Dreams of Kindness, Love and Grace by Carolyn Berry
A song’s been running endlessly though my mind these days. A Joni Mitchell song I sang often as a teenager, sitting on my bed barefoot, strumming on my guitar … the same guitar my teenage son now strums as he sits barefoot on his bed, singing songs of his generation. In my mind, I hear …
“And the seasons they go round and round And the painted ponies go up and down We’re captive on the carousel of time We can’t return we can only look Behind from where we came And go round and round and round In the circle game.”
I was raised in a family fractured by out-and-out religious warfare. Grandma Reynolds and Aunt Joyce were L.D.S. (Mormon), Great Grandma and Grandpa Halverson were Missouri Senate Lutheran, Grandma and Grandpa Halverson were American Baptist, Great Aunt Irene was Jehovah’s Witness, Great Grandpa Todd and his Tennessee-kin were tent revivalists and some of them even snake-handlers, Mom Southern Baptist, my half-brother Pentacostal. Daddy used the Military as his religion … sprinkled with a little Brotherhood of Elks. In the mind of each respective believer—only they held fast to the one supreme faith. They and only they were heaven-bound, while their pitiful, deluded family-members would burn in the fires of hell for all Eternity. And deserved it.
I took the only viable path I could see and attended Mom’s church with her. In many respects, it was a great choice for me as a young person. In this congregation, I knew precisely what I had to do—which boxes on the list to check—to know I was “good”. To be adored by a church of 150 people. To satisfy the blood-thirst of Jehovah God, who would surely strike me down if I sinned. Yet .... I struggled internally with the tenets of fundamentalist doctrine.
At home behind my closed bedroom door, I would sit barefoot strumming my guitar and singing Joni Mitchel, loving her lyrics but not quite knowing why.
The decades of my 20s and 30s were spent in deep excavation of who I truly was and what I truly believed. When my children entered the world in the years just before my 30th, a clearer sense of personal center and spiritual power was just beginning to take root. I was devoutly intent not to indoctrinate these bright souls in my care with any single Anglo-religion.
I offered a buffet spread with rich experiences through their formative years: a full Catholic Mass, a Baptist Easter Sunrise service, Lakota Sioux sweat lodge, Tibetan Buddhist monks and the quiet teachings of their lama, solstice and equinox ceremonies, Unitarian Universalist services, Jewish saders and Hanakah. I exposed them to awe of the natural world, read them the words of Jesus. I taught them that the Creator is in all … that spirituality isn’t the same as religion, that God isn’t bound by walls or pipe organs or offering plates.
Fast-forward a decade. My firstborn and only son—who I raised to be open and accepting to a variety of expressions of spirituality, without judgment or self-righteousness—has converted to New Testament evangelical faith. He sports the look and speaks the jargon. With all of the openness I had hoped to instill in this sensitive young man, he “found” a faith frighteningly similar to the stiff-necked separatists of my far-right upbringing. While he plays the very same guitar I played when I was his age. And so … Joni Mitchel returns to my wondering soul and her lyrics hit me in a new and ghostly way.
Should I react with judgment to my son’s new-Believer tendency to judge other with a sense of “saved” superiority?
Do I discourage him from his dream of attending a small religious college to become a youth minister?
No. I realize that if I am to live my beliefs, I must hold to a deep truth: while this new direction is my son’s choice, it is truly MY lesson. In merely one generation—at the age of emancipation—my son has returned to a place where I once lived, but left by choice. His choices are his to make, as were mine.
Strangely it’s a verse from the Bible that now comes to my mind. “Bring up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it”. Somehow it’s comforting, as it echoes Joni’s notion of seasons going round and round in those circle games.
Carolyn Berry serves professionally as a public policy dispute resolution coordinator throughout Oregon. She is also a writer, a social/environmental activist, and public speaker. Contact Carolyn at [email protected]