My religious indoctrination was somewhat eclectic, to say the least. But I learned a great deal from my experiences, some of which I would like to share with you. My intent is not to offend, but merely present experiences and memories as they occur to me.
As well as I can remember my mother never set foot in a church once she married my father at the ripe old age of fifteen and left her Southern Baptist home. That didn’t stop her from sending my brother and I trotting off with Grandma and Grandpa Bean to the First Baptist Church in Olivehurst every Sunday morning to listen to reverend Cecil Gates preach about hell and damnation. I guess religion never took hold with mom, and she thought she’d give it a second chance with her two older kids—just in case. Maybe that is why we had to say those prayers every night at bedtime:
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”
I didn’t mind that part. In fact I got to feeling kind of superstitious about it. Like, if I didn’t say my prayers at night something bad might happen and it would be my fault. It was that next line that chilled me though”
“If I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.”
Now, what little kid wants to think about dying before they wake? Maybe that is why I am such an insomniac. That is pretty damn scary.
Back to church, nine and seven years old respectively, me being the big sister, we would be sent to Sunday school where we learned that Jesus loved little children who colored within the lines and were obedient and quiet. The coloring subjects were quite dramatic at times. This fellow Jonah was swallowed by a whale because he didn’t do what God said. Miraculously he was saved after three days and also given a second chance to redeem himself. Then there was the story of Moses and the burning bush that didn’t really burn. But, the voice of God boomed down and told Moses he needed to go to Egypt and lead his people back to their land, his people being the Jews I am guessing. There were many more fantastic stories that would puzzle the questioning mind of a nine year old, but I won’t go into them now. Those darn songs we sang still stick in my head, although the metaphors and analogies escaped me at the time. I’m talking about “The Wise Man Built His House upon the Rock”, “O Be Careful Little Eyes What You See”, and who could forget, “I Will Make You Fishers of Men”.
After being inducted into the Lord’s Army we children were sent out to join the adults in the nave of the church for the finale of the Sunday happening. This is where events became very uncomfortable for me, and Preacher Cecil really got excited. It was time for everyone to leave their seats, head for the pulpit and accept Jesus as their personal savior. If you did you were promised salvation and eternal life, and if you resisted you were damned and would be condemned to join the devil and burn forever in a fiery hell. Everyone watched to see where folks would end up. My little brother, Denny, and I looked at each other wide-eyed. I could tell he was scared, but when he started to stand up I jerked on his arm and pulled him back down. The piano droned on while the parishioners bleated—“Tenderly, earnestly Jesus is calling. Calling all sinners come home.” I shook my head at Denny. “They’re not talking about us. We’re not sinners.”
I wish that could have been the end of it, but summer bible school crept onto the scene, promising more coloring, more bible songs, and the memorization of bible verses and all the books of the new testament, in order: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the Acts, the Apostles, and the Romans… After two years of my continued resolute resistance to be saved, mom abandoned her plan to turn us into good little Christian children and we were allowed to live in peace as heathens. The irony of that religious training was that we were never taught in church to treat others as equals, to practice kindness, to be humble and generous. I learned the true lessons of right and wrong at home from my mother and the way she lived her life. The truth is, my Grandpa Bean, and I loved him dearly, was an ornery son of a gun who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot a Mexican while cow-poking in his early days in Texas, and if rumors are true, he once belonged to the Klu Klux Klan, all the while reading his bible every night. So much for the scriptures.