Narrative Summary Interview with Donna Culbertson by Cody Works

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Narrative Summary

    1. Interview with Donna Culbertson by Cody Works

I decided to interview my boss. I wasn't sure this was the wisest decision, asking my employer personal questions, but she seemed willing to talk and I knew she had an interesting story. We sit down in the downtown Springfield office of the company she owns and which I am employed by. I ask the boss to tell me her story. Donna Culbertson was born in 1950's Greene County, MO. When I ask for her educational history, she immediately tells me that she went to many elementary schools, a few middle schools, and finally dropped out of her third high school in tenth grade. She tells me up front that she doesn't think of herself as typical of someone born, bred, and raised in Missouri. Her mother and father met in a church where her mother was playing organ, and she and her sister were taken to church by their parents when younger, then their grandparents after their parents divorced. Donna mentions the tensions between different family member's Pentecostal and Assembly of God beliefs, as well as her religious experience growing up. Her father felt he had the call to preach, but pushed that aside to pursue more financially lucrative options. For Donna, Christianity was just sort of the way things were. She says she “didn't realize that God and Jesus could mean different things to different people” until she was older, and when she had that moment of realization, cracks developed in her faith. This was shortly followed by her mother developing cancer, causing Donna to question whether God really had a plan for everyone. “How can my mother be dying of cancer when I'm twenty?” she asks.

During this period, ages nineteen to twenty-one, Donna was a truck driver, having dropped out of high school in tenth grade. She describes how driving around to most of the contiguous United States and seeing different people embracing different faiths is what led to her coming to identify as an agnostic when she returned to Missouri. “Everybody thinks they're right,” she says, “and everybody is right.” She explains how she believes that everyone is listening to intuition and a little internal voice telling them what to do; who one thinks the voice is relates to whatever culture you’ve grown up in.

Donna tells me she met her husband while working as a manager at a trailer park in Warrensburg, MO owned by her father, and when they married, they kept their own last names. He had two daughters from a previous marriage who lived in Tennessee, which shaped their decision to settle in Springfield, and he and Donna produced four children together, two girls and two boys. He and Donna decided to homeschool their children, a decision Donna describes as something she at first feared but warmed to when she saw that what the school system was preparing to teach her children was below the level of her children. She tells me about their experiences homeschooling each of their children, and the differences in their responses. She says that in her view, if one gives kids the facts from a young age, they'll come to the right conclusions. Her children are all agnostics or atheists. At one point she jokes about it being all right if one of them decided to “go Baptist” or otherwise convert to a religion. Donna seems to be comfortable with her views and unthreatened by those of others. She mentions at one point her experience joining a Unitarian Universalist church and teaching creation myths, an experience she looks back on fondly.

            For the most part, Donna says, being a woman has not been a huge part of her religious development, though she has many stories she can share about being a woman in the Ozarks. She talks about how while she did dislike some of the restrictions placed on women in the church, she just ignored them. This reminds me of her first response when I asked her what religion she identified as currently. She told me she calls herself agnostic, because there is wiggle room inherent in that term. She does seem open to the idea of her community being her religious experience, saying that she is “as fanatical as anyone else” and that it is in humanity's nature to be fanatical.

            Donna Culbertson is a woman for whom life is about happiness and supporting others. She may have left behind the trappings of Christianity decades ago, but she still spreads love and tries to help people around her using her intuition and reasoning skills. She is an example of a woman in the Ozarks with a non-religious spiritual life who has passed that on to her children. When I asked her whether there was anyone in her life who had been most influential in her religious journey, she replied that her parents were, because she never knew she could question what they said. “If you're Hindu, you're Hindu. If you're Jewish, you're Jewish.” she says, giving her opinion on how the religion one is raised in affects one's outlook on religion later in life. She seems have given her children the options that she was not given.

Missouri State University Spring 2014 Religious Lives of Ozarks Women

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