Sunday, June 30, 2013

My Secret Pentecostal Friend

I met her outside our houses a few years ago and we hit it off right away. Our daughters were about the same age and we set up a play date for them. She confessed that the other neighbors didn't like her. The other neighbors seemed shocked at our friendship - she wouldn't talk to anyone (they told me).

I assumed it was a misunderstanding, or shyness, and our friendship continued to deepen. I was occasionally at her house when her husband came home on his lunch break or after work. He was a bit odd, but always friendly. Another family of neighbors went to the same church as my friend, and they were distant cousins. The other family nearly always stayed indoors and didn't speak to anyone in the neighborhood. Rude people.

It turned out my daughter was in classes with the daughter of the "rude" neighbors. As a class volunteer, I got to know their little girl and, through the playground, her older sister. Once I saw the family in public and both little girls ran up to me to chat. Their parents refused to acknowledge my presence (can you imagine?).

About a year into our friendship, my friend started having some problems with her marriage. Her husband told her she couldn't talk to me because I didn't go to their church. They were Pentecostals. She said she couldn't talk to anyone unless they went to her church at that point. Our friendship continued, in secret, and I worried about my friend. I thought it was a sign of possible abuse for her husband to be so controlling of who she could speak to.

And then, last summer, my friend's family moved away and I only heard from her rarely on Facebook. I had almost forgotten her when her daughter showed up in the neighborhood this weekend - staying with the family who doesn't talk to the rest of us (the parents don't; their kids do). 

Seeing her again reminded me of the strange and secret friendship and it reminded me of something else: how, for the first half of my life, being forbidden to associate with outsiders was the norm. How far removed that life is, in nearly every way. I had forgotten the imprisoned feelings. I have come to take for granted the freedoms I now have - that my children have always had: to talk to, socialize with, include anyone. It's a great feeling, and tonight I'm grateful for the freedom I have.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The First Time I Witnessed a Baptism...

I grew up attending a church that didn't have children's services. We sat with our parents from birth until age seven, then we sat "up front" with our same age/gender peers. When I was a child, we had men who delivered sermons. When I was a teenager, the last elder died, and our services shrunk down into what could be called worship meetings, consisting of the singing of ten hymns and a silent prayer.

I had never been to Sunday School, until I was approved and trained to teach it. I showed up for my first 4th/5th grade Sunday School class without any practical experience. I learned at least as much as the kids. That was thirteen years ago.

I had a similar experience with baptism. I had never seen anyone baptized. Our church had stopped doing baptism and other sacraments before I was even born. I remember seeing the baptismal tank in a storage room of the old church building. It seemed a sacred object - large and largely sacred. That tank represented the only path to salvation which was no longer open.

I saw my first baptism in October 2000, when I showed up for my own baptism. I didn't know what to expect, except that the baptismal robe was white and I would be getting dunked, so I should wear something that would offer plenty of coverage. I won't repeat the stories of young ladies who didn't get that message here.

So, for any of my readers who have never witnessed a baptism, I requested a video of one from a member of the Church of the First Born. Brother Alvin Watkins, a COFB preacher, provided this video of the baptism of Kelvin Mercer.

I have, of course, witnessed many more baptisms in the last thirteen years, including my oldest child's. Last summer, my kids and I were playing at a park when we came upon a church group doing a baptism in the river. We knew several of the families from the community and the kids' school, so we joined the congregation in celebrating the baptisms. One of the dozen or so baptisms that day was a disabled young adult who was rarely conscious, and never verbal. During the ceremony he woke up and acted unusually alert. Someone asked if he wanted to be baptized and his face lit up. Though he couldn't verbalize, all present seemed to agree that he should be baptized. There wasn't a dry eye during his baptism, it was something I felt incredibly privileged to witness. Within a week, the young man passed peacefully into the next life.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

It Isn’t Mother’s Day for Guys

Mother’s Day became a national holiday 58 years before Father’s day became an officially recognized holiday in 1972. And, I remember Mother’s Days past more than I remember Father’s Days. But, that may be more a family thing.

For most of my life, my dad celebrated Father’s Days with my brothers – going on weekend hiking trips or fishing or something else I wasn’t, by reason of my gender, included in. I remember that our church had organized father-son hiking trips and I even remember hearing talk about a father-daughter trip (with a much shorter hike), but I never went on one. I had three older brothers to compete for my dad’s time and attention.

I’ve thought about my dad a lot lately, though. He’s going to be 73 years old next month. I’m glad he’s still around and living close by.

He’s a good man and he has always been a good role model to my siblings and me. He worked hard. He went to work even when he didn’t feel like it. His work ethic is something I learned from him, and it’s an important value to me. When I have students who miss class, I tell them this: I’ve earned five college degrees and I never missed a lecture. Even the day I had a miscarriage, I still went to class. I don’t call in sick for work, either. In fact, most of winter term this year, I was pretty much lecturing in a flu-like fog. I was miserable and in intense pain many days, but not showing up was never an option. I fulfill my commitments. It’s a value I learned from my dad.

The other day, I wasn’t feeling well and I called my dad and asked him to bring me some Advil. Ten minutes later, he was letting himself in, with a cold bottle of water in one hand and Advil in the other. He does things like that for me and my children all the time. He’s my superhero. I’m sorry to break it to you, but my dad’s the greatest dad of all.

Far too many men these days abandon their responsibilities and their children. We need to recognize the real men who step up to the plate, every day choosing to do what’s right. Happy Father’s Day to all the men out there who work hard and sacrifice to support their families.

But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
1 Timothy 5:8

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ten Things You’ll Never See (and/or Hear) at the FOC

Last night, I visited a local church (it was my second time visiting). As I looked around, I thought about all the ways this church (and most churches) differ from the definition of church I grew up with. Here are just ten (of numerous) things I saw/heard at last night’s church service, that I would have never seen/heard at the FOC:

  1. A worship band – with electric guitars, loud drums, and women in the worship band.
  2. A wooden cross hanging on the wall – topped by a crown of thorns.
  3. Worshippers spontaneously standing and lifting their arms to the Lord in praise and adoration.
  4. Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans.
  5. Someone leading the congregation in prayer (praying aloud).
  6. Congregants with their Bibles open (following along with the sermon).
  7. Bibles.
  8. People taking notes on the sermon.
  9. A sermon.
  10.  People warmly greeting strangers.

The list can go on endlessly – I didn’t even mention the presence of pastors (seven of them!). Or that one of the associate pastors, who was wearing shorts at church, had a friendly discussion with me about politics. That’s not something that would’ve ever happened at the FOC (a male leader taking the time to discuss politics with an unknown female visitor).

The point of this comparison is not to say one is better than the other – more to discuss the shock that can occur when you only know one definition for a cultural phenomenon (church) and later discover that the overwhelming majority of the Christian culture has a completely different characterization of that same term (church). This was an accepting and positive experience. I didn’t feel judged. I received hugs from a few strangers. They were eager to welcome a new friend into the fold. Imagine.


Dear Readers: I am busy this season with the care of my family, so I will only be able to blog weekly. Enjoy your summer and please check back every Sunday for a new post.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Write Fearlessly

“If you wish to be loved, show more of your faults than your virtues.”
Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

When I started writing my book, I wanted to write it as a fictional novel to avoid making enemies, to say the least. But I received some advice that impacted my writing and thinking about my writing: if you’re going to write nonfiction, write fearlessly.
A family member had been asking to read my memoir for more than a year. Knowing it would upset the person, I made excuses. But last month, I gave in. And the person hated it.  Among many of the complaints were some scenes/chapters that depict me in a bad light.
“How could you let everyone in church read that?”
“What church?” I said.
“Your church!”
My church?” I said.
“The Followers!”
“Oh, you mean those people who’ve been shunning me for the past nineteen years? I don’t care what they think about me.”

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God

Ephesians 2:8