Deconstruction of a Southern Girl

Folks who have read Aberration Nation over the last five years likely know that I was raised in the US Deep South, Louisiana to be exact. I grew up in the midst of an extended Christian family focused on fundamental values which included speaking in tongues, Bible studies, church three times a week, Christian outreach, Sunday school, church camp, family prayers, laying on of hands, hands reaching up to God, and dancing in the aisles.

Many of my relatives were well meaning but some were troubled.  In the end, they were all merely human.

I was taught through the church, and the Southern culture supporting it, that men are inherently superior to women. As if that wasn’t enough, there was an underlying message that everyone was superior to me. I was told to lay down my life for my enemy, love him, give him my coat, turn the other cheek and suffer for him.

I was taught that sex was bad.  That it’s the key motivator of men and represents what they ultimately want and need from women.  Watch out!  But if men are your enemy, go ahead, lay down that coat to please him, Sweetie.

Before I ever committed sins above a level 2 on the 1-10 scale, I was convinced that I was a doomed sinner and the only possible hope for me was Jesus Christ’s forgiveness.  I was put in a room of children being lead to speak in tongues, and looked at disapprovingly when I didn’t do it, when I couldn’t figure out how, when it just didn’t “hit” me after at least an hour of opening myself up through prayer and begging God to anoint me with his loving power.

I’m writing about this because I just finished a work of art titled, “Deconstruction of a Southern Girl (the haunting).”  I want to explain, and I don’t want to feel this deep need to apologize to those I grew up with who are now raising their children the way we were raised.  I hope that they are all happy and successful; I don’t judge them or their choices.  I read their Facebook posts with interest, all the Bible verses and praises to God, and I envy them at times.  Sometimes I feel that if I’d just been able to stay behind a certain green curtain, to somehow resist or avoid yanking back what shielded the great wizard of Oz, I would still be there posting Bible verses on Facebook, pleasing a mother who routinely quotes scriptures on how Christians have a duty to judge others, 100% certain that I was headed to heaven.

Oh, the tears and prayers that will ring through the hearts of those Southerners who love me when this article is read.  I feel it already.  Part of me wishes God would swoop in, reveal himself, and rescue me.  But, you see, I could also write a treatise about why that culture, those beliefs, and in a sense, that interpretation of God, didn’t work for me.  Why it won’t ever work for me.  If I had the time I could do that.  I could lay out my journey from little Southern church girl with pigtails to Philadelphia/New York professional woman, artist, and mother.  It would not be a pretty story but it would be filled with honesty and revelation.  A type of honesty that I wasn’t shown by the church or many of the people who lead me there, who held my hand and then broke my little fingers one by one.Last week I had a dream that I was with my extended childhood family.  We were all sitting around my grandmother’s table holding hands.  They were praying for me.  I looked up at one of them and said, “I’m lonely.”  It was heartbreaking because a part of me is lonely.  It always has been even in the midst of all those hands reaching up to God, all those promises of love and understanding in the name of Christianity, many of which were broken.  I woke up missing my family and wondering if God was telling me something.  Because you see, no matter how far I go, or what I believe now, I’m always drawn back to those days of church camp and interpretation of tongues in the same way a child continues to be drawn to a mother who abuses her or a lost dog returns to a home that was cold.  My friends who still live that life would smile and say, “Yes, Penelope! God is speaking to you!”  I know exactly what they would say because I am them and they are me.  I understand the way it works, and that’s what makes it haunting.

Salvation Wasn’t Meant to be a Weapon

Maybe I’m just too simple to understand how to merge everything I know, feel, observe, and have experienced, into the fundamentalist Christian message of the Deep South in the 70s and 80s, or how to carry that into my adult life.  No one can tell me that I didn’t embrace the message.  I did!  But as I grew up, I realized that the life laid out before me was not the one I wanted. It wasn’t the one that made sense to me or that I was capable of living.

I knew I would fail, and so I set out, consciously or subconsciously, to find something different.  I don’t yet know what lies at the end of that path.  The story is much more complex than I’ve describe here, of course.

The Faceless Woman … detail

It’s one filled with demons and satanic influences, a multitude of judgmental words, betrayal, and selfishness that consistently negated the messages of love coming at us from every side.  Let’s face it.  There’s a big slice of life that sucks.  It’s hard and gritty and cruel.  Pretending that it isn’t, letting ourselves fall under the illusion of “cleanliness” and “Godliness” can leave us open to devastation.

So here I stand, a deconstructed Southern girl, still finding my place.  I have a calling, and although it’s not the traditional calling from God that those of my past would have me hear, it’s powerful and otherworldly.  It’s mighty and loud, ringing in my ears.  If there is a God, he put a unique type of music inside me.  It has always been there, trying to get out, trying to be heard.  Struggling to evolve through my haunting past and the responsibilities of the present.  I’m running now as fast as I can toward a place where my tune can be heard … and loved, but the deafening crowd follows.

Wish me luck …. and pray ….

Deconstruction of a Southern Girl (the haunting)
36″ x 48″ Acrylic on Canvas, Mixed Media

One thought on “Deconstruction of a Southern Girl

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  1. I can't relate to growing up this way, I adopted it after my first husband became “saved” and relentlessly worked on me for 3 years. My X was raised Pentecostal so it was a natural progression for him to fall back to his roots. I was separate from my own family so really there was no where else to go emotionally. I lived this life at first with extreme commitment but I was always looking out the window. I always knew how strange it was and that there was something innately wrong with it, but it became home to me. I too though finally spoke in tongues or fell back when I was “pushed” as hands were laid on me. I wanted it to be true. After a few outstanding incidents, I had to admit to all that it was an unreasonable choice and I could accept those beliefs no longer. It was a divorce. I remember someone who had been close to me before, giving me the salvation message. I finally said, “Stop, you don't realize how many times I have used these tactics on others, my own self?” I know that they all think I never truly had a “real” relationship with God. If I had in there minds I would never have turned my back on it all. I was raised by agnostic parents and I feared the idea that there was nothing coming later. I have gone back to my roots though and back to not knowing anything for sure. My biggest and most profound regret is that I raised my daughters this way. They hate me now.


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