A (former) Christian’s Argument for Atheism

This was so important to me I decided to blog it. It’s about something the Pope, my most favorite person in the Universe, said.

pope-frank
The quote and the article have nothing to do with each other, except being said by the same wonderful man. Okay, maybe there’s a tiny connection.

“How many times have we all heard people say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”
~ Pope Francis

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/pope-suggests-better-to-be-atheist-than-hypocritical-catholic/ar-AAngu7y

 

I’ve been running this blog for about five or six years. About a year or so ago, I stopped posting. I’ve considered sending out an explanation, but my readership is pretty small, no one was clamoring for an explanation, so I let it be.

When I read the article about what the Pope said, I decided to write a post because his comments touched on something I felt very deeply. It was as if I finally had permission to speak about something I was ashamed to know.

Separation of the Church and the State of Being:

I’m not the same person I was three years ago. I came across a recent blog post the other day and I was reminded that my faith and love for God were so profound …

“Faith that can not withstand the light of reason, is not Belief, but mere Supersition.” ~ John Donne (I think).

                                                  … and so utterly out of touch with reality.

For new readers, or readers who haven’t read this, my family experienced and lost a brutal and abusive adoption battle, complete with corruption, harassment, one assault (albeit not an injurious one) against me by a social worker, and even abusive and neglectful treatment of the children by the system. I’d relied on my faith in family, people, the justice system, my understanding of God throughout the whole process.

That turned out to be a huge mistake.

In the ruins of what used to be my life, some of the little gems of non-wisdom I’d held on to couldn’t stand up to any rational examination.

So many things I’d been taught about God and told about God and encouraged to believe turned out to be just – in my world anyway – well, bullshit. All those pleasing, palliative platitudes were as useless as the pledge of allegiance during a frontal tank assault: “God has a plan,” the frustratingly misleading “Prayer Works” and “Things always happen for a reason.” Then there’s its fraternal twin “Things always work out for the best,” and my personal favorite “God never gives you anything you can’t handle.”

There was a reason for an entire loving, healthy, safe, law-abiding family, including innocent and vulnerable children, to be traumatized and destroyed by corruption on the possible scale of Pennsylvania’s Kids for Cash scandal? God had a purpose in me feeling like my whole gut was ripped from my body with bare hands and have the people who were supposed to be helping me treat me with complete contempt? God had a plan to traumatize and scar innocent little children?

Really?

If there was a purpose, maybe I could’ve been told about it. It might have helped me all those dark days and nights for God to let me in on His Little Secret. Knowing the Grand Plan might have helped me put my body soul back together a bit sooner and a bit better, but apparently He didn’t think it was important enough to tell me about it.

God’s supposed to be loving, and I’d always heard God loved me, but none of that sounded very loving to me. In fact, it sounded pretty manipulative, if we were all permanently traumatized in the service of a whole cosmic plan that benefited someone else but left us hanging.

And if prayer worked, and people were praying for us, why wasn’t it working in our lives? Does prayer work for others but just not for us? Where does that put us in the cosmic scheme of things?

payer-works
So does this mean I just didn’t pray hard enough?

It wasn’t long before my brain took all these questions and went global. It seems none of that stuff works out for a shitload of other people, either.

Taken to their logical conclusion, these soothing little bromides must mean: there is a reason that millions of women are raped and terrorized every year, God has a plan for children who die from childhood abuse or neglect, people who suffer indignities, abuse and/or illness to the point of suicide are simply chosing not to handle it, because God wouldn’t allow it if they couldn’t really handle it. Then there were the implications over centuries of genocides (including one itsy bitsy little Holocaust) that some people might argue God, in His infinite wisdom and omnipotence, might have let go on a wee bit too long.

In this light, some of those platitudes people say every day, and I’ve heard for forty some odd years, sounded downright cruel.

I’d gone from seeing God everywhere to not seeing God anywhere.

In fact, I came to believe, maybe if I hadn’t had such profound faith in Divine Intervention, that “prayer works,” that “there is always a reason;” if I’d trusted God a little less and my instincts a little more, I’d had kept my family, those children would have kept their safe and loving home. Hell, I might not be blogging right now – I’d be outside playing with my children.

divinity
The only Divinity I can be sure about anymore

My faith in God, Divine Inspiration, Divine Intervention fell apart. The only Divinity I believed in anymore was an old Southern recipe that overpopulated 1970’s church bake sales.

Even so, far be it from me to rain on anyone else’s theological parade. I can’t lie and pretend to believe this anymore, but each person has to come to their understanding of their world in their own time, and it’s not up to me to drive the faith and belief out of anyone. Even I’m not that bitter, yet. So I kept my mouth shut. It kept the bitching and moaning about my blog in my personal life down to a minimum, so that was an added perk.

All of that said, I have always loved Pope Francis, and still do. I admire the shit out of that man. I think he’s probably more Godly than our constructs about God. So when I saw the article, I was inspired to write again. Maybe it was validation, maybe it felt like  permission, but I was inspired all the same.

The Pope spoke to what I believed.

The Pope had spoken to my heart. He put the Papal Seal of Understanding on the second reason I left religion and belief behind: the failure of so many of Christianity’s self-avowed devotees to even faintly resemble what Christ taught in the New Testament.

In my old days, I walked around in a rosy cloud of thinking everyone had to be so wonderful and I was so … not wonderful, lacking somehow in some way each and every person I met was superior. Nagging, pesky little questions and doubts popped up in my brain, but I took care of them because whatever they were, they were mine, and ergo, wrong.

I knew (and tried to please) people so toxic they should’ve come with their own warning label. “Devoted” religious people who could be the meanest, most spiteful, most selfish people I’ve ever encountered. In my low self-esteem fugue state, I could be convinced by them and myself that the problem was me – not them.

So, when I started to wonder, what the fuck is up with this? Why were some of these people just so friggin’ mean? I pushed all those clearly rational thoughts back down again with a “Shush, these are Nice Anglo-Middle Class People because they dress in nice Anglo-Middle Class clothes, they have nice Anglo-Middle Class jobs and go to nice Anglo-Middle Class Church. These are the Right Kind of People.”

Eventually, riding that train of thought down the track led me straight to a derailment disaster complete with metaphorical and psychological toxic waste spill requiring the complete evacuation of everything I once believed.

The new me is a thankfully bit more skeptical.

Once I separated my unicorns-and-rainbows myth of Church People from my life experiences, I saw that the reality was less Carol Ingalls and Olivia Walton and more Bravo Real Housewives. Now, I knew some wonderful, loving, selfless, truly Godly women in the Church World. Ironically, though, these weren’t the women who sought prominence, and they didn’t wear their religion on their sleeve like a badge. Some of the most visible, prominent women showed themselves to also be the shallowest and meanest, once I got to know them. It wasn’t how it was supposed to be, it probably isn’t that way everywhere (I hope), but it was that way in the world I lived in. Given that I don’t have enough time or money to travel the globe, get a representative sample and do a full statistical analysis, I figure I have to base my new understanding on the data I have at hand.

Soooo ….  I looked around with a willingness to be brutally honest, and I saw:

561639e64cfa04814a58fbe186f3dae8People who’s actions bordered on theft, who exploited the poor for financial gain (then bitched about them), touted bigotry and misogyny. There was the one who never missed a service then tried to undermine a loving marriage with lies and manipulation out of jealousy. The one who taught Sunday School then harassed and bullied family members anytime a fit of pique struck. The ones who leveraged their positions in the church to promote themselves, their personal causes, and practice nepotism. Public advocates of Christ’s teachings while turning their backs on injustice or exploitation unless it impacted their own identity group. And I was supposed to be the spiritually inferior being here?

I seemed to remember reading something discouraging all that in the Old and/or New Testaments. But what the hell did I know, right?

We’re not just talking Catholicism here. It’s no one religion’s fault. There are mean little assholes in every religion. While I know there are mean little assholes everywhere (I worked in the banking/finance industry, after all), church is supposed to be the one place working to eradicate that kind of thing, not enabling it.

If someone keeps telling you they’ve got the cure, but it sure as hell looks like they’re still sick, who in their right mind is going to think that cure works? That might be what the Pope’s talking about.

And, as before, my brain’s newfound superpowers decided to take on bigger challenges and look around in my world. I didn’t have to go too far.

The Power of Prayer to do absolutely nothing.

prayer-is-useless
More and more, every day, this was pretty much my sentiment. Except I would have preferred a petition to a sandwich. A call to a representative, a written letter of protest. Those would have been good sandwich-alternatives, too. Prayers – eh – not so much.

It was the spiritual cowardice I saw and completely resented. People  wept crocodile tears and made public prayers about the poor, downtrodden, suffering people “over there” somewhere, always thousands or millions of miles away, but their response to our exploited children and destroyed family in their own community was a pat on the head, a prayer, and any combination of the aforementioned platitudes. I didn’t necessarily need a hug, although it felt nice, it didn’t put my family back together again or clear my name. I needed activism and advocacy.

I guess all the prayer and beatitudes gave people some sense of agency (and it was supposed to make me feel loved) in an overwhelming situation, but that wasn’t supposed to be the goal. It also serviced a sense of compliance and complacency that perpetuated the problem, honestly. Because, and let’s face it here, when the rubber hit the road and it was time to be counted, like Peter, they didn’t want to be caught in the crossfire of the controversy with authority.

The worst part was and still is to see almost everyone’s revulsion when faced, not with the horrible crap my family had to face and withstand, but faced just with the reality that we had to. Not everyone, but almost everyone I’d expected better from, and some people who owed us better. It was surprising to see the very few people who tried to actually help in a meaningful way. Only one would could be described as religious.

Everyone quickly become more pre-occupied with other problems. Short attention spans notwithstanding, the change in focus was, from my point of view, to causes more appealing because they were either immediately solvable (a few hours), or quite frankly, trendy, in-the-news social ills that played well to a the liberal identity, but many of which didn’t really solve anyone’s problems.

I’m not saying some individuals didn’t benefit, but these were drop-in-the-bucket feel-good gestures, some of which only had a fleeting Look-At-Wonderful-Us quality. When it came time for real action in a real situation of injustice, something that meant involvement and engagement for the long haul, in our situation … it wasn’t there.

In that light, I was disappointed.  I didn’t see much of what Christ taught. I didn’t see much of what the Old Testament taught. What I saw was the same old thing I’d seen in office politics and secular community groups dressed up in a cross. The Bible might have been the platform, but it wasn’t the foundation.

ghandi
I don’t know if Ghandi really said this or not. Like all my pics, I got it off of Google. But it does sum up my theological sweet spot right now, in fewer words than I ever could.

Why I stopped blogging:

Truth, sometimes, is not pretty. Oh hell, often it’s downright ugly, thanks to the dank, toilet-like nature of humanity most of the time. Deep down, I’ve always known this. I knew this before I knew how to sign my name in cursive. As a young girl, I was privy to the darker side of people, and fought hard to believe it wasn’t people’s only side. In ways I won’t get into, that need ironically led me to find mostly people with mostly dark souls, if they had any souls at all.

I’ve always felt strongly about writing the truth. I don’t always mean the factual truth, although accurate representation of the facts is important – no one knows that better than I do. The rest of our culture seems to be learning that Life Lesson about six months too late. I mean the truth about life, what we know, what we should know.

In the past few years, I’ve gotten to see a side of humanity, government, existence and even religion that most people are lucky enough never to see. Every day I wish I was one of those lucky, sheltered bastards. My truth is, well, a truth that sometimes requires alternating dosages of Nexium and Red Wine. Alternating, remember I said that because that is the key component there.

There is also the real backlash to my blog in my personal life from real people in my real life. These aren’t strangers or trolls, but people I know. I’d like to think I’m ballsy and badass enough to take it, and if I had hundreds of readers out there hanging on my every word, I would. But I don’t. Some days, putting up with the obnoxious and abusive bullshit I have to confront for writing something autobiographical, all because of someone else’s imagination just isn’t worth it. (This time, however, it is.)

I can’t blame it all on them. I’d like to, but I’d by lying to myself and you.

For a while, a brief while, my life was lightness and joy and love. There were patches of unpleasantness, but I could handle them because of the abundance I’d been lucky enough to enjoy. Then the luck ran out.

It pretty much beat the life out of me for a long time. And while I’ve done a badass job of putting myself together again, it has been a DIY project, with DIY results.

Quite frankly, I’ve soured on the most of human race. It makes me wish for life on another planet with aliens. By that I mean THE Ridley Scott Aliens.

alien
I should’ve lined up this Lovely to help with one of the “home visits” and seen how she reacted to a social worker cussing her out in front of her little babies.

The point is, I haven’t written because I don’t believe that anyone wants to hear what I have to say. This isn’t self-pity or self-deprecation; it’s an honest assessment of our culture. Hell, half of what I need to say I don’t want to hear and wish to God I didn’t know. I’ve waged my own distraction campaign with Nordstrom (God Love Nordstrom’s!!!!) online shopping and cake decorating to choke a horse, so I’m not all that superior here.

And if I find the truth so unappealing, how can I expect anyone to want to read a blog about all of that?

 

Happy Easter: Crumbs of Hope from Reality TV

Warning: irreverent pics ahead. Purpose: to offset serious subject matter.

easter candy
These little dandies bypass cute and go right into menacing, don’t you think? Ergo, I love them.

Today is Easter.

Last week also saw the Purim: Ta’anit Esther – March 23, 2016 and Shushan Purim – March 25, 2016, about which I know embarrassingly little. So other than commemorating the event, albeit late, I’m going to keep my mouth shut and my pen still when it comes to details about that. If anyone wants to comment, and offer some additional insight or information, please do. I would love to know more.

The common thread between these two, however, seems to be one of victory. I beg for correction here, but the way I understand Purim is that it celebrates victory over the Persians as told in the Book of Esther.

humor

For Christians, Easter is about Christ’s victory over death, over enemies, over oppression of his message, even over the friends who abandoned him when he revealed himself to them, affirmed his presence, and entrusted them with the legacy of his message.

This is based, for those not “in the know,” on the story of the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension as told in the four Gospels of the New Testament.

And thus, I have many complicated feelings this Sunday morning, as I wonder if my family, my loved ones, the innocent, helpless people I know will ever see victory.

Like Christ, we found and lost the first round. People betrayed us, abandoned us. Like Mary of Magdalene, we stood by helplessly with love and despair and watched everything go terribly wrong.

Thus, I’ve become a very narrow-bandwidth person, a one-issue activist. I could even be said to be a selfish little bugger, because I want restoration for myself and my family. I don’t mean money (though that helps), I mean reunion.

I mean resurrecting the state of family we once enjoyed from a cruel and sadistic destruction and restoring us once again.

I mean overcoming the lies and political agendas that overshadowed right and wrong and love and compassion.

You know, like at the tomb.

funny-pictures-history-so-i-was-like-mom-chill-out - Copy
I give snarky little frig magnets like this to my pastor. She loves it. What a trooper.

I am still waiting for the “Sunday” when everything will be renewed, knowing that outside the four Gospels of the New Testament, and Hollywood movies produced by Sony et al., people don’t always get that. There are stories every day about families losing children to absurd legal technicalities, sickness, criminals. Stories every day of people rotting in prison until they die, over something they didn’t do.

I have doubts rooted in an abundance of documented and highly publicized reality.
Then I watched TV last night.

This wasn’t some televangelist or movie with a proselytizing agenda that threw me a crumb of optimism and hope.

It was reality TV. Secular (gasp!) reality TV.

A reality show had filmed in a penal institution where some friends work (not live), so my husband and I watched just to see if any of them made it onto the show.  As we watched, there was a storyline of one kid who shouldn’t have been there in the first bloody place. As a middle-class, middle-aged suburban white woman even I knew within five minutes that this kid was only guilty of being black, young and in the city.

When the crew filmed him, did he protest, rage, object, as he had every right to do?
I mean, Jeez Louise even Christ had his moments of doubt and protest with God. C’mon.

This is what this kid did on camera: he was always polite, most of the time smiling, always calm. According to one of the institution’s personnel, he finished his high school diploma (not GED) for gifted kids with commitment and hard work. Then, we learn, he had decided to be baptized by a pastor he’d known before he went to jail

And so, the pastor was interviewed on camera.
He spoke about hope.
I was undone.

Hope, if I paraphrase correctly, was the last thread of life. In fact, it is life. Without it, we are dead. We must hope. Period.

What do I do with that? What in the hell do I do with that? When the one thing that breathed beauty and joy into my life – love, motherhood, family – is gone? When everyone says or acts out everything from “they weren’t really yours” to “you don’t have to be a mother to be around kids” to “you can’t fight city hall” to “well, I know somebody who had it much worse than you” to “this is too depressing, I can’t be around you when you’re like this”?

Oh, and let’s not forget the looks of “well, you must have done something wrong,” despite statements from half-a-dozen people and witnesses that no, in fact, I didn’t.

When friends and supporters abandon me, authorities ignore justice for their own political agendas, and my spouse and I are left to fend for ourselves?

Oh, yeah, like Mary M. and her guy. Like that.

How do I hope? How do I pray? I’m not a religious figure or the least bit holy. I’m a frustrated, indignant middle-aged woman cursed with a fatty liver, a potty mouth and an overblown sense of right versus wrong. One small, anonymous peon who’s tired of looking this particular situation from the underside of the bus I was thrown under just as it parked. Right here. On me.

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This is credited to Pope John Paul II in other images and sites. He’s the guy who fought Communism in Poland. Then became Pope. Talk about fighting City Hall and winning.

Then I turn on the TV and there’s this teenaged black kid sitting in jail for something he didn’t do and he’s holding on, being positive, not giving up.

So, there and then I’m reminded that I can keep the faith a little longer. I can keep up the good fight, which I realize I’ve been doing all along — as my own form of prayer. I pinch pennies to pay my lawyer. I learn about boring-ass legal minutiae to work off some legal fees. I pour over bureaucratic policies and proceeding transcripts for any iota of helpfulness. Is that prayer?

Former monk and author Thomas Moore says as a monk he was taught that everything we do is prayer. So, yes, maybe it is.
Will my prayer be effective?
There are no guarantees.

But sometimes, the good guys do win.

The show closed by adding an epilogue: the kid was released later for lack of evidence.

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So, even documented and highly publicized reality even says that sometimes, we do win victory over our enemies. Maybe someone in power, like Esther, who has some connection to our suffering, intervenes and instead of slaughter and persecution we get advocacy and victory. Maybe we make it out of the tomb after all.

I certainly do hope so. I’m guessing that’s what Easter’s supposed to be about.


In hoping that even writing is a form of prayer, I send a Happy Easter and hope for victory to Tarzan Boy, Nugget and the Abinator. 
And yes, Tarzan Boy, I do still love you after all this time.
More than ever, even in your absence, and will forever.
You don’t have to know it for it to be true.

The Loser’s Prayer

Too much wrong, not any right
Living through the fight or flight
I hear you calling as I’m falling
Through the darkness of worse than night

The gates of hell greet the valley of lies
Evil laughs at the sounds of your cries
Angels are deaf and Gods are blind
And I fear we are broken for all time

Can you hear me through this space
I feel your tears fall on my face
I hear your voice call out my name
I cannot hold you or make you safe

Can you hear all my songs of love
May they come to you on wings of a dove
I feel your pain; it is my own
We’re forgotten even to heavens above

At night I will whisper your name
To absent gods that never came
To save us from their vicious hate
That tore apart your better fate.

Apprentices of Alchemy

This is still a work in progress. My last poem took me six months, and I’ve got another under construction for a year. This one said something I needed to say, though.  Feedback welcome. 


Apprentices to alchemy
of the soul

Send poison from their lips
to our bones

Once wiser wizards healed hearts
stone to gold

And crushed minds and hearts
they let unfold.

Now see tender spirits
bent to mould

Spirits taken as their own
then sold

For lesser massive missions
of the bold

One marching, silent, aching,
muted moan

Children’s Story: “Frederick and The Very Ugly Tree House”

I try to think of stories to help my son deal with sadness and trauma. The truth is that some pretty awful things have happened to him in his young life, and there’s no way around that. I had to come to this realization myself after decades of fighting a history I had to accept: no number of what-if’s or how-could-they’s could change the past.

So, I told him this story one day, and I’ve been working on it ever since.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~           *             *             *             *            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom on an island. There were so many people, and so little island that the King had to assign living quarters to the people. Everyone agreed. They were a very easy-going people who liked to get along, farm, fish, and generally have fun.

The King did not decide who got which house, you see. He wanted to be fair. So, he put all the villagers’ names in one hat and all the houses’ names in another hat. He’d draw a villager’s name; he’d draw the name of a house. That person would live in that house. And so on.

Now Frederick’s family got The Tree House when he was a very little boy. He would get the Tree House when it was his turn; it was his forever and there was, quite frankly, nothing he could do about it. He grew up in the Tree House, and he hated it. See, in the middle of the house there grew a very large, and very ugly, tree.

The King was very sad that Frederick had to live in the house with such an ugly tree and he felt sorry for the boy. Frederick was not imagining how awful that tree was. That ugly tree twisted, bent and turned all the way from the floor of the center of the house straight through the ceiling. It was big and ugly. There could be no windows in the walls that stood behind the tree. It’s sharp old stumps stuck out every which way, on wet days it even smelled. Frederick had to be careful how he played and walked in the house, or he might scrape and scratch himself against one of the stumps, or worse, on any of the sharp pieces of bark that stuck out from the trunk of the tree. It was big and took up the entire center of the house! How could anybody live in a house with such a tree as that?

Frederick would stand on the front porch at night where he could see all the houses in the kingdom, past the village, past the white sand shore, and into the clear blue ocean. He would stand under the stars and look at the houses and try to find the perfect houses, with no trees sticking out of them. One day, he promised, he would live in such a perfect house.

As a young boy, Frederick would beg the King to move him to a different house whenever the King would come to visit.

Frederick had been to his best friend’s house: his best friend Jonah. Jonah’s house was in a cave. They could jump right from the living room into the cool waters and out to the ocean. Clearly, that house was better. There was nothing bad about that house.

“I’ll give you all my toy trains,” he said to the King when he came for breakfast one morning.

“It is the way it is, my boy,” the King would say, “there’s nothing I can do about it. Everyone gets the house they get.” The King left very sad that the boy had to live in the Tree House, but there was nothing he could do.

Frederick has been to his cousin’s house: his cousin Isaiah. Isaiah’s house was built into the side of the island mountain. They could climb out of Isaiah’s bedroom window and climb the rocks of the mountain all day. Clearly, that house was better. There was nothing bad about that house.

“I’ll give you all my toy blocks,” he said to the King when he came for dinner one evening.

“It is the way it is, my boy,” the King would say, “there’s nothing I can do about it. Everyone gets the house they get.”

When Frederick grew up, the house was finally Frederick’s, and Frederick’s alone. He begged the King for a different house. A better house. A house with no ugly tree.

“I’ll work for free for a year,” he said to the King one day.

“It is the way it is, my boy,” the King would say, “there’s nothing I can do about it. Everyone gets the house they get.”

By now the King had realized how sad the boy really was. He wasn’t sure he could do anything about it. “Son, you will have to learn to live with the tree. I cannot change it. You cannot change it.” The King put his hand on Frederick’s shoulder. “You will have to learn to live with the tree. I will be back in a year to see how you’ve done.”

So Frederick decided he would protest; he would not leave his house for the entire year. He would not work in the kingdom; he would not fish with the villagers. He would not do anything but sit in his house until the King saw how unhappy he was, then surely the King would give Frederick a better house to live in.

And so, there he sat, in his house, with his back to the tree.

                                                                ~                                    ~                                    ~

Finally, Frederick’s temper got the better of him. He hated that tree, how dare that tree be in the middle of his house. So, without thinking, Frederick stood up, turned around, and told that ugly old tree just what he thought of it.

“You ugly tree! What are you doing here? Don’t you know how much I hate you? Why don’t you shrivel up and DIE!” The tree did nothing. It stood just as it did before, in silence.

Frederick realized he could chop that tree right down.  So, he went and got an axe. He was going to get rid of that tree. So, he stood at the base of the tree, raised his axe, took one good last look at the tree, and thought to himself: if I chop this tree down, it will fall through the roof and I won’t have any house at all. That would not be good.

So, he went to the base of the tree at the foot of the mountain. There, he stood at the base of the tree, raised his axe, took one good last look at the tree, and thought to himself: if I chop this tree down, it will take the house with it, smash it to the ground, and I won’t have any house at all. That would not be good.

When Frederick stopped, he realized that the tree was inevitable, and he could not get rid of it no matter how hard he tried.

Frederick was tired, so he sat down again with his back to the tree. As he sat there, Frederick could see out the back porch and watch the sunset over the blue ocean, and then see the sky full of sparkling stars in the clear black sky. While he hated the tree, the view was beautiful.

Then Frederick’s best friend Jonah came over.

“Frederick, why haven’t you come out to play with your friends, or work in the fields, or fish in the sea?”

“Because I am going to stay in this house until the King sees how unhappy I am, and then he will have to move me to a better house.”

“But Frederick, where will you go?”

“I don’t know. But you don’t understand how awful this house is, because you have a perfect house.”

“What?” Jonah laughed. “A perfect house? The water from the cove rises into the living room during the rainy season, and we all get wet. It’s dark, we can’t see outside and there is no place for the sun to shine through except for the tiny little hole in the cave above the cove. We have to swim to leave, so we must leave towels and dry clothes outside the cave when we go places. Frederick, it is not a perfect house.”

“But the tree is much worse,” Frederick insisted.

“Maybe so. I’m sure it’s worse than many houses on the island, my friend. But ours is not the perfect house.”

                                                                ~                                    ~                                    ~

Then Frederick ran out of dirty clothes. On the day Frederick had to wash his dirty clothes, it rained. So, he could not dry them on the porch the way his mother did. He could not hang a line in the kitchen, because then he could not cook his dinner. He could not hang a line in his bedroom, because then he could not use his bed. The only thing left to do, to hang his clean, wet clothes was to hang them – and he could not believe he was going to do this – but hang them from the smoother stumps and branches of the tree.  Which he did.

The tree had plenty of stumpy branches and arms to hang his clothes. He was able to saw off the sharp points, file down the sharp bark so they did not rip his clothes or hurt him anymore when he accidentally touched the tree. When he was done, all his clothes were hanging from the tree, dripping onto the bark, or through the hole where the tree grew, and not onto his clean, dry floor.

When Frederick was done, he realized that the tree had been helpful, and he could make good use of it sometimes if he tried.

So, Frederick sat down again in his house, but this time, he stood with his face to the tree. As he sat there, the open windows let the ocean breezes blow the smells of the salt water, and the sweet scent of the leaves that grew high above the tree. While Frederick hated the tree, the breeze was nice.

Then his cousin Isaiah came over.

“Frederick, why haven’t you come out to play with your friends, or work in the fields, or fish in the sea?”

“Because I am going to stay in this house until the King sees how unhappy I am, and then he will have to move me to a better house.”

“But Frederick, where will you go?”

“I don’t know. But you don’t understand how awful this house is, because you have a perfect house.”

“What?” Isaiah screamed with laughter. “A perfect house? The lava from the mountain is hot in the summer, and we can feel it through the walls. We cannot touch the walls, or we could get burned. The cold winds blow across the mountain in the winter, and we get cold, so we must wear all our coats and sweaters and socks. Stinky Goats and other smelly animals climb the mountain around the house, and make noise morning and night.”

“But the tree is much worse,” Frederick insisted.

“Maybe so. I’m sure it’s worse than many houses on the island, my friend. But ours is not the perfect house.”

                                                                ~                                    ~                                    ~

“You’re still ugly, and awful,” he said to the tree, which stood there in silence, unchanged. “I still hate you,” he said to the tree. Frederick did not lie; it was an ugly tree.

But really, Frederick asked himself, was there nothing he could do about it? He had learned that the tree was inevitable: his house was built around it. He had learned that the tree could be useful: he could hang things from it. He had even learned he could change the tree. Maybe …. Just maybe ….

Frederick ran and got his paints and knives and brushes. All night Frederick painted and carved and brushed and drew. In the morning he was done. He stood back, took a look, and laughed.  Frederick laughed so hard at the silly face he painted on the tree that he rolled on the floor.  Frederick laughed so hard at the little climbing monsters he carved into the side of the tree that tears rolled down his checks. Frederick laughed so hard at that ugly tree his sides hurt.

Then the King came over.

“Well, the year is over.” said the King, “Have you learned to live with that ugly tree?”

The King and Frederick stood on the porch of the Tree House. They stood and looked at all the houses of the kingdom, out to the clear, blue sky and the sunset over the ocean. Those houses weren’t perfect, Frederick saw now. Jonah’s house got wet and you could not see the sun setting over the ocean. Isaiah’s house could be hot and cold, and you could not feel and smell the warm sweet breezes The ones in the fields were used for farming; children couldn’t play in the fields when the crops were growing. The ones on the shore could flood easily during a storm. There was no perfect house, Frederick realized.

“Yes,” Frederick said, “Yes, I have.”

Embracing the Princess Within

From the time my little girl could speak until present day, she has been obsessed with being a princess. It’s how she wants to go to school; it’s how she wants to grow up. Skirts and bows and tulle and tiaras.

Me, struggling with my recovery as a former kool-aid drinking feminist, balked at this. It was truly a horror! A princess: a frivolous, spoiled, demanding, pampered, passive, tiara-toting diva draped in Pepto-bismal pink. All these traits came flooding to my mind in one steady stream of horrors as I imagined my little one striving to be a … I choked at the thought … a princess.  I can only imagine the silent amusement my in-laws enjoyed as they watched this little scenario play out under my so-called feminist roof.

Of course, I had some help here. The whole 1950’s-70’s mass marketed fairy tale of “wait for some man to save me.” It had been so intoxicating during my own difficult childhood that I lost my own internal struggle with self-empowerment, and ceded the authority of my life to anyone who would take it. Once I woke up from that little dream, I was very, very skeptical of anything remotely resembling a fairy tale ever again. Even princesses. Especially princesses.

The irony here is, though, that the reality completely disputes the fairy tale.

But before I would come to this realization, I tried to redirect my daughter in my own motherly way to emulate some empowered model of strength and determination. She was the one who opened my eyes one day when she answered the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A princess and a doctor.”

A princess and a doctor. Really? The gates of enlightenment opened and I was flooded with questions.

There I was, exploring once again my past feminist ideals – ones I used to support my own scorn of the Princess Persona — and asking myself, why did I think the two were mutually exclusive? For my little one spinning around in her butterfly tulle skirt, the two images were perfectly compatible.

Was my fear of the Princess Persona a sexist stereotype itself? A buy-in to a patronizing, patriarchal, antiquated depiction of the princess? I obviously couldn’t talk her out of the Princess Persona, but could I leverage it?

So, I started to talk to her about princesses whenever she wanted to be one: who are they and what do they do? I inserted the values I hope to instill in my daughter: the help others, they are honest, they are strong. (They also wear their leggings in the wintertime and let their mommies comb their hair before school. You get the point). As I stopped fighting the whole princess thing, I was inspired and I wanted to take things a bit further. So I started to consider real princesses and bring them into the picture.

Let’s start with Princess Diana. She hit the scene in my lifetime: blonde, soft-spoken, and to be frank, she seemed a bit mousey to me. Boy, did she show me. She navigated her way out of an unhappy marriage, defied all to play an active role as a mother, and reached out to people worldwide as an advocate and spokesman. According to bio.com, Diana “worked to help the homeless, people living with HIV and AIDS and children in need” and “devoted herself to her sons and to such charitable efforts as the battle against the use of land mines.”

The fact that a woman in that position devoted herself to being a mother when she could have easily delegated child-rearing impresses me a great deal. She didn’t abandon them to nannies in the pursuit of some hollow public image of good will. I remember the news stories even now on how revolutionary her role as a mother was. I remember how inspired people were at the genuine compassion and love she showed AIDS victims and children. She didn’t hold some remote title on a board. She reached out to the people – literally.

That’s pretty … inspiring. Admirable. Not narcissistic and pampered. She took on the Queen and Prince of England. She left any hope for the throne for the right to define her own life and her own ideal of love. That’s balls, baby.

I was talking about this with someone and she mentioned Queen Rania of Jordan, a woman with a real-life Cinderella story. This from bio.com:

“She was photographed at fashion shows and high-society social events, usually mingling with a beautiful coterie of the global elite. “

But did was she satisfied with merely being one of the “beautiful people”? Nope.

“Through it all, however, Queen Rania remained remarkably grounded, using her position to advocate on behalf of a variety of causes she believed to be important. A progressive female voice in the Arab world, Queen Rania became a powerful advocate for reform in education and public health, the development of a sustainable tourism industry in Jordan, youth empowerment, and cross-cultural dialogue between the West and the Arab world. Perhaps most notably, she worked as an outspoken opponent of the traditional practice of “honor killings,” the murder of women by members of their own family for perceived violations of Islamic moral code.” (Wikipedia)

This woman has been actively involved in fostering microfinance institutions, which have been crucial to empowering the poor and disenfranchised. Nor does she use her position to create a distance between herself and the public. Instead, she uses her position to take her voice to people: the woman has her own YouTube channel, for crying out loud. And according to Wikipedia, she responded directly to questions people submitted.

Took me decades to get up the gonads to start a flippin’ blog. Princesses are wimpy, my left Aunt Fanny.

Then there’s Pauline Ducruet (daughter Princess Grace of Monaco), an Olympic hopeful. I don’t care what your title is, when it comes to the Olympics, they don’t let you run with the big dogs if you can’t hunt, as my Daddy would say. So if that’s where you’re aiming, and that’s where you get, then you’ve done the work. Enough said.

I have to add – and this completely ruins the prose style – but according to Wikipedia, Ducruet also trained elephants for the circus at one point. Not only does that make her brave and disciplined, that makes her just plain cool. Cannot say it enough. Definitely not prissy. Just. Plain. Cool.

Oh, and I nearly forgot. That princess a few centuries back who ended up ruling England … Queen Elizabeth I. Yeah, her. Didn’t they call her reign a “Golden Age”? And didn’t she lead England into one of its most prosperous and powerful ages ever, defying foes and enemies, establishing the Church of England? At a time when women weren’t allowed even to be on a stage?

I’m sure there are many officially royal and non-royal young and not-so-young women who fit the negative stereotype of a princess. But there it is, right there: a negative stereotype of a female royal position. So I had to ask myself: was I the one being the sexist here in fighting the princess persona?

Ah, that would be a “yes.”

Having given the whole thing some thought, and internet research, I’ve decided to embrace the Princess within – even mine. My pre-schooler has shown me that she will never be mousey, or a doormat, or suffer anything in silence. She is feminine, outspoken, a leader, intelligent, outgoing, and knows the full empowerment of her femininity. I’m even okay with that. So, bring on the tulle and sparkles and tiaras and pink; I want to give them new meaning and new power – grounded in reality, not some mass marketed fairy tale — in her eyes and mine.

And we have the real princesses of our age and our history to thank for it.

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Leaning In and Leaning Out

Feminism and the Mommy Wars: My own salvo.

I was re-reading my blog in a fit of narcissism the other night. That’s what I do now after the kids have gone to bed. At any rate, I read the post about Etsy and feminism. I think I’ve written other places as well about my disappointment with Second Wave Feminism. But that’s not going to stop me now.

You see, in my twenties, I swam in feminist theory. I read Andrea Dworkin, Susan Brownmiller, the Freudian Feminists. I read Gloria Steinem before going to bed. I detected and dissected the latent misogyny of every pop-culture text: film, book, magazine, TV commercial and bumper sticker. I went to NOW meetings. I read Anais Nin for crying out loud. I was a fully anointed disciple of America’s Second Wave Feminism.

Even now, I have to admit that some of it still applies.
But. That’ a huge “but” coming now.

I got older. I got lonely and realized I did need a man. I needed a man because I was a healthy, heterosexual woman who didn’t like celibacy and didn’t like the idea of growing old alone. I wanted someone to talk to and to hold me and help me raise children. And no, I did not want to raise children alone. Some women could do that; I was smart enough to know I was not one of them. So, I got married when I found someone loving, smart, kind, hard-working and honest. I learned a lot about what was and wasn’t true about feminism then, but that’s for another post.

The most important turning point, though, was when I became a mom. And that, dear friends, changed everything.

The children we adopted had very special emotional needs. They are brilliant, robust children who have been abused by their families or origin, the government, social workers and foster care parents. They came to us broken and desperate. They were not cute little newborns who were going to sleep and nurse all day until I got my bearings straight. They were not blank slates upon which we could write our own values and expectations. They brought with them the very stark reality of what can happen helpless little people are traumatized and broken by big powerful grown-ups. The un-breaking is very hard stuff.

I lost jobs when my responsibilities to these vulnerable little creatures meant time off or unpaid breaks for business-hour phone calls. I quit writing on the blog. I just quit writing. My sewing took a huge hit. My life was social workers, transporting the children to DCF offices, in-home therapists, in-office therapists, all on top of cleaning, cooking, hugging, kissing boo-boos, drying tears, diffusing tantrums, soothing PTSD flashbacks and explaining the same hard facts of life that most adults don’t understand to a grade-schooler.

And I loved every minute of it. I love kissing boo-boos, teaching right from wrong, cuddling on Saturday mornings, giving snacks, making them eat vegetables, silly songs in the car, praising them for doing well, seeing them make friends, hearing them laugh, watching them sleep, kissing their noses. I even loved changing the little one’s diapers. Never got sick of it. (I should probably admit it only lasted about a year). I liked comforting their traumas, holding them when they were scared, making them feel loved, making them safe. I understood their rage and cried for their heartbreak.

It got to be a lot, I won’t lie. There were some very bad days and times I failed miserably. Any traumatized child is a lot to take, especially for those who’ve never been exposed to trauma. Navigating the landmine of parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is not for the faint of heart.  But I understood; it wasn’t always easy, but I hung in there. Even my oldest, who often wants to burn the ground I walk on, finally had someone who’d seen what he’d seen. I committed to fighting for their rights, fighting for their care, arguing with bureaucrats and winning the fight. And let me tell you right now, it was a fight. I’ve said it before: Google “DCF” … any state … read the stuff. Zombies would be easier than some agencies. I promise.

It was the hardest, most fulfilling job I ever had. And it was the most successful I’ve ever been. Ever. People who secretly shrieked in fear at the thought of me and motherhood in the same room admitted both their surprise and admiration. My frightened, shy, angry little children became happy, outgoing, smart little ones who can outshine anyone on their worst day.

Finally. I was doing something I loved: motherhood.

In the back of my mind, however, I felt like a failure. I failed as a feminist. I wasn’t earning money; I wasn’t in a prominent, highly paid position. I wasn’t even economically independent. I hadn’t broken any traditional barriers for women. In fact, I’d retreated into a traditionally female role. Surely I’d failed as a feminist?

Because isn’t a status-oriented, well-paid career more important than taking on a set of damaged, abused, neglected, lost little human beings and committing two decades of my life to loving them, teaching them, and nurturing them into strong, smart, honest and compassionate citizens? Isn’t that what feminism taught me? Taking on government bureaucrats, disturbed biological families and my children’s psychiatric problems with my husband, well, that’s not nearly as brave as breaking down a glass ceiling in the Fortune 500.

It must be so. Because it only matters if it pays, right? And motherhood doesn’t. As we all know, motherhood is a trap, a ghetto for women with limited ability and/or no ambition who are trapped in traditional gender roles, right? And if we haven’t, then we’ve failed as women and feminists because we didn’t “lean in.”

Right? … Really?

Is it really true that creating the legacy of helping women to become millionaires just like men is more valuable to our society than nurturing productive, conscientious, healthy adults out of children who might have otherwise sunken into poverty and mental illness? Is it really true that what matters as feminists is that we’re all “leaning in” to become more driven to adhere to a flawed set of values that dehumanizes everyone else? And is it really true that if choose to “lean in” to a more traditional and human-based goal, such as motherhood, then we didn’t really “lean in” at all?

In case you can’t tell, the more I thought about it, the more Sheryl Sandberg annoyed the crap out of me.

But that was just the beginning …

Sometimes I surf the cable looking for something a bit more adult than The Chica Show. So, on one chilly evening, I started scanning the channels when I hit upon a PBS documentary on Alice Walker: intellectual, feminist, artist. Yay, I thought. Yay. I’ve admired her work. I’m thinking I’m in my element as I grab my mocha and settle into the cozy part of the sofa.

That dear friends, is how even the idols of my young feminist womanhood, Alice Walker and Gloria Steinem, royally pissed me off.

As the PBS story unfolds, Alice Walker is estranged from her daughter. Ms. Walker is surprised, hurt, taken aback. Gloria Steinem cannot comprehend the estrangement; whenever the daughter and the mother were at her house, they cuddled on the bed together. For all of Ms. Steinem’s writings on better values, more equality, a better world, she just didn’t get it. And I didn’t understand how that was. After watching twenty minutes of this PBS documentary about people I didn’t even know, I got it so much it was slapping me in the face.

It seems, as one of Ms. Walker’s admirers puts it, that the daughter did not fully understand the sacrifices that she (the daughter) was expected to make for Alice Walker’s contributions to “the movement.” Those “contributions” being awards, fame, prominence and affluence.

As a mom, and a former child, I had some choice words. I don’t recall if I screamed them to the TV or not. I certainly do hope I did.

Once you have a child, you have a responsibility to their physical and mental well-being. Let me be clear: that child did not ask you to bring it into this world, you did. You did invite that child and he or she didn’t get the chance to RSVP. You drafted that child into your life with no choice, say so or opinion of its own. I had this argument with my mother often enough.

You lose the right to force that child into “sacrifices,” which end up being forms of neglect or abandonment (be it emotional or physical) for the sake of your own prominence and fame. Having your children make sacrifices so you can put food in their bellies, a roof over their heads and shoes on their precious little tootsies, that’s one thing. I’ve had to do it and I will again. And that one thing is not what seemed to be going on there.

As the story goes on, it also comes out that Ms. Walker is a “serial monogamist,” meaning that she has been in several relationships over the years. I’m not going to judge serial monogamy. I was all about serial monogamy. Before I was a mother. After that, it was all about their stability, their emotional bonds with their other parent. Whatever your ideas about relationships are, you ensure the emotional safety of your children, because they are more vulnerable; they bond more easily and the dissolution of those bonds hurts more deeply. I had hoped a Pulitzer Prize author would know that. It seemed I wasn’t right about that.

Some may argue that in Alice Walker’s time, there wasn’t much choice as far as pregnancy goes. That’s a hypothetical argument for our sake. I wasn’t there. I don’t know these people. In the same hypothetical vein: either way, a powerless little girl has absolutely no choice whatsoever, definitely less than anybody else in the picture. Even if a woman doesn’t have a choice about a pregnancy, the baby doesn’t deserve to pay the price. I don’t need to be there to know that.

There was something so truly heartbreaking about watching these pre-eminent feminists lament that Ms. Walker’s daughter may have preferred that her mom take care of her or offered some stability. It was awful to listen them blame a daughter for needing a mother’s presence. Later, I did read Rebecca Walker’s description of her childhood. It reinforced my own sense of what the documentary revealed: that she felt herself to be a distant second to the determined pursuit of a literary career. And all the feminists, intellectuals and colleagues the filmmakers interviewed saw absolutely nothing wrong with that.

It was that reaction of all the high-minded intellectuals and feminists that devalued the role of motherhood and the importance of child-rearing that infuriated me. Clearly, attaining the traditionally patriarchal goal of prominence was more important, because it was done in the name of “feminism.” And while we’re on it, where exactly was the social change in that?

The whole mess dealt the final blow to those last surviving bits of traditional feminism in me. It was “lean in” all over again. The “second wave” feminists and their heirs seem to have valued achieving the same prominence and affluence as the men who imposed the very sexist inequality we complained about. Maybe the “movement” started out wanting economic independence and equality for women, but it seems to me that message has become perverted into an expectation that as women, and feminists, if we aren’t out there busting our behinds — along with the behinds of a few or more innocent bystanders — for the same old Western, patriarchal values of status and acquisition, then we’re failures. May I add that these values have not served many thousands of others over the past, oh, say, millenia or two. The subtext of all of this is that it’s okay if you mess up your kids in the process.

Is that the best we can do? Strive to imitate the worst society has to offer? Fight to break barriers so we can propagate all the other injustices and inequalities on down the line? Did feminists really wage their fight so that women could engage in the same materialistic devaluation of human-based values that created a culture of economic disparity, child exploitation and corporate imperialism?

If that’s success as a woman and a feminist, color me a failure. I’d rather spend my time helping make better little human beings any day. Because, Gloria, that’s where my revolution within begins.