Saturday, March 19, 2011

Past Life, Part I

There's no line on the ground that shows the change between then and now. I can't identify the very moment that I shifted from conservative fundamentalist to progressive Baptist. Or the moment that I changed from abuse victim to abuse survivor. Or the moment I changed my mind about the role of women in the Church, or about what it is to be saved, or about how good Sunny D tastes (not good at all, as it turns out). Things changed. But some things that were really, really big changed so much that I don't feel, or think, like a person who could have developed out of the person I was ten years ago. That was a life I couldn't wait to get rid of. At eighteen, I was off like a shot, five hundred miles away and never going back.

Now I miss my home town. But I don't miss being me in my home town. It was a crummy childhood. The now me is a lot better off.

When I was four years old, my family moved into a ranch house on top of a hill overlooking a tributary of the Tennessee River. It had a big yard in the front and in the back, brown deep shag carpeting in the living areas, avocado and mustard appliances and matching linoleum in the kitchen and dining room, and glittery popcorn ceilings. The toilet seat in the master bathroom was one of those squishy ones that makes a soft farting sound when sat upon. On the first day we were there, I pushed the lever on the ice maker and ice fell out of the freezer onto the floor. I burst into panicked tears while the babysitter laughed at my reaction. 

It's funny outside of its context. I burst into panicked tears over a lot of things as a child. My father was an at-the-time-undiagnosed bipolar paranoid schizophrenic, and I was terrified of doing anything unexpected or possibly naughty, since there was no telling what his reaction would be.

Both of my parents taught at the local college for a while, until my father got fired, as he always did, and my mother continued teaching while he bounced around from job to job. During those first few months we church-hopped until my parents settled on a congregation.

Grace looked like an apple barn with dwarfism-- a squat ground level with a wide dome on top. The sanctuary was located inside the dome, which arced down and met the floor at the edges of the room. Downstairs were the rooms where Children's Church and Sunday School were held. There was communion once a month and sometimes there were baptisms, although we had to go use the baptistry at the Baptist church across the lake. The building had been constructed when the congregation left a Presbyterian church. Nobody told my why they left, except that it had something to do with the Presbyterians becoming liberal, so I gathered that the attributes of liberality were too dark and evil for a five-year-old's ears. 

I learned a lot at Grace in those last years of the 1980s. The two most crucial things that I learned were:

-We were non-denominational evangelical conservative fundamentalists. To break it down further, being non-denominational meant that we didn't busy ourselves with the sinful arguments that divided other churches. Being evangelical meant that we followed the Great Commission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. We spent a lot of time and money on missionaries to remote regions. Being conservative meant that we weren't Democrats (because Democrats weren't Christians and were going to Hell). Being fundamentalists meant that we didn't interpret the Bible, but just read what was really there, and we didn't skip over parts like female submission that other churches skipped over.

-People who believed in evolution were going to Hell. That was because the Bible said that God made the Earth in six days, and if you believed in evolution that meant you didn't believe in the Bible or in God's ability to create, and that meant you went to Hell.

That big dome at the church was a piece of armor. It kept the people inside safe from the evil secular world. And it meant that we could tell who was inside and who was outside.

And now I'm outside.

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