parens binubus

more than you want to know about a law school graduate/bar examinee who is also raising two children and doing her best at being a partner to her love.

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  • Friday, May 04, 2007
    Religiosity III - College (or: Indoctrination through Immersion)
    I was permitted to go to a religious university. Only. My parents felt that American University was some how suffused with evil (there were pro-choice posters on campus ... which made the 1991 Zuska uncomfortable, but did not make me think I could not attend the school). My parents made enough money that I did not qualify for any type of financial aid. They were not willing to support my decision to go to a school other than one with religious ties - whether that support was in the way of co-signing loans or paying outright. I responded to these edicts in a very bratty and entitled way, and regardless of the fact that they held on too tight to the reigns, I remain embarrassed of my behavior. I should have found a way to make it work for myself. People have done it. I know people who have done it. But at the time, I think that having their support - not just financial, but also moral support, was very important to me, and it would have been very difficult to split paths AGAIN from them. So I was willing to tantrum, and to pout, but not to go any further than that.

    For some reason, I really wanted to be in or around D.C. I felt a magnetism to that political center. But there were no religious schools IN D.C., so I started looking at a certain radius around D.C. I also wanted to go to a relatively large school. I was sick of little worlds; my small rural town growing up; the teeny tiny church we went to - it was boring. There aren't many relatively large religious schools -- at all. Further, not all religious universities were liberal arts. Some were only willing to prepare youths for the ministry: bible courses, mission work, church leadership, and the like. Very few of which were doctrinally permissible for women, and none of which i was interested in.

    I eventually settled on Liberty. They had 5,000 students, and were recently accredited (also a rare thing for the type of religious schools that I was being pushed toward). I could have done better academically. I had my strong GPA from my transfer school, and I could have gone somewhere with a better reputation. But I wanted big, and I wanted to be in driving distance from D.C. Who cares that they didn't even require people to take the SAT? Right? (When I got to school, we laughed that people had filled out applications for their DOG, and their DOG got into the school - unfortunately, I don't think it was a joke.)

    I did not, at that time, know who Jerry Falwell was. My parents' church was tiny - as perhaps I've said before. 100 or so people. We were an independent church, that refused to adhere to the dogma of a specific denomination. I somehow (??!!!???) missed out on the whole moral majority thing.

    In the 2 weeks before I was due to travel down to Lynchburg, Va, I received a little booklet called "The Liberty Way." It had lists upon lists of rules. I kind of thought they were kidding. "women must wear skirts to classes and in all campus buildings before 5 p.m. Pants may be worn on campus, but not to classes, after 5 p.m." huh? "Men are in no circumstances allowed within a 10 foot radius of women's dorms, and vice versa" huh? "all on-campus students must be in their dorm room by midnight." huh? chapel will be held three times per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and attendance is mandatory. Room check will be performed by R.A.'s every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Room check will include: bed made; floor vacuumed, furniture dusted, floor and surfaces cleared.

    I told a friend and she was worried for me. I somehow didn't believe that this stuff could be for real. I had visited the campus the spring before, and I didn't notice it as being "off" like this thing described. Anyway, it was too late. I packed a few skirts "just in case."

    My very early days at school are a bit of a fog. I was a transfer student, so I missed out on some "freshman orientation" stuff. My roommate was a freshman, and she was very conservative, very "Christian." I liked her well enough. There were some girls on my hall who I got along with.

    I know that I was willing to make the best of the situation, and I did not walk in with a rebellious attitude. At all. I was a little worried for some of my "wilder" friends, because I didn't want them to get in trouble for breaking the rules (which were, in fact, very very real).

    In my first semester, I was exposed to a new kind of religion. While Liberty is not officially a "southern baptist" place, but rather an "independent baptist" entity, it has a southern baptist flavor. I was used to tiny little churches in high school auditoriums where housewives and businessmen made up the "praise team" who led songs from the front of the room while shaking a tambourine. This place had a STAGE. And people sang their ever-loving hearts out. They put out CDs. They went on tours. Oh, and did the girls ever wear make up and hairspray. It was just unbelievable. (I'm looking for photos of the girls with the hair ... but they seem to have updated. This is a current photo of the biggest singing/praise group - The Sounds of Liberty. I guess it was 15 years ago when they had the hair. Perhaps one day I'll get that scanner, and share some from my yearbook.

    There was also a huge difference in the preaching. There were true hellfire and damnation sermons. I was literally SCARED on several occasions. It was scary. People came and talked about how hot the fires of hell are, and how they never end, and how it will feel like your flesh is dripping from your bones and how you will wish you could just die so it would stop, but it will not .... unless you accept jesus as your lord and savior ....

    and unless you re-dedicate your life, if you've already accepted him. You had to rededicate all the time, it seems, if you wanted to be really sure you didn't burn up. Forever. I always felt like I had to try again, say the prayer again, and again, and again -- b/c it just never took. I never felt like Jesus was living in my heart, and I never felt like a damned thing was happening to me.

    So I pretty much still knew I was going to go to hell.

    But I tried so hard. I remember one guy came, and he had us make this commitment that we would, for Jesus, fast. Every day. From 5 p.m. until the next morning. My room mate and I decided we would. The man was supposed to come back in 3 months, so we could all revel in how much we gave up for god (i.e., a normal dinner time and any dessert). But he never came back ... it was canceled, he got busy. Whatever. We eventually stopped going to dinner at 4:30.

    I did try for a while to adopt the rules of the religion, even if I couldn't manage to get swept away in the spiritual/emotional tide. We were encouraged to take a stand, and let those around us know that we stood with Jesus. Be the salt of the earth, and all that jazz.

    And from that came one of my biggest regrets in all of my life: As a 18 year old kid, I wrote letters to two of my best friends from high school, telling them that these are the things I believe in, and that I am not ashamed of who I am. Included in the list of the things I "believed in" was that "abortion is murder."

    They both had abortions during high school. Of course I knew this.

    No, we haven't spoken since. [It makes me so sad, and mad just writing this down. Ugh.]

    My roommate left for good after that first semester. She and her parents ran out of money. She was engaged to a boy who was in the service, and didn't see the point in taking out loans when all she was to get married anyways.

    My second semester brought me a cheerleader for a room mate, and a lot less reverence.

    The attempts at being "truly born again" stopped there. The end. Buh-bye. My time at Liberty became a contest as to how much illegal music (yeah, really illegal music .... like Debbie Gibson or something) we could sneak in the room; how long we could get away with hiding a mini t.v.; and how many rated R movies we could watch.

    Seriously ... how pathetic? We were, though, pretty pathetic. There were about 4 of us who spent that semester in the dorm, talking, watching t.v., and watching our "wild" friends dress up and get sexy for their nights in downtown Lynchburg with wild boys and beer.

    For some reason, toward the end of the semester, I decided to run for a student government position. I have no clue how that started .... I think my cheerleader roommate started to flirt with the then-president of the student government, and I got to know him through that. He was running again, and wanted me to run as secretary (I was at that time working in work study position for the president of the university). His extended network and I really clicked, and I had again a new life - this one stayed. The rest of my time at Liberty, as of then, was fantastic. Junior year was best, but even for my senior year, I had a true social network, and I was pretty happy.

    For my junior year: I had an executive position in the student government, I had keys to the whole campus; I had a parking pass that let me park wherever I wanted [oh yeah, and I was able to bring my car, since I had all these responsibilities]; we somehow got out of everything; and this thing here -- The Coffeehouse -- we started it. There were 4 of us who mostly ran it, and it was small then, and it was the most secular activity the school had seen. Poetry, singing, skits ... they all had a somewhat spiritual flavor, or we wouldn't have been allowed to do it, but we also didn't let it turn into Chapel, or even chapel light.

    I think, however, that the best part of that year, and the next 2 or 3 of my life, was my best friend ... I'm going to call her Rose. It is really weird not to use her name. We had known each other through the cheerleader, but I hated her then. I thought she was shallow, and materialistic, and her hair was too big (but not in the "Liberty girl" hairspray style). She had 2 friends who she hung out with constantly, and they seemed to think they were the SHIT. This was during my "watch t.v. every night" phase, though. So I had an odd perspective.

    Before my junior year, I was required to be at school a couple weeks early for student government stuff, and so was Rose: for some reason which I do not remember. I went out one night with a student-government cohort and another girl, and Rose came. "Oh, great." I thought. We ended up together in the backseat of the car for a long drive to see some petrified tree or something. I don't know what happened that day - but Rose and I spent the entire night laughing, and we had just the best time in the WORLD. I'd never had such a good time. Ever.

    We were inseparable from that moment.

    But by the end of that year, we felt like we were all getting older. Graduation was on the horizon, and at Liberty, that means it's time to get married. We had to start looking around for people to couple with. It was REQUIRED. I met my ex in the March of my Junior year, and that put a strain on mine and Rose's "joined at the hip" status. My student government friends were all a year ahead of me, and they were leaving. Things were just different. Some of the magic was gone.

    So, my senior year was kind of blech. Rose and I found a new balance due to my relationship with my ex, and we weren't quite as symbiotic anymore. We moved off campus together and with another friend, and were still each other's primary relationship (the ex was in law school in another state). We knew that I was going to home to my parents' after graduation, and Rose was a year behind me, so she was staying there. She had a boyfriend at that point, and since the ex was gone, it was my turn to feel left behind. I was sick of Liberty. I was babysitting for a family, and spent a lot of time with them.

    Rose and I went to church sometimes. We tried some others in the town, b/c we were sick of Jerry Falwell and his red bloated head. We mostly slept through, and enjoyed the scandalous looks we got as we roamed around town in our sweats at 11 a.m. as the after-church people saw us and knew we weren't praising jesus all morning. We had a pretty irreverant attitude most of the time, and didn't give a shit.

    Our rebellions were still super slight, though. I was definitely not stopping at hand-holding with the ex ... but he was technically a virgin when we got married. Rose and her beau weren't quite so chaste. But that felt private. The church had no call to tell me whether or not a boy could touch my boobs. They were my boobs, dammit.

    I knew Liberty and its ways were not for me. I knew that I would not continue going to that kind of church when I left. Yet, I still felt like the basic tenets of the theology were "right." Like yes, Jesus was God's son. Yes, there is a hell (which I still was pretty sure I was going to); Yes, you had to be married, and you should never get divorced. Also [to be a major theme in the last installment], ABSOLUTELY homosexuality was a sin, and abortion was the HIGHEST of sins. You MUST raise your children in the church. Or else ... they'll be heathens, and evil, and they'll likely grow up to be mass murderers.

    More important to me, and my development as a person, was the non-religious aspects of the ideology which I took on as my own. The opinions on abortion and homosexuality straddled both the religious and political; but I also was a little Reaganite [what I now recognize as a Reaganite]. I campaigned for Papa Bush's reelection and was devastated about what it would mean for this country that Bill Clinton won. Devastated. What I distinctly remember is that I believed in the Welfare Queen. I believed that homeless people had no business sitting on the side of a street holding up a sign while McDonald's was hiring. These things were, to me, Absolute Truths. I was one of those people who was convinced (as a college student with no money, no job prospects, no trust fund, no wealthy parents) that the Republicans' rich-friendly policies were for ME. They would help ME.

    I left school after graduation. I moved back in with my parents to await my wedding (although the ex and I did say we wished I could move in with him - we just knew that it would freak our parents out, and create strife we weren't willing to live with for the rest of our lives). I directed all of my legalistic rage at my sister. Rose moved to my home state, b/c she missed me, and we spent every weekend together. Third accusation of lesbianism: from my parents. Still, it was unfounded, but they were freaking ridiculous. Wanna know what triggered teh suspicion? They drove my car one day, and I had the single "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover" playing in my car. Something about that song made them thing I was having a sexual affair with Rose. Every time my dad walked in the room and Rose and I were watching t.v. on the same couch with our legs intertwined, he yelled at us.

    Then I got married. I moved to Alabama.

    So now comes Part IV. Which will be my Exodus from that ideology, and the things that Changed My Mind. I'll try not to be so long-winded.
    posted by Zuska @ 3:56 PM  
    • At Friday, May 04, 2007 4:48:00 PM, Blogger googiebaba said…

      Zuska, normally I hate long posts, but I was riveted by this story. I think a part of it is because religion has played such a big part in my life.

      If you fail your exams, I am going to feel really bad.

    • At Friday, May 04, 2007 5:42:00 PM, Blogger E. McPan said…

      Dude. This story is really scary (but in a good way)!

    • At Friday, May 04, 2007 10:11:00 PM, Blogger She says said…

      I'm transfixed too. Probably because religion played no part whatsoever in my upbringing. My mom was raised Catholic. I was raised skeptical.

      Still, thanks for the installment. It's like watching a movie or something. And I love your writing style!

    • At Sunday, May 06, 2007 8:49:00 PM, Anonymous andrea said…

      Also have been totally riveted by the story. I understand it well, even if my foray into evangelicalism was just 2 years in a college fellowship instead of this ordeal. I know what it's like to get called in to a special meeting where you get called on the carpet for doing more with your boyfriend than "the Lord" wants you to.

      You have a wonderful sense of humor and sensitivity for your family's motivations about everything.

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