Someone was writing a diary entry the other day about church. I can't remember the author offhand, but it was a real bell ringer for me. Paraphrased, she wrote about being in church all the time as a child.
Hoo boy. Can I relate. The curse of long term memory.
My parents are the stuff of which this country was founded on. Both came from Mennonite farm families in upstate New York. They went through the Depression, served in WWII, started a family and worked very hard. Once the babies started coming Mom never worked another day outside of the home. Dad had a long term career with the telephone company. They were good, honest and trusting people who communicated their world view by action rather than word.
At the core of their universe was the church, in this case a Baptist church but the denomination really makes no difference to the tale. Having both moved away from the Mennonite faith they were raised in, they wholeheartedly embraced the far more progressive Baptist theology. They were both extremely active in it. I don't think it's unkind to say they went a little too far. My siblings embraced the whole concept with little complaint, in fact they initiated a lot of the church activities, but there's always a black sheep, isn't there? Yep, that would be yours truly.
From ages 12 to 15, here's a rundown of the daily activities for Outfoxed.
Monday through Friday: School at the church.
Saturday: Basketball or Youth Group at the church.
Sunday: Morning and night, at the church.
Wednesday night: Prayer meeting at the church.
Thursday night: A Boy's Youth Group at the church.
Every evening: Family Bible devotion meeting - at home.
Suffice to say that there wasn't a plethora of locations in my life. Yeah, I went to public school before age 12. In the '60's public school for an elementary kid was a pretty safe and staid existance. But the times did change, and my parents were horrified at what went on in public junior high school. So were a lot of the other church members. So they ginned up a short term solution to the ills of the world - the church school. It basically grouped together a collection of dissafected youth with very young, inexperienced teachers and an autocratic principal and together we all moaned and suffered our way through the school year.
Basically, I now know my parents meant well. It took a while for me to get to that point once I had gotten older and out of the house. It was love, but a smothering, suffocating kind of love. They had a terrible time actually saying the words, but felt that a 14 year old would have no trouble distinguishing their affection by saying "Trust in the Lord" rather than "Son, I love you." There was the church, to provide a sort of security blanket for all the crap that life can throw at a teenager.
They kept me in a private Christian school for the rest of my high school years. I say that and it sounds like imprisonment. Let's call it restrictive. There was never a situation where a teacher or church pastor wasn't aware of what you or your classmates were doing, you were constantly scruitinized for proper living habits, adherance to the faith, uprightness in character. Underneath, most of us chafed at this, which is what teen aged kids do best. We became experts in putting on the cloaking device and blending in with the surroundings of moral living. I could summon up a public prayer without a thought, quote the Bible blindfolded, hold forth on theological discussions without ever letting on that my sincerity was a total sham. When in Rome...
To this day I can walk into a church (which, as you may have guessed by now, I do with great infrequency) and pick up the thread of a sermon without difficulty, sing the bass line of all the hymns without looking at the hymn book (a great party trick but the humor in it is only my own) and enthusiastically pump the ministers hand on my way out. I can, in fact, point out a miniscule Scripture reference error to him with a wagging finger and watch him get all sheepish on me.
After which is when I drive home, pop a beer, put up my feet. curse the dog and watch an R rated movie. Well, something to that effect. I live my life, unfettered by the spectre of some well meaning Bible teacher swooping down on my world and moralizing me.
So do I believe? Did any of this training pay off? Well sure. I have a belief in a God who lives in my mind and not necessarily in a million dollar complex of buildings in my community. I come across as an old fogey a lot of the time because of this background. There isn't a day that goes by that I wonder what would have happened if I had gone to a public school and had to struggle for, rather than against, my religious upbringing. I had plenty of desire for it, and it got wrecked through repetitiveness. Because you really can't legislate morality, and here stands living proof.
My kids will have that choice. The trick, the balancing act is to let 'em go after life without letting them hurt themselves. Or by putting so many cushions under them that they forget there are some rocks on the path.
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