The following is written by a woman who was raised in the church I formerly pastored. She was 3-years-old when I joined the church, and would have been around 13 when I became senior pastor.
Her words here are true. I know, because I was there. –Rich
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
“Because I bound my own feet, I could manipulate them more gently until the bones were broken. Young bones are soft, and break more easily,”
Wang Yifen- China
In fuedal China, the old stories still hang around of women who had their feet bound and broken horribly and disfigured for life for the chance to marry into wealth. Wang Yifen was so very indoctrinated into this belief that she broke her OWN feet after the death of her mother. The act was outlawed in 1921, but villagers continued to do this and to hide it from the government. This symbol of status now is a symbol of female subjugation. The idea that this was the only way…the only way to be married into a rich home was so very strong that this child broke her own feet. “Some scholars say footbinding deepened female subjugation by making women more dependent on their men folk, restricting their movements and enforcing their chastity, since women with bound feet were physically incapable of venturing far from their homes.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=8966942 I guess you must be asking…seriously? Is this woman going to compare being raised in religion to having your feet broken and deformed for life? And yes…it is a bit over the top. But in many ways I am still affected in ways that are every bit as strong as Wang Yifen with her tiny silk covered feet.
My childhood was a remnant of western civilization that the rest of the world has long since tossed away. I feel much more like a child from the 1890’s than the 1990’s. There was no going to the movie theatres, no pants wearing, no makeup, no popular music, no high school dances. In fact, there was no public school for me for years. I was taught at home by my mother. Did I have a problem with this? No, I didnt. I was the obedient little soldier. The girl who would break her own feet for tradition. In fact, the hardest thing is to keep from breaking them now. I grew up. I saw the world. And I had no tools, not any, to deal with it. Hobbling around with all those inner bindings still affecting every moment of my day.
Now, let me make this clear. I do not in any way condemn or feel hatred or anger at my parents. Last time I checked, nobody gets a handbook for raising kids. Everyone is taking a wild stab at it. And as far as parenting goes…they did the best they could. They worked hard. They stayed together. They loved us. I know that.
But the church, it was the binding tie that they used to keep our lives in line. And it was destructive to my inner self. So destructive that I feel that in some ways I am crippled. Let me explain…
We were not to be unequally yoked to sinners. Which means really basically. Dont make friends with sinners. You can know them..and you can proselytize them…but in the end..you can’t be friends. And it is your responsibility to keep a distance. When I was born into the church I was born into a premade package of “friends”. These people were to be my only social contact…my only interaction with the world. They were default. Much like family. I had no choice in being their friend and I had no chance of opting out. There were other children in the church…when I was young. But something awful happened when I was a kid and the church divided and chose Rich to be my pastor…and all the children went away. My peer group was dwindled down to just my brother and whatever passing grandchildren of members came along. I was homeschooled to keep me away from the “worldly” kids. So I was given no tools in those developmental years to know how to make friends. You know…start to finish friends. Where you introduce yourself and get to know people and decide you wanna hang out. I had no idea how to go about this. In highschool when I finally was put into the world…I spent my lunchtime in the library reading. The other humans my age were terrifying and they were unapproachable by the weird girl who wears skirts. I found their interests in games and in social drama to be childish. They seemed like a whole lot of irresponsible childish morons to me. And besides, I had never walked up and talked to a stranger on my own before. How does one do that really? I became close with some of my teachers though. I found their motives to be much more understandable. They were authority figures…something that I was VERY familiar with. Their agenda was instruction and I understood that too. I went to the mall shopping with one of my teachers one weekend. I attended one of my teachers weddings. I never attended a pep rally. I never went to a friends home. Now I am not interested in wallowing any more in poor me…so lets move on. ROFLOL
My parents were trying so hard to be examples, that they forgot to be examples of how to be a real human and not a plastic fake weirdly perfect person. Emotional intimacy involves a certain level of honesty. And nothing is more dishonest than a devout christian. What goes on in my mothers head? I have no idea. I dont know if she is sometimes angry or sad or frustrated. Because she always has this cheerful christian attitude of “gods will” plastered on her face. I never once saw my parents fight. Which is wonderful…but dishonest. So there is this distance in my childhood from my parents. An emotional distance where I am trapped on the other side of the looking glass. And I am getting the same view that all the other church members get of who they are. My mother never talked to me about sex. Why not? Because we weren’t nearly close enough to have such a personal conversation. I have always been an acquaintance of my parents. Never let inside the gates of their real self. There was no room for my own mistakes in this little picture. If I fucked up…no WAY would I go to my perfect parents and tell them I messed up. Instead, I took every fear and mistake and tucked them under the rug just like they did. My father and mother were never the type to hug or kiss or touch us at all unless of course…they were at church. Church for them…was the only place where they could actually show real emotion. They cried there…they laughed there…they hugged me there. They told me they loved me. But only in those walls. They would allow the charismatic emotional drama of a pentecostal church service to open their hearts a bit and to let me in. So of course I loved it. Who wouldn’t? If there was a place in the world where your parents can cry and hold you close you would love it too. That never happened at home. Ever. My parents were awkward at home..uncomfortable with emotional scenes. They tended to point to stoic graceful emotionless people as my examples of perfection. I was a tempest in a teapot. And no tools to share myself emotionally with anyone.
I went to bible college. It was no change from my childhood. Still the same sheltered environment. Still the prepackaged friends. Still the church being the only place you ever allow yourself to be human. They searched our rooms every Tuesday for worldly contraband. Looking for hidden TV sets and porn stashes. But I was getting phone calls from home that were distressing. Insane stories. The wonderful paragons of my childhood acting like children. When I asked my Theology teacher about this…his attitude was that of…”they are just sheep and you are above all of that now” But of course we weren’t. A black student and a white student were found holding hands in the mall. The black student was sent home. The white student allowed to stay. Prejudice is alive and kicking…even thriving in the church. And it was made more than obvious that I wasn’t welcome in the Theology department. Women aren’t supposed to preach. Well unless they are married of course. Having a husband to guide them is the only way a woman could ever be a minister of the lord. I was intelligent. I was studious. There was a class on leadership that I wasn’t allowed to attend. Instead I was sent to a “ministers wives” class. Where one studied how to plan a banquet and how to start up a sunday school in your husbands church. It was ludicrous. Women truly are second class citizens in the fanatic Pentecostal home. Unless of course you marry well. Then you get to be the passive aggressive schemer who gets her way through manipulating the man in her life.
I was married for a little while. He was a pentecostal man who always felt he wasn’t good enough to be included in that exclusive crowd. He was new. He was so eager to be one of the chosen that he would have done anything in the world to be one. He saw the little cliques that formed inside the congregation and wanted to do anything to be let into the ministry. Including marrying a third generation pentecostal girl. Because of course…that is the key to getting in for real! When you have the wife to prove it. And she is the cookie cutter devout and pure and unsullied example of pentecostal ambitions. The problem was, he wanted me on the pedestal that he had the pastors wife and their daughters on. And when you live with somebody for real…they turn out to be real people. He didn’t really want to be married to me. He wanted to be married to an idea. It lasted four years. They were bad and good. Mostly bad. I had done everything I was told to do. I had walked the line…married as I should. I was making my family proud. And my husband didn’t love me. I was so wanting to finally share emotionally with somebody. Open up. Be myself. And this person didn’t want that. He wanted the stoic graceful emotionless example of perfection. It is exhausting to be that person. He didn’t have sex with me. One doesn’t do such things with a holy person after all. I left him after four years. And then. I was adult. Alone. Independent. Terrified. And wondering WHO THE HELL AM I?
I had NO self identity. Other than I loved to read. Not a freaking clue. Did I want a hobby? Was I a promiscuous person? Was I gonna go wild and start dressing like a slut? Lol. SO I took it slow. I got online.
Now the internet…is fucking awesome. I can make friends there without the scary part of actually having to be in the same room. I can be honest there…nobody is gonna witness me being not perfect. And a nerd like me…gets information by the BUCKETFUL. The internet got me involved with the world. And I had to go out and see it. I can say honestly that I was the most happy in my life when I moved to Beijing. The farthest from my birthplace I could find. Making friends online has shown me that I am actually gregarious, witty, and kind. Something that I never learned about myself growing up. I didn’t have anyone to compare myself with. I was always told that I was an evil sinner on the brink of being unsaved. How could I know the good traits about myself? I lived in Beijing for a year..and then in Hartlepool England for a year. World travel puts into perspective how very little of the world gives a shit about pentecostal doctrine. It becomes not this scary looming shadow over your life when you are far away…more like..some distant dreamy memory. I keep having to return though. Seems like every time I am about to get on my feet…something happens to send me back home. I am here now…in a neighboring town…just half an hour away. The closeness of my family causes anxiety. I sometimes cant sleep very well at night. I want to be away so badly. I am saving money now…working hard to set aside enough money to move. I would love it to be Europe…but someplace on the east or west coast would be nice.
I changed my name. I did it because I needed to. I am not that little soldier anymore. Nothing about me is the same as it was growing up. So the old name it doesn’t even make me turn my head anymore. Hearing that old name can sometimes be like somebody walking across my grave. Reminding me of how tightly closed I was as a child. Head buried in a book. Flying beneath the radar. Hoping everyone wouldn’t notice me…that god wouldn’t notice me.
My life now…well I love love love love my free time. When I am off work..I can do WHATEVER I fuckin want to. That was like…anathema growing up. My parents never had one moment of free time. The work for the church literally took every single night. There was no time for closeness…we were much to busy getting close to god.
Now…I play video games. I hang out online (second life FTW). I still read voraciously. It is frightening how many books I go through a year..lol. I listen to podcasts…seriously..I subscribe to like..fifteen of them at least. I don’t miss waking up for sunday service not one little bit. Or dragging my tired butt to church after work. I tend to invest myself in introverted activities because I sometimes cannot manage emotional and social connections with people. It is a part of my personality as well as my raising I believe. My mother is shy and my father is egocentric..which tends to not look outward for links to humanity. I think that religion fueled both of their natures. My mother is a servant to all who ask a single thing from her. And my father is convinced that god himself whispers secrets of the universe to him. Online I am fun loving..live outloud and proud. In person I am casual and easy to be around…but not likely to spend a lot of time in crowds.
I dont date much…people here dont have much in common with me or my interests. Homophobic racists rednecks who want a stay at home mom type girlfriend really arent my type. I am polyamorus, bisexual, and kinky…so all off that added up means very few prospects in this area of the world. I am a Dan Savage fan and I dont think anyone I work with would listen to five words from a gay man. So it is kinda quiet..I have an apartment…a roomate…a cat…netflix…and my internet.
I love the control I have over my life. I didn’t even know it was a commodity until I got it. Now I cant imagine losing it.
Have I departed from the childhood I was given? Yes…in just about every way you can imagine. But then again….No…the bindings wrapped around my personality..the shaping of my inner voice…the molding of my sense of self…that has been done. Very methodically and very on purpose by a religious cult. I am changed for life. But I have stopped breaking my own feet.