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My Life as a Missionary Kid Part Four

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What follows is part three of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).

Part 4: The second part of my education

Section 1

Something I should have made clear in the last part was that this is not just an overview of my education but also of my time as an MK. It is a good way to give the “big picture” of my life before I delve into more specific issues and thoughts.

In my own mind I tend to compartmentalize my MK experience as being in two distinct parts. It is easy to formulate this distinction purely because of the time spent back in New Zealand (2 ½ years) before my family returned again – at which point I was older and have clearer memories.

It goes further than the time elapsed between living there though. The first part of my MK life was spent living in small towns (where my parents were involved in church planting) and being home-schooled. The second part was a very different experience. Nothing was going to be same; not my location, my education or my parent’s ministry.

Before I dive into those differences, however, this part of my story will begin with a setup.

Section 2

After my parents both fell ill and needed to return to New Zealand, I found myself in a place I rather liked. My family was living in a semi-rural village on the outskirts of Auckland (the biggest city in NZ) while still being no more than a half hour drive to the CBD (unless there was traffic). My father was a full-time school teacher and my mother a home-maker. I had a lot of friends both locally through my school and further afield (but not by much) through the church we belonged to. I also had both sets of grandparents and a few aunts, uncles and cousins all living in close proximity.

Cue the nostalgia-infected idealized version of childhood.

Life may not have been 100% perfect, but for me, at that time, they seemed to be going great. I saw no reason why this life of mine wouldn’t continue on a predictable trajectory. I saw myself living at the family home until I was an adult and got a job, went to university, or got married (those were the only three reasons I couldn’t imagine leaving home for at the time). I want to make it clear that I was very content and did not expect or want things to change.

So when my parents called a family meeting I was not happy with what was to come. They had been giving it some thought and my father wanted to be involved in Christian ministry again. And they had two options they were considering: 1) Return to the Philippines or 2) Take a Pastoral position in Auckland.

To me it seemed obvious – do the Pastor thing. Then they hit me with the bombshell; the position was on the exact opposite side of the city about a 1 hour drive on a good day. I would have to move house, change school and make a completely new set of friends. While my younger siblings seemed to accept these changes meekly, I was stuck between two terrible options. At 10 years old I felt like my whole world was getting taken away from me and there was nothing I could do.

I pleaded with them to consider option 3: stay where we are and not move anymore. Or option 4: they move away but I move in with my grandparents. I am not sure how my parents felt about their oldest child wanting to emancipate himself from them but, in the end, the decision was made and back to the Philippines it was.

Section 3

My parents were not going to be doing the exact same thing as they did before. My father, along with some Filipino church leaders and missionaries, had come up with a different concept for church planting. They would train a team of Filipinos to be church planters. First they would study (theology, evangelism techniques and the like) and then they would be sent on a mission to plant a church. My father would co-ordinate their education and monitor the team’s progress. Support for these church planters would be raised from overseas (NZ, Australia, Canada and the USA) so that they could devote several years to the endeavor.

As a result my father would need to be based in a central location and the capital city of Manila was selected. This meant I and my two siblings (my sister was born six years prior) would not be home-schooled. We were to go to a Christian International School called Faith Academy.

Founded in 1956 by missionaries from several different organizations and denominations, Faith Academy (to be known as “FA” for the duration of this post) is a K-12 school offering a US-based curriculum as well as GCSEs for British and other commonwealth students. According to Wikipedia, its current enrollment is around 600 students at the Manila campus with a further 150 studying at a smaller mission school in Davao which is in the south of the Philippines. I am too lazy to confirm if these numbers are consistent with my own time there but they seem close enough.

I would be a student at FA for six years in total, which comprised grade six through to my graduation as a senior. Some of you may have noticed that there was a year unaccounted for – I spent grade 10 back in NZ before returning for my final two years. I graduated in 1998 and returned to New Zealand marking the official end of my life as an MK.

Section 4

If the above section seemed brief – don’t worry, I do have a lot to say about FA and its own unique culture in the future. This post is just to give an over-view of life and, hopefully, provide context for future thoughts. I will just deal with a couple of differences between FA and NZ schooling.

New Zealand, being in the southern hemisphere, has its summer break over Christmas. As a result, the new school year begins around the start of February so it actually follows a complete year. When I left NZ I was half-way through the equivalent of sixth grade but started FA at the start of the new school year. Down the line it meant all my age-peers in NZ would finish high school six months earlier than me.

This idea didn’t bother me at all until I returned to NZ for a year and rekindled some of my old friendships. Suddenly the thought that they would be working or starting university six months earlier than me really bothered me. This now seems like such a trivial difference to dwell on but, as a high-school kid, these things really mattered.

Ironically the difference that had a much bigger impact on my life’s trajectory was the one I didn’t think much of at the time. Teachers at FA openly discussed god and their beliefs/theological views in the class-room – regardless of the subject. For someone who had come from a very secular country this felt very refreshing at first. Bible was now a subject we took along with Math, English, History and Science. Our weekly school assemblies were now a chapel time (complete with worship) and I felt my teachers were people I could trust in a way I hadn’t felt before – because they had “God’s truth” in them just like me.

After a while this became mundane and I started taking it for granted. Like others who attended missionary schools (or Christian schools in general) this just became another part of my education. I only realized just how much bible education I had received when the family returned to NZ for a year. Apart from the shock that public high-school brought me (kids and teachers would swear – oh no), I realized that I was far more bible literate at 15 than most of the youth group I attended and even many of the adults in the church.

This year back also brought a change in me personally. I still don’t fully know why, but when I returned to FA for my final years of High School I felt more certain of God and Christianity. Maybe it was a reaction to the secular school system that convinced me that “God’s way” was better. Perhaps it was how welcome I felt by the people in our home-church and the knowledge that I would see them again in a couple of years. It might even have stemmed from an arrogance that had been building inside me – the view that my knowledge and my experiences made me unique and would lead me to do mighty things for God (yes, it’s embarrassing to look back on now).

Whatever it was, when I graduated I was certain of God, His word and my faith. I had strong convictions that I was certain were right. I knew that whatever I did and wherever I went I would do so by God’s grace and following his lead. If 18-year-old-me knew that I would end up with a radically different perspective he would have been upset and, very likely, scared for his future.

My Life in an ACE School Part Three

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A guest post series by Ian.

Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.

I attended Grace Baptist Academy from 1980-1983, 3rd through most of 5th grade. This was a school that was about 40 minutes away, but my aunt was going there, so I was able to ride with her. Grace Baptist Academy was a ministry of Grace Baptist Church. My first year was their third year of school. It had started out with only six or seven children and had upwards of 60 by the time I started. The church was pastored by Pastor Colas and the principal was Mr. Wainscott. Mr. Wainscott was a tall, thin man who drank coffee all day long. I still remember the smell of his breath when he would come to my office and answer questions.

Being a veteran of one ACE school, I remember thinking I was going to have an easy time at this school. After orientation the first day, imagine my horror when I found out several fundamental things were different. First, the letters for achieving extra privileges were GBA rather than ACE. Ok, I was able to deal with that. Next, I found out the order for PACEs was different- Math, Social Studies, English, Science, Word Building. Believe it or not, I struggled with that the entire time I attended that school. It seemed wrong because of the way I was originally taught.

This was the year that erasable ink pens became popular. Before the school caught on to them being used on goal cards, the older students were using them and changing their goals to suit their needs. I did this myself a few times.

I began doing something that all ACE student do. Due to the way the PACEs are set up in the lower grades, answering questions was just a matter of reading the question, finding the exact same sentence in the text and copying the answer verbatim. This is one of the worst habits a student can acquire. We never studied and learned, we just used short-term memory to fill in a blank. Even in the final tests, the questions were the same ones as in the PACE. In the higher grades, you actually had to look for answers, but the bad habit had been learned and enforced by then. The only subject in which this wasn’t possible was Math.

My first year there, I started a bad habit of just daydreaming and not getting any work done until the end of the day. Then it was a race to get as much finished before needing to ask for a Homework Slip. After a while, I was getting homework every day. My parents told me I needed to get my work done at school, so I began just crossing my goals off and not asking for a Homework Slip. Since the school was so large, the Supervisors couldn’t check everyone’s goals every day. I often got away with not doing my work, since the next day I would rush and get both day’s work done. A few days later, I would be back to daydreaming and not get anything done, again. When I did get caught, it was an automatic detention. After bringing home Detention Slips for the same thing a few times, and the spankings that went along with it, I starting forging my parent’s signature.

At Grace, one of the things they did was to allow you to serve detention at lunch time. This allowed working parents to keep their same schedule, yet take away free time from the bad kids. By forging my parent’s signature and serving detention at lunch, I missed quite a few spankings.

After a while, my behavior was bad enough that I began to get swats at school. We were given 5 swats if we got more than 6 demerits, which I seemed to do regularly. The swats would cancel out the demerits and you started over with a clean slate. Since school swats were nowhere near as bad as a spanking from either of my parents, I preferred to have swats at school. Even though they hurt, the worst part of them was the embarrassment. Mr. Martin was the one who gave out the swats, so everyone knew that when he took you to the back room, you were gonna cry. I can honestly say I was being a shithead at this time. I remember Mr. Martin being a nice guy and I honestly think he hated to give me swats.

I remember a time when he told me a story about a boy who was always getting into trouble and then getting a spanking. After a while, the teacher said he didn’t know what to do any more. So, when it was time to spank the boy again, he gave the boy the paddle and told the boy to spank him. That way the boy would know how much he despised giving spankings. The boy started crying and couldn’t do it. The teacher didn’t spank the boy and the boy didn’t have any more problems. Hearing this story, I thought maybe I was going to avoid swats. Alas, Mr. Martin dashed my hopes. He told me that he would have done that if he thought it would do any good. I got my swats after all.

Another thing I started doing was cheating heavily on my scoring. In addition to memorizing answers, I developed a code to write down answers, using the scoring pen. I began tapping dots onto all of my pages, as though I was bored. In reality, I used those dots to copy answers, then complete the answer when I got back to my seat.

The study and scoring method that was used encouraged children to cheat. We were expected to work mostly on our own, with very limited help from the Supervisors and Monitors when we didn’t understand something, usually math. Then, we were expected to score the work we didn’t understand and figure out how to do the problem correctly. If this isn’t a recipe for failure, I don’t know what one is. As an adult, I have been taught several methods for teaching people. Our Supervisors and monitors had no idea how to teach us, so they were unable to help us in the way we needed. I’m sure they wanted to help, they just didn’t know how.

I became a good sneak, due to the punishments I was receiving. I did everything I could to get away with doing as little school as possible. I learned that if you wrote with erasable ink lightly, when you erased it, there was no indent to show you had changed anything. I learned how to distract adults to take their attention away from what I was doing, so I wouldn’t get caught. I also practiced memorizing large amounts of answers for short term retention. This way, I could mark all of my answers correct and fix them when I returned to my desk.

After being frustrated for by this system for a couple of years, I just started not scoring my work correctly. I would just mark the page as all correct, without checking the answers. This would only work for a while, though. When a PACE was turned in, the Supervisors would check over the work to make sure we scored correctly. I started getting multiple demerits for scoring violations. These would lead to Detention Slips, which would lead to a spanking at home.

The punishment I received at school and home for my scoring violations and incomplete work was way above any pleasure I derived from cheating. I honestly don’t know why I did what I did. Several Supervisors took the time to try and counsel me. I was suspended three times. There were several parent/teacher meetings. Finally, I was expelled from Grace in the middle of my 5th grade year. They had put up with me for over two years and they had finally had enough. I finished out that year in a public school and didn’t go to a private school again until 8th grade.

I remember Mr. Wainscott taking me aside one day and talking to me about the problems I was having. He kept asking why I was behaving the way I was. I gave all kinds of answers, but he wasn’t buying any of it. Finally, I blurted out that I was cheating and disobeying because my parents smoked. (This was in a pretty conservative time and in a conservative group. Smoking and drinking were not acceptable behaviors.) I remember thinking that he would suddenly understand and all would be forgiven. I shouldn’t have wasted my breath. Smoking parents didn’t change anything in the least.

One time, during a parent/principal conference, I was sent out of the room after the meeting was over. After discussing my future for a few minutes, Mr. Wainscott pulled out a hash pipe made from a soda can. He had no idea what it was. He had found it behind some wood used for a construction project. The good, Godly kids attending the school were getting high during breaks.

Not all of my time was bad, though. Twice a week, we went to the YMCA for P.E. We younger kids got to swim for an hour and a half each session, or we could go to the gym and shoot basketballs with the older kids. Our school had a pretty decent basketball team, so they made good use of the court there.

The school also had father/son and mother/daughter nights. One of my best memories, ever, is the night my dad took me to a father/son night. I remember that we watched a Harlem Globetrotter’s film and ate finger foods. My dad was a construction worker, so him being able to come to something like that was special.

Since the school was bringing extra money in, the second year I was attended, the church bought pews. These were nice, with dark wood and good cushions. I was just tall enough that my belt buckle was touching the top of the pew. The wood was something soft and I ended up scraping the top of the pew. I saw that and was sure I would get in trouble, but no one said anything. After a week or so, I sat in the same place and scratched it some more. I think I did this a total of 4 times until it was brought up in morning assembly. Oops.

The school also had a decent music program. Ms. Greenwalt was our music teacher and I think she had professional training from somewhere. It was here that I really began to enjoy music. The two years she was at the school, we put on large musicals. The younger kids (below 7th grade) performed “Down By the Creek Bank” one year. It was a blast practicing and I still remember some of the songs. The older kids performed “I Love America”, which I think was a Bob Jones University musical. Ms. Greenwalt also taught the younger kids how to play a recorder. Most of us just produced horrible screeching sounds.

This was definitely my worst experience in ACE. Fortunately, the third school I attended was a much better place. As I look back on my time there, I can’t help but wonder if the PACE order change is what caused all of my problems.

My Life as a Missionary Kid Part Three

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What follows is part three of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).

Part 3: My Early Education

Section 1

I don’t have many early memories of my first couple of years in the Philippines (let alone my life prior to being there). Even those that I do have are vague and, possibly, based more on stories told to me by my parents and their friends than they are genuine recollections of my past. This is nothing unique to me but rather a way of explaining why I won’t even try to tackle the topic of my “first impressions” when I arrived in the Philippines. Instead I want to talk about something I do remember; my first years of schooling.

I won’t just talk about myself but also the range of options missionaries have (or don’t have) when it come to educating their kids and, where possible, the rationales they use. I also want to emphasize this point from the outset; a lot of missionary kids (and I am one of them) return to their passport country once they have finished high school even though their parents may be staying on. It not only marks the end of our schooling but also the end of our life as an MK. Whether we care to admit it or not our education is a big deal to a lot of us because it tracks the time from our most vivid MK memories to the end of the road.

I hope that last part didn’t come across as too melodramatic or get anyone worried that it foreshadows some overly nostalgic writing. I promise this will not be case so feel safe to proceed.

Section 2

The education options for MKs are contingent on location. Families in remote locations tend to rely of home-schooling or distant learning (often via ham radio) unless they send their kids to a boarding school. If the family is in a city there are far more options of local, international and, in some cases, missionary schools. My parents began their work in a town of around 80 thousand people where I could either go to a local school or be home schooled. They opted for the latter.

Now the term “home schooled” conjures up very specific ideas in people’s minds so I need to specify exactly what I’m talking about here. While I was taught at home my education materials, lesson plans and marking were all handled by with the official New Zealand Ministry of Education Correspondence School. At regular intervals we would bundle up my completed assignments and post them off to New Zealand for grading. Technically I can say I was home-schooled but I tend not because correspondence school is more analogous to modern internet based distance learning.

It is easy to see why my parents took this route. My mother was in charge of our education and this meant she only had to teach the lessons and provide help when I didn’t understand something. The time spent marking and creating lessons was all handled by others. Also it meant that I should be keeping up with the current education back in my passport country. When we returned for a one-year break I would, at least in theory, be able to easily fit into the public school system.

That’s the other reason I don’t call myself truly home-schooled; my parents were happy for me to be educated by the state – in fact my years of correspondence school show just how much they valued New Zealand’s education system. There were enough home-schooled MKs in the truer sense, their parents chose the education materials and planned their lessons, for me to know the difference.

Section 3

As with a lot people, Missionaries are not immune from holding snobbish views about the “best” way to educate their children. Most, but by no means all, of the Missionaries my parents worked with and befriended were primarily concerned about getting their kids the best education they could practically provide. There were some who seemed to be just as concerned over how their choices compared to others.

I want to be clear that, in all the examples I will provide the majority of missionaries who opted for these methods were simply exercising their choices and didn’t pass judgment on others for not doing the same. It also seemed that, for every possible educational option a missionary family could exercise, there was at least one person willing to criticize all the missionaries who failed to follow their perfect example. There were two categories, at least in the Philippines, which were easily the most common:

There were the true” homeschoolers who wouldn’t expose their children to state-approved materials. They were all about sheltering their kids from the world and the evils of secularism. At the other end of the spectrum were the missionaries who could not understand why the kids weren’t being sent to a good missionary school. They would extol all the benefits of the education such schools provided when compared to any home-schooling options. Often the missionaries they criticized might not be able to afford the fees (not all missionaries are supported equally) or live too far away to send their kids to such schools. It was a type of insensitivity that still seems baffling to me.

Then there were all the other ways missionaries were doing education “wrong”:

Don’t send your kids to a local school? You are a cultural imperialist. Sending your kids to boarding school? Maybe you don’t love them that much. Homeschool them the whole time? You are depriving them of a social life. Send them to public schools when you return to your passport country? They are going to be contaminated and “worldly”. You really can’t win.

It should not be a surprise that these types of busy-bodies exist in the missionary community. Missionaries can often be very opinionated and are not worried about expressing their views – particularly those who are in the direct evangelism side of things. After all they are people who believe that the best thing to do with their lives is to tell other people to join their religion. Part of that process involves convincing those same people that their way of thinking, acting and, ultimately, living are all wrong and the only solution is to follow Jesus (specifically in the way they prescribe). Offering opinions and being absolutely certain of oneself becomes second nature.

Section 4

To finish off, I will briefly go through those early days systematically:

I was schooled in this way from 1985 to 1986 after which time we went back to NZ (our first four-year term was completed). During our year back in NZ I went to public school and had little trouble making friends or keeping up with other students academically. In that regard I can say my parents were correct in choosing correspondence.

We returned to the Philippines in 1988 where the plan was to begin a church plant in another, bigger town (this time the population was around 180 thousand) and I resumed my correspondence study which was supposed to take me through to 1991. “Supposed” is the key word; after just a year and a half the whole family returned to NZ due to both my parents experiencing health difficulties. That was the end of my experience with correspondence of which I only had 3 and a half years. It would be another 2 and a half years before we returned to the Philippines.

Over-all it is hard to say what impact the mixed up primary education gave me. Certainly I was both “home-schooled” and sent to public school but the curriculum was consistent with NZ educational guidelines all throughout. I can’t even say what I preferred. The correspondence schooling gave me a lot more free time but public schooling provided me with friends to play and socialize with during school hours. The key thing is I got taught the basics that I needed to continue and didn’t lag behind my peers.

In retrospect I was fortunate that my parents were more concerned that their kids had a good education than following a particular ideology. There were some MKs who weren’t as lucky. Their parents, well-intentioned people to be sure, followed the advice of various Christian “educational” gurus selling them the promise of well-behaved godly children. The results for those kids were varied with some lacking the knowledge and social skills expected of people their age. I am grateful I managed to avoid those problems because, as child, I had no ultimate say in my education.

My Life in an ACE School Part Two

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A guest post series by Ian.

Please see Part One in this series for an explanation of ACE schools.

I attended my first ACE school in the second grade, way back in 1979-1980. The pastor of our church had sent his children to this school the year before, so my dad thought it was a good idea to send me there. As he later said, “I thought you would come home every day singing psalms and speaking Bible verses”.

Wildwood Christian Academy was a part/ministry of The Church in the Wildwood. The principal was Mr. Barker. Mrs. Barker was the teacher in the Lower Learning Center, which I was in. The Upper Learning Center had mostly male Supervisors with only a few monitors. The Barkers were a very conservative couple. They were death on any music with a beat; there were even hymns that they considered too up beat. I came from a Baptist church that was pretty stiff, so I had no experience with up beat Christian music. They were also very strict on the dress code. One time, they made my mom get back into her car because she wore pants to pick me up.

It was here that I had my first remembered experience of religion mixed with politics. I remember hearing a recording of a person talking about the circumstances surrounding the writing of The Star Spangled Banner. The narrator made this a religious struggle; Americans had the might of right since the country was founded in the Word of God. Patriotism was very high in this school, we learned how to properly fold flags and how to properly stand at attention while reciting.

While here, I made a lifelong friend, Tyson. I also made some acquaintances that I have bumped into or heard about over the years.

I remember getting my first detention. When I was handed the Detention Slip, I was scared and hid it in my boot at home. After a few days, the school called my parents and got it straightened out. This was one of the few times I got detention that I didn’t get a spanking.

I also began to memorize large passages of scripture during this time. Every month, all of us had to learn a portion of scripture, in addition to the scripture verse in each PACE. This was quite a step up from learning a verse a week in Sunday school. The Lower Learning Center was usually given fewer verses to learn, usually 8 or 9 verses, while the Upper Learning Center had to learn around 15 verses. If you didn’t memorize the verses by the end of the month, you were given detention and not allowed to participate in any extra activities. One month, I remember the horror of having to learn all 21 verses of Romans 12. Both Learning Centers had to learn it, with a genuine imitation leather-covered King James Bible going to the first person in each Learning Center to learn it. No, it wasn’t me; I believe I memorized it just before the end of the month. I still remember one of the teachers, Mr. Watson, saying (with a Southern drawl), “…Thou shalt heap coals of fahr upon his head.”

During this year, I learned another ACE peculiarity. When setting goals for the day, we always set Math, English, Social Studies, Science, Word Building, in that order. This way, the Supervisors could easily see what goals we had completed for the day. Every subject was color coded, too: Math-yellow, English-red, Social Studies-green, Science-blue, word Building-purple. These are very strong order and color associations that I have to this day. I’ll write more about this in my next post.

This was also where I learned to cheat when scoring my work. We took our PACEs to a scoring station and scored the work ourselves. Just imagine, getting the same problem wrong several times and the answer is right in front of you. I did what almost any kid would do, I memorized the answer and wrote it down when I got back to my seat. People would put pieces of pencil lead under their fingernails or hide short pencils in their pockets to write down answers at the scoring station. There were all kinds of ingenious ways to copy the answers, one of which I’ll share in the next post. My cheating here was pretty low-level, since the work was easy.

Chapel was held each Wednesday afternoon. After lunch, we would go upstairs into the auditorium and participate in a mini church service. This was always a bad day for me, since I was losing 45 minutes of school time. I worried more about getting my goals completed than hearing about Jesus again; I was going to church that night, anyway. Occasionally a missionary would come and tell cool stories or there would be a Christian film during chapel, those were good days. The day before, the Supervisors would tell us to set less goals in our PACEs, so we would have plenty of time for the missionary or film.

I also remember a few random funny things. One day, someone told us that fluorescent colors were also called day glow. Two or three of us spent hours trying to get a fluorescent colored hard hat to glow. We held it up to a light bulb, turned the light off and were sure it glowed for a second. Another time, we had a fire drill. I had never participated in one before, so the alarm bell scared the crap out of me. Just a day or two earlier, we had been told what to do in case of a fire. We had been told to bust a window and get out that way if the door was blocked. For some reason, the door to our room was locked, so I was sure we were blocked in. I picked up my chair and was swinging it at a window when an adult stopped me. A second later, and I would have crawled out of the window. One boy sang a line to “Victory In Jesus” funny. Instead of saying, “…He plunged me to victory…”, he would say, “…He punched me to victory…”.

Overall, I remember having a pretty good time in this school. Of course, this was over 30 years ago, so some memories fade.

My Life as a Missionary Kid Part Two

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What follows is part two of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).

Part 2: Where I Provide a Primer on Missionaries and Mission work.

Section 1

If you enjoyed my first post where I discussed Missionary Kids then consider this to be a direct sequel to that. This time I will talk about Missionaries themselves.

You may not know what Missionaries do or you might have a very good idea – either way please appreciate that this is my perspective on the class of activities know as “missions”. I will present three categories which are not prescriptive but, rather, represent the best way to classify these activities. Please bear in mind that lots (possibly the majority) of missionaries do not confine what they do to one single category of work. This should become clear when I explain the categories themselves.

Again; this is my opinion on the matter but, as an insider, my opinion should carry a bit more weight.

Section 2

The categories themselves are easy to understand and break down as follows: Aid, Evangelism and Support. See, that isn’t very hard. Most of you with background in Christianity can probably start categorizing the things you know (or have heard) missionaries get up. You should also be reaching a realization that all the things you can think of fall easily into one of those three groups. But I will elaborate for the sake of everyone else and to prove my point.

Aid work is a no brainer. By that I mean, not the work itself, but the fact that even those with no religious background could probably list what it might entail. These are when doctors and nurses open hospitals and run free clinics in poor or remote places. When food is given to hungry and housing is built for those who need it. Perhaps it involves running an orphanage or setting up a school. Whatever it is these missionaries want to look after the needs of others. Often short-term mission trips (when a missionary goes out for less than 6 months) are in this category as they may have a specific project to work on such as building or providing emergency relief.

Ultimately it is still done for the higher purpose of serving God by either providing this aid to other Christians or using it to create more followers. This is not to say their motives are impure – from my experience these people genuinely want to help others – rather it is to say that it conceptualized as more than just helping people here and now. After all there are numerous charities and aid organizations that have no such “higher purpose” and are able to meet the same needs.

Evangelism also sounds obvious to most people. Unlike Aid work this is the side of missions where the non-religious get a bit wary. At least in New Zealand, where I am from, they do. Proselytizing is not considered positive in my culture as religion is considered something people should keep private. Anyway I will end that tangential point.

Evangelism is more than preachers trying to convert crowds of listeners or the devout handing out tracts to the unsaved. Don’t get me wrong; it is about communication for the purpose of winning souls for Christ – but it involves more than the obvious. Running bible studies for seekers, hosting radio and TV shows, putting together concerts, and translating the bible into a language for the first time are just some of the things that fit in this category. There are even groups of athletes who go organize sport contests and demonstrations as an “in” to get the message in front of them. Many of these people are gifted entertainers and precise communicators. They can draw a crowd or get small groups of people opening up about themselves, depending on their personalities, although many can do both.

The final category, Support, is the least glamorous and understood of the three categories. It is still vital to the missionary cause. Now I need to clarify one thing: I am not using the word “Support” as a substitute for “miscellaneous”. This is not a catch-all category for the left over missionary jobs that I am, somehow, going to force into it. It is a distinct part of missionary work and, it could be argued, allows the other roles to function properly.

Let me explain via an example:

A missionary going to a remote village would require transportation. Often the only way to get there is via an airplane as the roads are non-existent and, due to the mountainous terrain, traveling by foot could take several weeks. These missionaries, Aid Workers or Evangelists, don’t tend be trained pilots or mechanics – so there is a definite need for people with those skills. The same goes for a wide array of other necessary functions. There are teachers for missionary children, accountants who distribute funds among the missionaries, custodians of guest-houses and compounds where missionaries live, and even IT support.

Without this group most missionary work would fall apart very quickly so a good analogy is to see them as the heart supplying life to the rest of the missionary community.

Section 3

I can already anticipate some comments on those categories. So I will try to address them here.

The first is that you can think of missionary work that does not fit into one of them. Before posting; think long and hard as to whether you might be mistaken or if it might actually be a hybrid of two (or all) of the categories. You may be correct but please think carefully before posting because you don’t to suggest something that turns out to be covered already.

I am willing to admit that there might be other categories I have missed entirely. In that case I am more than happy to revise my categories – after all these aren’t sacred truths set down for all time. If you are sure (and I mean; near certain) I have missed something then let me know.

Furthermore Missionaries don’t tend to categorize themselves as I just outlined. This isn’t because they resist categorization but because being an actual missionary isn’t that neat and tidy. Hopefully no one thinks that there is a checklist of neatly sorted jobs available so that, for example, those wanting to do aid work only look at the aid work jobs to the exclusion of everything else. Of course you don’t, that would be silly.

Usually a missionary hears about a need and feels called/”prompted by the Holy Spirit” to go and fill that need (or the other way around; they feel the prompting so they see what needs are out there). However, and this is the key, they almost never end up doing just that one thing. Instead they perform multiple jobs that don’t always fall into the same category.

The reason is simple; they embark on their missionary work with a plan that doesn’t take into account the sheer volume of additional needs. Missionaries tend to be similar to others in Christian ministry who believe that, as they are called to do God’s work, they need to work as hard as they can. When they get to their destination and realize there is more work than there are workers they try to take on as many additional tasks as they can handle.

My own parents, for example, started off doing church planting but ended up doing so much more; training church planting teams, providing theological education, assisting new missionaries with settling in, volunteering around the large missionary kid school, preaching, leading study groups and counseling fellow missionaries. That list is far from exhaustive. It is very common to hear of preachers becoming mechanics, pilots becoming interpreters and teachers being youth pastors – all without stopping their other ministries.

Section 4

Hopefully that wasn’t too dry a read and you got something out of it. I want to make the point that this was intended to be descriptive and, hopefully, it avoided making judgments about mission work. I definitely want to address the positives and negatives of Christian missions (how it impacts the missionaries, their families and the places they go to minister) in the future. However this is not one of those moments. Thank you, once again, for your time.

My Life in an ACE School Part One

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A guest post series by Ian.

Introduction

I am writing a several part series on my ACE school experience. I attended three different ACE schools and was associated with a fourth, so I feel I have had a pretty varied experience with them.

This is my story as I remember it. I had good and bad times, as did anyone attending any type of school. Am I a better or worse person for having an ACE education? I don’t know. I truly believe I did as well as I did because my parents were heavily involved in my schooling, both public and private.

As I tell my story, I will write about the bad things I did. This is not to brag, it is to be as honest as possible.

This has been quite he journey down memory lane, going back over 30 years.  For people who have shared my experience, this will bring back memories. For those who have never attended an ACE school, it may be quite an eye opener.

I hope you enjoy what I have written.

Understanding An ACE School

ACE stands for Accelerated Christian Education. Donald Howard, a pastor in Texas, started ACE in 1970. It was developed as a way to evangelize children. ACE relies heavily on rote recall and short-term memorization to teach children. (See Jonny Scaramanga’s post on Donald Howard, A Very Fundamentalist Sex Scandal)

Let me explain how an ACE school operates. Students start the day out in an assembly, where we prayed, read scripture, recited pledges of allegiance to the American flag, Christian flag and the Bible. Afterwards, we heard school announcements. Then, children who passed tests the day before were called to the front and given blue “Congratulation Slips”; we would applaud them before they sat back down. After a final prayer, we would go to a Learning Center.

In the Learning Center were rows of desks, divided into “offices” by wooden dividers. In each office, students kept their school work and items needed to complete their daily work. We also had two flags, American and Christian, which we used to signal the Supervisors (American flag) and monitors (Christian flag) we need help. Supervisors were people who had taken a 5 day training course and were conversant in all things ACE. Monitors were usually parents who were volunteering as assistants. Monitors were only allowed to do things like give permission to use the bathroom, score your work, or give spelling tests. Supervisors answered harder questions and could authorize you to do special things. Students in higher grades were sometimes utilized as monitors, something I did quite a bit of in 9th grade.

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ACE Modesty Cartoon

Students had a star chart, on which were placed stars showing the work we completed. The work we did was contained in a PACE-Packet of Accelerated Christian Education. Each PACE was roughly 32 pages long and 12 in each subject were completed each year. Typically, we would do Math, English, Social Studies, Science, and Word Building (spelling/vocabulary). As you got into higher grades, there were PACEs in literature, and home economics. For high school aged children, there were elective subjects in Old Testament Survey (studies, I don’t know why they called it survey), New Testament Survey, New Testament Church History, World History, American History, Soul Winning, Life of Christ, Accounting, etc. All of the courses had an overt fundamental Christian message, from the first math PACE, to your final typing test. Even as a Christian, I did not think that was a good thing.

Each PACE was divided into several sections. After a block of instruction and practice problems, there was a quiz called a “Check-up”. At the end of the PACE was a “Self Test”, which was to show you had mastered the information in the PACE. After completing the PACE, it was turned in to a Supervisor and a test was taken the next day.

Scoring the work was accomplished by going to a score station and using a red pen to mark your wrong answers. You then had to return to your office and correct the answer and re-score the work. You did this as many times as was necessary to get it right. I’ll bring up pen colors here. Blue or black was allowed for the students to use during the day. Red ink was only for scoring. Green ink was only for Supervisors and monitors. Even today, at over 40 years old, red and green ink pens still hold almost a mystical quality for me.

One of the most important things in our office was our goal card. Every day, we had to place the number of pages we planned to do in a square that was underneath the subject. We were required to do at least 5 pages in each subject each day, unless a supervisor allowed otherwise. After the goal in each subject was completed, we crossed it off. This was all done in pen, so there could be no cheating. Except for erasable ink, which was fairly new in the early 80’s. If your goals were not finished by the end of the day, you had to ask the teacher for a green “Homework Slip”. On this slip was written what needed to be done to complete the day’s goals, or if you needed to study for a test, memorize scripture verses, etc. Parents signed the slip and it was turned in the next day. The Supervisors performed a “goal check” each morning to ensure everyone was actually doing all of their work.

Any infractions of a rule resulted in a demerit being issued. These were kept logged in a binder. At the end of the day, a student with 3 demerits was given a yellow “Detention Slip”. This slip had to be signed by your parents and returned the next morning and detention was served that day. Three demerits was a 20 minute detention, four was 25, five was 30. Six demerits was automatic swats (spanking). Parents had already signed a slip that allowed the school to administer swats. Swats ranged from 3 to 5, depending in the severity of the infraction or number of demerits. In my own experience, Detention Slips ensured a spanking at home, as did swats. My parents didn’t follow the idea of double jeopardy; they felt if I was bad at school, I deserved the punishment at home. My parents backed the school 100% and did everything they could to make sure I obeyed and learned. As a consequence, I had a VERY good reason to behave at school.

Breaks consisted of a 5 minute break in the morning and afternoon and a 20 minute break for lunch. You had a chance to earn longer breaks by applying for one of three “Levels”. These levels were labeled differently in different schools but always corresponded to “A-C-E Levels”. “A” level would give you two 15 minute breaks and a 25 minute lunch. “C” level would give you two 20 minute breaks, a 25 minute lunch and the ability to score your work without asking for permission. “E” level allowed you freedom to do pretty much as you pleased as long as you completed all of your work. Applying for these levels consisted of completing at least 1.5 PACEs a week for A level, completing 2 PACEs a week along with scripture memorization and a monthly book report for C level, or completing 2 PACEs a week, scripture memorization, a book report every month, and a weekly Christian service for E level. These were something we all coveted, since it give us a bit of freedom.

All students wore a uniform to school. These were known as God and Country uniforms. For boys, it consisted of Navy blue slacks, a red dress shirt and a hideous God and Country necktie. For girls, it was a Navy blue jumper or skirt with a red shirt and a little God and Country neck scarf. Girls had to wear tights or flesh colored stockings, boys had to wear black or blue socks. Everyone wore polishable black shoes. The dress code changed over the years; first we could wear white or red shirts, then red, white or blue shirts. Grey slacks/jumpers were finally allowed. The schools also gave us a little leeway. I remember wearing a red turtleneck shirt for a while and another school let us wear blue or grey Docker or Dickie pants.

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Cartoon from an Accelerated Christian Education PACE. Most of the violence and abuse in Independent Baptist group homes can be traced back to Lester Roloff

Part of the indoctrination we received was that shorts were evil on either sex and pants on a woman was the greatest abomination you could imagine. Girls had to wear skirts, dresses or jumpers during the school day. These had to be loose fitting and extend below the knee. For outdoor events or gym times, girls wore a glorified pair of pants called coulattes. All of this was done to help boys avoid temptation and help girls not to become sluts and keep them from tempting us poor, helpless boys.

Another feature of ACE, and fundamentalism in general, is the application of the 6 Inch Rule. This is a rule that states, “All boys and girls must maintain a 6 inch distance from each other”. This rule is a variation of Jack Hyles’ Bible distance rule. He said for a boy and girl to keep a Bible between them, that way by the time they made it past Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they would be too ashamed to do anything. I know, a stupid rule, but it was what we had to do.

The King James Version of the Bible was the only Bible we were allowed to use. There was no question or debate in this area, and there was no explanation as to why, either.

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Ace Virtueson

I have saved the best part of ACE for last- the cartoons featuring the cast of ACE. Front and center is Ace Virtueson (pronounced Ay-see), the perfect child who is as wise as any adult. Then there is Pudge Meekway, the fat kid. Hapford Humblen, the buck-toothed kid who had a learning disability. Racer, who was almost as good as Ace. Kristi Lovejoy, the female counterpart of Ace. The red headed McMercy sisters. Reginald Upright, another good kid. Then there were the two bad kids, Ronnie Vain and Susie; they were the two non-Christian kids who were always doing bad things. These kids all lived in Highland City and attended an ACE school. The principal was Mr. Friendson.

We can’t forget the subtle racism in ACE. There was another city, called Harmony, where the black kids lived and went to their ACE school. There weren’t too many comics with these kids. Two of these kids were J. Michael Kindhart and Booker. There were a couple of girls, too, but I forget their names. I don’t remember any other races being represented, but I could be wrong.

The kids in these cartoons had all kinds of problems that were solved with the help of wiser, older people or prayer. Some of the stories were blatant rip-offs of Bible stories, some were retellings of Sunday school morality stories. All of these cartoons were designed to fit in with the theme of the PACE you were working on, themes such as honesty, diligence, faithfulness, etc.

There was a code of conduct that had to be followed. Each student had to agree to attend church, have devotions, not go to movies, not listen to rock music, keep their hair appropriately cut (or long, if you were a girl), etc. This was to control our behavior in and out of school. These codes were never a problem for me, since my parents were always more conservative than any school I attended.

Once a year, all the ACE schools held a State Convention in which we would compete for medals and a chance to attend the National Convention. Basketball, track events, singing, art exhibits, preaching, public speaking, spelling bees, choir events, solo singing events, etc. These were all designed to get us ready to preach or enter the mission field. During the times I attended ACE schools, boys had to wear sweat pants and the girls had to wear culottes–for modesty’s sake–for sporting events.

So, this is a brief overview of an ACE school. I hope it will make my next installments a little easier to understand.

My Life as a Missionary Kid Part One

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What follows is part one of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid (MK).

Part 1: The Introduction where I talk about myself and Missionary Kids

Section 1

Regular and former church-goers might remember these people. They were part of your church but never physically there; opting, instead, to live on the other side of the world as missionaries. Every three or four years they would return and report to the congregation (either taking up a Sunday service or maybe doing the rounds to all the various weekly home groups). They often required someone to dust off an old slide projector so everyone could see their pictures (until the merciful advent of power point).

Maybe you enjoyed these reports, maybe you found them dull or, just maybe, you have no idea what I am talking about. Whatever your perspective please read on if you are interested in finding out more about Christian missionary work (with a specific focus on protestant and evangelical missions).

Before I continue it would be rude of me not to introduce myself. I was not a missionary but the child of missionaries. In 1983, just shy of my 3rd birthday, my parents left the socialist democracy of New Zealand to work as missionaries in the right-wing dictatorship of the Philippines. I and my younger came with them. I grew up immersed in the proselytizing wing of Christianity and, while I am now an unbeliever, for most of my life I was a committed believer. I am, and I always will be, a Missionary Kid (MK).

Hopefully that puts some of what I will discuss in perspective. I am planning on writing about that world; the “frontline” of Christianity (at least that is how the missionaries see it). Obviously this won’t be a “pro-mission” series of writings, but it not intended to be an exposé either; more a personal perspective. For my first entry I am going to introduce the idea of Third Culture Kids.

Section 2

Any discussion about MKs needs at least make mention of Third Culture Kids. The Wikipedia page provides some decent information if you want to read further but, for now, I am going to provide my own definition of a TCK and how it may have shaped some of my perspectives on life.

Firstly; what is a TCK? Well the best way to answer is to compare it to most people’s own experiences. For the majority of human beings their formative years are spent in the culture of their parents. They are formally educated in their country’s education system and their peers are the children of their parent’s peers. They share the same common history, enjoy the same cultural touchstones and learn the same values. The odds are high that you, reading this, fit into that category. If so then you were or are, depending on your age, a First Culture Kid. You were raised in the culture of your parents and, whether you realize it or not, have and affinity and implicit understanding of its traditions, taboos, and its sense of humor.

The next category is the Second Culture Kids. Unlike the First Culture Kids; these are children who spent their formative years in a culture different to their parents which they were expected to join. The most obvious example, and the only one I can think of, is the children of immigrants. While their perspective on life is shaped by the culture they were raised in their parents still retain the “old” attitudes and values. If you fit into this category you are likely to have experienced some unique conflicts with your parents over the “right way” of doing something. Often what your parent’s value may seem incongruous to what you believe is truly important out of life. This can be over the big issues like acceptable career paths and life-partners or over small issues like wearing jewelry or enjoying certain entertainments. You grow up in a culture different from that of your birth and, as a result, identify more with the new than the old.

That brings us to the group I belong to; TCKs. Like the Second Culture Kids we are raised in a culture different to our home or passport country (as we often call it). We are people who, despite being raised in a different country, are ultimately expected to return and integrate to our passport country’s culture. TCKs come from three main sources as the children of government workers, expatriate business people, or missionaries. It is the MKs that, on average, spend the most time in a single “host” country while the other categories of TCKs move around between more countries and spend less time overseas in total. As a result; MKs often have the hardest time integrating back into their passport country upon their return.

Section 3

While I did interact with other types of TCKs growing up (my parents were friends with some expatriate workers) the majority of people I grew up with in the Philippines were either Filipinos (of the same Christian denomination as my parents) or other MKs. In other words; while it could be said that I identified with both Filipino and a New Zealand culture it was still through the lens of Christian culture. This meant I was unaware about a lot of Filipino cultural practices – particularly their social gatherings. Like Christians in many other countries the Filipinos my parents worked with had replaced the more “worldly” activities available to them with Christian alternatives. They especially avoided things with alcohol and dancing.

When our family would return to New Zealand on a four-year cycle for a year before going back to the Philippines I had a very similar experience. The people I interacted with the most were family or church people. Again; it was a very Christian-heavy environment. There was, however, one key difference; I always attended the local public schools when I was back. I’ll talk about the specifics of my MK education at another point but the public schooling was interesting to me. Every time I started afresh the other kids always seemed so godless (which they were).

I didn’t stop me wanting to socialize. Not only did I manage to make friends each four-year cycle but I got the added bonus of feeling smug on the inside because of the things I, as a good Christian, refrained from doing. When I was younger not swearing was my main spiritual differentiator but, on subsequent returns to New Zealand, I graduated to avoiding smoking which lead to avoiding drinking, not having sex and deciding not to experiment with drugs. In that regard I was similar to many Christian kids who defined their religious practice by the things they didn’t do.

None of this builds a case for MKs having trouble re-integrating back into the passport country. But I was lucky. I am naturally extroverted and enjoy new experiences so every-time I came back I saw it as an adventure. I also had the good fortune of having long-standing friends from the church that commissioned my parents. At the age of 18 I returned to New Zealand to start University I had a group of friends already and quickly made new ones. I had Uni friends during the week and church friends during the weekend with a slight overlap as a couple of them went to both. For me, unlike many of my former MK classmates and my own siblings, re-integration was relatively easy.

Section 4

One final word on this topic; I said that I was lucky because of friendships I had to return to and the fact I could easily make new friends. One other aspect is the cultural integration. I wasn’t fully up with the nuances of Kiwi (a term New Zealanders call ourselves) culture but I could fake it until I was. I also was fortunate that I lived in the Philippines where a lot of the population read, speak and understand English. As a result a lot of entertainment (music, tv, film and books) came from North America and the UK – the same place a lot of popular entertainment in New Zealand comes from. When it came to the pop culture of my generation I had very few gaps.

There is a lot to be said for sharing these cultural touchstones. I know some MKs who grew up in remote areas (isolated tribal villages and the like) who found it hard to join in casual conversations when they returned. This was problematic because people in their late teens tend to talk about entertainment a lot and without the shared culture and history to draw upon pop culture can be a powerful way in. In my case I made friends with people who enjoyed similar movies, music, and video games.

Of course I still have moments, although not as often as I used to, where I’m with a group of people. Be it friends or colleagues it is inevitable that the topic will turn to an event reminder of a joke for which I have no point of reference. Many people experience this when moving to a new town or joining a new circle of friends – but try to imagine that on a completely cultural level. A level where you realize that this was something that everyone in the country probably knows. It is this reason that many TCPs seek out each other’s company and the company of immigrants. Regardless of whether or not we have a shared history we all understand the feeling of being a cultural outsider.

Traversing the culture gaps are further complicated by the fact that MKs look like the people of their passport country. Often certain allowances that are made for immigrants are not made for us when it comes to understanding slang words or making social faux pas. This affects MKs differently depending on their personality. While I am the type to laugh at my mistakes I have seen others who retreat very quickly from groups once they have done something they might deem humiliating. It probably doesn’t help that most of the MKs are returning home in their teens to either complete high school or because they have just graduated.

It isn’t all negative though. When I think about my childhood I realize I had an opportunity most people don’t have. I experienced two countries, two cultures and two ways of life which are very different from each other. My experiences were mostly positive and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. When I look at MKs I find that those who take the perspective of both cultures with them and are able to appreciate those unique experiences that those from either one wouldn’t have are the ones who do the best in life. This is regardless of whether they end up living in their host country, their passport country or somewhere else entirely.

I won’t elaborate further as this will start to bleed into some other topics I plan to write about. For those who have found this interesting so far: I am busy but will do my best to write more so if there are any questions that you have feel free to leave them in the comments and I will take them on board when writing future updates. I will give you an indication of some other ideas I already have like the “call” to missions, MK education, Mission agencies, the validity of mission work, and maybe even a look at the Open/Plymouth Brethren.

Help! My Fundamentalist In-Laws are Driving Me Crazy

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Guest Post by Lydia who blogs at On the Other Hand

In-laws can be an ongoing source of tension in extended families that haven’t established or don’t respect appropriate boundaries. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. With a few adjustments religious differences do not have to be the focal point of your get-togethers.

Make Sure You’re on the Same Page as Your Spouse.

Each spouse should be responsible for communicating potentially tricky messages to their own family of origin so that the person who married into the family isn’t seen as an interloper. You two are a team and nothing should separate you under these circumstances.

Also consider picking code words or non-verbal signals ahead of time that will let your spouse know that:

– You’re ready to leave.

– You’re ok.

– They need to step in.

Visit on Neutral Territory.

By that I mean spend time at a park or restaurant instead of at your extended family member’s house whenever possible. It helps to eliminate the this is my home and you’ll do things my way syndrome. Plus, spending time in public spaces reduces the likelihood that they will push the conversation into religious topics.

Keep Visits Short and Sweet.

My Fundamentalist extended family members are usually ok for a couple of hours. Any longer than that and they tend to slip back into bad habits.When in doubt it’s better to leave a little prematurely than stay too long and risk ending the visit on a sour note. You can always come back later.

Have an Itinerary.

Pose for professional family photos. Go for a walk in the park. Play a game. Show them that cute thing your kid or pet learned how to do. Eat out. Do anything other than sit quietly and stare at one another.

Visit Less Often Than They’d Like.

People who miss you are less likely to bring up potentially divisive topics (especially if they know that you’re only visiting for a few hours today and that they won’t see you again for X number of weeks/months/years).

Make a List of “Safe” Topics

…and stick to them.

I imagine that I’m actually speaking to, say, a stranger I just met on public transportation. In those cases am I going to talk about God, politics, or my sex life? Hell no!

I’m going to talk about neutral stuff like the weather or ridiculously cute animal videos on YouTube.

Choose Your Battles.

Sometimes sticking to neutral topics doesn’t work, though.

“The Bible says…”

“Come to church with me this weekend.”

“I want to teach your kids about God.”

“You’re going to hell!”

There’s nothing wrong with ignoring statements like these if your in-laws do bring them up. Not every thread in a conversation needs to be tugged on.

Remember the acronym J.A.D.E. If you don’t want to talk about something, never Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain yourself. Someone who refuses to let a topic die will never be satisfied by any reason you give for not wanting to do, say, or believe X.

It’s also a good idea to decide ahead of time what your hill to die on is and how you will respond if the in-laws go there.

Topics I haven’t covered because I don’t have kids and don’t like to debate :

How do you argue politely with Fundamentalist in-laws?

How do you raise non-religious kids when their grandparents want to convert all of you?

Readers, what would you recommend?

Dear Friend: Dave Tells His Story to A Friend

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I want to thank Dave for sharing the letter he sent to a Christian friend. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Dear Friend,

You know about my dismissal from the church staff five years ago due to my “independence”. And you know that my daughters and their husbands shunned us after that happened  cut us off completely. And you know that those relationships continue to be painfully torn apart. And you know that I haven’t been to church in a couple of years. Well, here’s what you may not know. Here’s the rest of the story.

The end before the beginning: I have lost my faith. I have left the faith. I no longer believe in God as embraced within Biblical Christianity. However you define it. I’m done. I have left the building.

How did I get here? Is this just my response of anger and hurt to my perceived injustice of people behaving wrongly in the name of God? Are these just my own personal offenses? No. You are free to think that if you choose, but that is not what this is. This is no knee-jerk reaction. And I did not arrive at this conclusion quickly. It was a long, arduous, painful process.

From a recent article I read:

“A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday”.

That describes me, I think. It’s a quote from an interview with Psychologist Marlene Winell, who lists it as a symptom of what she calls Religious Trauma Syndrome. You can read the article here.

Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyways:

Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometime this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.

That’s another paragraph that seems to describe my experience.

I was “all in”. I was never a pew-sitter. From my earliest beginnings in the winter of 1973/1974, I was all about serving Jesus with everything I had. I was 18.

I decided to forego college because I believed the return of Jesus was imminent and my time could be better served elsewhere. Besides, college was all about getting a job and making money and I was so not into that. So I ran coffee houses and street ministries. I spent my time trying to convert wino’s and street people instead of building a 401K. I worked at youth camps, went on mission trips. I handed out Bibles in Moscow’s Red Square and preached at public schools in Russia; helped build an orphanage in Belize.

I led worship and small groups. I served on staff at churches and preached sermons. I taught classes and Bible studies. I led prayer groups, like organizing a 24-7 prayer vigil for a deacon in our church. For three months after he was burned in an industrial accident, we believed and cried out for his healing. He left behind two young boys and a wife who herself died of cancer a few short years later. (but I digress)

I studied the Bible. For hours and hours and hours….and for years. I know it inside out. I studied Greek and Hebrew lexicons, concordances, study guides, all of it. It was the Word of God to me. It was the source of life. Even when I didn’t live up to it; still it remained true. I prayed. For people; for healing; for life. Many hours spent in prayer over 38 years. I tithed. I gave my time and money and energy and the absolute best years of my life. And I gave my children. To the Lord. Willingly. And he took them.

Now none of this is meant as a diatribe against God, the old, “look what I have done/sacrificed for you, and what have you done for me”. No. That’s not what I’m saying. All this is meant to say: This was NOT a casual thing for me. It was everything. I was always passionate about what I did and I was always all in.

So when you get knocked down what do you do? You get back up and dust off and trudge forward. Except this time, after a couple of years of trudging on, I began to ask why. Why am I trudging forward? To what? For whom? As I contemplated these questions I realized something: I had never truly examined this faith that had been everything to me for my complete adult life. I had jumped in as a slightly disoriented young man lacking direction and motivation and found a cause to attach myself to. But I had never critically examined the claims that Christianity is built upon. I just accepted them. I was told the Bible was divinely inspired and is the authoritative Word of God and is complete and total in its instructions as to how to live and for whom to live and what life is all about. I bought it. I never, not once, compared Christianity to the myriad other religions that make similar claims to exclusive authority.

I found in Christianity a place to belong and something to give myself to. That was enough for me. And, oh yeah, I got to go to heaven when I died; so there was that as well. It had everything. And I gave it everything. Until I didn’t. Until I finally laid it all out on the table and examined it. I quit making excuses for the parts of the Bible that had always troubled me. I quit looking the other way. I decided if the Bible couldn’t stand on its own under the glaring light, then I was no longer going to minimize its inconsistencies and contradictions.

I won’t go into it here about what I found. It’s too much. It’s too ugly.

Once the Bible became a common collection of letters and books (written by ordinary men) to me, the rest of the dominoes fell rather quickly. And after all those years and all that effort and all that devotion and all that worship, I was done. It was over.

Video Link

I invite you to pause a moment and watch this video; or at least just listen to the song. I heard it recently. I stopped. I paused it and played it back over and over. I wept. And I wept and I wept. It captured perfectly my experience of losing my faith.

“Say something, I’m giving up on You”. That’s how I heard it. You. Jesus.

“I’ll be the one if You want me to; anywhere, I would have followed You”.

That was my cry to the Lord when I was sifting through all of this.

Say something…anything…please.

He didn’t. He wouldn’t. And I came to the painful conclusion…he can’t.

“I will swallow my pride; You’re the One that I love, and I’m saying goodbye”.

I’m not sure if many people understand how hard that is. To look up and say, I was wrong. For almost 40 years, for my whole adult life…I was wrong.

You might not understand, and you might not agree. I get that. But it is what it is. And no, it’s not something that will change. I’m not going to suddenly (or even gradually) believe in Jesus again. If you once believed in Santa as a child and no longer do, wouldn’t it take some remarkable evidences to cause you to believe again? You can’t make yourself believe something again just because you want to.

Trust me, after what it has cost me, if I could snap my fingers and make it happen, I would.

You may be disgusted or disappointed at my personal loss of faith. That’s OK, I understand how that may affect you. You may want to talk to me about it. I’d be glad to. You may grieve with me at my loss. I appreciate that. But please, don’t do this: don’t say something like, well it’s religion that has done this to you, and I hate religion too; I just love Jesus. No. Please no.

It was Jesus who said this:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

If Jesus indeed said that, we should want nothing to do with Him. Those verses sound pious and holy and simply dripping with devotion, but they are deadly in their application. (by the way, if he didn’t say those words, what are you doing? What is the Bible then, really?) Those verses sound very spiritual in terms of one’s relationship with Jesus, but until you have seen those words play out in your own family, you don’t really know what they mean. (by the way, this scripture was being quoted pertaining to me while I was still VERY much in the faith).

You can’t imagine-and I hope you never experience, the damage that this kind of thinking can cause. I have seen my family totally devastated. And I have settled into a life that is marked by a dull ache. Every now and then when I see pictures on FB, or get Christmas cards with grandchildren’s pictures, there is a sharp stab of a pain of a different kind. But mostly, it’s like a cloudy, cold day that settles on you like a wet blanket. I guess it will always be.

So no, I’m not angry at God. You can’t be upset with someone if you don’t think they exist. I’ve heard it said I am bitter. Maybe a bit toward certain people; but certainly not toward God. (again, he’s not there) I have regrets. Many regrets. I will live with them.

One last thing. This has not changed who I am at my core, I still love people and cry when I see them suffer; or when I see them treat each other with kindness; or pretty much any time. I am moved by loss and pain and grief. I enjoy life, the bits I can snag that are good. I value humanity more than I ever have. In fact, I have a heightened sense of the value of every person and no longer view them in terms of what side of the “aisle” they are on. I see folks as all the same and seek to do good as opportunity presents itself to show kindness or generosity or love. I am no less moral than I ever was.

Anyway, that’s the gist of it, If you’re getting this, I figured I owed it to you. Because you are or have been, a dear friend.

Dave

The Similarity Between Answered Prayer and the Gifts Santa Brings

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A guest post by Richard. He blogs at RichardMarlowe236.

I grew up as a fundamentalist Christian.  A church three times a week, the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God, evolution is a lie type of Christian.  I have since deconverted and consider myself an atheist (I prefer the term free-thinker).  I plan to write a later post detailing my journey.

A few months ago I had a conversation with a family.  The family member is a fundamentalist Christian.  I had just revealed my loss of faith to her.  Needless to say she was surprised.  She seemed unable to fathom how anybody could deny the existence of God. So, the conversation turned to proof for God’s existence.  Her reasons for believing were personal experience, scriptural authority, creation, and answered prayer.  While the first three reasons played a part in her belief, answered prayer was the most convincing to her.  She never said this directly, but it was the primary emphasis of the discussion.  Her logic for answered prayer as proof of God is as follows:

  • She had a need or want for something.
  • She prayed to the Christian God for this something.
  • She received this something.
  • God is why she received it.
  • Therefore, God exists.

Answered prayer is a common “proof”  by theists for the existence of God.  Sometimes it can be difficult to convince believers that answered prayer may have a natural explanation or may be a coincidence.

Yet this logic is flawed.  I witnessed this exact same logic unfold before my eyes except it was not to prove God’s existence.  It was proof for Santa’s existence.  (I know, I know!  Atheists always equate belief in God with belief in Santa.  Please keep reading as I am just using a personal example to demonstrate the flaw in the above-mentioned logic.)

I have three young children.  The oldest two believe in Santa Claus.  Starting in November, they began picking out toys they wanted for Christmas.  They went to see Santa and asked him for those toys.  On Christmas morning they awoke to these toys under the tree.  Automatically they attributed this to Santa.  To them it was “proof” for his existence.  Their logic was as follows:

  • They had a want for something.
  • They requested (prayed) for Santa to receive this something.
  • They received this something.
  • Santa Claus is why they received it.
  • Therefore, Santa exists.

See any similarities to the answered prayer logic?  It is exactly the same.  Actually you could use this logic to prove almost any being’s existence.

This does not even take into consideration unanswered prayer.  When this is brought up, many believers will say sometimes God says “No.”  Basically it boils down to this:

If I pray to God for something there are two possible outcomes.

1.  It will come to pass.

Or

2.  It will not.

How would this be different if there was no God?  If you made it this far… Thanks for reading!

One Man’s Journey From There and Back Again

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A guest post by Wayne

I started life as an atheist and was pursing a career in the sciences. During my first year of university, I had a personal crisis trying to find my direction and purpose in life. A friend witnessed to me and I attended church service a couple of times, but did not find anything to sway my atheistic view. However, it was a really emotional and stressful period in my life and I eventually decided to give god one more shot and attended what I thought would be my last day in church.

My recollections of that fateful day are very hazy. I was not even paying any attention to the service as my life was in turmoil and I was wrestling with my rational mind and my spirituality. Eventually, I decided to just do what I thought was right. Christianity was not for me and I was going to sever my ties. To this day I do not know what happened, but god must have heard my cries and I somehow ended up at the altar accepting Christ.

Needless to say, I had a lot to learn and had to make a lot of adjustments to follow this new direction in life. I had doubts about my sincerity. How can I reject god and still end up accepting him? I concluded that god had set me on this journey because I wanted to do the right thing. Therefore, I decided to cast away my doubts and do things his way and rely on faith.

To show my commitment, I decided to get baptized. Just before being submerged, I remember telling god that he alone knows my heart and that this was my way of showing that I was putting my trust in him.  After my baptism, as I was changing in the backroom, I mysteriously broke down into uncontrollable crying. Several people knelt next to me and prayed for me but no one was able to stop my crying. One of the church officials stood fast and stayed by my side the whole time to comfort me. When exhaustion finally stopped my crying, he told me that I must really love god for him to touch me in such a way. When I left and checked the clock in my car, I realized that I had cried for well over an hour. I no longer had any doubts about my sincerity and knew I was doing what was right.

My life had changed completely. My ambition in life was simple. I wanted to do god’s will and to raise a family.  Science was no longer compatible with my new-found spirituality and way of thinking. Therefore, I changed my studies at university to pursue a career in education to avoid conflict. Life was good and I had a purpose. I became even closer with the friend who had brought me to Christ and ended up marrying her. I found a job as a teacher where I lived at a time when it was virtually impossible to do so. At church, I had found my calling and was a Sunday school teacher.

The first major test of my faith was when my wife’s first pregnancy ended up in a miscarriage; in my fundamentalist belief, this is the same as the death of a baby. To add insult to injury, it happened on Christmas Day. If god had said that I was not to have children, I could have lived with that.  However, it was more painful to have the seed planted and then have it taken away.  I felt like Abraham sacrificing my child for god; only in my case, there was no reprieve.  I did a lot of soul-searching and made sure my life was right with god and told him it was his will and not mine. I was totally devastated, but my faith was stronger than ever.

When my wife was pregnant the second time, I was sure that god would bless us as I had remained true to him.  The unthinkable then happened.  We had another miscarriage on Easter Sunday. The anguish was so severe I contemplated killing myself. The only thing that stopped me was the vision of my wife exhausted and asleep in the hospital bed. I remembered my vow of love to stay by her through thick and thin and knew that I had to endure. God was using adversity to send me a message. Many months of confusion, guilt and shame ensued as I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong in my life.  What was god trying to tell me? Were my motives contrary to his will?  Did I love my wife more than him?  Was I really sincere in my walk with him?  Was my ambition of wanting a family not in god’s plans? All I wanted was to do the right thing. I had been tested again, but I had promised to trust him and I again stood firm in my resolve.

However, there was a difference this time. I studied the bible more rigorously and reassessed my faith and started to touch the boundaries of the fundamentalist box I had put myself in. What if I was wrong? Fear kept me from exploring that question for a long time. I looked back and remember that I had asked the same question when I was an atheist.  If I never confronted the question, I would not have found god. It was a question I must explore again if I wanted the truth and do what is right. I took tiny steps to remove my fundamentalist blinders and looked outside my box, and the world opened up in a totally different way.

For the first time in my Christian life I started to look outwards instead of inwards and saw the world and the people around me without my fundamentalist mentality. I finally saw people as people. We are all on our own personal journeys in life. God and spirituality meant different things to different people. The bible is not inerrant, it is a record of the search for god by people of the past. We all interpret our holy texts and ethics according to our own limited perspective and experiences. The Holy Spirit guides and moves us all in a different manner based on our own personal interpretations. We are all different and god did not intend us to be Christian zombies shambling mindlessly to convert others who were not like us. With this revelation, my whole perspective as a Christian shifted.

At this time, many other major events started to take their toll on me. I was no longer the fundamentalist I once was and felt trapped. My marriage started falling apart and I was secretly struggling with the beginning stages of depression from all the strain. I knew I had to leave the fundamentalist chains that bound me.  Fear and uncertainty set in.  Can I just walk away from almost ten years of my life?  What will happen with my fundamentalist wife who I love so dearly?  What about my friends at church?  After a year of struggling, I was on the verge of a complete meltdown.  My integrity did not allow me to maintain the charade of being a fundamentalist any longer. I again told god that I must do what I feel is right and I will trust him to lead me as he had done in the past.  I had a long talk with my wife and we mutually agreed that the best course of action was to leave church temporarily to reassess our lives.

With that freedom, I was finally completely outside my box and began to explore. This was the days before the internet and finding information was no easy task.  My first secular book was “Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible”; don’t laugh as it was the only resource available at the local library at the time. In a few days, I learned more from that book than I ever did in church. There was no looking back for me.  My thirst for knowledge increased and I even started exploring other religions. When my pastor checked up on me a few months later, it was obvious I had moved on.  I have no hard feelings about my church.  There were some good honest people including the pastor that I really respected and appreciated.  My time was not completely wasted, and there are many good things that I will always take with me.  However, there were also a lot of the crazy stuff and I had to leave the lunatics and the narrow mindset behind.

I left church almost 25 years ago now. I am still motivated by finding the truth and doing what is right. There is no need for me to go into details of my journey from this point since those of us who had similar experiences will know what will ultimately happen when one chooses to open one’s mind; I grew up and left god behind.  Unless some real evidence shows up to the contrary, I personally believe that there is no god especially as put forth by the various religions. A person’s belief in or lack of belief in god is no longer a concern for me. What is important, is whether or not someone is a good person.

Although I am back to being an atheist again now, I have a new non-religious spirituality in me. I feel a closer spiritual connection with the world as a result of my experiences.  As such, I actually prefer to label myself as an agnostic. My ambition in life still remains the same except I have taken the god part out and shortened it to raising a family. Yes, there is life outside of religion and my relationship with my wife did not collapse as I had feared; love, trust and respect are even more powerful without their religious trappings. I also have two wonderful children who are just about ready to leave the nest and choose whichever path their own life dictates.  My advice to them will be “Keep both your heart and your mind open in order to do that which is right”.  That is what I learned from my own journey there and back again.

“Colors of the Wind”

You think the only people who are people,
Are people who look and think like you,
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger,
You‘ll learn things you never knew, you never knew.

And we are all connected to each other,
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends.

from Disney’s Poncahontas.

The Dogma that Followed Me Home

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Guest post by Cat Givens.

When I was growing up in northeast Ohio, my family attended a Baptist Church. It was one of those places where you’d meet every Sunday morning and then again Sunday evening. Bible study on Wednesday night. Soul-winning every Tuesday eve. Thursdays were youth group nights, and on Friday or Saturday we may have some other activity and then back again on Sunday.

We learned about heaven, and about hell. They preached a lot about hell.

I can remember being taught as a young child to tell everybody I came in contact with about Jesus and how to be saved. If I neglected to tell someone, then on Judgment Day this would happen: The person I did not tell would be led before the Lord God. I would be sitting behind this god with the rest of the saved people. God would turn that person I neglected away, saying he did not know them. As they would be lead away, they would see me behind god and scream, “WHY? Oh Why didn’t you tell me?” And as they were led away, to be cast into the eternal fire, damned for all eternity, their blood would be dripping from my hands. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid, huh?

In my teens, I was a bit of a rebel, and I’d run away when I got the chance, rather face the consequences at home for my actions.
When I was 14, almost 15, my parents were at their wits’ end. I was in the Detention Home for running away yet again, and they sought out help from the “experts”. A nice lady at the United Way told my parents doctors were having success with rebellious children by hospitalizing them and giving them intense psychotherapy.

My parents met with the doctors, then the doctors met with me. Yes, they could help me, they assured my folks. They told Mom and Dad I could be transformed into a willing obedient child and would change my “criminalistic way of thinking”.

I was sent to a local hospital’s psych ward with mostly adults (this was 1974, and there were no children’s wards at that time here). There I was locked up with a bunch of strangers. I was shot full of “behavior modifying” drugs which made my physical movement robotic. I also received electroshock therapy treatments. Thanks a lot, Dr. Vallaba! Some of the men abused me while I was in there. I thought I fell in love with a man who said he and Bob Dylan shared a soul.

After the doctors had used up all my parents’ insurance money, they wanted to send me to another hospital in Connecticut. But Mom and Dad had been talking to the preachers. They had another idea.

Off to a girls’ home in Louisiana for me! New Bethany Home for Wayward Girls. I was to be there for a year.

Surely, this would save my soul and make me a compliant teenager. At this girls’ home, the same type of hellfire and brimstone attitude prevailed. I was not allowed to wear pants, as that was a sin. I could not listen to any music besides gospel, as that was a sin. I could not talk about my past, as I had no past. I had to be called by my first and middle name because I was to become a new person.

There was an evangelical preacher who ran the place, Rev. Mac Ford. He and his wife, Thelma founded the home, and they took in rebellious teens from all over the country and also took in the unwanted girls who would just be abandoned there. We were all to comply with every rule or get whipped with a belt. That was the easy punishment. If a girl acted out, often she would be forced, after lights out, to stand in the hallway on her tip toes with eggs or tomatoes under her heels. If she slipped and squished one, she’d get a whipping or get hit with the switch. Runaways from the home were usually caught and then, after a sound whipping with the belt from Bro. Mac, she’d be handcuffed to her bed and a ‘trusted girl” would have the key. All meals were served her at her bed, and only was she uncuffed for bathroom and shower breaks. Once Bro Mac determined she had repented, she was off the cuffs.

Everything we did was strictly controlled. We were told not to trust our conscience, as the devil could be in there, so only trust the bible. And trust Bro Mac.

Everyday after chores, we’d have chapel. There we would learn about hell and how the love of god brought us to this place and how we must repent our evil ways and change. Then we had breakfast. After more chores, off to school. A trailer down the street with one teacher and learning packets, it was an ACE school….Accelerated Christian Education. After school it was time for chapel again, and then lunch. Then chores and free time, then chapel and supper. Even our bathroom breaks were timed and we actually had to count the toilet paper and beg for more through the bathroom door if we needed it. We were often awakened in the middle of the night. Sleep deprivation and what Brother Mac called “breaking down the will” were the norm. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear. This was a brainwashing southern Baptist cult and we were the subjects.

After nearly a year, I got to come home. And yes, I was changed. I was a good little southern Baptist obedient teenager who addressed my parents and all adults as “sir” and “mam”.

At my new Christian high school, I was more conservative than most of the staff! At this school, we would only have chapel once a week, unless it was “spiritual emphasis week”. During the “emphasis” we would have chapel every day. Chapel was where we were told about how the devil tries to get every teen to be worldly and do evil. We were ripe for the danger of hell fire! We must be saved. We must repent if we do anything displeasing to god. I recall Mr. Russell, the gym teacher, leading us in a prayer, asking God to kill us rather than let us live to set a bad example!

Throughout high school, I loosened up quite a bit. I still believed the dogma, but wasn’t quite so hung up on the rules. I began to read the bible for myself, and it did not read the same on my own as with a preacher interpreting for me.

After graduation, I began to think more for myself.  I sought out a therapist who helped me let go of the guilt and confusion.  Gradually I was losing the dogma and forming my own spirituality. I found god in nature and other human beings. I read about other religions and philosophies, realizing there are many paths to enlightenment. I enjoyed comparing the teachings of my youth to the myths and stories from other cultures and religions. I saw beauty and truth in many forms, and rejected the hellfire and brimstone from my upbringing. Or so I thought.

I recently found a movie that was shown to us “wayward girls” back at the girl’s home. It was about the communist takeover of the United States. I really wanted to see this film again, as an adult without the expectation of a great revelation and insight. The movie, along with another about hell, arrived the other day and I watched them. The acting was way over the top, and the subject matter was absurd. There on the screen a little boy had a bamboo stick driven through his ears so he could no longer hear the gospel. Communists on horseback terrorized citizens and the blood and guts spilled! Demons tormented people in hell, and worms ate at the burning flesh of the damned.

What happened next is what shocked me the most. As the choir sang “Just As I Am” and the preacher plead with the congregation to come to the altar and get right with god, I felt uneasy and a little sick. Fear and dread took hold, and then the panic ! What if it was true? Would my children go to hell to be tormented for all eternity because I chose to raise them as free thinkers?

Mind you, this is NOT how I believe, yet here it was, all this dread and fear and worry. I felt horrible and confused. It was as if a great wave had pummeled me and I was breathless! I contacted a woman who was raised similarly, and found that she, too, suffered from this occasionally. We discussed brainwashing and conditioned response, then I began to examine what had happened.

It was twenty plus years of dogmatic teachings took my emotions and spilled them out in front of me like so many dice. I realized that this memory’s emotional effect needed to be changed. So I set to work, discussing with my therapist these reactions, and he encouraged me.  I reminded myself that it was out of love for my children I chose to NOT subject them to the stifling negative dogma. And I’m glad of it, as I would never want them to feel the way I did right then!

What good is spirituality if it does not lift one up? I examined what I actually do believe, and did some reading from some positive authors. I watched the movies again with my husband, and we laughed and shook our heads. The effect was more benign, but not gone away completely, so I shall work on these memories some more, bringing in more humor and love. Still, I am amazed this dogma has followed me for so many years.

I wonder, has anything like this ever happened to you?