Amy and I talk a lot about religion, namely because we met in a mire of religious misinformation and slipped through the nets one right after the other. We also talk a lot about religion because it is a passion of mine. I like religions. I grew up in among religious diversity, and was taught to appreciate and respect how people choose to (or not to) worship. I would say that I grew up in a loosely Christian household.
We did not go to church (outside the couple of times I can remember going with my mother–and I only remember that because I loved my fuzzy blue coat, and I thought the minister was yelling at me. he was actually yelling at everyone. Hell! Fire! Damnation!), or read the Bible, or do anything remotely religious for Christmas or Easter, but there was a Bible in the house, and I picked up a lot of my personal belief system through the Bible story books in the waiting rooms of doctors offices. Pretty pictures, you know?
In my tweens, after we had moved to Texas (which really cut down on my ability to go to Temple and to Mass with friends–sad) I visited a local Baptist church and was confused and frightened into something like salvation. That is, after visiting the church a few times, and being hounded by the Sunday School lady, I was in bed one night staring at the ceilng and suddenly became afraid I was going to die. I was afraid if I died, I was going to go to hell, and didn’t want to catch on fire. I went to my parents’ bedroom and told them that, and I told them I was going to be a Baptist so I wouldn’t go to hell. They were fine with that, and I announced my intention to be baptized. Mom, although she hadn’t darkened a door since I was two, agreed to go to church with me to see it done. Dad said no.
The next Sunday, when the altar call came–wait. Some of you might not know what an altar call is. In most Baptist churches, the service goes something like Singing-Prayer-Singing-Baptisms/Baby Dedications-Singing (to give the pastor time to get out of his hip waders)-Welcome of New Guests-Religious Announcements/Introduction of Speakers/Pastor-Soloist Singing/Awful Screeching-Prayer-20 minute Sermon-Collection of Offering-Prayer-Altar Call-Prayer-Introduction of those who answered the Altar Call to be Born Again, Baptized, or Become a Member of the Church-Congregation Accepts These People-Prayer-Dismisal.
The altar call goes like this: The pastor will pray and remind the congregation that none come to the Father, except by the son, and will ask everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes. Then, he will (sweetly or not, depending upon your flavor of Baptist–I’ve never heard a sweeter altar call than those given by Bill Skaar at First Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, unless it was by Jesse Duplantis, who is a Word of Faith evangelist) entreat those who are not yet Saved to accept Jesus as their Lord, and come declare their willingness to follow Jesus’ way of doing things, and leave off willful sin. He will also invite people who are Saved, but not yet Baptized, to come make a declaration of their faith through Public Witness (that’s just saying out loud, in front of people that you have chosen Christ) and announce their intention to be Baptized. Usually, those people get baptized the next week. He will also invite people to join the church family.
Those who answer the Altar Call walk down to the front where ministers are waiting. The ministers speak with, pray with, love on them, and write down their information on little cards. The choir will generally sing, very softly, repeating verses of a chosen hymn. My personal favorite goes, “Softy and tenderly, Jesus is calling…” I guess I like it because my Jesus is a tender Jesus. Anyway, when the pastor thinks everyone who is coming is there, he will go speak quietly to each one, determine their needs, and pray with them. The choir is exhausted by then, so the music goes a little more up tempo until the pastor returns to the pulpit.
Then, he will remind everyone that answering the Altar Call is a brave thing to do, and encourage those who did it. He will introduce each person or family, using the little cards to tell the congregation about them and why they answered the call. He will then ask for particular members of the church to come and stand with each person, picking out those he knows are good examples of what each person needs, and will ask those church members to take responsibility for introducing the Newbies around, and helping them feel connected.
After service is dismissed, all those people remain at the front of the church, and the congregation comes by to greet and congratulate, and hug them. The little old ladies are the worst for wanting to hug and smooch on you. Although, I have a strong feeling that when I am a little old lady, that’s where you’ll find me–though I’ve long since given up on being a real Baptist.
So, picture me, a very small eleven-year-old in a pink dress. When the altar call came, this one as gruff and unsanded as the proverbial old, rugged cross, I took a breath, set my jaw, and marched myself down that red carpeted center aisle, through the mothball scented rows of pews, to the front. The Sunday School lady asked me why I was down there. “I want to get baptized,” I told her. She said, “Have you made a public profession of your faith?” I said, “I don’t know. But I need to get baptized so I don’t go to hell.” And, they baptized me, told me I was saved and not allowed to sin anymore, and to come to more church services.
That’s the last time I went to that church, save for visiting once with Jamie.
So, you see, I did not accept Jesus or anything like that. I thought Jesus was a really nice man, and that it was super that he was the Son of God and all, and I wanted to be a really good girl, but there was no personal connection. I felt much closer to Aslan than to Jesus, in fact. I was just afraid of going to hell, so I jumped into his line.
I would not have any regular religious instruction again until 9th grade, when I transferred to Ursuline Academy, and began taking Catholic theology classes and going to Mass. Imagine my surprise at finding extra books in the Bible! I found that very suspect. The Bible Calvary Baptist had given me didn’t have all those extras in there, and I thought I was a Baptist, so I needed to stick to the bare bones of Protestantism. Sister Ann thought I would make a good nun, though. I thought I could not. I do think one of my classmates went on to join the sisterhood. She was a wonderful girl. I find myself hoping she did because religions need people like Jean. Jean would make the world better. You could stand next to her and feel her calm and warmth radiating, and believe everything was going to be all right.
Once I left Ursuline, with the exception of a few visits to a pre-Dr. Skaar FBC, with Karen, I didn’t bother with church. I still spent plenty of time on religion. There were a lot of them out there to read about, anyway. It wasn’t until college, when I followed a boy named Luther to a Campus Crusade group, that I started getting really involved.
Between December 1992 and March 1993, several things happened. First, I was date raped out of my virginity (I’ve never really counted that, since it wasn’t exactly my idea, you know?) and that put me quite out of my mind trying to act normal, since I chose to keep it a secret (save for telling a couple of friends and blurting it out to a group of near strangers, who were appropriately horrified at my outburst.) Next, Granny was diagnosed with aggressive cancer. And then, my father left very suddenly. Thus began my downward emotional spiral, which culminated with me sitting on my grandparents’ back porch in July, sobbing my heart out to God and making that actual personal decision that Jesus was going to be my Lord, and was going to be my model for how to live my life. My way wasn’t working, so I said I would give his way a try.
A month later, I was attending my first Southwest Believers Convention, then the Eagle Mountain Motorcycle Rally, then soon, I was a full-on member and volunteer at Eagle Mountain International Church. Those were the good days. They lasted about two years.