The Jesus I knew as a child was part of my Truman Show world; set in the prairies of Alberta Canada. I was four years old when we moved there in 1953. I remember very little about the “outside” world.
Our family of five, lived in a college town that had a campus and dorms as its base. We lived in the row apartments that fanned out from the college and were the family dwellings. The prairies stretched out for miles beyond our town.
One large dome shaped building was where everyone attended church. The preacher always sounded gruff. I wasn’t allowed to splash around in the bathroom sink, or contort into an upside down bendy on the back of the chair. Being still was not in my wiring so I was grabbed by the arm often. Even swinging my legs was forbidden. So the words BE STILL and KNOW were demanding. Was God ever a kid?
Our town was a Christian college and the only people allowed to live there were Christians, who happened to be all white. We spoke King James at church with an Everything Is Prohibited theme. We attended the same schools and shopped from one small country store.
In Sunday School, the flannel board Jesus always looked the same in every story, except when he gathered the children around. The children were standing around this white Jesus with clothes that looked like they had just been laundered and pressed. The children stood stiffly, no dirt or snot on their faces, or grimy feet. I knew I would not be accepted by this Jesus whose hair was perfectly groomed and every strand obeyed. His robes didn’t have a speck of dirt and I knew I wouldn’t be invited to get near him. I was the outsider. But, he was white.
The adults carried large Bibles with bold print that said, THE HOLY BIBLE. Those words scared me. A long finger pointed at my face like the end of a shotgun. THOU SHALT NOT, WHOSOEVER SINS SHALL DIE, and God’s name was ART, IN HEAVEN, HALLOWED BE THY NAME.
We moved back to California when I was ten. We attended a tabernacle church called The Church of the Open Door. My sisters discovered the “open door” when we learned the fine art of ditching Sunday School. We would hang out at the Los Angeles Public Library fountain next door, until it was time for church to let out.
We moved to the City of Orange, when there were still orange groves, in 1961. The city library was where I discovered books; teen romance, dog books like, Beautiful Joe, mystery and adventure books – I loved Huckleberry Finn. I lived at the library during the day and read most of the night at home under my sheet with a flashlight.
I started with the teen romance books, but found them boring. They would lead you to a tingling tease in the cheeks and the characters always fell in love. The End.
But, once I discovered BIOGRAPHIES & AUTO-BIOGRAPHIES, it was all over. Until I discovered the HISTORY BOOKS section with different versions then the ones in our school. For the first time in my life I gazed at nations of people, I never knew existed. The atrocities of the powerful men with pompous hats and scepters. The nations whose people were ruled by fear and swords dripping with blood. The courageous people hiding families in underground spaces and sneaking them bread or milk and letting them out at night so they could unfold their bodies and breathe. I could write a book on books I’ve read.
My experience with the Bible, on the other hand, became more foreign. In my heart I knew that the Jesus in the Bible was real, he was inviting, and he somehow still loved me.
My sisters and I were forced to memorize whole chapters of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. to be allowed to attend a Christian camp called, Bible Memory Association, where the fees were reduced if we could quote all the passages we memorized without one mistake. Going to the camp meant more Bible stuff shoved down our undeveloped throats.
Our family had been presenting signs of ever-widening cracks. Our parents began going to separate churches. My mother attended a large glass church where she was allowed to wear her furs and jewelry. My father went to a small pentecostal church but, we convinced him we liked our old church because we could walk home. We once again honed our fine skills of ditching church. Walk in church, grab a bulletin, walk out the back and walk home; making up a sermon on the way.
I know many people who didn’t have a negative experience at church or with the Bible. Some had intact and secure families who actually practiced the love principals in their home. And a few others seemed to have a radical experience that changed their lives forever. Sometimes.
So, I hope you aren’t offended. But, I need to be real because of my personal experience and eventual transformation. My goal is for my “version” to give hope to someone.
My sisters and I were split up after our family finally came unglued. We were sent to many institutions and foster homes. After we turned 18, the-year-of-our-prodigal-rebellions, we all abandoned the Bible and its concepts for a couple of years.
My youngest sister, who had been “saved” more times than I thought possible, started attending a small church run by an old country farmer who invited in a group of ex-drug addicts, with flower and peace symbols adorning their hippie garb. It was the era of the “Jesus-movement.”
I didn’t want to come with my sister, but I had a baby as a result of a trauma as a teenager. I decided to keep her but, I had nowhere to go, so I went to live in one of the church’s community houses. I was wary and always had my spiritual antennae up. It was a semi-safe place to pretend to be a “christian” for a while. My sisters and I were bonded by blood and this group of people was our religious “family”. But, my spiritual radar was always going off.
The old country pastor suddenly died while flying a small plane solo near some mountains. They believe he had a heart attack. The plane just suddenly took a nose dive. Many mourned his loss but the organization said they needed to have someone take his place. The young charismatic 17 year old, who had been mentored by the pastor, seemed the “obvious” choice. He banged the pulpit the loudest, demanded that we “do” more, set down his own standards of “works” based doctrine, and drew in the crowds of “lost souls” who needed to have someone tell them what to do and how to “get saved”.
I stayed in this place for 14 years. I had family there and my children grew up with their church friends. I questioned what was taught and eventually left. I didn’t drop dead.
I began to search for a church where I could fit in. The search always left me empty. Some of them had a version of christianity, and doctrines that fit that version. With other healthy churches, I was too damaged to fit in.
I had moved to Washington State to help my ailing mother in 1998. That’s where I found a group bible study made up of women from all denominations, beliefs, cultures and backgrounds. As I listened and learned and discovered (There were no wrong answers), I knew I had finally found a safe place where I could seek and find answers to my questions, or at least some of them.
I am a deep thinker so my curiosity and hunger grew the more I questioned what the Bible was about. I began to uncover the story of God and His tremendous love for the world. Grace, mercy, redemption, love was His message. I saw the lost ones find their way. The thirsty ones were satisfied. The hungry ones were given bread that filled their souls. My eyes were opened like the blind man and I saw Jesus. He accepted me. I came near, grimy feet, tousled hair, and all the brokenness anyone could bear. He began to heal me layer by layer as he invited me to come and follow Him; and I did. The books that formed the Bible began to make sense. The Eternal One, included me, His imag-bearer, a child of the covenant. The story of the broken ones from a fallen world, now being made whole and transformed because of Jesus who willingly gave his life for us and said in the end, IT IS FINISHED.
YES, HOPE. YES, GRACE. YES JESUS.
Wait, don’t go away. I have more to tell. It gets better. So, come back; perhaps tomorrow.