Exploring the Roots of My Conservative, Evangelical Past
The word “roots” has come up two meaningful times for me this winter.
The first, in an Instagram comment from a long lost “friend.” As I was expressing my anxiety about election night for a Biden win on a personal post, she commented “…not every voter wants to pay higher taxes and move closer and closer to socialism…that is what is being voted on tonight. You are not that far removed from your roots.”
I have never hidden my activism. For better or worse. So I am not afraid to be challenged. So the comment from a woman who I have not heard from in nine years, got me thinking. “What are my roots? Just how far removed from them am I now? Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing?”
A few days later after the Biden/Harris campaign was declared victorious, I was on a work call with a consultant we had hired at my work in criminal justice reform.
“I have never in my career called someone with a 731 area code,” he said, “and it got me thinking, where do you live?”
“Hah! Well, I live in California, but 731, is my old Tennessee area code. I haven’t lived there in over a decade, but never managed to change my number.” I shrugged.
“Aaaahhhhh, well in these crazy times, it doesn’t hurt to have something to remind us of our roots.”
Roots are confusing. They serve to keep us grounded in times of despair and desolation. Roots anchor us when we need help finding our way. They keep us safe and secure. But some roots are not good. They keep us tethered to ideas/people/jobs/etc. that no longer serve us. Some roots lead to destruction. And the only way to understand the difference is to dig at those roots and then dig even deeper still, excavating and then examining down to the very seeds that were planted in us that produced those roots. Only then can we determine whether the roots we are tied to are worth pruning, watering, tending, or whether they need to be ripped out.
At my little home here in the San Bernardino Mountains, I have garden of wildflowers. Sometimes, it’s nearly impossible to tell which groundbreaking roots produced weeds and which ones produced flowers. Both work equally hard at cutting violently through the earth to burst forth and grow. It takes a keen eye, a certain knowledge, and a strong, yet delicate touch to pull the weeds out down to the seed without destroying the flowers and making a mess of the whole thing.
But that is what I must do if I am to grow well and whole. I must inspect the seeds planted in my life, examine the roots they produce, and then uproot the bad so the good can flourish.
So what am I to do with these Tennessee roots that I am “not that far removed from?” What should I “remember” about my evangelical, conservative, privileged, abused, confused, questioning, intelligent roots that I should cling to in these “crazy times?”
Over the past ten years, I’ve had many profound opportunities to look in the soil of my soul and examine the seeds and ever-expanding roots that shaped the first several decades of my life. And I have found that some of the hardiest roots planted inside me were those in dire need of excavation. Dangerous roots of black and white thinking were one of many. For example I believed “women must serve their husbands,” “you can’t be a democrat and Christian,” “abortion is the only issue that matters,” “democrats are socialists,” “women should be meek,” “poor people are lazy,” “black people are lazy,” “god hates divorce.”
And here’s the thing, not only did I believe those things without question, but I cultivated the roots I saw in those around me. I wrote blogs centered on the roots of black and white thinking. Everyone who didn’t believe as I was taught, I cast as evil radicals out to “steal, kill, and destroy” our Christian ideals. I ran for congress as a Tea Party candidate to continue to deepen those roots into the fabric of our country. When I didn’t win, I campaigned for candidates who would. I marched front and center at racist Tea Party rallies. And I was good. I went to church every week. Taught Sunday School. Supported my husband without question. Made him the center of my world. I idolized women like Marsha Blackburn and Michelle Bachmann and Ann Coulter. They were the acceptable vision that I, as a conservative evangelical female (who loved to work) could aspire too. Their work was viewed as valid because they perpetuated the Western, White, conservative ideals entrenched in patriarchy and racism. The roots of this culture needs women like them to keep other women like me in place.
And so for a time, my voice was heard. My roots were deep, convicting, and I was seen by many in my community as strong and smart.
But only as long as I towed the line, stayed in that box and didn’t question the roots deepening inside. The entire time I was choking. My roots produced a life filled with desolation, abuse, loneliness, and insecurity. (But that is another story altogether.)
So, to my friend who challenged me to remember that I am not “that far removed from my roots.” To the colleague who casually mentioned the importance of remembering my Tennessee roots…it’s too late. They have been examined and eradicated so that better roots like empathy, humility, discovery, and openness can thrive.
My life is not necessarily easier, but I have found that living in gray is far more colorful and complex. I took the red pill and I’m never going back. As ee cummings says, “the eyes of my eyes are opened.” I have discovered the freedom to question, to challenge, to sit in discomfort without platitudes hurled my direction, or wilting at the eye rolls of the still entrenched. I now explore and express the entire range of emotion: rage, agony, helpless laughter, grief, joy without being told to be quiet or that I’m too much. I am learning to see and accept others for who they are without the filter of my former roots clouding my judgement of them. I am learning to love people without question. And perhaps, most importantly, as I have made room for my own roots to grow, these wonderful roots produced from the seeds I have chosen to embed deep inside and nurture, I am finally learning to love myself in all the same ways.