Money Drunk Money Sober : what my family religion taught me about God and money

For this time period, I am working through Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan’s book Money Drunk, Money Sober before I work through the Prosperous Heart. The following blog entries are in response to prompts and experiences from the book. I see this as an extension of my Artist’s Way work. Some of my entries are jarring and highly personal – any program of sobriety and self-improvement demands admitting dysfunction both personally and in family, and it also calls to admit some painful truths. While not everything I work on appears here, a number of realities do. I have a genuine body of work thanks to my work on the Artist’s Way program, and I can’t ignore the changes the continual commitment has brought about. Because of that, I also can’t ignore what going further into the harder aspects of the program – like facing money issues – has the potential to improve.

While I consider my experience with my childhood church just fine until I left it, there were in fact some serious problems with the way I was raised to relate to God at home.

My father was a Catholic who “converted”-ish to Catholicism to shut my mother up. My mother was a Protestant who was quite smug about how her “superior” faith had “converted” her husband (it never really did. Dad privately expressed agnostic views to me well into my teens, and was not assured of God as a reality until he became involved in Freemasonry.)

Notre Dame

Looking back from the perspective I have as a priestess with a faith based on God and the dead as part of my physical reality, and not from that of a child who places faith in a parent whether she deserves it or not… my mother was exactly the kind of person Jesus wanted his followers to ignore. Smug + faith do not mix, and a sense of faith should have absolutely NOTHING to do with “winning.” In all things, my mother was a model of morality in our home – and thus a model of being a sore loser when reality did not confirm her rather severe and willfully spiteful racism, classism, and homophobia biases. Looking back I’m convinced she cared more about “winning” / “being right” and looking good to our neighbors than she EVER did about living a good, honest life. She put way too much effort into finding people to hate and avoiding all self-examination for faith to be part of her truth.

My conversion to Wicca was not about feminism, or the environment, or any of that. It was about living honestly. That was what was always missing in my childhood household faith. But I digress.

In the context of my family religion, I learned I was NEVER to ask God for anything. I would hear my mother talk about how the “rich” people at church never put as much in the offering plates as did the families that struggled. I would know – even though I shouldn’t – who used the food shelves. And of course, we thanked God for dinner every night.

But I never heard anyone asking God for anything, unless you count the “give us this day our daily bread,” thus killing any petitioner with a gluten problem.

In my world, God did NOT provide. My parents also did their damnedest not to provide to me – but they did provide, and richly, for my sister. To my knowledge my mother still provides for her. It was all very Jacob and Esau, which explains why Jacob Have I Loved resonates with me to this day. I was never to ask my parents for anything, either – but they were free to demand of me whatever they wanted, no matter how unreasonable, unrealistic, or financially crippling it might be for me. This they did freely, although there was a point where I would say no despite the tantrums because homelessness was NOT worth satisfying my mother’s ego or enduring the living hell she made every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Notre Dame

Strangely, I did learn that God did answer when I asked for something – or, more specifically, Jesus did. If I prayed to Jesus, prayers were answered. That’s what I did when I wanted to be with my junior year boyfriend more than anything in the world – I prayed to Jesus every night. And somehow my mother relinquished her suffocating control enough for me to have an actual boyfriend that I actually had actual feelings for – and one who did not fit into her social agenda for herself or for me. This really was something of a miracle, because while my mother was much more lax with my sister (despite my sister’s obvious and repeated behavioral issues) with me she really wanted the world to know how much “control” she had over me.  She would even brag about that control to other parents with me standing right there. My mother was a cold, withholding woman, who was too busy being a lousy teacher with me to even consider trying out being a good mother.

The second time I learned that God DID answer prayers/provide was the same year. Yes, I had my first pregnancy scare at 16. The contraceptive sponge I used had flipped over (they were easier to hide than condoms because they looked vaguely like more menstrual supplies) and I was a few days later than normal. “Please Jesus, don’t let me be pregnant,” was a prayer uttered awake and asleep until my period started. As far as I’m concerned, it worked.

I’ve never denied that what led me to Wicca was my financial situation in college combined with my bad love life. Praying for it to be fixed didn’t occur to me, because you didn’t ask God for “petty” things. But in Wicca, where polytheism can meet animism can meet monotheism, the day to day “petty” things were considered spiritually valuable -so valuable that casting a spell to make things better for yourself was allowable and among some traditions of Wicca, accepted. After a summer where my friends were my only relief from my mother’s increasingly creepy control (she forced me through a DAR initiation I expressly DID NOT WANT AND made me wear HER clothing while I did it, for the pinnacle of creepy that summer) I wanted some better outs. With no car, and my parents refusing to help me get one, and thus eliminating my chances of working off campus and earning money for the next school year, I was willing and ready to try anything. No additional income = being forced to move back in with my parents. My mother’s refusal to utter those words made it clear that’s EXACTLY what she wanted, especially when she “encouraged” the other membership of the DAR to ask me for commitments that would keep me past the date when my classes started.

My friends from Indiana AND my friends at school had all started pointing out how “not normal” my mother’s behavior was. I wasn’t sure they were 100% right yet, but I had to get out of her reach somehow. Also, unrelated to my mother, I wanted to have sex more than once every few years.That’s where magic came in.

It worked.  I’ve told the story of provision by subtle disbursement elsewhere, more than once. But it worked. I had to work for a good chunk of it, but there was clearly a helping hand involved too.
In Wicca, there’s actually a weird reversal of my experience with “don’t ask God for anything,” in that people will ask, and ask, and ask – and never give offerings or anything like that. In my case, I often overcompensate with the thanks, and I’m only now working out the right balance of offering to request.

But I do ask God for things now, or the Gods, as the situation may call for it. God does provide, even if the provision is a pathway that still requires you to work like hell.

My childhood God was “You should be ashamed to ask.”

My adult God is, “This is what I’m here for. Ask!”

 

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