Thursday, February 7, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
When the bogeyman showed up, was I surprised!
Lilly Grace, one of my little Presbyterians, is just at the age where she is ready to come to “big church.” Some weeks she chooses the nursery, other weeks, she comes to worship with us. A couple of Sundays back, she told her grandmother that she wanted to go to “talking church.” Now, as the preacher, I thought this meant the service I lead. After all, I do a good bit of talking during that hour. But Lilly Grace likes the church where she can talk, which means the children’s nursery! Isn’t it remarkable how different our perspectives in religion can be?
Last Sunday I preached about our religious habits (there I go talking again), and after service someone asked me how I acquired the habit of being in church on Sunday. That is, was I required to attend as a child, and do I believe that children ought to be required?
I do not believe that my family had rules on this subject. It was just that every Sunday the entire household gathered itself up and went to church. I do not recall that it was debated or argued about. It was just something we did. Just as Mother and Daddy went to work on Monday, and I went to school, so we went to church on Sunday. The thought of “making a decision” about whether or not to go was just not part of my childhood experience. The TV was turned off, the lights were turned off, the house was locked, and everybody went to church. It was as simple as that!
Now, I do recall one incident in which I suppose I was trying to assert my independence. That is a normal part of growing up, and I will tell you how my parents handled it in my case.
I could not have been more than six or seven years old, and I had wandered home during the interval between Sunday school and church. Grandmother, Daddy, and I were the Sunday school attenders. Mother stayed home to get dinner lined up, so I would often come home with Daddy to pick Mama up. As there were 20 minutes between Sunday school and church, and it was exactly one block from our house to the church, it was not a difficult or time-consuming journey.
On this day I decided I wanted to stay home during church. “You’ll be all by yourself!” I was warned. But I was determined to stay home, and so Mother and Daddy drove off. Since my grandmother and our family cook were always at home during the week (I never remember having a babysitter outside the family), I would imagine this may have been just about the first time I was ever left alone.
For the first few minutes it was a great feeling of freedom. But then -- amazingly -- “the bogeyman” made his appearance! Until then, I had encountered the bogeyman only at bedtime or late in the night. But on this day, the bogeyman decided to share my solitary Sabbath with me. What an unwelcome guest!
So I abandoned the house where the bogeyman was, and took refuge in my backyard swing. There, with my little fox terrier (that Skipper was the first in a long line of terriers I have had through the years) standing guard, I passed the longest hour I think I have ever spent. Boy, I was glad when the car turned into the driveway and chased the bogeyman away! I do not think that except for illness I have ever willfully skipped church again.
Religion was certainly laid before me and was a natural part of my life. It was never forced; it was simply there for me to take or leave. But I suppose because it was a family activity, I never felt that it was something I was given as a singular burden to bear.
I cannot say that my childhood religious experience was either distasteful or ecstatic. But our minister and Sunday school teachers were unfailingly kind, and I think I gleaned the impression that what we did on Sunday was consequential, and that my life would be poorer without it.
Perhaps for that reason I have never had to wrestle with those wrenching questions about the existence or goodness of God.
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