Friday, May 23, 2014

Setting the Stage Part 1

First, I think it’s important to understand my relationship with religion going into this time period of my life.  I wasn’t someone who really grew up in church.  As a child, we would occasionally go for services on Easter or Christmas.  I realize now, looking back, that this probably happened at the urging of my father’s parent’s.  My father wasn’t a big fan of church.  It wasn’t because of any resentment that he bore towards God.  It was more because, coming of age in the mid-1970’s, he saw church as a place of criticism and condemnation, a place that was more concerned with the length of his hair and the style of his clothing than it was anything else.  I think my father and I could probably connect over the Church’s fascination with the superficial over the true nature and inner workings of a person.

In addition to Easter, I know there was one vacation Bible school.  The church that my father’s parents went to, and, therefore, the one that we went to when we did attend, was a small country Baptist church.  It exactly what you’d image, a small white building with a steeple on a postage stamp lot and off to the side a quiet little cemetery as a reminder that death was where we are all headed eventually.  As a child, this creates a nice balance of peaceful serenity and ominous foreboding.  It was at VBS at this church that I first remember hearing that I needed to be “saved.”  This was, of course, followed by a description of the torment that awaited me if I was not.  Well, let me tell you.  This puts quite a bit of fear into a child’s heart and mind.  I think I was probably 7 or 8 at the time; so, I was cognitively aware enough to begin putting pieces together and realize that I was being told that me and my entire family were headed for eternal damnation.

I saw this pic on Facebook recently.  It came to mind as I was writing this post.

I remember a tear-filled ride home in the car with my mother one night as I pleaded with her that we needed to take care of this “getting saved” thing.  I didn’t want to burn for all of eternity, and I couldn’t bear the thought of my parents being in that position either.  I remember her and my dad sitting me down when my mom and I got home and telling me that they believed that God looks more on the inner workings of our hearts and less on external things such as whether we go to church every Sunday or if we’ve said a specific prayer.  That appeased me for the time being, but I don’t think that I ever completely let go of it.

In my early teen years, I remember thinking about death and God a lot.  I remember receiving a teen study Bible one year as a birthday gift.  Occasionally, I would set a goal of reading it, but that was a goal that never came into fruition beyond more than a few pages.  I began to think about how it seemed to be so important to some people on the periphery of my life that I believe this stuff.  I began to contemplate why they would feel that way.  The conclusion that I came to in my young teenage mind was that they simply did not want to wrestle with the fact that they were going to die and that that they didn’t want to face that.  Therefore, they clung to this belief that there was a God and an afterlife and that there was a way for them to be “saved.”  I remember sharing this belief with others when the subject would arise, and I did it with just about as much compassion as I did here in this blog post.  I realize now that I did it, at the time, as a defensive posture.  I didn’t want them pushing me into what they believed; so, I put up as firm of a defensive wall as possible and, if someone got offended when they bounced off of it, that was their fault, not mine.  They were the ones who needed a crutch to get through life.  In true adolescent fashion, I had it all figured out.

- Josh

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

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