03 August 2007

Jesus Land

I just finished reading Jesus Land, a memoir by Julia Scheeres. Her story is written from the perspective of her 17-year-old self, and is both sweet and brutal. Her writing is very honest, sometimes disturbingly so, and her sarcastic dark humor flavors the agonizing experience that was her childhood.

Julia spent her teen years in rural Indiana, raised by fundamentalist Christian parents in the 80s. Her parents adopted two African American boys out of a sense of Christian guilt. Much of the story revolves around Julia's close relationship with her "twin" brother, David.

Their parents had no clue about raising a child of color in the cornfields of the Bible belt; the brothers' daily experiences with racism, both out in the world and at home, are central to the story. The parents were emotionally distant and abusive with all their children, and were physically abusive to Jerome and David. They were heavily into the whole Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child deal, to the point of having that bit of Biblery engraved on the two large paddles hanging on the wall.

My high school years were spent in the rural Midwest in the 80s, immersed in The Way, The Truth, The Life as well, so parts of the book had a familiar feel to me. Fortunately, I did not have the home life that Julia and her siblings dealt with -- my parents were not abusive, and though my mom was very religious (as was I), she was not a fundamentalist. The community though, from the school to food, dress, landscape and attitudes, could've been my town.

One thing that personally freaked me out a bit, was the music. Throughout the book, Christian music is the backdrop for the story. Mom continuously blasts Rejoice Radio over the home intercom system, and hymns and religious songs are often referenced. (The intercom is also used to eavesdrop on the kids' conversations, in case any heathenism is going down.)

I knew every single song in the book.

Every single one, y'all. Every hymn, every contemporary Christian hit, every camp song. After all these years, the words, melodies, harmonies -- in some cases multiple verses and even the tenor harmonies -- all still in there.

These songs have been running through my head for the last three days. It is freaking me the fuck out. I'm talking songs like,

Just As I Am
Power In the Blood
Were You There When They Crucified My Lord
All to Jesus I Surrender
Old Rugged Cross
Go To Dark Gethsemane

... like that. The Rejoice Radio hits too -- Sandy Patty, Amy Grant, Keith Green, Petra, those were my tunes in the 80s.

Secular music was sinful. It encouraged wild kids to have sex and become drug addicts. No bump and grind for me, no sir, I put my Keith Green in the tape deck and got my religion on.

So apparently, religious music is still in there, locked away among my neurons and synapses. Scary.

Anyway, this book kind of got in there for me. The racism that David and Jerome dealt with just tore at my heart. Adoption across racial lines is a whole'nuther post. I am not saying I think it's wrong in every circumstance, but I do believe that in many situations it is not the best option for the child. I may get a lot of disagreement on that. I'm in no way saying that every situation of interracial adoption is detrimental. I do think that it is often done by well-intentioned white folks trying to do a good deed who have no understanding of or connection to that child's culture. So the way of dealing with differences lots of times is to just assimilate the child into white culture, as a way to "make things easy" for them. So the child will "fit in" and be "accepted".

That shit doesn't work, in the end. You can assimilate your ass all day long, but it will never be white enough for society to afford you full membership privileges, and then you've lost connectivity to your culture and ethnicity to boot.

These particular parents should not have adopted any child, black or white; they had no concern or understanding of the issues that they brought upon these kids. Mom's answer to everything was "turn the other cheek". It broke my heart and pissed me off, to think of David living this life with no control over his situation, no one to understand, no one to get him the fuck out of Dodge. He was taken as a baby and given unto Jesus and and a white world of ignorance and hatred.

This book made me think of my own choice not to move back to the Midwest. It breaks my mom's heart to have us so far away, and I can't help but feel I'm going to reap what I've sown big time in the Karma department. I have this fear of my own kids scattering to the winds after they leave home, that I will not really be part of their lives, that it will be my Karmic reward for not being an actual presence in my parents' lives as an adult. (not fishing for comments about how that's not true and it will be fine -- I know in my head it's some weird guilt game, but the feeling is still there. Whaddya gonna do.)

My reasons for not moving back to the Midwest revolve largely around the conservative mindset there, and the levels of racism, right-wingery, and Bible-thumping the kids would be regularly exposed to. Not that you can avoid it anywhere in this country, but let's face it, some places are a whole lot worse than others.

I can't say it's just for the kids -- I don't think I could deal with living in that environment any more. Every time I go back to Ohio, it just sets my teeth on edge. A lot of it is subtle. A lot of it is blatant to me, but not really noticed there. I like living in a blue state, I like progressive thought being the norm.

So I struggle with that -- did I make the right choice? I don't know. My mom has MS and can't travel. I knew that, and that's part of the equation. I don't make the kind of money that would allow me to travel back and forth with three kids.

I miss my parents terribly.

On the other hand, the thought of raising kids of color in the Midwest was not something I could reconcile. We -- my ex and I -- made the conscious choice to bring each one of them into the world. I may not have understood all the ramifications at that time, but it's my responsibility to do the best I can with what I know now.

My folks say it's changed, it's not that bad, but their perception of "not that bad" is not the same as mine. Mom says, "There are a lot of East Indian and Asian kids in the schools now; they're so smart! Such good students." (I am just "looking for negatives" when I bring up the whole model minority thing.)

Anyway, this book got me thinking and remembering. I kind of got off on a tangent there. I'd suck ass as a book reviewer. I don't want to give away the story line, so no spoilers, but the story goes a lot deeper than I've mentioned here. I'm glad I read it, and will be looking for future works from this author.


The Radical Bohemian daughter and I are heading to Value Village to drop off some donations and see if she can find any funky clothes to get her style on. Then tonight we are going to see The Tallis Scholars, hello, at St. James Cathedral. Yes, I said The Tallis Scholars, hell yeah! OK, so it's only four of them, performing with the students from their annual summer school, but still. The daughter and I saw the whole group at St. Mark's once -- I have no words to describe that experience. If you like Early Music, you've got to check these guys out. They rock.

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