Category Archives: Developmental psychology

The Origin of One Fundamentalist Baptist Preacher

Well, I’m giving up! I was born and raised to be a preacher and I’m finally gonna just do! I’m “coming out of the closet,” borrowing a metaphor that Fr. Richard Rohr uses to describe one who finds the courage to “come out” of hiding and be true to his inner most self.  So I will “preach” here though not in any formal sense as my approach to life and to the Bible is literary, the metaphor now prominent in my approach to life

This “virus” has cursed me from earliest days of my life, and technically even before as my dear mother had promised me to the Lord if He would let her have a son, having “struck out” three times already with my three sisters. And one of my earliest memories was standing on a feather bed in what we called “the splinter room”, wobbling so as to accommodate the give and take of the mattress, holding a Gideon’s New Testament in my right hand, and “preaching to momma” as she was ironing.  I must have just started fumbling with language as the only words from the Bible that stuck in my imagination were seven words from the book of John, “John the Baptist…locust and wild honey.”  Mother was preoccupied with ironing for a family of six…later to be eight…and at first did not give me the attention that I desperately needed.  I can still feel the desperate need for mother to look at me, give me an “atta boy” of sorts as I stood there reciting the same five words repeatedly, bible out-stretched in my right hand like I’d seen the pastor do in church, and hungrily looking for her attention. She finally did, and I’m sure it was much more quickly than I remember; she paused as she finished ironing one of my shirts, looked at me, made eye contact, nodded approvingly, and then resumed her ironing. I must have just beamed in my heart for the experience is still vividly intense in my heart some 64 years later.  And yes, this anecdote reveals volumes about the heart machinations that I’ve wrestled with over my relationship with my mother.

This “virus” finally came to a head when I was sixteen years when I “announced my call to the ministry” and “surrendered to preach the gospel.” I had known this was my destiny, my calling, and at last I gave into the itch and began scratching it.  I took comfort in finally having an identity, knowing that I could dutifully “walk through life in the closed cab of occupation” (W. H. Auden) and no longer wrestle with the existential question, “Just who in the hell am I?” But two years later, though the itch was still there, I began to realize that all of that “scratching” was not assuaging the hunger in my heart, a deep-seated need for an identity grounded in something other than indoctrination. After doing a year’s time in a Baptist Cemetery…oops, I mean “seminary,” an experience that deeply troubled my soul. With great shame and humiliation, I renounced my call to preach, taking decades to understand how “shame and humiliation” is often the driving force of an identity that is only “performance art.”

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Racism is About More than Race

Racism is about an early development in the unfolding of the “original germ of being” which we are when that that “gleam in the eye of our father” suddenly bring us into this time/space continuum.  (I apologize to my mother who could have had some equivalent of this “gleam in her eye” but I’m sure patriarchy had taken that capacity from her in her early youth.)

As we unfold in our neonate state, we begin the process of biological differentiation in which we separate ourselves from the maternal matrix which was our origin.  This “differentiation” is the early phases of “object separateness” which will not conclude…and in some way never does…until our adulthood.  This requires a biological ability to separate ourselves from the biological morass which is our origin and begin to establish ourselves as separate and distinct. This is a physical/biological/neurological process which at some point after birth becomes more a function of a separate and independent human will.  Without this “separate and distinct” human will, we are fated to live our lives in the grip of unconscious impulses the knowledge of which will be banished from awareness.

Racism has its origin in this need to create an “us vs. them” paradigm starting with drawing distinctions between ourselves and our mother, and shortly thereafter our father, our siblings, and then the social world which we will find ourselves implicated within.  In many, if not most cultures, a significant development is when we begin to distinguish ourselves from various social categories.  In my case, being raised in the American South, one of the earliest “distinctions” that I drew was between myself, my very white family, and “those blacks”, then described as “n…..s.”  This was, and still is, one of the bedrocks of my emotional/psychological/spiritual existence for in the very important socio-cultural arena I was born into the “n…..s” were so readily “them.”

Socio-economics is relevant to this matter as I was born into a “po white trash” in central Arkansas in 1952.  I make that point with some reservation, for I am very proud of my origins and realize that the context in which I “discovered America” was totally happenstance.  But being from an impoverished Southern family in 1950’s America, the “n….s” were a primary embodiment of difference and without this “difference” we cannot exist as a group or as an individual.

Here I have put on the table a problem which is beyond the grasp of reason–how do I escape the basic human problem of “object separateness?”  How do I bridge the chasm that separates humankind from each other?  How do I give up that “us” vs. “them” paradigm? A friend of mine has a bumper sticker which answers the question, “Awareness is all.”  Simple awareness of the problem is the beginning of the answer.  If one can hold within his mind a contradiction like this—“I am my brother’s keeper, no I’m not”—the experience of paradox can begin to unfold in one’s heart and the grace of understanding can begin to flow through one’s encrusted, linear view of the world.

I must issue a caveat re my earlier point that racism is “still” part of the bedrock of my soul.  My point is that at the stage of development in which this was etched into my brain, the “recordings” are never erased though with “awareness being all,” we can learn to mitigate their influence and evolve a mind/brain/heart which allows us to see unity where we once only saw difference.

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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/literarylew.wordpress.com