world you have no fallback position and become a skeptic by default.  If there is another place where you are taught to look for God the break is not as traumatic.

 But how did this play out in my head?  Well, here's an example.  The year must have been about 1972.  I was around six or seven, and my family was attending Sunday Service at Bowmar Baptist Church in Vicksburg, MS.  The preacher was telling the story of Moses, and how as a youth Moses had killed another man in a fit of rage.  The preacher said that the young man thought he was alone, but God was there.  It got me to thinking:  was God also young at that time?  It would fit, the God of the Old Testament was certainly more hot-tempered and less mature than the God of the New Testament.  Perhaps the entire Bible could be read as God's coming-of-age story, as He grew into a more responsible deity.  I hadn't heard anyone mention that idea before, and I knew some would object to it.  But I was just as competent to interpret the Bible as they were.  I would hold on to that thought until I was old enough to discuss it with other believers in a thoughtful, non-judgmental place.

I never found that place in the Southern Baptist church.  By the time I was old enough to discuss theology they had changed beyond recognition.  I was able to eventually find a thoughtful non-judgmental place to discuss theology with other worshipers, but that would have to wait many decades until I found the Unitarian Universalist Church.

*************************

There was one other thing we learned in church.  This being the '60s and early '70s we all got a good dose of anti-communism.  It was considered your patriotic duty to preach anti-communism everywhere, including the pulpit.  We were taught that communism was evil for three reasons:

1)  Communists told people what they had to believe, instead of letting people make up their own minds,

2)  Communists punished people who questioned them and did not believe what they were told to believe, and

3)  Communists rewrote their own history to erase any evidence that disagreed with them.  That one seriously freaked me out as an adopted child, probably because it had been done to me personally.  (Although why it was acceptable when done to me and not acceptable when done by communists was a question I never found the nerve to ask.)

Keep those three things in the back of your mind; we'll return to them later.

Coming Soon:  The First Step
Introduction

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

In trying to write down my memories, I find that the earliest part of the story has changed the most.  There is what I recalled, what I remembered, and what I later found out about.

I recall only scattered memories of the late 1960s from around 2 1/2 years (when my adoptive sister was brought home) to 3 1/2 years, leading up to a moment a few months before my fourth birthday when I realized I was recalling more details, and would in general recall things from then on.

I later found out I had a rotten start.  I was adopted at birth by an unrelated couple looking for a baby to save their second failed marriage (each) and give them social credits.  My adoptive mother had been rejected as an adoptive parent in her first marriage, and it took three years for my adoptive parents to pass a home study before adopting me (average time is three - six months).

Apparently she couldn't handle a baby.  I found out later she'd bitten and pinched me when I cried, and her own mother had moved in and actually taken care me until her death when I was around 3.  I don't recall any of that, but found out about it later.  The only thing I recall of Granny is going to see her as she lay dying in the hospital, and looking at a figure under an oxygen tent.

After that Mom took a low-level clerical job, even though we were debt free and fairly well off, so she would require a maid to look after my adoptive baby sister and I during the day.   Dorothy was efficient, but neither she nor Mom was into cuddling or other shows of affection.

What do I remember?  I remember being very unhappy and not knowing why.  I remember being alone almost all the time.  My working class parents bought me the toys they thought were appropriate, but made no attempt to learn anything about early childhood development except through hearsay.  This made their purchases somewhat scattershot and focused on what was cheap and trendy.  It also meant no puzzles until much later, few manipulatives, and never, ever any of those nasty building blocks.  There were dolls, but dolls always upset me.  I didn't know how to play with them except to treat them the way I was treated, and I didn't want to do that to anything.  I didn't tell anyone, but I never saw a doll without wanting to cry my eyes out until I was over 30.

(When I was older my adoptive mother complained that I had loved her completely and we had been perfectly happy until I turned two when I suddenly hated her, and she still had no idea why.  You see what I mean about her knowledge of childhood development.)

(And that didn't gel with the later information I found out about her abusing me as an infant.)

Dad had a traveling job, and was only home on weekends.  Mom worked during the day, and Dorothy was busy with my baby sister and cleaning the house.  We weren't allowed outside to play much.  As for entertainment, video games didn't exist yet, and only my parents were allowed to touch the TV.


Of course there was another player in this drama -- me.  I appear to have always been an INTP.  Just as fish are born to swim and cats are born to hunt, INTPs are born to 1) concentrate, 2) sift through large amounts of data, 3) notice discrepancies, and 4) solve puzzles.

I spent most of my preschool years alone in my room with nothing that really engaged my mind. I was an INTP; I had a lot of mind to engage and not much inside it at the time.  But being an INTP who was not yet literate, I found it easy to concentrate on a single thought until I fell into a trance and entered an altered state of consciousness.  Through trance I met other beings and saw things that did not exist in the here-and-now.  It's incredibly hard to do that now because there are so many thoughts in my head that I have to shut down, but back then it was relatively easy.

I didn't tell  anyone.  I didn't have the vocabulary and nobody cared enough to ask me what I had done that day.  Nothing was broken, so nothing got their attention.  I recall one time when I tried to make them realize how unhappy I was.  We were going somewhere, and I slipped unto the floor of the back seat of the car (seat-belts were optional and infant car seats were nonexistent) and began pulling the hair out of my head in huge chunks, hoping they would ask me why.  They didn't.  They just yelled at me for making a mess.  The hair never grew back, and I have an elongated forehead to this day.  But it convinced me of the futility of self-mutilation as an attention-getting ploy, which kept me out of a world of trouble in my teenage years, so it was a win in the long run.

Anyhow, thanks to my mystical experiences I was not as lonely as I could have been, and I became a lifelong theist.  Those experiences would become a great source of comfort to me growing up and provide a solid foundation for my religious education.

Part 2:  That Old Time Liberal Religion
Give me three steps, give me three steps Mister
Give me three steps to the door
Give me three steps, give me three steps Mister
and you won't see me no more.
There are people who will tell you that the Christian Church(es) never change.  If I'm in a good mood I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and try to figure out if they're naive, moronic, or lying.  I lived through the 180-degree transformation of one of America's largest and oldest Protestant denominations from their days in the early 1970s as the second most liberal church in America into a leading player in the reactionary American Fundamentalist Movement in the 1980s.  As a devout, Jesus-loving  child, I sat on my pew and watched the faith tradition I loved utterly demolished from the inside, to be replaced by an evil twin who championed the opposite of everything I had taught while all around me people laughed, cheered, and patted themselves on the back for the "good" job that they had done.

To say it left me a bit sanguine is like saying a tidal wave is a bit wet.

Most people today are astonished to hear that the Southern Baptist Convention was ever liberal; the Fundamentalists have done a very good job of burying the body and getting rid of the evidence.  But a few people have told their stories of the Takeover; this is mine.  It's about the church that used to be, the church that it became, and the three steps (not to mention a lot of pokes, shoves and outright trips) that led me to leave.

It's also my attempt to detoxify myself from the whole poisonous experience.  I have every right to be hurt, angry, and bitter over what happened.  But I choose to lay my burden down here and not carry it any longer.  To allow it to continue to hurt me would be to let the bad guys win, and I don't believe in that.

While I know many of my peers became atheists as a result, I would ask commentators to refrain from wholesale theist-bashing in the comments.  I'm all too aware of how hard it has become to find a church where one can have a positive religious experience in the wake of the Fundamentalist Movement, but I'm not yet ready to completely give up on the concept.

Shall we get started?

Part 1:  Recollection, Remembrance, and Discovery
Part 2:  That Old Time Liberal Religion

Greening My Engine

So, six  months later, how's the whole "aftermath" thing coming?  Well there's me, and there's me-and-them.  Let's talk about me first.

I got pretty stressed out around the end of the year.   Come January, I wasn't stressed at all. I felt drained, a little fragile, very mellow, and extremely lethargic. I had started reading Dr. Seligman's book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being; at one point he talks about helping clients work through their depression. "I wanted to make them happier, but all I did was make them emptier." That fit me like a glove.  But when you've spent a lifetime full of pain, sorrow, and anger, empty is a big improvement, and a necessary first step to anything better.

There's all these little fractures in my psyche that used to be full of poison. Now it's gone, and I can feel all the little abrasions the acid of pain wore into my psyche. They need time to heal, and I don't need to let more poison settle in.

I'm working on the exercises in Flourish. I've started a blessings journal, and I've found someone to send a gratitude letter to. I also bought a pretty journal at B&N & turned it into a phone log, with everyone's # on the first page and a log of who I talked to when and for how long in the rest. I need to add birthdays on the other side of the first page as well....

Keeping up with all these extra people is a bit of a nuisance, but better than the alternative.


I'm more patient these days and slow to lose my temper. I'm also slow to do anything else, easily fatigued, and not interested in -- anything really. What I do, I do extremely well, and I've caught up on a lot of things I let slide. I just don't care to start anything I don't have to. I've also lost all the health and exercise benefits I had worked on that gave me the strength to trigger this breakthrough. That annoys me more than anything else.

TBH I'm not much worried right now (duh) but my family is getting concerned. They're not used to seeing me so listless. And I do want to "secure the gains", finish healing, and make sure I don't backslide into cynicism -> depression out of habit.

Huh.  I'm converting over to a new fuel source, aren't I? Going from pain and anger to something cleaner and healthier.

I wonder what it will be.

But before I get there, I'll have to work on the me-and-them.  This is going slowly and awkwardly.  Partly it's because of the circumstances, and the accumulated traumas for all parties that go with the situation.  But it's not helped by the fact that I have all the social intelligence of a brick.  It took smarts, courage, persistence, and kindness to get me this far, but I need diplomacy now.  I don't have that virtue.

But I do have smarts, courage, persistence, and kindness.  I'll see what I can do with those.

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