Struggling Against Reality

Impossible Objects. Made by Derrick Coetzee in Adobe Illustrator. Public Domain.

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My youngest has a hate – hate relationship with the laws of physics. He has since he was a toddler, trying with great effort to do things that are impossible and getting terribly frustrated when the impossible doesn’t work out. Like the times he has tried diligently to stack spheres, attempted to attach opposite poles of magnets and endeavored to put objects larger than possible into tiny spaces. I explain that it just won’t work no matter how hard he tries, and each time he replies, “But I want it to work.”

The trouble is we grown ups are not so different. There are a great many things we want to work… in the worst possible way.

I read somewhere where a wise person with an agent and a book deal had written: “The source of all human unhappiness is wanting things to be not as they are.

Truer words…

I don’t want my children to experience pain. They do.
I don’t want my son to have to struggle in school. He does.
I don’t want people in my life whom I love to die. They have and they will.
I wish some events in my life never happened. They did.
I wish people behaved and thought differently. They don’t.

In ways large and small, we struggle against reality in vain.

What to do?

Learning to accept what is, is some seriously tough work. For some, understanding what we have control over and what we do not takes a lifetime of learning. Letting go of trying to control those parts we can’t, often takes just as long. I’ve heard our minister, Richard Wing, speak enough now that some of his more popular and useful phrases are coming round again, like: We have an up to us privilege of choosing not what happens to us in this life but how we react to it.” Or from Gordon Livingston in Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: “… by placing responsibility outside ourselves we miss out on the healing knowledge that what happens to us is not nearly as important as the attitude we adopt in response to it.” *

Happiness often eludes us, not because it is impossible, but because we have built so many barriers to it. By not being able to accept what is. By trying to stack spheres.

Livingston continues: “Coming to terms with [what is] is inevitably a process of forgiveness, of letting go, the simplest and most difficult of all human endeavors. It is simultaneously an act of will and of surrender. And it often seems impossible until the moment you do it.” *

Indeed.

Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.

*Livingston, Gordon. Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart. Marlowe & Company. 2004.



Plucky Observations

A very nice lady saw I was struggling in the grocery store the other day and offered me her reading glasses. They were helpful. It seems quite the conspiracy, though, that at the very same time our near vision begins to fade our eyebrows decide to go rogue.

Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.



Come and Take It

One day, after dropping off my first grader at school, I followed a particularly large vehicle out of the parking lot. The olive green, Titan pickup truck displayed three neatly-placed bumper stickers prominently in my field of view. They were: an NRA member sticker, “The American Dream isn’t a Handout”, and this one:

From this, I interpreted this was a person who is passionate about the second amendment, who clearly feels strongly about it enough to want to display it on their vehicle, and who likely has an empowered sense of ownership about their guns and their right to use them in accordance with the law. I gathered it also represented something of their point of view about freedom, liberty, self-determination, independence, and security. I took all of that in, then paused for a moment and wondered: If this imagery and message speaks to him/her, maybe other images could convey a similar idea.

And I imagined these:

I reasoned if the image and message of the gun evoked a deeper understanding of rights and liberty, freedom, ownership, and self-determination for some, perhaps these images could effectively communicate the same feelings women have about contraception, their health, their bodies and their rights as well. And, perhaps, other people would stop and notice, as I did, and draw a connection between their own passionate beliefs and support for their raison d’etre and someone else’s passion for their own. Images sometimes have the power to do that.

So I had these made into bumper stickers in order to convey my point. They are available here along with other items here.

I hope they will be effective.

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The phrase, “Come and Take It” originates with the Ancient Greek phrase Molon Labe from the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BCE) when King Leonidas I of Sparta refused to lay down his weapons in response to a surrender demand from Xerxes I of Persia. On this continent, it was used by the leader of the American troops in a confrontation during the American Revolution with British forces in 1778 at Fort Morris in Georgia. And was revived again in 1835 during the Texas Revolution when Mexican forces demanded the return of a canon and the Texans (then called “Texicans”) responded by issuing instead a challenge: Come and take it. Immortalized on a flag bearing the image of a cannon with a five pointed black star above and the defiant phrase below, it has come to symbolize the resolve of those protecting their territory, their freedom, and, indeed, their very lives.

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The birth control pill became legal in 1960. Prior to this there was no reliable, easy to use, woman-controlled form of contraception. It’s why so many of our mothers and grandmothers had nine and twelve and fourteen kids.

As Loretta Lynn’s song, The Pill, so aptly captures in verse:

“This incubator is overused because you’ve kept it filled

The feeling good comes easy now since I’ve got the pill
There’s gonna be some changes made right here on Nursery Hill

You’ve set this chicken your last time ’cause now I’ve got the pill”*

(To listen to this song click here.)

The frustration of the revival of an issue we thought was settled by our mother’s generation is captured well in one woman’s protest sign: “I can’t believe we still have to protest this crap.”

Let’s not take a step backward on the issue of women’s reproductive rights and contraception. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has produced an informative educational video that outlines the economic and personal impact of affordable and accessible birth control for women around the world. It explains that for every one dollar invested in family planning six dollars are saved in costs for housing, healthcare and public services. I hope you will take the time to watch it here.

Let’s insure we keep contraception and women’s healthcare legal and accessible.

Don’t try to take it from us.

Copyright © 2012. Christy Caine. All rights reserved.

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My deepest thanks to Dan Wilkinson for creating the Pill and Uterus Come and Take it images. He’s an incredible web developer and all around awesome guy. Please check out his site.

And also to friend Mike Patrick of Patrick Solutions for helping me tweak it a little more.

* The Pill, written by Lorene Allen, Don McHan, and T. D. Bayless, recorded in 1972 by Loreta Lynn on MCA records and produced by Owen Bradley was released in 1975. Lynn said in a magazine interview she had received messages of gratitude from rural doctors telling her how her song had done more positive marketing for contraception to their patient population than any of their own education efforts. This is the power of media.



The Talk: Sex Ed Even Legislators Can Understand

 

This one will probably get me in trouble.

My son had his fifth grade back-to-school-get–to-know-the-teacher-kill-a-forest-by-way-of-forms-event this week. It was hard to miss the pro-greenish overtones of the science curriculum with its hands-on-super-cool-free-AEP-low-energy-use kits highlighted by a fall field trip to the landfill despite the reams of tree remnants we signed.

This year, the health and life sciences teacher explained, the curriculum will include “The Talk” late in May when the students are bored out of their ever-lovin’ noggins. I overheard my youngster discussing this with the neighbor girl at our house at the beginning of summer. Apparently by way of the schoolyard radar, they knew it was coming. Plus, she has an older brother. The school will send home a packet of content in December with a not so subtle nudge encouraging us (the parents) to talk about “it” with them (the kids) before May so she (the teacher) isn’t the first person the children are hearing this from while sitting among their peers in a very public place.

Perhaps now is the time to wax nostalgic for the good ole days when our parents hid books under their bed for us to find. I remember that fateful day like the back of my piece of chocolate cake dropped frosting side down on the floor when my mother cornered me in my room and I sat uncomfortably wedged on the floor between my bed and the windowsill listening to what seemed to go on for fourscore and seven years, her Peanuts school-teacher voice becoming more distant as my mind drifted to the realization that no one was coming to my aid by way of interruptions and why: my father had taken my younger siblings to my grandparent’s house for the day… leaving me there…alone…with her… for this very purpose. (!) I’ve never thanked him for that.

Nope. No questions. Thanks for stopping by. Yep. I’m good, Mom. Got it. Thanks. U-huh. Can I go back to cleaning my room now?

She finally left. I didn’t learn anything I hadn’t already figured out from watching nature shows on PBS.

Grown ups can be so disappointing.

School based sex education is new to me, both as a parent figuring it out on the job and as a student, since I attended a private Baptist school where the closest thing to sex ed was a rule preventing opposite gender students from coming within six inches of one another and overhearing the ladies at church say their prayers had been answered for a baby. In an unfortunate turn of events regarding the six inch rule, I was sent to the principal’s office in kindergarten for disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace or contributing to the delinquency of a minor when, under the influence of static electricity, my waist length hair was touching the boy next to me causing him to figit in the middle of chapel. Emphatic finger snapping by teachers did not mitigate his bodily gyrations as he tried to escape the advances of my disobedient locks. It was shocking as a five-year-old to find myself sitting alone in the high office of my inquisitor mounting my own self-defense by trying to explain to this grandfatherly older man the finer points of static electricity and what “fly away” meant  and why this seemed like a self-evident, airtight alibi for not having broken the rule. It was my first brush with gender bias and scientific ignorance but not my last.

Just this week Republican U.S. Congressional Representative Todd Akin, who sits on the House Science, Space and Technology committee and is running against incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill (D) for her Senate seat from the great state of Missouri, made international headlines for what some call a gaff but what the average tenth grader would call a fundamental lack of understanding of basic human biology. Poor chap. He apparently never had “The Talk.” Which is terribly unfortunate given that he made it all the way through sixty-five years of living and earning a Masters of Divinity degree without knowing how a woman gets pregnant. They told us about this in nursing school, that some folks would ask which type of jelly works better – grape or strawberry – for preventing pregnancy. What he said with such certainty in order to minimize what is a horrific experience for far too many women was:

First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down … ”  

As completely ill-conceived and absolutely not backed up with science as that statement so obviously is and compounded by the highly explosive incendiary remark about “legitimate rape,” it sadly seems Representative Akin is not alone. There are others – mostly older men holding political office or those who have a great deal to say about those who do – who don’t know how women’s bodies work. But this falls into a larger conversation about rape, contraception, women’s rights and aspects of a judiciary system that has historically distrusted women which I have previously written about here. And which is directly related to legislation from last year where some members of Congress tried to change the language about rape to distinguish between “forcible rape” and other kinds. So, being a woman, a nurse, a patient educator, a person who has both had sex and gotten pregnant, and the kind soul that I am, I thought I might have “The Talk” with a few good folks just to clear things up.

This may be a little uncomfortable. I’m going to use some grown up words.

As ideal as it is, two people do not have to love each other to make a baby. Babies do not come from the stork. Parents do not go to the hospital nursery to pick one out and bring them home. Fertilization can happen in an approximate 72-hour window within a woman’s menstrual cycle, when an egg is released from the ovary during ovulation. An egg can be fertilized within 12 to 24 hours of viability after ovulation as it travels through a fallopian tube to the uterus. Sperm can be present before or after an egg has been released and still fertilize that egg since sperm can live from three to seven days in the female reproductive system. An amazing number of conditions have to be just right for pregnancy to occur. It is often described as a miraculous process. However, a willing participation in copulation is not one of them. Unlike Mr. Akin alleges, there is no scientific evidence that female secretions, or a lack thereof, are capable of discerning the difference between friendly and hostile sperm and preventing access to women’s eggs. It would be nice, surely, if this is how biology worked, like Samantha on Bewitched: want to get pregnant – two nose twitches; don’t want to get pregnant – one nose twitch. Heck. It would be great if menstruation worked like that. But it doesn’t. There is no magic switch. Egg + Sperm can lead to pregnancy whether it got there by way of rape or not. Which is why they created emergency contraception for just this scenario which prevents the union of egg and sperm (not the implantation of an already fertilized egg).

So, to be clear, let’s review:

As reported by Jezebel:

‘…”date rape” is much more common than “stranger rape.” According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, approximately two-thirds of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim, 73 percent of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger, and 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance….

RAINN defines rape as “forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Penetration may be by a body part or an object.” To clarify: “Rape victims may be forced through threats or physical means. In about 8 out of 10 rapes, no weapon is used other than physical force. Anyone may be a victim of rape: women, men or children, straight or gay.”

…according to a 1996 article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.” According to Planned Parenthood, more than five percent of all rapes result in pregnancy…’

I’m glad we had this talk. I regret that it was necessary. Let’s make sure our children know about their bodies and ways of protecting them with accurate and useful information.

For more information about rape and sexual assault prevention contact RAINN.
For accurate and informative contraceptive and pregnancy information please visit ACOG, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Copyright 2012 © Christina Caine. All rights reserved.

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On Meeting Roger Rosenblatt

This summer we vacationed at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York. One of the wonderful things about Chautauqua is the access you get to the speakers. There are multiple opportunities to get up close and ask questions whether it’s during the morning radio show broadcast from the porch of Hultquist where many of them are interviewed or in a meet and greet after their presentation or simply bumping into them on the brick walk as you make your way across the grounds.

I actually met Roger Rosenblatt back in January at a local event in our hometown. He’s a well-published, award-winning author and playwright who teaches writing at Stony Brook University’s MFA in Writing and Literature program. I went without a prepared question. I hoped to be smashing, of course, yet develop it on the fly. (As if I could think of a sparkling, insightful question he hadn’t already been asked 987 times before.) As he moved into his reading from his latest work, Kayak Morning, subtitled: Reflections on Love, Grief and Small Boats, I realized any self-agrandizement on my part was futile and any question about publishing or writing was banal. His was a story of loss. As a gifted writer, his depiction of the journey of grief was intense. Intense in its authenticity.



A Rose By Any Other Name


Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, Nashville, TN, 2012
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Footprints in the Forest

"Forest Floor Spring Ferns" used in agreement with www.ForestWander.com

 

I have always been weird. I know this. I just don’t struggle against it anymore. I don’t care that I’m weird. I LIKE being weird. It says more about others whom it troubles than it does about me that it does not. I think.

However, if one is going to be weird, then own it and BE WEIRD; revel in all its finery, in all of its bibliophilic, philosopher-quoting, poetry-reading, theologian-studying, humanity-observing, people-connecting, deep heady existential mystical angst-ridden weirdness. Be that. And be it well. If that’s who you are, and it’s not hurting anyone, then this is what you were born to. Revel in your youness.

Must there be a pegboard of “normal” in which we try to pound everyone? Is any one person more “normal” than any other? What is that? Must I conform to it? Who says college, marriage, kids/career, career/kids, kids to college, retirement is living? For some it seems more like a powerpoint presentation for death. How boring. How mundane. How typical. Is this how we measure and punctuate life? How do we find meaning in something so proscribed, presumed, optimized? Is meaning not ultimately personal? How can the journey be personal if we are only stepping in the imprints of another’s footsteps? So carefully watching the ground so as to tread appropriately that we miss the entire journey. Lift up your heads! Look around! This. THIS is the life you are missing. Not one day. Not some day. Not when I. Now. Today. This instant. This is your one wild, crazy, beautiful life. Are you living? Or are you trying so hard not to step outside the footprints on the ground? Look up! Make your own path in the forest.

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“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

– from The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

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Original composition date: November 2010

Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.



Penn State vs. Vanderbilt

 

 

All experience is learning.

This is not about football.

During my tenure at my alma mater, I spent three years in the employment of the Vanderbilt University Office of Housing and Residential Affairs as a Resident Advisor: one year as a Resident Advisor (RA) and two years as a Head RA (HRA). One RA was assigned per floor, one HRA per dormitory, and one Area Director per housing area. RAs and HRAs were primarily undergraduate students; there existed the rare grad student. Most of us were between the ages of 20 and 25, at the most. Area Directors were adults: real grown ups, often married (or not), in their mid to late twenties (or older) but responsible for all of the RAs, HRAs, buildings, and students in their housing area. This was their full time job. RAs and HRAs were full time students who received free board and a private room in exchange for their work, which was often a reason many of us took on this rather challenging, time consuming, sleep interrupting, frequently frustrating, valuable, important, rewarding, fun job.

We received in-service training for a few days prior to the beginning of each school year, arriving before the rest of the student population to ready the dorms, get organized, learn about student services, responsibilities, chain of command, and handling difficult situations. In-service training included role playing activities designed to challenge us with everything from the inane to the awkward to the illegal. More than advice, our job was to be present and aware.

My first year was fairly typical in an all girls freshman dorm: noise, trash in the hall, and roommate problems. The most difficult situation I had to deal with that year was navigate a roommate dispute between an inner-city African American girl from Harlem who was a night owl and her Caucasian small town roommate from the deep South who was not, who happened to share the smallest room on the floor. The only reason I mention their race is because it was an issue for them, not for me. The young woman from the South ultimately left, honestly admitting that if the people in her hometown found out she was sharing a room with a black girl they would have a fit. Coming from the Midwest, I had anticipated encountering some racial issues but was still surprised and pained to encounter this.

My second year, I was the Head RA of a coed dorm: two floors men, two floors women. This year proved to be more challenging with a few more pranks and frustrations like a 1,000 or so golf balls poured on the lawn, a mountain of lounge furniture in the lobby, and a couch stuck in the elevator. But there was also the girl who came to find me because her roommate had taken too many antidepressants and she was worried about her, whose vital signs I checked and then immediately took to the Emergency Room where she was admitted for being suicidal, as well as the guy from one of the floors below who was pretty sure a guy on his floor had been holding a mirror under the shower stall door to get a peek. Those were quite a bit tougher to deal with, but they were taken care of in the moment and swiftly.

Which brings me to my final year. At the age of 22, I was the HRA in charge of a large women’s dorm and five RAs. On a Sunday morning I will never forget, while I was getting ready to go to my off campus job providing childcare in a church nursery (because I was really broke and the Presbyterians paid really well), one of my RAs knocked on my door. She was disheveled and looked like she had been crying. We were not close, and we did not socialize together. She came to me because we learned this in our in-service training. We sat down. I listened. She had been out the night before with friends. There was drinking. They went to a house off campus. She didn’t know the house or the people who lived there, but she was with a group of friends who knew someone who was friends with….. She’d been talking to this guy….

She woke up in a bed. She was naked. She couldn’t remember. She didn’t have a good feeling about it. She had a boyfriend she cared for back home. She was confused. She walked here. She didn’t know what to do….. She needed help. She came to me for help.

More than advice, our job was to be present and aware……and act.

We had been trained if there was a rape on campus we were to call metro police, not campus security.
We had been trained if there was a rape we were to take the victim to the public hospital, not the university hospital.
We were trained to take care of the situation before us to the maximum of our ability and when it was more than we could handle by ourselves to ask for help.

I comforted her. I told her we needed to call the police. She agreed. I told her we needed to go to the hospital and which one. She agreed. I called the police. I told them where we were going. They told me to tell her not to shower or comb her hair or change her clothes. But to bring a change of clothes, because they would need to keep hers and where to go and someone would talk to her at the hospital. Then I called campus security to transport us to the hospital. I waited with her. Someone took her into the inner sanctum of the hospital to care for her.

Eventually, from the ER, I called the church where I was supposed to be and got in trouble for not showing up. I called my Area Director, who was my direct supervisor, and told her what was going on and where we were. She or the Area Director on call eventually came to the hospital. Somehow I got home. I wrote and filed my report.

On the day of the in-house hearing for the official university investigation, I was present as support for my colleague and aware of how things weren’t going in her favor, yet was always glad I acted when and how I did.

This is not about football.
This is about knowing what needs to be done and doing it.

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“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

~ Edmund Burke

Copyright © 2011. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.



Sol de Gloria

Sunrise

Photo credit: Ian Britton

Have you noticed the moon the last few nights? It’s been amazing. Full, orbital, voluptuously round, and vivid. Crisp. Grand. Mesmerizing.

As I drove my youngest to school this morning, the 9 to 2 o’clock portion of the sun was filtering its way up through the early morning mist, drawing me in – golden, hazy, emerging.

“Don’t look right at it,” I told him. “It will hurt your eyes.”

He obediently averted his peepers. But I wanted to look at it. I wanted to see it and feel it. I wanted to take it all in. I swept my glance back and forth across the Eastern horizon. It was stunning. Perfectly round, rising out of the haze, liquid…warm…enlivening.

I dropped him off, watched him disappear through the front door, struggling: Bionicle in one hand, Batman backpack slung upside down over the opposite arm, careening him off balance. I pulled out of the parking lot, turning on the radio. The strains of Mozart’s Requiem filled the space as I meandered through the neighborhood back to the main road.

Retracing my route, the sun now behind me, the flow of traffic carried me toward home; my mind drifted, wandering, lost in the chords and notes and octaves until I reached a point near our home where the wider road narrows to a tree-lined street, and the way ahead reaches an ever so slightly noticeable high point, and the horizon widens; and, as if on que, the CD advanced to the next movement, and the path before me drew me out of my daze, and I became aware of the autumn foliage in peak color and how the leaves seemed to slow in mid-air as they drifted to the ground. And in an impossibly uncontrollable synchronous moment “Sanctusreverberated from the dash, and the moon was before me: full and glorious, soft and white, pock-marked in the Western sky.

The sun behind me. The moon before me.

One hundred eighty degrees of celestial light…

and Mozart.

 

The science geek in me wondered how many times this happens: A full moonrise in early morning, and how many more days and nights of a full moon we would enjoy before it disappeared for another cycle. The Aquarian in me wondered if there was any astrological significance to the sun and moon rising in the same sky. But the mystic in me knew none of these things mattered more than being present in this moment and taking notice of the noticing.

My skeptic friends, would say this morning’s events had no meaning. But, frankly, these experiences happen far too often to believe that they do not. Sometimes we don’t have to go looking for the Sacred – it finds us.

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“There are only two ways to live your life,” Albert Einstein said. “One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

Moon

Photo Credit: Ian Britton

Copyright © 2011. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.



Higher Ground

Over the weekend, I visited our local independent film house with my dearest friend to see a film she had suggested. When she pitched it to me, she knew little about it including the title; so, I could honestly say I hadn’t heard of it. As I went searching for theater listings and show times, explored the film’s website, and watched the trailer, I emailed her back after the third time through the preview with: “YES! A resounding Yes! Yes! Yes!”

You can watch the trailer for the film here.

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I spent the first eighteen years of my life physically and theologically embedded in a trifecta of Fundamentalism: church, private school, and home. In those years, I was never more certain of the rightness of everything I believed. In the twelve years that followed, I was uprooted physically, though firmly planted mentally, in the theology of my youth even as I went away to college, earned an advanced degree in a scientific field, married, and moved far from home, around the country, and around the world. Things, people, communities, churches all changed, but what I carried with me, locked in my heart – my convictions – had not. So, by thirty I had fulfilled the prophecy from the Book of Proverbs that says if you train up a child in the way they should go, when they are old they will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

Deep thoughts were not foreign to me; I enjoyed thinking them, figuring things out, and my less churched spouse tolerated my absolutism far more than I give him credit for. It wasn’t until our first child was on his way that the scaffolding of my moral certainty and Fundamentalist foundation began to sway.

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“Higher Ground” is the directing debut of Vera Farmiga, who also plays the lead role of Corrine. It is the story of one woman’s spiritual journey in her search for God from her early childhood commitment during vacation bible school, through a crisis in her young married life, to her fervent immersion in church life, and her subsequent disillusionment and doubts. Based on the spiritual memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs, originally entitled “This Dark World,” Ms. Briggs wrote the screenplay for the film. As The New York Times film reviewer notes: “[Higher Ground] presents the subjective facts of Corinne’s life as precisely and clearly as it can, refusing to condescend or sentimentalize anyone, and inviting you to sift through the nuances and find the answers for yourself.” It is touching and startling and worth 120 minutes of your life to see what so many others have spent a lifetime wrestling. It remains truthful to its subject matter as only one who has lived it can know.

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Of course, I knew infant baptism was wrong. Everyone knew that. We’d been taught in our Baptist school and from the pulpit that a good test of anything questionable was that if it even had a whiff of Catholicism about it, you could be sure it was heresy. So too was sprinkling – especially babies. In an Independent, Fundamentalist, Bible-preaching, hell-shunning, Devil-hating, God-fearing, Pre-millinial, Pre-tribulational, Rapture-is-coming, Better-get-ready, Dunk-you-when-you-get-saved Baptist church they don’t call it believer’s baptism for nothing. In order to symbolize the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, there was no room for only dipping in a toe.

The Holy Spirit is far more than ankle deep; 

spritzing was viewed as about as authentic as French cuisine was considered a hearty meal.

It was full immersion or you were in the wrong church. Thus my moral dilemma when I found myself great with child and attending a Presbyterian (USA) church. What to do….

That was the question that started the Fundamentalist underpinnings of my long held and oft regurgitated theology shaking. I didn’t take it lightly. This was a big deal. What if I made the wrong choice? What would happen to my soul and that of my child? Which decision expressed my faithfulness to God and which would grieve and disappoint? Not only God, but my family?

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Not being reared in Fundamentalism herself, my friend was curious how the movie made me feel.

“The dogma and the ideology and the focus on the outside of the cup are true to life and are what anger me.”

“You feel violated,” she queried.

 “Yes. Absolutely.” And it pains me to know that it continues today – that other people are abused and violated in the exact same way. Fervent hearts can be well-intended and still inflict an incredible amount of pain and suffering.

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When old wounds resurface in my present life and trouble me, this same wise and dear friend has had the insight to ask, “Does it help to know they aren’t doing it on purpose?” And my up until recent answer has always been, “Not yet.” But as a deeper understanding of human nature in me grows, I am approaching a place where I can look for the good even in the midst of the bad and  feel compassion for those who can and do inflict such pain…for, truly, they know not what they do.

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In 1978, while American Fundamentalism was taking root and flourishing and many others like me were in private Baptist schools around the country learning of the ills of psychology and indoctrinated to read nothing but the King James Version, M. Scott Peck wrote “The Road Less Traveled,” his renowned and transformative work. In it he wrote:

To develop a broader vision we must be willing to forsake…our narrower vision. In the short run it is more comfortable not to do this – to stay where we are, to keep using the same microcosmic map, to avoid suffering the death of cherished notions. The road to spiritual growth, however, lies in the opposite direction. We begin by distrusting what we already believe, by actively seeking the threatening and unfamiliar, by deliberately challenging the validity of what we have previously been taught and hold dear. The path to holiness lies through questioning everything.

Peck goes on to say:

There is no such thing as a good hand me down religion. To be vital, to be the best of which we are capable, our religion must be a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality.

In my own spiritual journey his words have surely fleshed out to be true.

Somehow I still hold on to the good, while having learned from wise guides to let go of so much that was bad. I’ve never second guessed leaving Fundamentalism, but I have looked back. And I’m trying very hard not to turn into a pillar of salt: bitter and hardened. Someone very close to me recently said, “You are poisoned by it.” After my initial negative reaction calmed, I replied,

If I am poisoned by it, it is with the knowledge that red mushrooms are dangerous, and they will hurt you if you eat them.

May those of us who know, wrestle with the Fundamentalist demons we have inherited, and, emerging, find the One who loves us beyond all imagination – whom we never knew – cheering us on and welcoming us with open arms to higher ground.

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I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Johnson Oatman, Jr., 1898

Click here to play the hymn “I’m Pressing on the Upward Way” (Higher Ground)

 

Copyright © 2011. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.