I am currently 58 years old as I write this. And I realized once again this week, that I was experiencing a repetitive cycle of the same deep, powerful anger that seems to rise up in response to feeling (knowing?) that I am powerless to make certain things directly happen. I feel small, as if I am a leaf that fell from a living branch into a swirling fast-moving creek. I can see the direction and location where I want to go, but cannot generate the internal navigation to direct my path.
And these feelings of being small, helpless, and childlike have never gone away from my fundamentalist upbringing.
My folks cared very much for us, and were (are) passionate Baptist fundamentalists. They expected us to basically be little clones of their beliefs, and to be living salesmen everywhere at all times.
But their fundamentalist beliefs were also overlaid and flavored with their belief systems that stemmed (I believe) from their personal backgrounds of being verbally abused, not being nurtured by their parents, and their own desires they projected upon us to excel where they had not.
I was told that we were ‘lower middle class’ and that ‘we could be eligible for food stamps’. I observed that my folks drove older cars that seemed to break down with regular frequency. My Dad worked in a beef packing plant, drove semi-trucks locally, worked at a feed store, a rendering plant, sold life insurance, drove a school bus and was a Pastor. At times, these jobs were done simultaneously while he was a Pastor.
My Grandfather on Dad’s side had been a manual laborer, and when I knew him was a farmer. My Grandfather on my Mother’s side was a rail road man who started out by cleaning out the bottom of the turn table when they still used them.
My point here is that blue-collar physical work had a position of high prominence in my childhood. I tended to view men who had soft hands as not being ‘real men’. Real men had calloused hands, worked outside both sweating and beating the cold. ‘Real men’ were tough, and the men in our family were real men! We were tough, hard workers, and honest.
Sadly, due to my smaller physical stature, I never felt that I was ever worthy to be a real Howarth man, but was a disappointment to my Grandfather, my Uncle, and my Dad. (On a rational level, I’m pretty sure this was not true) but when your father takes you to his Dad’s farm and tells his Dad in front of you to ‘teach him to work’, that seemed to imply to my young, impressionable 13-year-old brain that I was inferior. When you Dad tells you that you’re not very strong, but by the time you get older, technology will have made it possible to push buttons to make things happen, so you’ll be okay, it makes you feel less than, and shamed.
So, the brand of Baptist Fundamentalism I was raised with blended the feelings/ideas that
- Poor, hard-working men working physical jobs are real men
- Being poor is a blessing from God because God obviously thinks you can handle it and you will enjoy a much richer spiritual life than someone with money
- Wealthy people have weak character, have put attaining money before their relationship with God, and have compromised themselves with ‘the world’ and are morally inferior to us poor hard-working highly spiritual men
- Literally believe the Bible is 100% accurate, true and historical. Anytime there is a discrepancy between the Bible and reality, (science), then obviously scientists are either willfully rebelling against God’s authority or they haven’t caught up to the truth of God’s Word.
- There are two basic classes of people in the world, SAVED and UNSAVED. The SAVED are trustworthy and always have your best interests at heart, and will always do right by you because they will always adhere to the highest moral standards. The UNSAVED are rather uncouth, unclean, and untrustworthy. I must always be on my guard around all the UNSAVED people because they will either try to get me to compromise my beliefs, steal from me, lie to me, and constant association with them will pollute my mind.
- I should obey every authority over me without question because God put them into that position and it is my job to bring glory to God in all things
- God has a plan for my life which I should follow at all times. It would be wrong for me to dare plan my own future as that would be rebelling against the Authority of God. God will take care of me, make all my decisions work out well for me, and bless me with good health and wealth. God will ‘honor’ me at my work causing me to be ‘favored’ and hence promoted to better positions so that I can be an even greater influence for Him while He blessed me with even more money!
- I should approach God as a small child approaches and trusts his parents. I have two very intelligent, charming, wonderful grandsons. At the ages of 3 and 5, they have extremely limited awareness of the world, and are totally trusting of their parents. It has struck me that claiming a 5-year-old really understands the ‘plan of salvation’ and ‘loves God’ so that he ‘asks Jesus into his heart’ is a horrible lie based on gut wrenching fear of burning alive. Five year old children are concrete sequential in their cognitive development, so telling them they will go to hell, and burn alive forever unless they ask Jesus into their hearts to save them is almost akin to mental and emotional child abuse. As I look into their bright, excited, trusting eyes, I realize that fundamentalism literally tears into their normal development and would infect them with fear and shame. Happily, this is not the case with my two grandsons!
But these things were burned into my brain and emotions at these young ages. My entire belief system was based on fear and ignorance.
Here in Colorado, you can still see remnants of old stamping mills. These large machines would literally smash the rocks into smaller pieces in order to process them and get gold from them. Those rocks that were processed through these machines were helplessly crushed and destroyed. The rocks containing the gold had no value, just the gold had value.
In a very similar way, inside the fundamentalist mill, I was literally stamped, crushed, and formed by the constant pummeling of those prior heavy belief weights I explained earlier. And just as the rock didn’t matter, shattering my personal identity was not even considered to be an issue. The only thing that really mattered was the gold of ‘serving and glorifying God’.
And that is why today, at 58 years old, I feel powerless and small. I was crushed at an early age, my abilities to reason, and choose for myself were bluntly smashed away by huge, heavy mallets of lies and expectations.
I feel as if I have been left as a crotchety old man wandering alone in the cold darkness of night on a pile of ore tailing in a desperate search to find the original gold sparkle that used to be in my eyes as an excited 5-year-old.
To find my own personal power would be priceless to me.