My mother had a limited understanding of the Bible. It was limited by her own reading and study, because she didn’t put much stock in the interpretation of others, especially some of the “peace, love, and understanding” preachers we encountered in CA in the sixties. Ironic since Mom was such a peaceful, loving, understanding person, but she grew up with the “fire and brimstone” preaching of the past and believed that most of life’s choices were good or bad, yes or no, not “maybe”. She often spent time confirming what was said in church by reading it for herself in her own Bible- a habit I’ve tried to emulate. She also felt that it was her duty as a parent to make sure that her children were trained in Biblical principles.
Some of my earliest memories are of long boring sermons and hard wooden pews. I don’t remember Sunday school classes or children’s church. Perhaps they didn’t exist. Perhaps Mom and Gran (my father’s mother) felt that my place was by their side. I don’t know. I only know that while they differed profoundlyin their religious convictions, they were strongly united in their belief that children must have spiritual training. As a result, I grew up in the Church of Christ, but also frequently attended the Baptist Church…while attending school in a predominantly Catholic community. Of course I was often confused and bewildered when my friends and I compared rules and expectations, but we all got the basic message, “Behave or else!”
Don’t laugh, but the strongest memory I have of my early church experience is a feeling of fear and guilt because I preferred to sing in my grandmother’s church, where they were allowed to play instruments. My grandmother didn’t even sing! She always said she couldn’t “carry a tune in a bucket” and didn’t want to embarrass anyone. I made up for her silence by singing loud enough for both of us!
I also remember carrying my weekly offering tied inside a handkerchief. I remember wearing shoes that hurt my feet and that stayed in my closet until the next Sunday so they would be pretty and shiny. I remember sleeping on Mom’s lap when the preacher spent too much time in the Old Testament. I remember not being able to see over the big hats worn by some of the women. And I remember that my mother was usually alone. My father seldom attended church with us. I don’t think they ever reconciled their religious differences, so he deferred to Mom’s choice for our basic training.
I have to admit that even though I didn’t always agree with her and in later life chose to attend a different denomination that hers, my early training has always benefited every aspect of my life. I have never said or thought for a moment “I wish we hadn’t gone to church so much”. Instead, I find that Bible verses or hymns often pop into my thoughts like old friends. Memories of good times help me through bad times. I know that many people fall back on “What would Jesus do?” in times of crisis and decision making. My tendency is to ponder, “What would Mom do?”