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3.07.2006

Speaking Truth to Power

tuesday's upi cloumn
So There I was…

…Sitting in a Wednesday night Bible study. I was a very young adolescent. The church was small, Midwestern, Christian and conservative. A volunteer churchman was teaching the class that muggy summer night. He was going on about the creation story in Genesis with a special emphasis on the place of man and woman in the story. He was trying to make the point that because man was made first that this clearly put him in charge. I spoke up and said something that indicated that I didn’t think this was very good exegesis - I mean seriously, if that is the rule then the dolphins should rule us - ok, maybe not such a bad idea. My comment brought the undivided attention of teacherman who said;

“Really, Miss Peggy; and why, then, do you think that God made man first?”

“I dunno; ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’?”

I don’t remember his response, although I think there was minor sputtering involved. I do remember that my mother stifled a laugh, and shot me a look. I expected that look to involve disapproval. I was surprised to see amusement, and maybe a little bit of pride in my mother’s eyes. At the time she said nothing. Later she spoke to me, in private, and her words were about refraining from the temptation to humiliate and mock people in public.

You see, my father was a strong, good man -- a natural born leader. But he did not rule my mother. She had a sense of self, rooted in God’s love for her, and it could not be shaken, oppressed or ruled. She was my father’s -- any man’s -- true equal. At her breast I got not only physical antibodies, but also spiritual and emotional antibodies. I grew up resistant to oppression. I learned to listen, but I let no one do my thinking for me. I found my voice early. I practiced using it until it became strong and even occasionally disciplined.

I learned my Bible, and I learned it well, but I also learned that the purpose of religious education is not the indoctrination of beliefs, but the inoculation of invincibility.

A couple of decades later I found myself sitting in the anteroom of a guitar studio. I was eavesdropping on my 13 yr old daughter and her wise, gentle and gifted guitar teacher. Mr. Walt had student recitals twice a year. Emily loved her guitar and loved Mr. Walt, but hated recitals. At the age of eight she just went along with it, by ten she was resisting, but could be bribed. At early adolescence she found her voice -- she told me that she wasn’t going to play in this year’s recital, and none of my tricks worked. I liked the recitals. I liked seeing my beautiful child shine. I sat there hoping that Walt would talk her into it, one more time. He asked, he cajoled, he tried minor guilt and gentle manipulation. Emily held her ground. Then my thinking took a radical shift -- I felt my own, now deceased, mother’s presence in the room, and she was rooting for Emily. I realized that my daughter was holding to her sense of self in the face of the temptation to please someone she respected, but with whom she disagreed. I changed my allegiance.

Emily continued to play her guitar but never played in another recital. The inoculation took; like her mother and grandmother before her -- she was and is invincible – any time she wishes to be.

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