I learned pretty early I was going to die, probably when I saw an old dead aunt or uncle in a casket, the survivors honking their noses and sobbing, the corpse's face forced into a taut smile, the lips almost burgundy, the face masked with that garish make-up they used back in those days making the dead person resemble a stage actor playing a dead person. Oh, why do we have to die? What a creepy thing.
I also dreaded the initiation into the Future Farmers of America. The process lasted a week, and during one of those days, we had to dress up like girls and be auctioned off on the steps of the high school. We became slaves to our new owners, and they could make us do some pretty embarrassing stuff. The hazing wrapped up with some nighttime after-school fun where we were run through a bizarre, unlighted, get-down-get-dirty gauntlet, the climax of which was having Limburger cheese smeared on our faces. We were supposed to think it was pig shit.
And I dreaded vaccinations, esp. for smallpox.
|No turning back.|
There was no getting out of it. In my community, right around the age of puberty, people would be moved, during a worship service, to "join the church" or "be saved" or "accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior." To refuse this ritual was to be labeled an atheist, which could be exciting for a while, but then there would be the whole burning throughout eternity thing -- probably beginning just before or after the disturbing funeral.
Why couldn't we just accept him at home, if he came around? We were told that if we denied Jesus in front of our friends, he'd turn around and deny us right back to his Father. Our personal relationship had to be public!
I never thought to question why Jesus would pick puberty as prime time for seeking a formal, public invitation into our hearts. I never considered the possibility that my parents' denomination -- rural Southern Baptist -- planted that notion in our minds to make us more likely to describe an emotional surge during church as an encounter with God.
So first a thunderous, pathos-filled hour of sermonizing; then some praying that might well have been directed more at us than the Almighty; then a hymn so solemn it saddened the choir to sing it, so they would knit their respective brows, and sway, and gaze at the fluorescent lights above; stir all these together, and we would feel the Creator of the Universe reaching out, hear Him calling softly and tenderly, to us little snotty-nosed nobodies from nowhere.
I wasn't smart enough to know which part of the tripartite God was behaving this way. The wording suggested it was Jesus, but he was not visible. It couldn't be God, because no one sees His face and survives to tell about it. That left only the Holy Ghost, and I had no clue as to what that was. The term did evoke Halloweenic undertones, however.
|But there are still three . . .|
And the whole idea of a Trinity -- when or how did that mathematical impossibility find its way into church doctrine? We would get to the details after we had opened our hearts to whatever It was that gave us chills and moved us to tears on a certain Sunday. Yes, we would let Him in, then check His I.D. later.
Kind of like a vaccination. You don't know what's in that syringe, but you'll figure out the science later. And you'll be saved from smallpox, for example.
We didn't know that every (I guess) religious tradition perpetuates itself by sowing its seeds on the freshly plowed ground of the next generation. The elders say, "Child, meet God as we understand him. Get to know Him the way we did, because He will be the only One you know until our version becomes a bit too limited for you, and you begin your search for a less easily defined God, One so godlike that It transcends gender roles and human language. One that is in no way created or tainted by your own scrap of received wisdom. In short, One that cannot be invented or named inside a human's head."
(The elders say that last part so quietly most of us can't hear it till we're in our fifties.)
So I fall back in time, and I'm in line. I'm waiting and I can smell the alcohol and hear the nurse's soothing voice. I'll take the vaccination, but by God, I'm gonna need a booster later.