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Family Stories

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I grew up with stories my mom told about her own childhood. Most of them were oft repeated, yet they were more like parables than stories with a plot, characters, and a central conflict. Nevertheless, I’m reluctant to just let those stories fade away. They form a part of the backdrop to my own childhood. They carry a meaning, at least for me, that goes beyond the simple events they often recount. So I plan to tell some of them, as much as I can remember of them.

My mom was born Iva Lorraine Green, the first girl after four boys. Her older brothers were Marshall (named after her dad), Herman, Hershel, and David. She had two younger sisters, Emogene and Donna. As the first girl, she got teased a lot by her brothers and had to shoulder the responsibilities of “women’s work” on the farm as soon as she was old enough to stand at the sink and scrub dishes or boil water on the stove. Her brothers used to have real pissing contests. They would take turns pissing on the side of the barn. The one who could make his mark highest would win. I can imagine Iva, her green-eyed round face framed in dark curls, peeking around the corner of the barn to watch them. On the farm, there wasn’t much place for the prudishness of city life. She saw hogs castrated, kittens drowned, chickens butchered – all the normal business of farm life so foreign to urban and suburban dwellers.

I don’t know how old she was when Hershel was killed. It may even have happened before she was born, or she may have been too young to remember it. Herman and Hershel had been out sledding. They were on their way home, Herman trudging along the country road to their home, pulling Hershel on the sled. A car came hurtling over the hill. The driver, a neighbor who was drunk, did not see the sled with Hershel on it. He ran it over, killing Hershel. Herman blamed himself the way children do when anything bad happens.

Some time later—months or years, I do not know—Herman developed appendicitis. It’s a condition that runs in my family. Some of my siblings and some of my children have had it. Like them, Herman endured the pain uncomplainingly far longer than most people do. By the time he acknowledged being in pain, it was too late to get him to a hospital. His appendix burst. Before he died, he cried out to those around him, “I see Hershel and the angels coming for me.” I’m sure that this is one of the incidents that made Iva so certain of her faith in later life.

I think Iva was in fifth grade when she first saw Chuck, a boy a couple of years older who went to the same school. I don’t know know where or how they first met. At one point she was at a school program with her parents. She turned to her mother and said, “You see that curly headed boy in the second row? I’m going to marry him some day.” That boy was my father. They fell in love in high school, and she quit school to marry him when she was only sixteen. They eloped to Kentucky, where she didn’t need parental permission to marry. She still needed to be eighteen, though, so she wrote the number 18 on a slip of paper and put it in her shoe, all so she could claim without technically lying that she was “over eighteen.”

While Chuck and Iva were dating, they went with some friends to a swimming hole in a nearby river. Anyone who has ever gone swimming in a river knows that the water is not clear, especially after a few swimmers have stirred up the muck from the bottom of the river. Another feature of river swimming is that one was sometimes joined by other swimming creatures, particularly snakes. Iva wore a modest, black swimsuit with a top that tied around her neck. As she was swimming, she saw a long, black ribbon slither by in the water near her. Screaming in horror, she jumped up out of the water only to find that the top of her swimsuit had come undone. With every eye on her, she ducked back into the water to put her swimsuit top back on.

One of Chuck’s classmates, another boy named Ray, also admired Iva. The three of them went on a hayride together along with other friends. Snuggled down in the hay, Chuck reached his arm around Iva. Ray likewise reached his hand toward Iva, hoping to hold her hand without anyone noticing. Instead his hand met Chuck’s, and he grabbed it thinking it was Iva’s. Chuck and Ray held hands through the whole hayride, Chuck never letting on that he knew the hand he was holding was Ray’s.

These are some of the stories I heard from my mom during my childhood. They were told over and over, so I’m sure my brothers and sisters also remember them. My dad will also recognize them. I invite them along with Donna and Emogene to comment, share other stories they might know, and correct me where I’m wrong.

 

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Aphorisms

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  1. Those who can’t see the future are condemned to repeat the past.
  2. No one is more serious than a child at play.
  3. It is very hard to believe in strange miracles and very easy to believe in ordinary ones.
  4. God likes everything. That’s why everything exists.
  5. Painful freedom is better than comfortable slavery.
  6. God’s plans for you always include more adventure than you would plan for yourself.
  7. The finite and temporal are beyond human comprehension. How much more the infinite and eternal?
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A Skeptical Christian

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I’m a skeptic.

When people repost articles on Facebook that sound fishy to me, I check them out on Snopes. I fact check. I look for inconsistencies. I think about what was not said as well as what was. I want to know the author’s agenda. I makes it really hard for me to toe any ideological line. I’m a skeptic and always have been. There are some things I just can’t swallow.

Most skeptics have a hard time believing in God, and I confess I am no exception. But I’ve had an even harder time believing in Nothing, which seems to be the only alternative. When I read a story, I am convinced that someone wrote it. When I see a painting, I am convinced that someone created it. I can’t quite make myself believe that there is no one behind the Universe, that it arose by chance from an instability in an infinitesimal Nothing.

I also can’t quite make myself believe that I’m crazy. Of course, I must be a little crazy, like everyone else, to believe in anything I can’t see or touch or smell or hear or taste. Yet even the staunchest atheist believes in invisible things, whether he admits it or not—things like love, justice, anxiety, freedom, and responsibility. While it’s true that such things are detectable, they are not deducible from sensory evidence. If we treat them as illusory—unreal—we end up with an ethics in which the only right is superior force and the only wrong is weakness. So I admit to the normal, everyday craziness that makes us sane.

I don’t admit to being really crazy, though. I don’t hear voices when no one is speaking. I don’t see things that aren’t there, at least, not while I’m fully awake. I don’t obsess over germs or chemicals or aliens or government spies. But I also can’t deny that I have had spiritual experiences. I have felt myself to be in the presence of Someone who makes me feel both small and capable of daring. I’ve had my thoughts interrupted by an interior Voice speaking things I could not have thought on my own. These experiences have persuaded me that there is an invisible world as real in its way as our visible world. Perhaps even more real.

In addition, of course, I was raised as a Christian, saturated, in fact, in a Christian subculture while the world around me was becoming decidedly more secular. Yet I have met countless others raised in a similar way who nevertheless departed from their faith. It was therefore natural, I suppose, that my fundamental belief in a spiritual world (arising, remember, from a profound skepticism about the physical world) should take on all the trappings and accoutrements of Christian faith. No one can say, however, that I have an unexamined faith or that I believe because it is “easier” than thinking. I can’t even imagine what that means. Nothing in my life has been harder than holding on to my faith. I don’t think my experience is unusual, either. Faith requires active spiritual and intellectual engagement. Faith is a fight. It is not for the fainthearted.

One thing I have learned: that God is love. He commands us to love because he loves, and we are intended to be like him. He even loves his enemies. He even loves skeptics like me. So it saddens me to see Christians engaged in vitriolic arguments, saying hateful and hurtful things in the name of “truth.” Jesus denounced sin but not sinners—with one notable exception. He denounced hypocrites. He called them snakes, whitewashed tombs, play actors, swindlers. Hypocrisy was the one sin the fledgling church could not tolerate. What does love do? “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a).

So, fellow Christians, when you disagree with someone, do so in love. Disagree in ways that protect the other person; trust them; show that you have hope for them and that you will not give up on them. That’s what love does.

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