This is Dave and me at our wedding, 44 years ago today. It was small, just a few people gathered at my in-laws’ house. We were married by Dave’s former football coach who also happened to be a justice of the peace.
My mother was a little bit distressed that we weren’t having a preacher. There was one present, but he was merely a guest. No prayers. In hindsight, I’m really glad about that.
But all the picture-taking, and all the words said over us by Coach Lollis were really not the wedding.
This was the wedding ceremony. That’s Lollis standing there with us supervising our signatures on the paperwork.
Marriage is a legal contract. In the years since, we’ve bought and sold a dozen houses, and opened and closed numerous banking and brokerage accounts, and we’ve signed lots of paperwork.
Signing the papers to get married was just like that (except that buying a house if you have a mortgage involves way more signatures and lots more paper).
Never once did it cross my mind forty-four years ago that not everyone could do what we were doing. In the years since we signed that document, we have almost never (maybe never – I can’t remember a time) been asked to produce it to prove our legal status. We’ve changed our legal residence from one state to another about seven times. Nobody has ever questioned our claim to be legally married. We have taken it for granted, for forty-four years.
If we had to produce that document today, I’d have to hunt for it.
I am so happy to be living in a period where other people are beginning to get the right to do what we did so long ago.
My sincerest wish for them is that one day, they too won’t know where they put that document. They will be able to just take it for granted that when they tell somebody they are married, it will be accepted without question the way our marriage has been for forty-four years.
Cause it’s starting to rain, And my cheeks are stained With all the same old bullshit, misery and pain. . .
And I know I’m to blame, oh, and it’s a lowdown dirty shame Cause John Coltrane is on my radio again. Nathan Davis, “John Coltrane,” from Nathan Davis LIVE
Dave and Nathan and I lived in Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina for several years in the mid-to-late eighties. We moved back to the Greenville area from Southern Pines, North Carolina in large part because we knew that Nate was not likely to get a good education at the Christian school that was part of the Fundy Church From Hell.
The lower-grade teachers were fine. It was the upper grades that concerned us, due to inexperienced, untrained teachers and inadequate facilities.
Because of our indoctrination in fundamentalism, we didn’t think that public school was an option. So we decided that we were more likely to find good education combined with our religion in a town peppered with Christian schools.
At first, it seemed like a good thing to do. Nathan started the fifth grade at Hampton Park Christian School in 1986.
But in the fall of 1988 (his seventh grade year), he began to tell me that he was being bullied. Of course, he didn’t use that word. He just talked about how the guys were teasing him. I told him that life wasn’t always about how much people like you, and that sometimes they just don’t and that he needed to grow some thicker skin.
Sometimes, parents need to clean out the cobwebs in their heads.
One day, just before Thanksgiving, while picking Nate up after school, I couldn’t find him. When he didn’t come to the car after a little wait, I went looking for him.
I saw a circle of boys off to the side of the parking lot with Nathan in the center. They were taunting him and shoving him from one to the other. I stood quietly, getting increasingly enraged, just watching to be sure about what I was seeing. I also was afraid that if I went storming up, I would make matters worse.
They finally saw me, and immediately disbanded. Nate grabbed his book bag and came to the car. On the ride home, I asked him about the incident. He said, “Mom, I’ve been telling you. . . ” And the spider webs cleared. I realized I’d been blowing him off and said, “Tell me again.”
He began to describe ongoing, systematic bullying, led almost entirely by one boy. The kid was one of those adolescents who goes through puberty gracefully. No awkwardness, just an easing into adulthood with good looks, and a tendency to look older than he was. His father was also very well-to-do and drove a very nice car.
I drove a red VW bug.
We got home and had a family discussion about the situation. During that conversation, Nathan told us, in tears (and this was a boy who rarely cried, even as an infant), that if we sent him back to that school, he would die. It was drama, yes, but he was seriously upset.
So we went to see the principal, Bruce Mizell.
He informed us that Nathan had had “emotional problems” ever since he’d been at Hampton Park, more than two years.
I asked him when, exactly, he was planning to tell us about that. He had no answer.
It was one of those conversations where the response is “No doubt the problem is with you.” Anyone associated with Bob Jones University for more than twelve seconds knows about this.
It was also obvious to us that the instigator’s father was a heavy donor and there was no way in hell that Mizell was going to offend the man. The son would slide by. [The last time I checked, the son has a prison record.]
We then began discussing what we might do about Nathan’s “emotional problems.” Mizell reached for the phone book. I thought he was looking up the phone number of some counselor he was going to recommend, but no – he had nobody in mind. He was just looking randomly.
We then mentioned possibilities, like home schooling. His response was immediate and vehement. “Whatever you do, don’t home school him.”
At that point, we both knew the answer to the problem. Whatever this idiot man thought we shouldn’t do was very likely the right way to go. So that’s what we did. And we never had contact with Hampton Park Baptist Church or School again, except for one brief visit Dave made to let Mizell listen to an obscene phone message Nathan received from a Hampton Park student shortly after leaving.
Pretty bad, huh? The graffiti was everywhere. It consisted of only two words, primarily – “wake up” – with the occasional “please” tossed in.
So I began reading the comments. And I got really angry.
There was another one, but it was removed before I thought to get a screen shot of it. It began with something like “Atheists say they don’t believe in God, but are really obsessed with God,” and went on to assume that the vandals were, in fact, atheists.
This is, of course, typical fundigelical-think. Here’s another gem:
Naturally the vandal(s) cannot possibly be “saved.” They have to be people from Outside – Other. This cannot possibly be rooted within. In fact, the vandalism itself is not cause for asking some questions, “Gee, somebody is really mad. Who have we offended and what could be the problem?”
No. Somebody is royally pissed at us, and that’s proof that we are right.
There’s another Baptist church with this self-aggrandizing attitude. I think the name is Westboro. Check ‘em out. Just use Google.
So, I couldn’t help myself. The comments were open to the public, so I commented. And pretty much thought that was that.
But then, I discovered that a friend of mine who has a bigger beef with Hampton Park than I do posted a comment. This isn’t it. I cannot post his comment because it was removed by the Hampton Park page administrators. But this is the gist of it.
And Jeffrey brings up a very valid point. It is now two weeks since GRACE issued their relatively scathing report about Bob Jones University. Anyone who has spent more than twenty minutes immersed in the Bob Jones sub-culture of Greenville knows that Hampton Park is a “BJU church.” From the pulpit to the music to the Sunday school to the day school, and probably to the janitor, many if not most of the people hired there are affiliated with BJU. They are grads or former students.
Is it possible, just a teensy, itsy, bitsy bit, that somebody in Greenville is royally pissed that Hampton Park isn’t implicated in the GRACE report, but probably ought to be? Or that somebody has reason to believe that crappy stuff has gone on there?
I know for sure that it’s a shitty school. I know because we paid them good money for a couple of years to educate our son, and then had to spend the following four years rehabilitating him from the damage they allowed those dreadful kids to inflict on him. I know because I spoke with his teachers. One of them assured me that she thought the way those kids treated Nate was terrible, and that she tried to stop it. But another, older, long-time teacher informed me that Nate had only gotten what he deserved. “No doubt the problem was with him.”
So, here we have a reasonable motive. A report comes out that a lot of people are unhappy about for one reason or another, and Hampton Park looks around at the obvious message sent to them in spray paint and says, “Who? Us?” and blames. . .
Gee fucking thanks.
Let’s talk for a minute about atheists and vandalism.
There is no question that there are more religious people in America than there are atheists. Like, you know, lots more. And religious people not only live and work and hang out – they generally have buildings, churches, where they meet. Atheists? Not so much.
Atheists have billboards.
And not very many of them, especially if you compare them to the number of church signs that are around. Think about the last time you saw a church sign(s) and the last time you saw an atheist billboard.
But this is what happens to atheist billboards, regularly.
It happens so often that most atheists pretty much expect it. Often billboard companies are reluctant to rent space to atheists because they know the vandals are coming.
And you know what Christians have to say when atheist billboards are vandalized?
But you know what? The vandals at Hampton Park couldn’t possibly have been atheists. I can fucking prove it.
Update, Christmas day:
They took down the photos and all the comments. They didn’t want to “stifle conversation,” of course not. But the “conversation” had lost its focus – namely, people telling them how great they are and how sad it all is.
And “speculations” resulted in “tensions.” Hell, yeah, they did. But long before the admins of that page decided to remove the whole thing, they removed Jeffrey’s comment. So they did, in fact, “pick and choose.”
Mama said it was shame about Billie Joe, anyhow.
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge,
And now Billie Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge
Bobbie Gentry, “Ode to Billie Joe”
Years ago, I was a pretty devout Christian fundamentalist. Lest you have doubts about that, here I am (standing, on the right with my head just over the head of the pianist), singing in a trio at church in the early nineties. Calvary Memorial Church, Southern Pines, NC, which I refer to fondly as “The Fundy Church From Hell.”
And, while I don’t have a photo handy of anyone preaching, here’s a newer picture of the same church.
You can see the pulpit clearly to the left of the picture, so you can imagine the hours and hours I spent sitting in that place, listening to preaching and hearing not only stories from the Bible, but all sorts of stories about people. Little moral lessons.
Some were warning stories, like the veiled references in the song above, “Ode to Billie Joe.”
But others were these feel-good, sappy stories designed to draw tears and bring out Kleenexes and soften “hearts” for “the Holy Spirit.”
I was well into adulthood before I began to understand that these little stories were mostly composites and in many instances, totally fake. Preachers used them as “illustrations” and somehow thought it was okay to tell fables like this in order to make a point. And it is. From the time of Aesop, people having been telling stories to communicate larger ideas.
Hell, they even sell books of “sermon illustrations” – in other words, maybe true but probably fake stories that preachers can use to sprinkle around on an otherwise very boring sermon to make it more palatable.
Once the internet arrived, we started getting forwarded email. Remember? With the five-deep “>>>>>” signs all down the part that was forwarded, where you had to hunt to find the actual message buried inside. And they were mostly fake too.
So somebody brilliant came up with the idea of Snopes. They began to check out these stories, so that now you can find out that the story of the adulterous couple is a legend, and is told in various ways, or that the story of the car thief who was smashed in an earthquake is just plain false.
But some of these stories are heartwarming, and who cares if they’re fake? After all, they make us feel all warm and fuzzy, and maybe something sort of like that really did happen, and besides, I happen to like fiction.
Of course, when I buy fiction and read it, I know I’m reading fiction.
Mark is supposedly a real person (a point of some controversy, but he does seem to be real) who is a moderator on the Truth Seeking Graduates of Bob Jones Facebook page. I’m linking to it, but I don’t recommend it, unless you like your truth mixed with all sorts of fabrication and creative stories.
This heartwarming little story is about an immigrant couple who tragically had their child snatched away from them. He goes on to compare that couple with Joseph and Mary, and it’s all so lovely and such wonderful things come of “obscure beginnings.”
There’s a teensy problem, of course. The story of “Ed and Liz” is, like the sermon illustrations of my youth, fake. Mark is referring to the very imaginary Ed and Elizabeth Tozar, the supposed Ukranian parents of Cathy Harris, who was tragically abducted from them and then prostituted for years and years.
I honestly do not know why Mark is recycling this mythology. Does he not know that we proved the whole thing fake months ago? Cathy has never refuted any of this, and in fact, went completely silent about these fictitious parents when we showed that it was all untrue.
But I suppose that’s par for the course. Mark has given us a two-for in this little story.
The Jesus myth is fake, too. Even if there was a Jesus, there wasn’t any census, nor any tax, nor any trip to Bethlehem, nor any miraculous virgin birth, nor any special star, nor any wise men, nor any angels. There may or may not have been a Joseph and a Mary, and a baby Jesus. Maybe.
Does the fact that these folks listen to “sermon illustrations” which are the equivalent of those silly stories that float about now on social media instead of email make them more gullible? I guess believing in one myth makes it easier to swallow the other one.
Telling the story over and over again, even for 2000 years, doesn’t make it true.