Salvation history

If proof of God exists in my early years, as the tutorial at the Methodist church suggests, I’m hard pressed to find it—although my having been born is something of a miracle. My parents were young and wildly inappropriate for one another. They were college students who met at a party and then…the details get a little murky. One snap shot in my possession may or may not be my parent’s nuptials. I have very little photographic evidence from my childhood and even fewer explanations. Despite my father studying film in college, he did not own a camera, so all that remains is a small and odd assortment of pictures taken by extended family members and friends.

My parents split when I was five and my mom rented a tiny house half a block from a park. For two years, we lived there. I walked myself to and from the nearby elementary school for grades first and second. While my mom worked, I wiled away long afternoons at the park where I met my best friend Michelle, two years my senior and owner of a bicycle with a seat long enough to fit two rear ends.

I had heard of God (the giant peeping Tom), but it was not until Michelle that I gave God more than a passing thought. Michelle and her mom lived in a house even smaller than ours—one bedroom instead of two. Michelle had lots of ideas, one of which included wanting to please God and she explained the best way to do this besides being good was to go to church. The extent of my knowledge in this arena involved that old game of putting my hands together with my index fingers sticking up and reciting the lines, “Here is the church. Here is the steeple.” Then I would “open the doors,” wiggle my fingers and cry, “And here’s all the people!”

Michelle had her eye on a church in our neighborhood. We could get there on her bike, although we would have to walk it across one busy street. I wasn’t eager to go to church, but I adored Michelle’s adventures, and it looked like she had her heart set on this. With permission granted by our moms to venture outside our normal confines, Michelle came to fetch me on her bike early one Sunday morning. I sat, she pedaled, and off we went.

The ladies greeting people at the door didn’t know what to make of us. I probably hadn’t brushed my hair, much less dressed in anything special. “We want to go to church,” Michelle announced. They said we were welcome to attend Sunday school in the back. Michelle pointed to the sanctuary with the pews and the grownups. “In there,” she said with great authority, “is where we want to go.” The ladies clucked at each other and told us to wait. “Let’s go,” I hissed. Michelle told me to shush.

The ladies returned, seeming very pleased. We could attend regular services this week but if we returned the following week, and they hoped we would, we were to attend Sunday school. Michelle nodded slowly: she would accept their deal.

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21 thoughts on “Salvation history

  1. It seems like even at that young age you and Michelle made a choice to visit a church. As a young boy I didn’t give “choice” a thought. I was born into this very Catholic family, baptized/christened with godparents present along with my parents which automatically made me Catholic. When I began to be conscious of church going it just seemed to be the most natural thing in the world. I belonged.

    • Hi Frank, I wonder about that sometimes–if you grow up going to church then does attending as an adult just feel like breathing? For those of us who didn’t grow up with it, are we destined always to feel a bit awkward with it, kind of like it will always be our second language? Not to say that’s a bad thing because maybe that gives us fresh insight and appreciation.

      • It’s hard to relate to your experience since it wasn’t mine. However, I imagine that it may not be too different from the new feelings that crop up when one converts from one belief system to another which I have done a couple of times. I felt awkward with the beliefs and rituals of the new “church”. Human nature can be pretty adaptable so in time the new “church” felt very comfortable. Yes, I was used to attending church so that wasn’t uncomfortable but it was the inner stirrings each time, at the beginning, in which I questioned myself about whether or not I was doing the right thing. And, yes, it does feel like a “second language” because you never lose your first no matter how adept you get with the second. My sense is that the awkwardness that may give you fresh insight and appreciation is like a puzzle piece that already knows the picture it is meant to be a part of. When you find it it will feel like a grand: “AHA!! so that what you have known before is a perfect fit with what you find in the present.

  2. Corinna, I’m guessin’ you didn’t accept the “deal.” What strikes me about Jesus and children is that he wasn’t very “proper” with them in the sense that those two ladies were….Jesus’ disciples would have also directed you to the Sunday school had they been living today. We’ve built up an awful lot of tradition about how to “do church.” Some of that tradition has turned other children away. A church we attended for many years turned away “Jesus people” in the 60s because they were “dressed right.” That same church didn’t support the civil rights movement either, and I don’t remember any black Americans attending there for several years, until perhaps the 90s.
    As to what is and what isn’t “salvation history,” I think we only see it with some perspective. I had a lot of strange ideas and assumptions as a kid….I remember growing up in Los Angeles in the 50s, the biggest thing in everybody’s world still being “The War” (WWII). I even figured the “New Testament,” being new, must’ve been written since the war. In 1st grade, some friends took my brother and me to a church in Hollywood, where we attended Sunday school AND the adult worship service where this “old old” man intoned the Bible for hours (so it seemed). But what I remember most is a smiling, sweet Sunday school teacher named Janet, (probably 30-ish), who gave me a Bible (cheapie little New Testament with no pictures). In the front she wrote, “Now the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, who hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work” (2 Thessalonians 2:16,17, KJV). I couldn’t make much of the verse until I myself was an adult, but it was precious and special. She wrote it as a prayer for me (that part I did understand), and that’s my prayer for you.

    • Hi Walt, Oh, I accepted it all right, but only because Michelle did (more on that in the next post). I love your recollections of L.A. in the 50s–the bulk of my time there was during the 80s, although I’ve returned regularly to visit family and friends. As for Janet, isn’t it amazing how one small gesture like that can be so powerful? I cherish memories of several adults who did or said some small, kind thing. I am honored to have you pass that quote down to me.

      • Janet’s “one small gesture” was indeed huge. I eventually lost track of that New Testament (maybe left it behind in Africa) but I also remember puzzling over the verse at various and sundry times throughout my life, eventually “getting it” after I made a conscious decision to follow Jesus about two years after Vietnam. As I grew older, I began putting together bits and pieces of my life (ie, getting perspective) where events big and small and people coming and going, smiling, praying, challenging, loving, a word here a word there, were all parts of my own “salvation history,” Providence weaving a tapestry giving insight on what it might mean to be an actual Christian, not simply involved in ‘churchianity’ or religion. Before that time, I suppose I was like many (most?) who look for some kind of spiritual ‘signs’ or some esoteric (gnostic) wisdom to indicate I was ‘ok’ with whatever is running the universe. Paul wrote about this in a letter to the Corinthian (Greek) believers (1 Corinthians 1:21-25), about how a crucified Messiah made no sense to the Jews who were waiting on a triumphant king, nor did it match the thinking of Greeks and other “gentiles” who thought special wisdom would get them a ticket out of the hell-hole of this life…..A good question to seek answer for is: who is this Jesus who died on a cross, and what did it matter, anyway?

        • Thanks, Walt for your contributions to Corinna’s blog. Everyone’s contribution makes me review my own thoughts on these matters. Probably what you call your “salvation history” (an interesting term that sounds church-like) I call my life review. Like you I am able to “put together bits and pieces of my life and see what I call the “woven tapestry” of Grace. Things that happened in my life, whether labeled good or bad were and are still part of my journey and one event linked to another that, by Grace, brought me to where I am today. Mostly it seems like if it was preordained. My commitment is to the God power of Life and what It unfolds before me and the choices I make with what comes forth. I think the historical Jesus did the same and the experience of the cross was his choice and an example to us of the power of choice. To imbue it with a spilling of blood for the salvation of sinners in a literal way is beyond my comprehension.

      • Thanks to you, too, Frank, for your contributions. You are one of the thought-provokers following all this. I appreciate that. In a reply to Merrill below, you mentioned being comfortable with ambiguity. I am actually becoming more and more comfortable with ambiguity as I get older. For years I sought to get all the right answers, to work out my own theology, to reconcile different teachings, etc. The problem was, I kept running into….tradition! By that I mean that the different denominations we had been involved in kept trying to make all the pieces fit into one systematic, logical, unified whole–this is the scientific approach and admirable at some level–which became their tradition and anything seeming to doubt or differ cast a cloud upon the questioner…..yours truly. I have come to realize that there is actually quite a bit of ambiguity in Scripture about many things. For some reason the Bible (which I believe does come from God–but the process is a bit ambiguous to me) is not an encyclopedic answer book about everything that we want to know. I suspect that, in some measure, God has a sense of humor (or maybe angst) over our puny efforts to figure it out and our resulting hubris because we think we can put him into a box that we have made….Wisdom dictates that I rely on my Father to show me what I need to know in his time….As you may be aware, Frank, there are lots of differences among theologians over the precise meaning of the “atonement”–what Jesus’ death may or may not have done. I don’t know enough of your background to know exactly what you have in mind by referring to a literal interpretation of blood spilled for the salvation of sinners. I do know that Jesus’ death was not limited to being a great example of choosing to do God’s will. I do know also that the whole New Testament revolves around the meaning of the cross and the empty tomb. The Old Testament lays a foundation for everything in the New, and Isaiah the OT prophet (chapter 53) refers to the Lord having “laid on him the iniquity of us all.” I know this also, that God himself made a way for me to know him, to provide forgiveness for my sin, and be reconciled. I’m comfortable with ambiguity over the precise terms of the transaction hatched in heaven to open a way for we prodigals to come back to the Father–but the way is there. The resurrection provides the validation for what happened on the cross. I’m guessing that you find believing the resurrection beyond comprehension as well. That’s where I was at the day after I nearly bought a ticket to an unknown destination from a rice field in Vietnam–I was laying in a hospital bed having been seriously wounded, wondering if I believed the stuff I’d learned in Sunday school or if Jesus was only some cosmic Santa Claus. That began a two-year search to sort out some of the ambiguity. It took about a year to come to the place where I realized that, if the resurrection is true, then it’s all true (even if somewhat ambiguous)…..and another year of historical poking and thinking and wrestling with God.
        (Corinne: sorry for the length).

    • I read your words, Walt, and I know how heartfelt they are. Perhaps in a similar way the feelings that come to me as heartfelt are more important to me than the story that elicits them. When you ask about my belief in the resurrection it reminds me that for many years I had a picture I used to have in my den called The Emaus Road. I was very familiar with the story of the two disciples who had heard all the talk about the women going to the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea and not finding the body of Jesus there. As they walked excitedly along the road on their way to Emaus to tell other followers about it, the non-ascended Jesus, not appearing as himself, joined them and listened to their talk. At a point in the walk they stopped to have something to eat and it was when Jesus broke the bread they recognized him. He disappeared but later as they were walking together one said to the other, according to one translation: “Were not our hearts burning on the road…….” It’s the sudden feeling of the conscious Presence that evokes something spiritual in me. I don’t only see it in the Jesus story. The Buddha and his conquest of suffering by letting go of attachments evokes a similar feeling of a conscious Presence. And there are others past and present who inspire in me those insightful “Aha” moments. So much so that I feel as if I am walking in a constant consciousness of Grace even in those moments when it may look to others that I am not or even when I question myself. Recently I saw a group of people singing and signing a song. It was a simple one so I joined them. It went like this: “You are the face of God. I hold you in my heart. You are a part of me. You are the face of God.” It’s how I think of you.

  3. My reading is that Michelle was interested in going to church; Corinna was interested in keeping a friend. I was raised in a small, rural Methodist Church in Central Washington State, and I do not remember ever going to a Church service with the adults until I got to be a teenager. Our Sunday School was in the basement, but apparently my Church had the same rules for children! My mother sulbbed out the Church-going experience to a wonderful, young neighbor woman with children of her own. Every Sunday she would stop by and pick me and my younger sisters up and drive us into town for our religious education. It worked well for me when I was young, but when I got to my pre-teen years, I began to question the theology of the Methodists. I was particularly disturbed that young children like myself would automatically go to Hell….all because they happened to be born in the wrong part of the World. As I grew older, I was in a journey much like yours, Corinna, and finally ended up in the Unitarian-Universalist Church, where I have been since I was in my 20’s. I do not personally consider myself Christian, although many others in my Church do….after all the Unitarians and the Universalists grew from Christian roots….but I also do not consider myself as a NONE either! I have very a very strong set of values and moral beliefs, and I am a part of a community of people who all want to leave this world a better place. We are active in the area of social justice, but also attend to our spiritual side. If you haven’t visited a West Coast UU Church, you might choose that experience. I have been reading One None Seeks Some all along and want you to know that just because there is not a spot on forms to check what I feel I am in terms of my religious identity, I do not believe that I could check NONE. There is nothing wrong with my beliefs. It is the forms that are not inclusive enough. Take care on your journey, Corinna.

    • Hi Merrill, I have gone to several UU services and have appreciated my experiences there very much. It’s interesting the dilemma you bring up about not being a “None” but not quite fitting any of the other categories either. It makes me curious to see if and how the categories may evolve to include people deeply appreciate Christianity (or other faith) but may not technically fit in such a way that they can call themselves a member of that faith.

      • We all have different needs that we want to have met by religion. I often fall back on the words of one of my Psychology professors at the University: “Having a high tolerance for ambiguity is a sign of mental health.” Out of that comes my belief that no matter which religion we choose or even if we choose “none” we will always find a certain amount of ambiguity. In other words we won’t believe everything in toto. I like that because it gives me the choice to strongly believe what a particular religion says and to choose to disbelieve that which doesn’t make sense to me and still be a member. My need was to find an inclusive church that welcomed all equally, gay, straight, transgendered, black white, yellow, red and whoever else may be searching. I liked the opening of the service when the minister said, “We welcome all paths and we especially welcome you no matter what path you’re on.” I later added to that, “…………and even if your not on any path.” Do I find ambiguous thoughts in this church, indeed I do and it lets me keep my thoughts without having to defend them.

      • I have been thinking about the need for more inclusive forms. How about the following:
        _____Gardeners with Spirituality
        _____Agnostics who want to believe
        _____Private Souls: Stay the Hell out of my Personal LIfe!
        _____
        I hope you don’t think I am being flippant and disrespectful….I just have a healthy sense of humor and I am not worried or afraid to take on serious issues. I am actually deeply spiritual, but also think we can be too inflexible and serious about our lives. What do we have if we don’t have laughter?

  4. Your story strikes me right through my heart…and people wonder why young people don’t want to come to church. I am a youth and family ministry worker and thankfully my congregation encourages children to be part of worship. I had something like that happen to me when I was 24. I graduated from college and joined the Air Force. I went one Sunday to a large church. As I left worship, the pastor invited me to stay and be part of the education opportunities between services. I must have looked very young because I ended up in Sunday school singing cute songs. I never went back. Both of us were not accepted for who we were.

  5. My parents took us to church beginning when I was four to give my brother and I a religious education. Before that, they had not gone to church because he was Episcopalian and she was Baptist and they couldn’t agree. I began to love church as a teenager when I could drive myself and go to the Sunday night service which was very casual and I could wear shorts. People gave “testimonies” and I loved their God stories. Then I married a beautiful but untamable man. Our marriage was tumultuous and we were separated a few times. One of those times I lived with a woman from that church. She gently but firmly helped me face the fact that my husband was an addict. She lived on a farm and used to say, “You need to go to the pond and talk to the Lord about it.” She knew exactly what she was saying because she was married to a doctor who was a functioning alcoholic.
    My marriage finally failed when my husband left us when I became pregnant with our second child. In another state now, my church surrounded me with love and helped me through that pregnancy, often doing things like babysitting, fixing my car, mowing the grass, just being family, studying the Bible in a small group. A few years and another move later, still another church helped me through breast cancer. Chemo was hard for me and I still have the 176 cards that people of the church sent me to say, “We’re praying for you.” “You can do it!” “Just one more to go!” They sent me Bible verses.
    A Jewish scholar J. P. Fogelman says there is no detail in the Bible that is meaningless. Those writers are theologians and we learn something about God. In Genesis there is a story of a teenager named Joseph. He was his father’s favorite son and that caused mega-problems with his brothers. He alone was given an elaborate, beautiful coat for one, and, he was a snitch. His eleven brothers hated him. One day they were out in the field and his father sent Joseph to Shechem (50 miles away) to check on them. (They were sheepherders.) He went there, and the Bible notes that a man found him wandering around in a field and asked him what he was seeking. He told him, and the man says, “Oh, they went to Dotham.” So he walked another eighteen miles. Why these details?
    Shechem is in the middle of nowhere. But Dothan is on the coast – on the king’s highway. This is God’s providential work. These people know very little about God. There’s no church. No angel moved them; they just plodded along, like you and me. The brothers saw Joseph coming and would try to kill Joseph. And traders came along – it was a busy place – so instead of doing him in they sold him and he was taken to Egypt. Over the course of time (15-20 years I think) his brothers and entire family would come there and be saved from famine. They would be reunited. There Israel would live and grow from 70 people to become a nation. It’s a fascinating story. They didn’t notice God’s providence; probably felt like they were going in circles like Joseph in the field. Simply marking time. But in God’s purposes they were making time.
    Sorry to go on so long. Hope you have a good week. Ginger

      • Frank, that was such an incredibly touching video; a celebration of life! A gift indeed! I’ve had the privilege to be in many places around the world, to see faces revealing stories showing the great worth and value of humanity, and the inventiveness of our Creator. I still work with young, and it is indeed a delight to live and be grateful for each day. Thanks for this.

      • And Corinna, I’d like to (gently) point out to you that you do not need to belong to a Church to feel compassion and empathy for others. I believe that those are human qualities…..they can be enhanced by a religious affiliation, but they can also be nurtured
        by each of us individually, with our families and friends, and in our own “communities’ of people. I hope you already realize how centered you seem to be when it comes to spiritual conversations, I guess I would say. But keep seeking as it is providing some of the rest of us with our own internal discussions. And how can YOU not grow from such an interesting journey. Take care.

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