It’s going to take more than one post to describe all the events that shaped my current views, as is only fitting – no one is born knowing all that they will ever know, and life is an on-going process of learning. I hope you can bear with me…it will move along fairly quickly after this one, I promise.
I have been a Christian, at least nominally, for the majority of my life. My dad’s parents were Hispanic and Roman Catholic, but I never saw them attend a Mass other than a few funerals. When I was a kid, my dad rarely talked about religion, but growing up as an only child in a single-working-parent home, I watched a lot of TV and so gleaned a pop culture understanding of who God was (all-powerful, all-knowing, created everything, lived in Heaven), the nature of Heaven and Hell (one was a pretty place in the sky where good people went, the other a fire-and-brimstone torture pit for sinners), and the Bible (book of stories that listed the rules which determined where you went after death). Dad himself expressed an open derision of organized religion, especially the televangelists who popped up all over TV in the 70’s; he called it a hustle that was all about the money. Nobody ever asked me if I had any questions or tried to explain anything, and I was ok with that – I had the impression that all kids went to Heaven anyway because they didn’t know any better, and that worked for me. (Oh, the blessed innocence of youth!)
Somewhere around 1978, when I was 10 years old, one of Dad’s co-workers began witnessing to him, using Hal Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth books. Dad’s takeaway from that was that the End Times were upon us, and we needed to make sure we were “right with God”. He learned that a large, non-denominational church on our side of town would be having a big revival meeting, and took me with him to be baptized. In typical fashion, he managed to arrive late enough to avoid “all the bull” (in his words, the “singing/talking/begging part”), came in through a side door, and put us directly in the line headed up to the stage, where assistant pastors were baptizing folks as quickly as they could do it – there were hundreds of people, but we moved right along! When it was my turn, they man asked me who I was, and I gave him my first name. (Hold that thought – this will come up again in a moment.) Then he asked me if I believed that Jesus had died for my sins, and did I want to be forgiven? It sounded reasonable to me – I was 10 years old – so I said yes, got dunked, and Dad hustled us off the stage to a changing area to get dried off, into fresh clothes, and out the door before anyone could speak to us. The instant we got into the truck, he turned on me with fury blazing in his eyes, screaming that I should have given my full name when asked, and that if I was going to be ashamed of who I was, he was going to be ashamed of me. (My dad was often furious at me for no discernable reason, so while I was scared, it wasn’t anything I had never seen before) Then we went home, and that was it. Oh, he bought a Bible, which laid on the dining room table, open to Matthew 6, The Lord’s Prayer. Every morning, as we left for day care and work, we would recite it together – unless he was running late, then we would get it done as soon as we got home that evening. I never saw him read that Bible, or any other; nor did we ever attend a church service or discuss religion in any way at all until I was in my 40’s. (In all fairness, after his death I found that Bible filled with highlighting, and scribbled notes in the margins, and slips of paper with cross-references and questions throughout, mostly in the New Testament; but during my childhood it never moved from that spot on the table, or had a mark in it.) I also saw absolutely no change in the way he spoke, acted, or treated other people – it was as if he had simply checked off a necessary task and went back to business as usual. This was my introduction to Christianity. I truly believed that, because I was sincere in my heart up on that stage – I meant it when I said that I believed Jesus died for me, and I wanted to be forgiven – that I was saved and would be going to Heaven when I died. I would hazard a guess that an awful lot of people shared that experience with me, and I would further hazard that many still do; it would certainly explain the behavior of many who call themselves “Christians” but carry themselves through life as though there were in fact no consequences, secure in their eternal reward…I certainly did for far too long.
Nothing really changed for me until decades later, when God invaded my life in a manner I could not rationalize my way out of. We’ll pick up the tale next time – trust me, it gets a whole lot better. Come and see.