Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Faith of our Fathers

I had the most interesting thing happen the other day.

As background, you should know that very few of my extended family are Fundamentalists, and one of my grandmothers in particular had always been uncomfortable with my mother and I identifying as such.  I don't ever remember her being ugly about it, but I knew she wasn't interested in our new-found faith in the least.  She was also one of the ones most hurt by things we did in an attempt to "be a testimony".

In Fundamentalism, I was frequently taught that being in church every time the doors were open was not only what Spiritual People Do, it was also A Good Testimony.  Doing so made it clear to those around you that church - and therefore by extension, God - is the most important thing in your life. (Pay no attention to the fact that equating the Church with God is problematic.)

I remember frequently going to her house for dinner when I was young; apparently, many of those dinners were Sunday nights, because once mom and I converted to Fundamentalism, it became a point of contention. Instead of going to my grandparents' house, we now went to church.  My grandmother tried to compromise and have dinner earlier so we could do both, but it was still such a strained time compared to the way things used to be, and the tradition was eventually given up.

Some Testimony, eh?

A few days ago, grandma was at my house to help watch my child while I got a few things done around the house.  While the child napped, we talked, and all of a sudden she asked, "So, I understand that maybe you and [hubby] became a bit... disillusioned by your time at [Fundamentalist University]?"

What followed was one of the most enlightening conversations I've had so far along this journey.

My "heathen apostate" grandmother had seen right through Fundamentalism from the beginning.  She told me the insistence on control frightened her.  She said she didn't understand how people could ignore the poor and vulnerable while calling themselves Christian at the same time.  She was shocked at the way parents dominated their adult children's lives and the rules the University enforced on those same adults.  And she told me, among other things, an appalling story I hadn't known about from when they visited [Fundamentalist University] for my graduation. 

At the time, my grandfather had some medical issues that necessitated frequent trips to the restroom.  And as the ceremony was extremely long (this was the year that a new President of the University was installed) he had to get up at one point for another trip.  He walked up the aisle, reached the doors, and was stopped by two ushers.

He was told that the doors were locked and no one was to be allowed to exit.

They essentially told a grown man that he wasn't capable of understanding the solemnity of the occasion and intimated he was acting like a child who should be better behaved.  Those snotty superior ushers TOLD AN ELDERLY MAN WITH A MEDICAL CONDITION THAT HE WASN'T ALLOWED TO USE THE RESTROOM.

Oh yes, indeed.  Very Good Testimony.

Now, my grandfather was no troublemaker.  He was an upstanding businessman in the community, and if there was a rule, he followed it.

But my grandfather stood up to that bullying and said something to the effect of, "If you don't want to clean up a puddle right here, then you will let me out to use the restroom."

And they let him.

Needless to say, my grandparents weren't impressed with how they were treated.  They were kind enough (or perhaps frightened enough?) not to mention the incident.  I do remember them joking that the ceremony was "like installing a new pope"...

It's ironic, really.  I thought I was so spiritually superior to my non-fundy grandparents; now I realize they had a great deal more discernment than I did.   They saw the abusiveness and wanted nothing to do with it. In addition, I remember them being the kindest, most giving, and most socially active of anyone in my family - and certainly kinder than most people in my church. Even at my most Fundamentalist self, it gave me no small amount of cognitive dissonance that they were labeled as unbelievers.

Oh, and the most fascinating part?

I discovered my grandmother was raised in the denomination we've started to settle into and is a member of the same church we've been attending for over a month now.  I have more in common with her than I ever knew.

Fundamentalism robbed me of that.

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