Wednesday, December 28, 2011


On the outside, it was a fairly idyllic childhood.
Seventeen acres in the middle of the woods, our three bedroom double wide trailer plopped on a manmade knoll on the hill.  A large garden, swings and a playhouse my dad built himself, trees to climb on, forests to explore, a million white cloth diapers swinging in the wind.  There were six of us by then, all girls.  I remember being outside a lot in the summer; reading on my bed in the winter as wind and snow swirled around us(it being upstate New York, after all).  Idyllic?  To everyone who didn't live there, sure.

But paradise, by its very nature, doesn't really exist.

The truth is, I have no intention of talking much about my childhood on this blog.  We were borderline patriarchal, I suppose.  Lots of kids.  Homeschooled.  My mom subscribed to all the "right" magazines, they flirted with family integrated church, we didn't have a whole lot of socialization in my younger years.  They had a lot of friends in ATI, though my parents never bought into all that Gothard said.  Looking back I can see some of the influences--they thought all rock music, even Christian rock, was satanic for a while, though they gave that up at some point.   They were influenced by a lot of people, a lot of good friends, who, looking back, were terribly, terribly afraid of the outside world.

(By the way, I also have no intention of judging my parents, especially my mother.  I love being a mother and a wife, but I have no idea if I would still be a good mother if I had six children eleven years old and under, being a stay-at-home-mom in a cramped trailer in the middle of nowhere with very little money and a husband who worked long hours.  I suspect the stress would get to me, and my children would not remember me as a very happy person or as a decent mother. Fortunately, this is not a scenario I see happening.)

But I bring this all up today because, looking back, I see how terribly influenced my parents were by the magazines they read, the friends they had, the choices those friends make.  And the root cause of all of those choices was fear.  Fear of the big, bad world outside. Fear of corrupting influences. Fear of public school, of pantyhose on little girls instead of thick white tights, fear of the slippery slope that Christian rock or age-segregated Sunday School might bring.  Who knows what your children might be taught by dedicated Sunday School teachers, or worse, what the public schooled children--who are not as innocent as your kids, most assuredly--might whisper to them?  The best way to avoid this is to have family Sunday school, where the parents and all their kids, regardless of age, learn together.  Or better yet, just skip Sunday School altogether, after all, it's never mentioned in the Bible.  As fear took a deeper hold, the movement towards homechurching started...just stay home! Dad is the priest of the home; he can teach his wife and children all about God.  Who needs church? Who needs ministers?  Who needs the corrupting influences those worldly(meaning: anyone who is not like us) Christians in church bring?  Stay home! Stay safe!

I saw so many families get strangled by fear.  Keeping their children by their side all the time. Rarely leaving home. Associating only with those who believed exactly the same way.  Afraid of...afraid of everything. 

But Christianity has never, ever been about safety.
And they skipped over 1 John 4 completely, where the apostle teaches that Christians have nothing to fear from the world.  That "He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world."
They missed that.  Instead, fear crept in.  Wrapped its long tentacles around their lives, choking them, while all the time they thought they were living the only Godly lifestyle.  Meanwhile, their kids saw it for what it was, and walked away.

Because they were afraid of...of what?
Of the outside world. Of the unknown. Of not being able to control their children's every action, thought, choice.  Of the fear that their children might, possibly, make a wrong choice.  And instead of teaching their children about making good decisions and giving them many opportunities to practice, they never let their children make choices at all. 

Fear is a destroyer.  It destroys lives and families.
We are not called to be safe.  We do not need to be afraid of the world out there.  Parts of it are scary, yes, and bad things happen.  I know this; I'm not naive.  But I make the choice, every day, to step out of my house, my son by my side, and face the good and the bad and the ugly.

We need to teach our children right and wrong, good choices and bad choices, and then step back, hard as it is, and let them fly.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Homesteading Movement

I stumbled across this blog the other day while looking for something Broken Flowers Of the Catholic Homesteading Movement

It took me a few minutes to realize why some of it sounded so familiar, and then realized that the homestead was less than an hour away from where I grew up.  It's highly likely that somewhere I heard about it, especially the billboard they speak of.  For those unfamiliar with the homesteading movement, the idea was basically to live as close to Little House On the Prairie as possible.  We knew families who sold everything and bought as much land as they could with the proceeds, and lived in campers/barns/tents/makeshift buildings as they constructed a house debt free from the timber on the land.  They usually had animals, large gardens, fruit trees eventually, and lived off the grid.  My dad still subscribes to "Backwoods Home Magazine," which is one the bibles of this movement, though it advocates living off the grid for secular reasons.  The families we knew who fell into this craziness lifestyle usually were doing it for religiously based reasons: they believed the Bible instructed fathers to be the head of the household, raising their children(and if you are working a 9-5 job five days a week, it was reasoned, Mommy was the head of the household most of the time, and that just wouldn't do) and having a family run business or agricultural lifestyle, so that Dad could be in charge All The Time. Mom was in charge of (a) obeying Dad, (b) canning/sewing/gardening/cooking on whatever she had to cook with/not spending any money etc.  As much as possible was to be homegrown and homemade.  Children were invariably homeschooled, such as school was, and the harshness of the lifestyle often left these families struggling to survive, relying on the children to work as hard as the parents, and education often suffered.  Money was too tight to buy new textbooks or curriculum, and there was a lot of emphasis on practical skills.  The families we knew often homechurched, as well, and the kids were not involved in any extracurricular activities.  It was a very secluded, claustrophobic, family-only lifestyle.

I only wish I was exagerrating.

We are adults now.  I am not in touch with many of the people I knew, but sometimes through the grapevine I hear stories.  Stories of adult children of this movement who found that their limited education was difficult to overcome out in the real world.  Stories of anxiety disorders.  Stories of women--strong, capable women--trying to discover who they really are.  Stories of adults who may be able to cook over an open fire, build a house of trees they cut themselves, raise chickens and raise many little children, but who struggle with daily life and social skills.
It's not a pretty picture.

I find I want to talk about this movement.  Though my family lived in the middle of nowhere for several years, cramming a lot of children into a trailer, homeschooling and subsisting from paycheck to paycheck with only one vehicle, my parents never bought into the homesteading movement.  They were frugal and tried to be a self-sustaining as possible, but we were not sheltered, overworked, and education was a top priority.  It is still very different from how I am raising my children, but I was never once told that women couldn't pursue higher education or work, and my parents have never expected any of us to have large families(though my mother would never turn down grandchildren).  But I knew families for whom this wasn't true, and for those children of fifteen years ago, I want to examine this over the next couple weeks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Very occasionally, I understand the lure of patriarchy.
Today I took my son to a new day care.  We are just trying it out for a few weeks, and he was only there for a few hours in the morning.  I came back after lunch, during their rest time, to find my little boy standing up in the playpen, sobbing his heart out.  His eyes were red, his nose running, his shirt soaked with tears and snot.  I scooped him out and he wimpered, "Mommy, no go bye-bye."
Unfortunately, his nap time doesn't coincide with the day care's naptime.  He might have played quietly with toys and a book if they had been offered, but it isn't their policy to do so.  The other seven babies have been there since they were six weeks old, and are there five days a week, so their schedules are the same.  My son's isn't.

It also, apparently, is not their policy to pick up a child who sobs for half an hour and comfort him.

I came very, very close to quitting my job today.  Fortunately, my reasonable husband said, "Well, you can. We can afford it, if that's what you want. But you like your job.  And you only work two days a week; we can work around your schedule."
And we can.  But my point is that sometimes I understand the security that patriarchy can seem to offer.  Dad works, preferably at home, where he is easily accessible.  Mom takes care of the kids and the house, not having to worry about day cares and work schedules and what in the world she's going to make for dinner after getting off a twelve hour shift.  Life is prescribed; Dad does this, Mom does that, kids do what Mom and Dad say, and Mom does what Dad says.  There's no guessing; no struggling in the dark hours of the night about choosing good child care or whether or not a parent should keep working.

(By the way, I'm not saying that day care is wrong. My son was in a wonderful day care for several months, but it's no longer available so we are looking at other options.) 

There is some measure of comfort in having your choices taken away.  When you lose choice, you can stop wondering whether or not you are doing the right things.
But you lose so much more.
You lose who you are. What makes you you.  You lose the understanding that what works well for you may not work well for another family.  When choice is taken away, and roles are set in stone, who are you?  Are you just a robot, following your programming? 

That is why I will never veer down the path of patriarchy(well, that and my husband has too much sense).   Even when I struggle with my choices, I am glad I have the ability to make them.  Even when I look at my sleeping son tonight, snuggled in his crib, and flash back to his tear streaked face earlier today, wondering if I should even keep working, I am so thankful I have that choice.  Many, many women are not financially able to make a choice about working, and many women have been denied the education that would give them career options.   I don't know yet exactly what I'm going to decide, but I am so, so thankful that ultimately, it is my decision, not one that my church, pastor, parents or husband have made for me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vision Forum Curriculum

There is a book from Vision Forum entitled "Building a Winning Curriculum: How To Use Vision Forum Products To Build a Winning Homeschool Curriculum."  It appears to be a guide to designing unit studies using mainly Vision Forum products, studying such academic topics as:
Manly Leadership
The Nobility of Womanhood
The Blessing of Children
A Culture of Virtuous Boyhood and Girlhood
The Development of Christianity and Western Civilization
Science and Creationism

We'll take the second to last one, development of Christianity and Western Civilization, just because it is one of the more comparable topics to other academic curriculums.  Author Dorys Horn writes, "We need to teach our children to defend their faith by understanding God's providential hand in history. I know of no better way to do this than to expose them to men who have a passionate love and appreciation for God and for the subject they teach."

Utilizing the Western Civilization Collection as the basis of this study(with lectures by such people as Dough Phillips, Dr. Joseph Morecraft III, William Potter and Colin Gunn), Mrs. Horn divides each unit per DVD, of which there are ten.  The first one is entitled Five Hundred Years of Liberty Birthed by the Reformation.  It is a lecture by--you guessed it--Doug Phillips himself, "(providing) a panoramic overview of the Reformation while introducing the audience to the worldview issues articulated by John Calvin, and demonstrates how Calvin helped to lay the foundations of freedom for modern Western Civilization."  It may just be the political philosophy bachelor's degree holder in me, but I don't remember John Calvin discussed in this context.  I do, however, remember John Locke, Jean Jacque Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, Plato, Socrates, St. Augustine, and several others studied.  None of these people, save Thomas Jefferson and Augustine, are mentioned at all throughout this entire history study.

Once you watch this video, the topics for composition and discussion are:
Calvin's Impact On The Family
The Origination of Representative Government
What is the greatest battle of our day?
How did the reformation lay the foundation of freedom for modern Western Civilization?

Further study topics include the Council of Nicea, Geneva Psalter, Gregorian Chant, Five Solas of the Faith, and the Doctrine of Providence. 
For further reading, they suggest some more DVDs by Dr. Morecraft on topics of the Five Solas, St. Augustine, and "What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Revolution."

DVD #2 is even lighter academically.  It discusses how "John Calvin is arguably the most important man of the past 1,000 years and how his influence has reached into the 21st century."  For composition and discussion, they suggest "two marks of a true church," "Calvin and Evanglism", "Calvinism and the 21st Century."  Further study topics includes Libertines, Anabaptists, ANtinomianism, and Alexander Duff. One book by Philip Vollmer on John Calvin is listed for reading, as well as 3 more DVD videos by Dr. Morecraft.

Not once are any books suggested from outside Vision Forum, nor are any original writings by Calvin, differing viewpoints especially from Calvin's time period, and, frankly, I'm not sure how they can make the statement that John Calvin is not just the most important man in a millenium, but that the philosophic underpinnings of American democracy lie on his shoulders.

Sonlight Curriculum(which I am using simply for comparison purposes) covers the Reformation through the present in approximately the same age group the above Vision Forum curriculum is suggested for--7th-9th grade.  Copied from their website, here are the goals:
You and your children will...
  • Discover what it was like to live in the exciting world of the 1700s as you meet Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, Fredrick the Great, Catherine of Russia and many more.
  • Open a window into the world of our first president—George Washington.
  • Experience the rich tapestry of world events and political happenings of the 1800s in places like: Britain, Germany, Japan and Russia.
  • Travel along with Abraham Lincoln as he works his way from a young frontier boy, to President of the United States. Get a deeper look into his life as you discover the heart of the man who is now known as one our greatest presidents.
  • Dodge many bullets as you walk through the political, economic, cultural and social stresses that produced several revolutions, a civil war and two world wars.
  • Discover how new technology changed communication, travel and war forever and forced a few "isolated" countries to "westernize"—later to emerge as formidable world powers.
  • And much more.
Their resources include Susan Wise Bauer's "Story of The World," making timelines, reading and analyzing literature and original sources and writings, writing argumentative essays, studying the opposing viewpoints, and creative writing.  There are too many books to list here, and more than one narrow, Calvinist viewpoint is reviewed, discussed and analyzed.

My goal in educating my children is not indoctrination.  It is not presenting false viewpoints(such as Calvin is responsible for American Revolution), but studying the world events holistically.  What was going on historically, economically, creatively, that precipitated this world event?  Why were there so many voices of human rights and political reform during a particular time? What were the thoughts, events, writings, movements that spawned the Renaissance, the American Civil War, the Women's Rights movement?  I want my children to read literature.  Literature that may present viewpoints or ideas that I don't agree with.  I want them to immerse themselves in good, high quality literature; to know a good book when they see it.  I want my children to be critical readers.
I want my children exposed to differening viewpoints, different ideas.  I want them to understand that even though I may disagree with some things, that there may be good and strong points made by those who hold opposite views. 
I want my children to think for themselves.

And this is why I won't be using Vision Forum products in our homeschool. Teaching your child one viewpoint will lead to an adult that either dismisses other ideas out of hand or becomes confused the first time they encounter an articulate, intelligent person who believes differently.  Skimming through history, only studying subjects, people and writings that fit neatly into your worldview will lead to a child who not only is getting a terrible education, but who cannot process today's events. 

Vision Forum is not interested in critical thinking. They are interested in selling a product and a lifestyle.  They aren't that interested in educating your children, because they know that true education will lead to critical thinking skills, which, in turn, will lead to them going out of business.  I can't stop places like Vision Forum, but I can teach my children critical thinking skills.  Perhaps, though, that is the one thing that scares them the most.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Magic formulas

On some of the fundie women's forums I frequent, there is a recurring theme that if you only do all the right things--homeschool, dress modestly, don't use credit or loans, be a stay at home mom, and become pregnant every eighteen months--God will bless you abundantly and fulfill all of your of your needs, both financially and physically.

Here is how this is working in my life:

On Saturday, I got my first homeschooling catalog.

On Sunday, I took a home pregnancy test and found out that I am, indeed, pregnant.
On Monday, I fell off my porch that is being remodeled(debt free, I might add), and tore 75% of the ligaments in my left foot and ankle.

Fortunately, I am only a part-time stay-at-home mom, and I have Aflac through work, and my husband is not self-employed and thus has Blue Cross Blue Shield through his job, so the ER and X-ray bill are completely paid for and Aflac will send me a nice check.  

So according to my fundie friends, God is blessing me with something good(my hospital bill paid and the Aflac check on top of it) for something bad that happened, and the only reason that bad thing happened is because Satan doesn't want any more godly children and was purposely tripping me to make me decide to use birth control.

You can't make this stuff up.  That last paragraph is pretty darn close to what a fundie friend told me this morning.

Works-based religion is one of my biggest pet peeves with any legalistic movement.  There is zero Scriptural evidence that God considers birth control a sin, and a whole lot of evidence that God can send a baby to a couple whenever He wants, regardless of their age, status as a virgin, or usage of conception.  The passages describing things such as debt free living and modest dress are not commands, but guidelines.  Yes, it is wise to live life without buying things you really can't afford on credit.  Yes, it is probably wise to dress in such a way that cars aren't pulling over and asking how much you charge whenever you walk down the street.  Those are good things--but they are not Biblical commands. And God does not love a stay-at-home, headcovering, homeschooling mom any more or any less than he loves the single mom next door who is working two jobs to try and pay the bills and wears jeans.   Scripturally, there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less than He already does.  That doesn't mean we have free license to do whatever we want--Jesus was pretty clear that we need to love God and love others, and He had strong words to say about those who put on a show of better-than-you to try and earn points with God.  The Pharisees, anyone?  The ones who prayed loud prayers thanking God for how wonderful they were?  Jesus couldn't stand them.
And neither can I.

So that is what bothers me about works-based religion.  If I can do all the "right" things to earn favor and be blessed by God, what was the point of Jesus?  If all I have to do in order to have a good life is A, B, and C, then why are there so many struggling people doing all those things?  Why do I know so many young adults who grew up hard-core fundie who want nothing to do with God or church, and many who have significant anxiety and depression issues? 
Because there is no magic formula. Regardless of what the Pearls, Doug Phillips, Geoff Botkin, fill-in-the-blank tell you, there is no one magic formula for a happy life.  There is no guarantee that if you homeschool/home church/shelter your kids that they aren't going to grow up and hate you, and then go live a normal American life.  Good things are not going to happen to you just because you are living a certain way that a teacher is telling you. 

What really happens is that good things, like this baby coming next June, and bad things, like a sprained ankle, happen to everyone no matter what.  Accidents happen and people get hurt; it doesn't mean Jesus is unhappy with you.  Good things happen, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you're living the right way.
There is no formula.
No magic.
Only life.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Love at fifteen

Once, a long time ago in high school, I fell in love.  As much love as a 14-year-old can be in, but it felt real at the time. Looking back, I think it was real.  A different love than the love I have for my husband, for I was a different person at 14 than I am at just about 30.

This young man was entrenched deeply into patriarchy, though I didn't see it at the time.  His family was so deep into patriarchy that when we were 15, they went and lived at a "mission" in the Appalachian mountains.  I can only describe it as a commune though it portrayed itself as a training camp for future missionaries. In any case, they eschewed not just birth control, dating, public school and regular church, but also electricity, just in case you might be called to a country where they had no electricity.  Phone calls to the outside world were limited to Sunday nights at the leader's house where they listened to every word, and, though I have never been able to prove it, I strongly, strongly suspect our letters to each other were read not only by his parents, but by the mission leaders.
I wasn't much different fifteen years ago than I am now.  It screamed cult, and cult was what I called it. Blatently. Loudly. To their face.
  My letters to him were filled with teenage refutations to the arguments they presented--why women shouldn't go to college. Why dating was bad.  Why birth control was anti-Biblical.  Why it ticked me off completely that their practical classes were segregated by gender--the men studied construction, hunting, community planning, first aid.  The women studied childrearing, homeschooling, sewing, and cooking. I argued that we should not get married at sixteen years old so I could go to the misison field with his family. (Seriously, the cult leaders recommended that. I suspect they thought marriage would shut me up and make me toe the submissive line.  I should hunt them down now and let them talk to my husband about how well that worked)

I should have seen it.  But by then I was 17, and we were madly, deeply in love.  I didn't want to see what would happen. I didn't want to realize that I was a threat to the cult leadership; that one of their followers in a relationship with a smart, outspoken, opionated, educated and assertive woman would destroy what they had tried to build.

But it came down to one question.
Would I submit to him in all things after we were married, even if it was something I believed to be a sin?
And the answer was no, I would not.

I'm nothing if not honest and blunt.  What you see is what you get with me. And no, I would not, could not, submit to my husband in all things. 

After three years, that was the end of that relationship.

Eventually they realized it for what it is, and left.  From mutual friends, I know that he, his wife, his parents, brother and sister-in-law are still wallowing deep in patriarchy and the family-integrated church movement.  I run across articles that he or his in-laws have written every now and then.

The last thing he told me was that I wouldn't find a good Christian man if I couldn't submit.

Today is my 2 and a half year wedding anniversary.
My husband is a good Christian man. He was a deacon in his church for a while.  He believes in God, and Jesus, and a literal interpretation of the Bible.  And he loves so completely and totally that it takes my breath away.  Two-and-a-half years of marriage later, just hearing him walk onto the porch makes my heart skip a beat.  We are madly, passionately, truly in love with each other.
And my husband does not expect me to submit to him in all things. 

He expects me to love him, and I expect him to love me.  I expect him to put my needs and wants ahead of his own, and I do the same for him.  He would not want me to do something he wanted if I firmly believed it was wrong, and I would not want him to do something he believed was a sin.  This isn't submission.  It's mutual respect and love, two core building blocks of any marriage.
Patriarchy has no place in our marriage.

So in the end, I dodged a bullet. I met someone, even if it was ten years later, and fell in love.  And this is why I talk about patriarchy and gender roles and submission.  I talk about it for the fifteen year old girl that I was, in the throes of teenage love.
And I talk about it for the fifteen year old girls that are out there today, who for whatever reason aren't able to look at the patriarchal movement and say, loudly and boldy, This is a lie.  I talk about this for the fifteen-year-old girls who have been taught and believe that they are worth nothing more than their virginity and then their wombs.  I talk about this for that fifteen-year-old girl, sitting in her room in her long skirts, exhausted from caring for her siblings and the responsibilities of a large family.  For the girls trapped and not seeing any way out.
This blog, and everyplace else I write, is for you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Patriarchal fail

Recently I received an email from a facebook acquaintance who explained why she was unfriending me.  She's heavy into patriarchy and it's associated nonsense, and she explained that (a) my questioning of her potty training methods(strapping her sixteen month old son onto a potty chair and letting him watch videos all afternoon, which I suggested is not something that is developmentally appropriate) was unacceptable and (b) while she wants to raise her children for the glory of God, apparently all I want is to raise my children for the glory of myself, and that is also unacceptable.  She cited the fact that I work and am so busy in outside activities that I have no time for my husband and son(the latter fact is something I was unaware of, since my husband is rarely home and my son usually accompanies me on things like infant music lessons and swimming, since those are activities for him, not me) as proof that I'm not interested in God.
She also cited my college degrees, my not getting married until I was 27, and only having one child in two years of marriage(what huh?) as further proof of being "out for myself."

Have I mentioned that she is a good six years younger than me, with three children under four, a husband who earns barely minimum wage and can't keep a job, and they just moved into their sixth apartment in a year because they have to keep downgrading due to finances?  And she refuses to get a job to help out because she's a woman, even though they are barely subsisting and going deeper and deeper into debt.

I don't bring this up to talk about her.  I bring this up to talk about the logical disconnect here.  When a family is barely able to put food on the table because neither parent has any education and the belief is that it is always wrong for a wife to work, patriarchy has failed.   When a family is living in a one-bedroom apartment and praying the landlord doesn't find out they had a baby a year ago and Mom is pregnant with number four and they can't afford a large enough vehicle for all their kids, the belief system is a failure. It's not about money; it's about being smart enough to realize when something isn't working.
And in this family, getting married at 18, not pursuing higher education, and popping out child after child while crammed into an apartment because their lifestyle choices have limited their earning potential--this is not a success story.

And yet there are people in my husband's former church who hold up this family as the pinnacle of succes.  They tell their children--look at that family! Homeschoolers who married young and now have a bunch of children! That is what you want!
While us--married in our late twenties, six college degrees and two professional certifications between us, with an income that is not spectacular but pays the bills and lets us have a little fun, one very loved and welcomed child who gets to have not only his own bedroom but a playroom and a puppy, too--we're the failures?

It's not about money.  Someone who makes a better income is not better than someone who doesn't.  It's about providing for the family you've chosen to have.  It's about making sure you have the skills and/or education you need in order to hold down a job that pays the bills and provides adequate food, shelter, clothing and education for your children. 

It's about not blindly continuing to hold onto a belief system that has proven itself to be an absolute failure.

So I have one less facebook friend.  But my son, who is not strapped into a potty chair in front of a television, is running around here today with crayons in his little fist. He's well fed.  His clothes, though they aren't new, are clean and well fitting.  He knows his Mommy and his Daddy love him, and that when they go to work, he gets to go to Grandma's house and play in the sandbox.  And he knows that they will come back, and take him to the zoo, or out on the boat, or swimming at the pool, or some other great adventure that he loves.  And someday, he will know that while man may tell him that he has to do A, B, and C in order to live the way God wants(or not do A, B, and C, such as the case may be), he will know that those are man's requirements, and not God's.   And hopefully, carefully, prayerfully, we will ensure he has the tools to discern when a belief system comes from man, and not from God.