Why am I doing this?

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Behind the scenes

When I told my mother that I wanted to read the Martyrs Mirror, I was expressing a need to get back in touch with my roots. I’ve always felt adrift from my family in so many ways.

Half of my mother’s family and most of my natural father’s family speaks Plattdeutsch (aka Low German or Pennsylvania Dutch) with English as a second language. I cannot speak or understand most Dutch. Whenever my uncles, aunts or cousins would switch to Dutch, I had no idea what was going on. I picked up bits and pieces of words from my mother without realizing it, and I tried learning German in high school…until I realized that the High German I was learning only thinly resembled Dutch.

Some of my earliest memories are of riding in a horse-drawn buggy to the Mennonite Church in Loveville, Md. My parents never joined the church; however, and when I was about two, they divorced. I was adopted by my mother’s husband. We began going to church at All Saints Episcopal Church in Oakley, where I was baptized. After a few years in this Catholic-lite in environment, my parents, like many of their peers, joined the newly energetic evangelical movement. It was at this church that I spent most of my childhood, was indoctrinated into the fundamentalist groupthink and re-baptized as a teenager.

I eventually figured out that most of what I was taught was ignorant, emotionalistic crap. I ditched religion all together with no plans to return. And then, I married a woman who, raised as a deist, now wants to be an Episcopal priest. I have no problem with the Episcopal Church. Our diocese is pretty liberal, and the church we attend it full of non-judgmental, enlightened thinkers.

The Anglican Communion is not my family’s strain of theology. English is not my family’s chosen form of communication. I am a German American colonized by English ways. But I confess that I like being colonized. I value education, enlightenment, music, art and wine. My family values enforced ignorance, religious zeal and a painfully plain existance. But there are good things about my family that I admire – a strong sense of community, unconditional mutual aid, and pacifism – and I think the roots of those values are worth distilling from history.

Perhaps there is a way to reconcile both sides of my life.

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