My Story, Installment 1

*At our elder meetings the last year, they’ve been taking 15 minutes per person to talk about their journey of walking with Christ. They’ve done it in, more or less, a time-line fashion. It’s been highly enjoyable, especially since I’ve known most of these folks for a decade or more and spent a great deal of time with them…but, yet, in this forum, we’re discovering so much that’s encouraging in our own walk. While I’ve given snippets of this in various ways here at The Diner, I thought I’d give it a shot the way the elders have been doing it and get it all in one spot.

I was born in Fairfield, Alabama. Same place as Willie Mays only 35 years later (1966), which may explain my fascination with the number 24 and over-the-shoulder catches.

My mom was a school teacher. A bow-headed cheerleader, youngest of 3 girls. My dad was a general foreman at the steel mill that was the reason that Birmingham even has a star on any map. Like everybody else that was a general foreman who married a school teacher, when the oldest kid turned 5 you moved to a steel-mill suburb for the schools and the mom became a homemaker.

My upbringing was stereotypical middle class: Homemaking moms involved in the PTA and dads who strolled home at the end of shift work at either 7AM, 3PM, or 11PM…double shifts excluded. We went to school, came home, took off our school clothes, put on our play clothes and immersed ourselves in whatever sport was in season or imitations of Fonzie jumping trash cans on our bicycles. Cable television with 3 superstations, all showing National League baseball. Putt-Putt. Little league everything. Get togethers often with both the paternal and maternal extended families. Maternal at Pappy’s house and paternal at Nana’s…or maybe the river cabin that side of the family shared. Pretty standard stuff.

Except for the religious arena.

We were “Episcopal.” In Alabama. Which caused people to say, “That’s nice.” They really got Baptists. They could get their arms around Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and the like. They recognized Catholics. From what I could gather, to most hearers in God’s Little Acre, “Episcopal” meant, “Kinda Catholic But Not Really.”

But there was Sunday School. My mom taught it.
There was a formal church service every Sunday except the Sunday we didn’t have it to watch the 1980 U.S. Hockey team play Finland for the gold medal in the Fellowship Hall.
There were church camps…I distinctly remember one in a town in Alabama that you could ski in called Mentone.

My mom was diligent. She got us to church every week. We got our Sunday School pins for attendance and memory verses. We said the Lord’s Prayer every night. She fixed something for the pot-luck lunch that followed the service, usually deviled eggs. She got me into being an acolyte when I was old enough. She got me enrolled in confirmation classes.

Which was to confirm that I was saved. Well, me and the other 13-year-olds.

Which, I was. To hear my mom tell it, I said a prayer with her when I was 5 right in the den with her. I tend to believe her. She wasn’t given to outright lies regarding stuff like that. But, it’s safe to say that I can’t recall a time that I didn’t think with what I later learned is called an “unrenewed” mind.

I think that’s why I’ve always had leanings and fascinations regarding God and religious things. When we went into our Dungeons & Dragons phase (like every kid born in and around the time we were) I was always a cleric. I always prayed. I never had trouble picking up a Bible and finding something to get into. I can’t think of a time that there hasn’t been some Jiminy Cricket thing going on in my life. It’s always seemed to click for me, even when the questions came (that’s tomorrow’s entry).

In contrast to my mother’s outward diligence was my father’s unspoken inner commune. My dad found God in the outdoors. Put him in a boat (river or gulf, didn’t matter) or a deer stand and you could tell he was, in today’s parlance, “centered.” My dad also found God in relationships. Put him with his wife & kids or with his friends and, while quiet, laughed a lot. He adored his wife (much to the bewilderment of my sister and I), he adored us (which manifested itself in him teaching me about drop-steps/head fakes and hugging/kissing my sister) and enjoyed his friends. Sure, he’d be mom’s henchman when it came to getting us ready for church and he attended as often as it took to keep my mom off his back. But he didn’t get into the gold/stained glass/prayer book stuff as much as he did everything outside that realm.

And that’s what my spiritual life was in the 8 years after my age-5 start. I could repeat it all back to the priest when it was supposed to be repeated back. I could stand or kneel as required. I bowed when it was time to bow. I could try to figure out what was going on outside the stained glass windows whenever I detected movement beyond them. I knew it was time to go in when the bell rang. I knew it was time to go to lunch when it rang again. I got to be part of communion out of a silver chalice with everybody else every week. Robes. Incense. The whole bit. I had my prayer book signed by the Bishop Furman C. Stough by my bedside and did those nightly with my mom–or my dad if he was trying to keep her off his back.

The red-headed boy next door.
Who hung out with the other boys next door playing sports when he got home from school.
With a homemaking mom who drove the spiritual bandwagon.
With a dad who got on the bandwagon in his own way.
Happy…for the most part, even though we all have our days.
Walking with God the way I’d been taught, formally and informally.

Until the Fall of 1979.