In no way do I fancy myself to be a Lewis, Sheen, or Tolkien, and I start what I hope will be a series of posts not as an apologist (a term that still bothers me a bit). Rather, I start this to try to explore some of the holes in my memory and make sure I’m not missing any important points. Also, I will be making some decisions over the next few months and want to explore thoughts and theology to help ensure I make reasoned and informed decisions.
If, in the process, my explorations prove helpful to others in exploring and articulating their own faith, all the better. If it helps bring someone to Faith, even better. By sharing, I hope that my words may do good beyond the mundane.
To start this series of explorations, I need to establish who I am and how I came to be where I am today. This provides you (and me) with the background to evaluate and understand where I come from, where I hope to go, the points I make, and to spot the gaps as it were. It also strikes me as a better forum than the cesspit that is social media.
My father was raised Southern Baptist, though he later joined the Southern Methodist Church after marrying my mother. I remember attending “Homecoming” at Mt. Zion church each year, mostly quite fondly. This was a time where those who grew up in that church, families, and friends all came back together to to socialize and share. Everyone brought food, and that food was quite good.
I recall at least a couple of the preachers there at that country church. I recall, not clearly, one who was of the hellfire and damnation cadre who preached a sermon telling those present that if they did not return to the church they would burn, burn, burn. I have the feeling that he heard, possibly strongly, that such wasn’t a good idea for Homecoming and that the next year if he was still there he was on better behavior. I remember one who reminded me very much of “Shaking Sammy” in the book MASH. Seem to recall being admonished for mentioning such to my parents, though I also seem to recall my Dad agreeing with me after he read my copy of the book. The last preacher I recall was an older gentleman who was quite good at his job and cared deeply not just for his congregation but others in that community as well.
I also very much believe my Dad when he remarked that they lost as many people as they gained, courtesy of the baptism. They did a full immersion baptism, and the pool (cement pond) was spring fed. Ice cold spring fed. Seems that when let back up from under the cold, cold water some people uttered less than respectful phrases, resulting in them being brought into the church and kicked out immediately. Yeah, it might be hyperbole, but having felt the water I can believe it.
My mother was raised in the Southern Methodist church, and was quite proud that our direct ancestor (my x-great grandfather) was Bishop Pierce who was credited with truly putting the Southern Methodist church on the map as it were. Indeed, the portraits of the good Bishop and his wife (who preferred to be called Miss Nancy instead of her real name), hung on the wall of our living room for many, many years.
Those portraits were eerie to me as a child, and I got a strong feeling of disapproval whenever I snuck into the living room as a small child. The room was off limits to me as a toddler and even when older. Miss Nancy seemed very disapproving. When I was older, I found it to be a matter of amusement and vindication when our beagle would sneak in (it was off limits to him too) and end up in apparent argument with Miss Nancy. No joke, he would be in rolling on the rug, look up at her portrait, and bark at it. Often, he would get up on the sofa, put his front paws on the bottom of the portrait frame, and appear to go back and forth with Miss Nancy. I’m actually rather glad that those portraits, along with the reproductions that replaced them until my mother’s death, were donated to the Methodist museum at Epworth By The Sea. Yes, there is a point to sharing that. Another day.
In many ways, my mom pushed religion hard, while Dad preferred a more refined approach. Laid back is NOT the right word for how he did things, but subtle gets into it. Dad was the type who would let you fall, bang yourself up a bit, and then pick you up and set you going again so that you learned from your mistakes. To be quite fair, he would usually warn you that you were about to bust yourself, and if you persisted… Good life lessons and I am the richer for that as wrapping people of any age in cotton and not letting them do is not doing them (or anyone else) any favors.
The church I grew up in has been around for more than 175 years now. It has long sponsored the Boy Scout troop in which I earned my Eagle and the God and Country award. As an aside, I am not happy with what Scouting has become, to the point that I promote another organization. As for me, I’m glad I came along so I could be an old-way Eagle, and the God and Country award was both an exploration of Faith as well as of comparative religion.
Looking back, I begin to suspect I may have been a trial to some of my pastors. I remember Rev. Fredrick Wilson, a nice man though not a theological powerhouse. I ended up confounding him by asking if dogs and other pets went to heaven (possibly related to the loss of a pet rabbit, memories are jumbled) when still quite young. It hit him cold, and I still find it interesting he didn’t have a position on such worked out, as surely I was not the first to ask such a question? I’m not sure if I hit him or Reverend Key with a thought on the Miracle of Transubstantiation. The Methodist Church, at least at that time, did not believe in the Miracle, instead believing that it only became the body and blood of Christ on a spiritual level. I think I was six or so when I innocently asked that if it did become the body and blood, why not have everyone partake, then spit out the literal flesh and blood, assemble them, and bring about Christ’s return on the spot? I have some very jumbled and fuzzy memories of what may have been a couple more doozies.
Years ago, someone put together an Art Linkletter-style book on mishearings by children in church. Yes, I think I did hear ‘parakeet’ when the term “Paraclete” first came up, like many others. I did think one of the choral responses used the phrase ‘and or-e-o’ at one point. One I didn’t do, but still appreciate, is the child in the book who heard “Father, Son, and Holy Goat.” BTW, if you are old enough to remember Art Linkletter and his show, good on you. If you are not, you should check it out.
I think I was in the seventh grade when the “Born Again” craze/movement hit. My parents were patient, mostly, with me and pointed out they had already been baptized and given themselves to Christ, and did not need to do so again. No direct reference to one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, but a strong implication. The youth ministers of the day pushed it, and a couple of years later I found myself visiting the historic house taken over by the youth movement (sorta hippie freaks from what I remember). It was there that I got introduced to C.S. Lewis, the Chronicles of Narnia, and The Screwtape Letters. I don’t think my mom (who tried to keep me from listening to Rock and a number of other things) was thrilled, and she found ways to keep me from ever going back to that ministry.
For me, I was taken by the writing, and use of language, by C.S. Lewis. I know I read the Perilandra trilogy, though I have no memories of the books. I just remember fragments of The Screwtape Letters. Strangely enough, I don’t think I got into Tolkien until around my junior year. Again, the language and use of same caught my attention, and I truly came to appreciate the power of language (and linguistics and the etymology of words and language). The corruption of language is also a pathway to the corruption of populations and the world, and as such I recommend reading this article that cites Lewis and more even as it gives warning.
I was still quite naive and callow at the time, and I recall bristling at the title “Mere Christianity” as I regarded Christianity as anything but mere. I also still cringe a bit at the term apologist, as given modern usage the original meaning is not well known. Again, my take was that Christianity needed no apology. Thankfully, both led to an increase in knowledge and an awareness of how words were changing — for good or ill.
Around my junior year, I left the Methodist church. We had gotten a pastor that while I loathe the term in many respects, sky pilot seems an apt designation even unto this day. He wanted to turn my church into a mega-church and himself into a noted tele-evangelist. A number of people quit leadership roles in the church over what he was doing and how, including my Dad. For me, the break came when he told my mom that he would not visit her mother, my grandmother, who was dying in a nursing home as she had no money to leave the church. I’m not joking when I say I am still amazed she did not literally kill him on the spot. When I asked her about that, she said she was so stunned she could not move or speak at first. Mom and Dad seriously considered leaving the church over this. Then the stubborn in both came out, it was their church not his, and they dug in until he was finally gone.
For me, I was going to school with the children of an Episcopal priest and had already been spending time at that church as they did midnight Christmas services and other such things I enjoyed. I had a talk with him, had him actually somewhat agree with a point of theology I lifted from Heinlein (true sin is harming another; harming yourself isn’t a sin, just stupid — no don’t agree with this today though it can be a good basis for detecting/determining sin), and joined the Episcopal church. Sadly, the priest ended up leaving the church several years later, but that is a tale for another day. Once in college and beyond, I came to find less satisfaction from the church and what seemed to be a changing doctrine as woke came into play.
So, I wandered for a bit. Work had me traveling, so as I did I attended a number of different services. Mary Stewart’s book The Crystal Cave had a profound impact on me when I was in the sixth or seventh grade (think sixth), as she had her young Merlin do much the same as he traveled. As the series progressed, I will note it did a good job of putting Christianity into a good light.
While in Japan, while not truly interested in it, I was invited to attend a Shinto Buddhist ceremony while staying at a monastery. Quick aside: if you go to Japan, forget Western-style hotels and stay at ryokans, which are traditional Japanese-style inns. Some of the best of them are the Buddhist monasteries. When checking in, I was told that if I happened to hear the bell the next morning, I was welcome to attend and observe. The next morning, I awoke vibrating about a foot off the mat. Seems the bell was about ten feet in diameter and rung with a tree trunk that would make a passing fair battering ram. Collecting myself, I went down and quickly determined a couple of things.
First, the ceremony sounded as if they were chanting ‘and I said and he said and she said and they said and you said and they said…’ along with the occasional spinning of a cylinder in a wall of cylinders apparently with prayers on them. I watched, listened, and never did pick up a real pattern to it. Second, I will note that Japan can be a very friendly country, but it also is incredibly bigoted (Japanese language, physiology, etc. is superior to all other on Earth). Apparently, there is a competition between the males attending as to who can sit seiza the longest. Turns out I have a bit more competitive streak than I realized, esp. when one of the other males present has made it clear that the gajin should not be there. Having learned to sit seiza for martial arts, I stayed in it for about five minutes longer than he did, and may have smiled at him… No surprise, I mouthed off to a Yakuza bouncer while in Japan. Thankfully, he didn’t understand American and thought I was saying thank you very much as I bowed. If I get killed, good odds it will be because I was a smartass at the wrong time to the wrong person. Keep in mind, I really did walk through the gates of the Kremlin whistling the theme from Patton. If I die of natural causes, it will be an amazing surprise.
I also attended the Hindu wedding of a friend, and found it fascinating. There was a lot of things done to emphasize two becoming one, with a strong implication that the one was stronger than the sum of the parts. While I don’t think it would be a good addition to traditional vows, I do think it could and should be used in pre-marriage counseling. I did have to turn down offers of an arranged marriage for me, but appreciated the thought. I also got a good laugh as the brother of the groom took me around the temple and explained all the different deities. When we got to Krishna, he very dryly pointed out that despite what Americans seemed to think, Krishna wasn’t that big a deal. (Oh now Krishna he must laugh on, to see me in my saffron!)
I’ll skip some of the wanderings and investigations (already confessed), and note that as I traveled in Europe, I began to more and more visit Catholic churches, from cathedrals to small churches. I am so glad I got to attend (though not participate) in a service at Notre Dame, and wish I could have attended more of services at both Mont-Saint-Michel and Sacre Coeur. I took it as a good sign that I did not burst into flames as I walked beneath the lintels, and that Holy Water did not sizzle when it hit my skin. Long story short, I ended up joining the Catholic Church in a traditional parish that did the Latin Mass every Sunday. They actually did three different masses on Sunday, and the one I attended most often was the sung mass.
I did attempt to start the process of discernment for becoming a priest. It did not get too far, as I was told I was too old to become one in this diocese, but was free to move to another diocese that might have different rules. Truth be told, I am now very glad that cup passed from me in the Catholic church. I am not sure I could be the priest I would want to be, nor that under current leadership I would be allowed to be the priest I would need to be. As for the future, what comes will come. I should also note that over the years various things have happened that have caused me to brush up against that which divides life and death. Those brushes and certain glimpses have had an impact on me and reaffirmed my faith. I may or may not ever discuss them, but they are a factor I need to keep in mind.
Since moving several years ago, I’ve been looking for a new church home. For all that I keep my Faith in my heart, I am a lapsed Catholic but not a lapsed Christian. Even in the years of wandering, I never lost my faith in Christ though I came close to losing my way a time or two. Again and again, God guided me so I did not lose my way. I see God’s hand, and a miracle, in that I am alive after being struck by lightning. I believe there is something I am supposed to do, but remain clueless as to exactly what that may be. Yes, I have actually suggested in prayer that given how dense I can be, it might be helpful to drop a sign in front of me telling me exactly what I am to do… As with almost every human, I am a sinner, but by Grace and Mercy keep trying to do and be better.
Next week, my plan is to either start discussing the nature of God and our understanding of him, or what is Christianity. I’m leaning towards the nature of God as that truly sets the foundation for all other discussions. That said, I will go where guided on this.
I wish I could remember Reverend Key’s full name, as he was a good pastor and theologian of the Methodist church. I can’t remember the name of the pastor who caused me to leave the Methodist church, which is a shame as I really do need to pray for him. I remember flashes of people, but for all that is missing there I seem to remember the truly important things, with the most important part being my Faith.
The Series Of Posts: