Black Sheep by Carol P. Christ


black-lambAt Thanksgiving and the solstice holidays many of us are reminded that we are the “black sheep” of our families.  In my case this means that I am too “assertive,” too “aggressive,” too “demanding,” too “political,” too “willing to upset my father,” too “opinionated,” too “feminist,” and so on.

“In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within a family. The term stems from the genetic effect in sheep whereby a recessive gene occasionally manifests in the birth of a sheep with black rather than white coloring; these sheep stand out in the flock [emphasis added] and their wool was traditionally considered less valuable.” (Wikepedia, “Black Sheep”)

I was told by mother more than forty years ago not to bring up politics around my father if I wanted to be invited “home,” and in fact I have tried to abide by that warning ever since. But it does not seem to matter. Even if I keep silent while my father and my brothers express their “political” “opinions” “assertively” and “aggressively” and with no consideration of the possibility that they might be “upsetting” me, I always end up in the wrong.

When I am with them, I walk on eggs, making every effort to get along. But it never works. It seems that my presence itself is upsetting. For no matter how much I try to keep my mouth shut, everyone knows that I do not agree with the political opinions they express or with the way they orient their family lives around the unquestioned authority of the pater familias.

More than ten years ago I accepted a semester-long teaching position at a university near where my father and brothers live in order to spend time with them. My first two meetings with my father passed without incident, but when my father drove me home from the third, a birthday celebration for him, I received “the silent treatment.”

I had not known that my brother’s second wife shared my father’s birthday. When my father informed me that she did, I said something like, “Oh I am so sorry, I didn’t know. I know mother always knew everyone’s birthdays, but my brother and I don’t send each other cards, so I really didn’t know.” Even while falling all over myself to “explain” my “failing,” I had crossed the “invisible line” and “offended” my father. “You should have known” was his response on the way to the party. Not even a “good-bye” or “good night” when he dropped me off on the way home.

It is only now as I write this blog, that I finally realize the nature of my “offence.”  If I had been a traditional woman whose life revolves around her family, I would have made it my business to know everyone’s birthdays. My father’s anger had nothing to do with a birth date, and everything to do with the fact that I had not chosen to be a “good wife.”

Those of us who are branded the “black sheep” of the family, often feel that we are “the only one.”

In Lesbos where I live, there are many black sheep. They are beautiful. There is never only one.

black-sheep-lesbos-island

These days I spend my holidays with friends who cherish me for being me.

* * *

Carol P. Christ’s new book written with Judith Plaskow is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. They are co-editors of Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Carol wrote the first Goddess feminist theology, Rebirth of the Goddess and the process feminist theology, She Who Changes.

Listen to Judith and Carol’s first interview on the book on Northern Spirit Radio and their second on WATER.

Carol P. Christ leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Join the 2017 spring and fall tours now and save $150.

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Categories: Family, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, holiday

Tags: , , , , ,

41 replies

  1. As another black sheep, I love the flocks on Lesbos where there are many of us, not just one! Thank you for this post Carol.

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  2. Carol you speak for so many of us. I am a long time admirer of your work.

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  3. I too am a black sheep, (my brother was the cross bred, it was a sheep farm) so I enjoyed this post a lot. Indeed, I wrote a poem about back sheep in my book Lupa and Lamb which plays with these ideas.

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  4. Thank you for the moving, thought-provoking post, Carol. It’s good to know you have now created another life for yourself, one in which you are valued. Your friends and your readers certainly hold you in the highest regard.

    Patriarchy wounds everyone it touches, including the men themselves. We have just had an example of the least qualified person ever to run for the presidency of the USA winning over the most qualified candidate ever to run. The loser lacked a penis. Enough said.

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  5. Love this post, Carol. I remember when I finally realized what you write in this sentence: “When I am with them, I walk on eggs, making every effort to get along. But it never works.” Of course it doesn’t “work.” Refusing to be a pawn in another’s agenda never goes down smoothly. I regret having spent so much of my life trying to make it work. I don’t use my energy there anymore.

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  6. Baa, baa, dear black sheep. Me, too! Thanks for this post, Carol!

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  7. Another “black sheep” — my father’s word for me was “eccentric” — checks in, and hurray for all of us! Thanks for the post, as always, Carol. You speak right from your heart and experience to ours.

    And I’m very grateful for all the rest of you unconventional, creative women out there. I feel close to all of you, and especially agree with you, Esther, about regretting time I wasted trying to fit into someone else’s (patriarchy’s) mold when I was younger. (Remember nylon stockings and garter belts, girdles, white gloves and so many other other body and soul-constricting constraints, which were really petty external means of keeping our minds and spirits controlled?)

    Let’s start “The Black Sheep Society.” I think the world is going to need us more and more, and we, each other, in the days to come. As you said of Lesbos’ black sheep, Carol, ” there is never only one.”

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  8. Such deep resonance . . . don’t forget too independent. No children, and no husband, my family doesn’t know what to say. Thanks Carol. Finding our tribe is a blessing.

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  9. Carol, so much of this resonated for me, more so with the way my husband’s family operates than my own. My dad is conservative, but tries to honor and respect and celebrate our difference, even as I’m sure he wishes we were both “properly” Christian and more conservative. The thing where women are expected to remember birthdays and manage all the family connections hits a personal spot for me as well. There’s this expectation that women will call or remind their partners to call family, will handle sending cards and gifts, and if you don’t, it’s viewed as a lack of interest or love. Along those lines, years ago, I quit reminding my husband to call his mom each week. He calls a lot less frequently now, but when he does, it’s him, his love, and his interest.

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  10. So thank you for this thoughtful post! Never only one.

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  11. Perhaps this is the name of your next book, The Black Sheep of Theology: Women Eluding Silence. I wonder how many of us, as women “doing religion” have been identified as the black sheep in our communities and family. As the black sheep of my family, I too disappointed the expectations of my parents and five brothers. The binary of good verses bad gets turned on its head for women where our achievements become invisible next to our independence. Thank you Carol, spot-on as usual.

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  12. Carol – such a poignant essay and heartfelt essay. Like you I too was and am the black sheep of the family…now that my parents and relatives are dead my two adult children behave the same way towards me. These patterns are bigger than we are. My earnest hope for myself is to become more accepting of what is and to find people that can honor me for who I am. Thank you for this post.

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    • Ah, Sara. Another woman for whom this has happened. Thank you for sharing your rejection by your adult children. My two adult sons reject me also (as do my siblings) because I am not a “good lady”. They tell me how to be one at every opportunity, and angrily for them, I just don’t comply with their instructions! 😏 I just quietly go on doing my own thing within my own values. And that can be a heartbreaking choice as I well know. I am punished by being deprived of access to my grandchildren. Yes, those patterns are huge in our patriarchal culture.

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    • Sara, I know you used to live in Maine, but I just browsed your blog and it seems that you are now living in the southwest. Anyway, I wanted to let you know that if you are ever in the Bangor area you should check out Women With Wings because you’ll find a whole lot of sisters there! We meet on Thursdays at 7 at the UU Church.

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      • Oh how lovely… I am only in New Mexico for the winter and plant to return home in April. Problem is we live too far away. My home is in the Bethel area…and with bad eyes at 72 I no longer make those long trips… BUT you surely would be welcome at my little log cabin in the woods… Thanks for writing. I feel as if I am living in a wasteland in Maine which is the main reason I am living down here – there are a few like minded folks and what a relief. At home republican gunners are my neighbors. They shoot anything that moves.

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  13. Ahhh, yes. We seem to be a community of black sheep. Well, baaaa to everyone!

    From the time I was about five, my grandmother frequently asked me why I was so independent. Now, make no mistake–I adored my grandparents and they adored me, the eldest grandchild. When I was about seven, I discovered that Grandpa’s dictionary had a section on names. So of course I looked up Barbara. “Strange, foreign, different.” I grew up in a Calvinist, Republican family in post-war St. Louis. Look where I am now! Baaaaa. Carol, thanks for writing about black sheep.

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  14. I was the black sheep, and not an oreo. In true black fashion, I have embraced and embodied my views. It is the job of family to move toward each other, not against. Stand back and wait for them to come to you. Stand with the other blacks in true solidarity! Thanks Carol for this timely reminder.

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  15. Thanks Carol. On black sheep. We should never worry about being different. There are no two people I am acquainted with who are anything like each other. And that’s the beauty of it — we get to loving someone because they are who they are, uniquely who they are, and we are charmed by that.

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  16. You do not say whether you are on opposite poles politically. Very political animals are impossible to be at peace with.

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    • Of course we are. They are patriarchal and Republican and and and…

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    • Kersten, I know it is both a political and sexist divide because sometimes the issues are about politics and other times about woman’s place. Again, many conservatives hold that woman’s place is in the home as a political view too.

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      • Of course you are correct unfortunately religious and political allegiances define our characters and our attitudes to others. As for places in society I expect there is a pecking order just as in the animal kingdoms. To suggest we are all equal makes no sense when you look at the world. Wealth itself is a pyramid with the elite at the top and the starving destitute at the bottom. Also intelligence is distributed as a bell curve and we are where we are.

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  17. I knew it!! Our whole flock is black!
    No matter what colour our skin is, those who are considered not “pure white” and “tame” are just not acceptable in “polite company”. So many images are skipping through my imagination right now! My own family rejections that take so long to heal, and our Black sisters here who are vulnerable to such a greater violence.

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  18. It took me 45 years before life itself forced me to take a confrontation/settlement with my aggressively and violent dad. Not before I myself was abused in a relationship, I managed with help from theraphist to look at my childhood and my parents relationship.
    My father was often unprovoced violent against his whole family, me included.
    As a 13-year old girl I was the witness to him violently abusing and hurting my 9-months pregnant mother, -with his own unborn child in her womb.. I have never be able to trust men after that.
    My mother and little brother died in an tragic accident a few years after; and my father after then threathened me so violently&aggissively too enshure his violent history was never exposed.. and I didn’t dare to speak the truth
    -my whole life I has been SO afraid of him.

    His reaction on me confronting him with all this when I was 45? He called me a manhating feminist, dumped me as a daughter on sms (his own words) and threw me out of the family.
    Now I am totally on my own, my mother&babybrother dead 30 years ago, my still living brother an alcoholic and no father/or fathers family.
    All of this has been an severely hard process, but I am SO glad I managed to take the confrontation before my father died.
    I know I am an example for my two now grown daughters, 25 and 18 years. I have done all this to empower them and make them conscious; this pattern of husbands violence and aggression and even rejection from fathers are an old inhereted pattern in our family ;
    I am the 3 generation experiencing the exact same, probably it goes in generations far beyond what I have been able to dig up..
    and I did swear the pattern is going to end with me. So I am speaking openly of all this to my daughters, including describing my own inner process so that they van recognice it if meeting similar situations, I’m speaking if emotional reactions, and also what to look after to spot a violent man.. but in fact my daughters are also suffering (burning) from me speaking up resulting me (us) to become the black sheep of the family..

    I had never ever managed to do all this without the Goddess.
    The Sumerian Inanna that went from the great above to the great belove, she went to the underworld and experienced to hang on the meethook, AND SHE GOT UP AGAIN!
    -and not to mention the mysterious Gullveig from Norse mythology that was “tree times burnt, three times reborn and still lives”
    -both has been my beloved mentors.
    And my good Goddessworshipping friends of both sexes: Forever grateful!

    Please add me on FB; all good woman&amen out there!
    :-* Kisses to all my sisters&brothers from
    Linn Kristiane Lavik. (Norway)

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  19. Thank you for this post from one more black sheep. I come from a traditional evangelical family and was assigned that role as a child. There is no win position for us, not even a break even position, in our families. Glad I am not alone, and have the company of such wonderful uppity feminists.

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  20. Yes, it has always hurt that I have to repress and hide my thoughts and beliefs and feelings because family cannot emotionally handle difference. It is conditional love, where the conditions are that I agree or keep silent. In order to placate the tantrums of those older than myself, as a child learned to be the parent, to look out for and be sensitive to potential breakouts. But they often know. That is when manipulation and attempts to control happen. It’s hard for me now to understand I don’t have to sacrifice my own truths to feel safe or protected with others I become close with, that relationships aren’t some kind of exchange. When I try to speak opinions that family will disapprove of, I find myself hesitating with them, watchful that something small or simple will seem threatening. I have become a bastion self-containment. I cannot watch films or read books about gaslighting because it is too painful. Like Virginia Woolf says, a woman just needs 500 quid a week to be a writer, lesbian, whatever. In our compulsory culture, independence is important. Just not, perhaps, the emotional independence I have perfected while growing up with the lesson that difference was not okay. That, I have recently discovered, is the spoon I need to drop from its tight grip so I can walk into the kitchen instead of being confused and trying to ladle air.

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  21. Of course, we’re all “black sheep” here. None of us has aspired to be nor been a “traditional woman.”

    I’m glad that Barbara Cooper remarked about the term black sheep and how our African-American sisters (Black sisters) experience even more violence for being “black.” The term “black sheep” is just one more example of how English denigrates “black” and elevates “white,” containing its own racist agenda.

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  22. Yes indeed Nancy. it is no coincidence that the “bad” sheep are black. all those subtle uses of language to reinforce/underwrite racism sexism and other forms of oppression.

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  23. Well hello my black sheep friends! I can relate so much to what you have written, Carol, and to many of the other comments posted here. My father is patriarchal and an abusive sociopath. He always put me down and was physically abusive under the guise of “discipline.” I am very lucky because I have a wonderful, loving, and supportive mother. She started college a semester ahead of me and took women’s studies classes so she is a feminist. She divorced my father, with my encouragement, and is a strong woman and a great role model. A few years ago she was told by her doctor that she shouldn’t live alone, so I moved her from California to Maine to live with me. I definitely wouldn’t have done that for my father!

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  24. Thanks to all of you. It is good to know that no one of us is the only one!

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    • Wow! As I read the comments, it’s impossible, in the midst of all the pain being released, not to be overwhelmed with the positive connectivity you’e made possible with this one post, Carol. You are emphatically NOT alone! Thank you again for your courage and for thinking and writing as you do.

      As to black: I think it’s beautiful, and wear it all the time. To me, it’s the color of night sky, against which the stars reveal themselves.

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  25. I grew up in sheep-raising country – not partaking myself but close enough to have a few facts come my way in casual conversation. There was almost always one black sheep in every flock pastured along the country roads and by-ways. One black sheep per hundred meant you only had to count the black ones instead of the whole bumpy-backed herd.

    Also, thinking back to when our foremothers first picked up on (the process of rooing) the fact that wool is good stuff – black wool comes with its own striking color! No need to brew a dark dye (for patterned weavings) which process isn’t all that easy. Maybe there’s a forgotten reason why the black recessive hangs in with us…

    And don’t forget – black pearls are very very valuable especially to people who really know pearls. But they are even more beautiful when they join together… like my outside-the-mold friends when they are all sitting on my couch howling with laughter.

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