One thing Fiddler on the Roof and Fundamentalism have in common

Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite movies. I recently watched a documentary about the author of this work and found it very interesting. One thing I learned was that in the original writings, the father in Fiddler never does reconcile with this daughter Chava at the end of the story. In the movie, the family is leaving for America and the father tells Chava “God be with you” and it is implied that he comes to terms with her choice to marry a non-Jew and that there is a reconciliation of sorts. In the writings, this does not happen. The father is forever estranged from his daughter by his own choice. One of the commentators in the documentary says this is why: the daughter marrying a non-Jew is basically an act that forces him to confront everything he stands for. He can either pick his faith or he can pick his family. It cannot be both.

I like that the movie implies that he picked his family while still retaining his faith and am disheartened to know that the original work by the author did not really end that way. Pretty typical of Hollywood glossing things over and giving us what we really want, a happy ending.

Now we get on to my point. The Fiddler on the Roof is like Christian Independent Fundamental Baptists in at least one way. The denomination (or cult as many people see it) forces members into a corner where they can stick with their chosen style of faith or they can side with their family and friends. It cannot be both. You cannot show acceptance or love for people with different opinions while still holding onto the basic foundation of Fundamentalism. The basic foundation is “I am right, you are wrong, and I cannot allow you to be in influence on me and my children so either we all be the same in every way or you are no longer welcomed”. This concept is one of the things that I hate about Fundamentalism. It makes you choose. Everything is black and white. You cannot stand in the middle. You cannot accept anyone else that is standing in the middle or standing on the other side. They do not know how to agree to disagree nor do they know how to love while still disagreeing. You can forget about expecting most of them to actual learn from anyone outside of their circle so changing their minds is almost never an option.

The documentary helped me understand why people I have been friends with for 15 years would drop me like a hot potato once I no longer attended their church. And why people that have been friends with my husband since he was born are no longer speaking with him. It doesn’t make it okay though.

Oh you had a girl? We know exactly what she will be when she grows up.

Something has really been bothering me lately. I have no idea why I haven’t thought of this before. 

My husband and I were talking about what we might have done in our career paths if we had the option. Neither of us had the support or information to chose an accredited college right after high school. The thing that struck me most about this conversation was the fact that in many, many Fundamentalist circles, it doesn’t matter what family you are from, what church, etc., a girl is never going to have the options a boy might have.

A man is expected to support his family and be the sole breadwinner. Many of the boys in these circles are undersocialized and poorly educated so manual labor type jobs are common. However, there is still a big range of jobs within that type, and many men are able to work their way up to better paying jobs. Many of the boys are prepped for these type of jobs in their childhood. They can still find their way to a job that might be a good fit and one in which they may find a sense of accomplishment and purpose and satisfaction. Their self worth is not solely tied up in their spouse, children, or church although the church can be a strong influence on boys raised this way. 

A girl is expected to stay at home, have babies, homeschool them as well as wifely duties and managing the household. The girls are prepped for this work from babyhood. This type of preparation barely ever translates to a job should a girl need to get a job outside of the home. The vast majority of these types of jobs (caring for children, cleaning houses, etc.) pay minimum wage with no room for advancement. Like the boys, the girls are often undersocialized and poorly educated which further limits job opportunities, should they ever be allowed to work outside the home. They certainly would not have many options at all in the case of a spouse divorcing or abandoning them. 

There is no wiggle room for girls raised this way. You don’t even think about “what do I want to be when I grow up?” because you know the answer. A three year old has the same answer as the eighteen year old. You will be a wife and mom and that is it. If you are allowed to attend a college, it will more than likely be a very small, strict, unaccredited college where you will learn next to nothing while you wait around for a boy to take notice of you. 

All these factors propel girls to marry young to the first boy that comes along. You have one goal in life and if you can reach that goal of marriage and motherhood, then you might have a sense of accomplishment for the first time in your life. You have no other options to find fulfillment in life outside of husband and children. You are expected to give a lot of time and money to the church, but your efforts will almost entirely be limited to grunt work.  By the time you are mature enough to begin to see the big picture, you are 25 with a houseful of young kids and no opportunities or support to do anything else. Ever. 

I find that women my age, 30s, in the Fundamental circles are depressed, bored, understimulated by life and detached from husband and kids. They put on the show of being nice and happy when they have to be aka Sunday morning but the rest of the time, they are lonely and isolated and discouraged. The awful part though is that many do not change at all and raise their girls to be the exact same thing they are. Its an awfully sad sight to watch. When their kids are older, they cannot let go of them, because they have nothing left after motherhood. Many times they are horribly overbearing grandmothers as well. Or the other extreme happens which is even worse to me. Mothers who are so far detached from their children that they are unloving and uncaring when a child is going thru a crisis, when a teen runs away, or when an adult child takes a different path. They are ready and willing to cut these kids out of their life in pursuit of approval from the church. 

I see from my husband’s point of view how limited his choices and opportunities are and even with that said, a girl has about a third of what a boy has. They emerge from the womb with every step of their life already planned out for them. There is no individual there. Her importance is in what she will do and be for everyone else, not who she is as a person. 

One of the many reasons I am no longer in the Independent Fundamental Baptist circles who operate like this. My girls can thank me some day. 

If I don’t get married and I don’t go to college, what is a Fundamentalist daughter to do?

Girls in Fundamentalist circles are raised to be mothers and wives. If they are allowed to attend college, it is usually one particular college of their parents choosing and is many times, unaccredited. This means that employers in real life will not recognize their education nor will they be able to transfer credits to an accredited college or university. I went to a Fundamentalist college. Girls there were NOT interested in meeting people and dating casually. They almost all wanted to find “the one”. “The one” was almost always a preacher boy from a good family and good looking as well. A boy was unofficially considered second class if he was not studying to be a pastor. Bonus points for snagging a guy from a well known pastor’s home. There wasn’t a lot of emphasis put on how he treated others or really any other personality trait outside of “is he going to be a preacher?” and “what church is he from?”. Junior and senior girls started getting desperate and settling for guys. Most of the unmarried staff, even in their young 20s, were considered lost causes. If they were a catch, why were they 22 and not dating yet? or at least that is what people quietly wondered.  I never once heard any girl counseled to put off an engagement, say no to an engagement, or finish their education first. I do know some families encouraged their daughters to finish school before getting married, but that was more of an exception and normally every senior girl was married or engaged or really really close to getting engaged. Many, many girls drop out of school before their senior year and a lot of them drop out because they got married. Of course, a boy was not at all expected to date seriously and it wasn’t looked down upon to graduate without a wife or fiancee. A boy was encouraged to ask many girls for dates while a girl was NEVER to ask a boy for a date, never. The girls were also told to always say yes to a date unless they were married. Even engaged girls were told they should not say no to others! I never understood that and many engaged girls would never date anyone else but their fiance, however I wanted to highlight how screwed up dating in the Fundamentalist circle is. A girl is available unless she is married. She isn’t encouraged to be free to say no to particular guys. You are to give any guy a chance, unless you are married, because you don’t want to be considered mean or rude or frigid. You are to be inviting and charming and ladylike to all guys so they get the chance to practice dating. It really doesn’t matter if you think they are weird or feel uncomfortable around them. This actually encouraged guys to be really harassing toward girls because many girls would back down and say yes not because they liked this boy, but because they did not want others to think poorly of them.

I just want to insert a quick slightly off-topic thought that many girls were highly encouraged to take one or two year degrees. That is all the time they should need in order to find a man. Also, the girls had no intention of working long term after college so it was just a way to be around potential husbands and help create a little income till they got married. There was little to no thought put into a career path or any long term goals. Nor were the girls taught what the real world is……that pastors and missionaries live on very small incomes and most wives end up having to find ways to supplement that. I cannot tell you the number of wives that down the line went back to college or long term jobs because they did not take their college choices seriously and now were stuck either furthering education or working long hours for low wages. 

What happens if you don’t get married and finish college?  You only have three choice. You can stay at the college and work on staff there has ladies dormitory supervisors and secretarial type jobs. (Rarely did I ever see a girl graduate and then go to the staff at a different college. Fundamentalist colleges are notorious for hating each other). You can go to the staff at a church that will recognize the education from that college. These jobs are very hard to find because most Fundamental churches cannot afford very many on staff. One of the only options would be as a teacher at a one of their Christian schools. You must be prepared to work long hours with multiple grade levels and put in even more hours for church activities outside of the school responsibilities. Most of the time, you would live with a church family and you certainly wouldn’t be free to come and go as you please. The last option is to go home.

So we come to the discussion of “stay at home daughters”. It is highly discouraged for a girl to live on their own, regardless of whether they went to college or not. You go home, help at home, help at the church, and patiently wait for God to send “the one”. If he doesn’t come soon, you are to start accepting your life as a single person with grace and a good attitude. All the energy you might have put into husband and children, go into the church. No other pursuit is acceptable and that means that further education or a career will be looked down upon. 

I currently know three “stay at home daughters” from different families. I will share a little bit about their stories and say that not one of them is an exception at all. Their stories are very common within Fundamental circles. 

Girl 1. Pastors daughter who is a nice girl but very unmotivated toward an education. She went to college for a two year degree in a field which she had no interest in. She didn’t met “the one”. She finished her degree, is not using it at all, and is home now doing nothing. She spends a lot of time with her parents, helps at the church and occasionally pieces together doing work outside the church for minimum wage. She is very lost, quiet and depressed. I have also heard that she is quite obsessed with her body, and I personally believe that she may have a eating/over exercising disorder. The other kids in that church (not my church just for the record) are told that she is a success story because she is young 20s, a virgin, helping at the church and still under the control of her parents. Happiness or personal fulfillment are not at all a priority for Fundamentalists.

Girl 2. went to college and within weeks got into trouble with a boy. Enough trouble where both her and the boy were kicked out of school. The family quickly tried to cover the scandal and she is now engaged to a boy that she only spent a few weeks getting to know. She is very young and will be married by 19. This boy is quite a bit older, enough where there is an “ick” factor, but it is common for young men to marry girls significantly younger.  After that, if her and this boy stay in a like minded church, they will be considered a success even though they are both uneducated and will surely face a multitude of issues from sheer immaturity. It is not at all uncommon for girls to get involved with the first boy that comes along after the girls are allowed to date. They have no exposure to boys, no teaching about relationship outside of “boys are bad, don’t have sex”, nor can they navigate the pressure or attention that can come from males. 

Girl 3. went to college but was unable to manage time, money, and other issues that come with living independently even in a college where the girls are boxed in by a huge range of rules. She struggled with friendships and homesickness. It was similar to tossing a junior high girl out of the house. They may think it is fun and exciting but before too long, even they can see that they are unable to care for themselves, hold a job, complete classes and manage relationships because they have never done any of those things and certainly not by themselves and all together at once. She failed her classes. She is home now, helping out at home and at the church. She is struggling to find any type of job, even fast food, because she has no education, very little experience, and a demeanor that shows she is not capable nor confident in the most basics of skills. She also has no financial credit, does not manage her own money and is not being encouraged to move forward in her adult life. Right now, she is still considered a success in the Fundamentalist world because she is living under her parents control and has not gotten into trouble with a boy. 

I think most normal people can see that these girls are set up to fail. They are given no opportunities and very little options. I personally wouldn’t consider an unemployed, uneducated adult child living in my home to be a success but this scenario is looked upon favorably in the Fundamentalist circle. 

I am young and female and I have something to say

As an ex-Fundamentalist, there are some things that make my jaw drop at my new church. Here is the latest: I am currently a part of a book club. We read one Christian selection per month and gather to discuss everything from favorite quotes, themes, and applications of the book. My first meeting had me in awe. Those of you that are ex-Fundamentalist will understand that the following would NEVER happen in a Fundamentalist church:

1. All are welcome. This included any age and gender, both members and non-members. There were absolutely no rules about attending, including no dress code. 

2. The pastor leads the discussion but this is not an opportunity for him to teach or preach to us. I would say that he was speaking maybe 30% of the time with every other person chiming in as they felt they should. No one had to contribute but everyone was welcome. We sat in a circle and the pastor had no pulpit and was seated as well. 

3. We discussed some hard topics. Some particular issues, Fundamentalist would never talk about period. Other issues, Fundamentalist would become so divided over that friendships would be at stake if you were to discuss them. Everyone in our book club was very respectful. In fact, there were a number of issues that the pastor agreed to disagree on or he admitted he didn’t have the answer to. I have never heard a Fundamentalist say “I don’t know”.

4. The youngest in the group was girl around 13 or 14. She was very respectful and mannerly. She wasn’t afraid to contribute ideas and she was obviously well educated for her age. She presented an idea that most adult Christians would consider theologically invalid and incorrect. An elderly man gently questioned her line of thinking and she came to the conclusion that perhaps her idea was flawed. Both parties were very respectful. No one else, including the pastor, jumped in to tell her that “children should be seen, not heard” or that she was silly or stupid for presenting that thought. It didn’t appear that she was ashamed to be questioned or found incorrect. She was confident and secure, something rarely seen among Fundamentalist girls. 

5. Many of the group were well educated and well traveled, especially the pastor. There were others in the group that were small town folks. Everyone’s ideas were listened to and respected. 

It was truly what I felt a Christian gathering should be. Everyone was valued just the same as everyone else. If you walked into that discussion, I am not sure that you would know who the pastor of the church even was. Not because he was “acting like the world” but because he was valuing others and not presenting himself as something different or something special than anyone else. 

The pastor did conclude the meeting by suggesting more books to read. These books came from a variety of authors and I don’t know that all of them were even Baptist (gasp!). Again, something that would NEVER happen in a Fundamentalist church. 

 

Don’t forget, everyone looks better online

Hello fellow parents, I know you are currently seeing all your parent friends post Halloween pictures on Facebook. Of course there are the adorable family themed costumes. Oh look, the Johnsons did a breakfast theme and little Bethany is dressed up as a fried egg! And the Lees did a Mario Brothers theme and Jeff dressed up as Luigi. Look honey, he is even smiling and why can’t you be like Jeff? 

So your kids just pulled a pillowcase over their head before knocking on the door. So they were eyeless ghosts. So what? You took them out trick or treating. You made memories too! Jacked up memories that involved Jr. falling off every porch in the neighborhood but memories none the less. 

Do not be pulled into the temptation of Facebook in thinking that every other family out there had a picture perfect Halloween. Meanwhile, your 2 year old is STILL wearing her costume four days later and the baby got diarrhea after getting into the chocolate. 

Everyone looks good online….better than good. Every family is smiling, having fun, peaceful and carefree in their Facebook pictures. It’s just a picture. It’s not real life. 

You know what that Kathy Miller is saying about you right now? “Shoot, I should have done like that darn neighbor of mine. She one upped me and had home made costumes for her kids! Why does she have to be such a super mom and make the rest of us look bad?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UE6iAjEv9dQ   watch this for a good reminder when you have Facebook/online envy 

31 Days of Thoughts. Day 29.

I am really excited to be a part of a Bible study that is following the Biblical format and really helping people grow. We are meeting with a small group of people in a home. We ALL get the material beforehand and study on our own. Then we come together as a group to share and discuss. There is a leader in the group, but he is a humble, wonderful person who is not afraid to have others contribute. He is a theological student, a husband, a father and a Christian that helps guide the group. We have a variety of people in the group from different ages, cultures and backgrounds. There are no rules to the group and no unofficial rules either. Women are welcome to contribute, and none of the men in the group seem to feel threatened or uncomfortable by the women sharing their thoughts. Everyone contributes in friendship and love. It is wonderful! I feel uplifted just being around Christian people. I have also learned a lot.

I hate to bring up past churches, because I don’t want to appear critical of other formats. I just know that past experiences were very different for me. I think it is important that we all keep a conversation open about what is helpful to  Christians and what is not. 

This is what a Fundamentalist Wednesday night Bible study was usually like for me: 

1. The pastor preached from the pulpit. Supposedly, Sunday was for preaching and Wednesday night was for teaching but in actuality, Wednesday nights usually were “harder preaching” than Sundays because visitors were rare on Wednesdays. The preacher could get away with more on Wednesday nights and not have the fear of scaring away visitors.

2. Very little Bible was used. It was generally one verse or passage read at the beginning of the service and many times, was not referred to again during the message. I will say here though that the assistant pastors at my previous church were better about having more Bible in their messages than the pastor. I really enjoyed some of the assistants messages. 

3. No one else was welcome to speak during the service outside of the pastor, occasional staff like assistant pastors, and occasional special speakers. 

4. There was rarely ever any “heads up” regarding what would be addressed. There was no way to prepare for a message. Likewise, there was rarely ever any suggestions about a follow up to the message such as verses to research, a book to read, or additional information. There was rarely ever any historical or cultural context nor was there very many other materials used such as quotes or thoughts from Christians throughout history. 

5. The pastor would usually ask if there was any questions at the end of the service, but an unofficial rule was that this really wasn’t an invitation to discuss anything further. I really don’t know why the pastor even offered to answer questions, because I could tell he was uncomfortable with this portion. I think other people knew that too and most of the time, no one asked a question. Sometimes when people did ask something, he didn’t know the answer and did not know how to gracefully deal with that dilemma. 

6. The topics discussed became more and more narrow over the years. My husband referred to these topics as “frequent flyers”. They were generally about abstaining from “sin” such as drinking, smoking, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality and rock music. Other common topics were submission, modest dress (95% referring to women not wearing pants), rants against public schooling and other Christian private schooling options, political comments against the president and other leaders, avoiding the “wrong” crowd included unapproved Bible colleges, and various other topics about women including making sure your kids do not come before your husband, being a homemaker, avoiding gossip, and having a good reputation. The other topics included what a Christian should be doing such as reading your Bible and praying (this was said but rarely ever expounded on regarding HOW to do this and WHY), church attendance, church involvement, tithing, and sending your kids to the Christian school. I would say 9 out of 10 sermons were the above topics. 

*I want to pause here and say that it wasn’t all bad. There had to and was enough good there to keep us going for many years. It was much more balanced when we began attending. Things were snowballing in a bad direction though and that is why we left. The messages was the main reason. 

7. Kids were to stay in this service but there wasn’t a whole lot of censure regarding topics with young kids in the crowd. I really was not ready to explain to preschoolers about things of a sexual nature like homosexuality or explain why the preacher was always talking about what women were and were not supposed to wear. 

The above was why we slowly but surely stopped attending Wednesday night “Bible studies”. There was no point in going when you know exactly what will be taught and know that you will leave with a guilty feeling about what you have not been doing and how bad a Christian you have become. It was depressing to be there. At the end, I just hated how discouraged I was after every sermon. Is this really what you want to give your church members? 

31 Days of Thoughts. Day 21.

I read something fantastic in a book whose topic was helping others. I wanted to share a quick thought with my readers. 

How do we help others? How do we share God’s love? How do we show ourselves Christians? 

Exposing NOT imposing. We expose, as best as possible, others around us to Christ’s love. We do not impose our belief system on them. We do not try and force our values on others. 

Isn’t that a great mantra? When you don’t know what to do, how to influence someone appropriately, or how to reach someone, remember this: Exposing them to what I know about Jesus and life as a Christians is a wonderful option versus trying to impose my beliefs on others.