This past RevGalBlogPal's Friday Five -- which I didn't join in simply because I didn't have time or energy for the degree of reflection needed to comment intelligently on the good questions -- was all about "rules," specifically the spoken and unspoken rules that have guided our relationships.
I came from a family with a lot of unspoken, subtextual rules, not all of which were conducive to a healthily functioning family. One such rule was, "Don't disrupt the household peace by making your father angry or your mother upset." Because my dad was a very angry man, one whose life frustrations and limitations would, with regular frequency and little provocation, erupt like Krakatoa, with yelling that would literally shake the walls of the house. My mother was a very fearful, emotionally brittle woman; earlier in her life she'd had what they used to call a nervous breakdown, and after that point her ability to process anxiety was very limited. (For those of you who've read Jean Shinoda Bolen's book comparing dysfunctional, power-over family relationships to the Teutonic Ring cycle -- this is all familiar territory.)
When I was in middle school, around the end of the school year I took the pre-band music aptitude test administered by the school and received the highest score of my class. A few weeks later, at the beginning of summer vacation, school band teacher came to our house to congratulate me, to introduce himself to my parents and to explain the school music program to them. My father, without missing a beat, told the band instructor that he -- working man who breaks his back for long hours every day to pay the bills -- did not have time to chauffeur me back and forth from practices and ballgames and furthermore wasn't going to waste money on purchasing a musical instrument that was going to do nothing to further my ability to find a job as an adult: "We're not interested. You can leave now, and don't come back." My mother burst into horrified, embarrassed tears as the stunned teacher backed out of the house. That was the precursor to one of those epic domestic fights that live in family memories for decades. I think my mother wound up taking to bed while my father cursed and slammed doors and avoided my presence. I was numb; I retreated to my room and to farm fields for days.
My lessons from this little familial episode, and all those surrounding it before I finally left home: "If something good happens to you, something bad will inevitably follow"; "Don't do anything, even a good thing like acing a test, that is going to make other people angry or sad"; and, most importantly, "This is all your fault."
As you might imagine, it's taken some therapy for me to see how messed up my parents' relationship with one another and with me actually was, to see how misplaced my own shame for thinking that there was something wrong about me that precipitated these cycles of emotional abuse, and to grieve for myself and my lost opportunities as well as for the brokenness of my family.
Still, while catching bits and pieces of the CWA debate last week, even with the jaundiced eye of a natural cynic who can sometimes find such exercises in group discernment a little precious -- Hey! The ELCA is officially against malaria! Yay, us! -- I found myself experiencing that same feeling of doom I felt all those years ago, sitting at our kitchen table with my music aptitude test in my hand while my father thundered and my mother wept and cowered. I wanted to run -- to my room, under the covers; to the dark, dust-moted, fragrant comfort of the hayloft; to the grove at the far end of our pasture where I could sit under one of the ash trees and hug my dog, crying into his thick fur, and plot my liberation. Someday...someday...things would be different.
I want to say that I greeted the news of the CWA vote on LGBT participation in the ordained and rostered leadership of the church, and on the recognition, blessing and call to accountability of committed, monogamous same-sex relationships, with relief and rejoicing. I want to say that I found the general tone of sobriety and prayerfulness, and call for mutual respect and civility comforting and refreshing.
But on some level I'm still sitting in the dark, thinking, "This is all your fault. Again."