Wednesday, May 27, 2015

In which I write a bit about my religious background

My parents were very religious people. By that I mean they both believe in an extra-human, non-earthly plane which had a certain amount of control over the human condition. My father is from Virginia, and his religious tradition is the faith-based, orthodox Protestant Christianity. My mother didn't really grow up in a religious tradition, although she was nominally Lutheran. My grandparents weren't active, so my mother spent a large part of her adult life sampling from the religious smorgasbord available in the US. When I was born, she was a member of an Anabaptist congregation, and so my earliest church memories are there. However, all I can remember is that I won a bible (King James Version, natch) for bringing the largest number of guests to Sunday School. The bible had a white leather cover--perfect thing to give a small child! I don't think the pastor expected the winner of said contest to be a child under the age of five.

My parents divorced by the time I started school, and I really don't have any memory of my father being around. He was in the military on active duty and spent most of my early childhood in Vietnam. My mother didn't really like the fact that my father *requested* long-term hazardous duty because this meant he was gone most of the year. (My father requested such duty because of the extra pay. He felt his role was to provide for the family. He grew up poor in the Virginia mountains, and his father died when he was about 7 years old. His mother put him and his sister in an orphanage for a few years until she could financially support them, and this experience left a deep scar on my father's soul. He swore his kids would always be able to be with their mother, no matter what. So he did what he had to do. He succeeded, even at great personal and emotional cost to himself.)

So my mother married again and converted to Mormonism. I don't know if they were married first and then converted, or she converted and then married my step-father. My mother had a turbulent childhood--an emotionally (and often physically) absent father, and an abusive, alcoholic mother. The Mormon tradition emphasizes the family; indeed, they believe that the family is truly sacred. So here's a woman, twice divorced in a time when divorce wasn't very common, with children and a new husband. She craved that strong family connection, and despite being twice divorced, she really did want traditional gender roles. She wanted to be a housewife and mother.

But the 1970s were an era of great social change regarding women. My mother was caught between the old and the new. She was just a bit too old to be caught up in the Women's Liberation movement, but young enough to suffer all the fallout from it.

My mother and stepfather jumped feet first into Mormonism and then the church totally failed my mother.

And that's where I will pick up next time.

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