This past Christmas and now New Year’s eve bring to my mind of past church Christmas programs and New Year’s services.
Growing up, I recall attending ‘Watch Night Services’ on New Year’s Eve. We would eat, hear a message, and generally see a movie. ‘A Thief in the Night’ and ‘Distant Thunder’ were big at the time.
I also have many good memories of both Christmas and New Years with my family. Now, these same formerly happy memories are a two-edged sword that torture me, cutting the wounds that gush out great overwhelming waves of grief, loneliness, loss, and despair.
I am apart from my ex-wife and our children who live in what was formerly our house. Now, I am an unwanted, rather disrespected stranger who is briefly tolerated for the sake of me seeing my grand kids. My soul is ripped into shreds that lay about wishing someone would sew them back together, but realizing that only I have that responsibility, and some things once broken can never, ever be the same again.
Apart and alone.
These are the same feelings that I grew up with as the good kid living under the lies and expectations of separatist Baptist fundamentalism. I was ‘separated from the world’ and was a ‘witness and testimony’ in my actions.
And yet, the very church that I attended was like myself to my ex-wife, an unwanted, intrusion in my life. I recall many boring Sunday School classes, followed by an hour and a half more of my time before we were able to go home and have dinner. Then Sunday evening, we had to leave again for another hour or so. This says nothing about being required to sit through Wednesday evening prayer service in which I recall listening to a bunch of old people asking for prayer for someone who was sick or something along those lines.
Even as a kid in middle school, I used to wonder what it would be like to have two full days off like normal folks. It would have been nice to not always have to stop watching a very interesting TV show to get ready for Sunday evening service. What would it have been like to go camping for a weekend?
And I always had to be in church “every time the doors were open” as the Baptist said.
Nothing else mattered. Church attendance trumped everything and everyone. In fact, I learned to judge church members’ level of ‘spirituality’ by their attendance levels. The truly committed Christians would even skip the Super Bowl game to show up for Sunday evening service!
My father, being the Pastor, took the view that everything, our social life, should revolve around the church, and loved church services. Conversely, I felt trapped, helpless, and sometimes, angry. Church services seemed to always interrupt the very best moment of any TV show that happened to be on. One occasion, I was told that if my high school wrestling coach couldn’t change my wrestling match time to allow me to attend Wednesday evening church service, then I would have to forfeit the match.
Due to my folk’s particularly conservative views on music, I was not allowed to listen to the current popular rock songs, and was not allowed to be in Stage Band in high school. But by gum I was a testimony!
In large part, our church beliefs kept me from being ‘a part of’ normal activities. I grew up feeling the same feeling then as I do now.
I am completely alone, apart from, and missing out on just about everything that normal folks do.
As a child, I was somewhat cut off from going to school dances, playing in a jazz band, listening to rock music, attending prom, dating any girl who was not part of our church (can’t date the unsaved, that is being unequally yoked with unbelievers), no dirty jokes, although racist jokes were totally okay at the time.
And today, I continue to carry that same socially maladjusted blueprint of being cut off, not a part of, my own ex-wife and children, my co-workers. I exist like a bubble of oil floating in a vast ocean of water.
Alone. Apart from.
Thank you Baptist Fundamentalist Church for interfering with my normal life growing up, and for so skewing my outlook with your lies and man-made synthetic standards that even today I apparently do not possess the innate skills that normal people have of establishing strong, trusting, long-term, intimate relationships with other humans.
No, I had to stand alone in the darkness, to be a lighthouse, a beacon of truth to the great waves of the unwashed, immoral, unsaved and normal people who know what it’s like to build friendships, build successful careers, and actually enjoy living.
Happy New Year!