Skippy ever since I can remember I have talked to a thing that could be called god.
When I look back now it is easy to see how I developed this relationship early on despite having, and indeed needing, no ‘actual’ image of God. The family I had were dangerous to talk to. I knew there was something loving and kind somewhere.
When I started listening to how others described god I learnt of a Jesus who loved children and animals, whose father was God and if I wanted God to love me I had to be good. Personally I thought Jesus was nice and God very scary so I talked to Jesus and not God
In the catholic orphanage I was introduced to their God. He was even scarier. Apparently this God saw every single little thing I did and every single little thought I had and would send me to hell if I didn’t behave. The nuns were very clear on this. I figured I was pretty doomed.
Jesus apparently had died for my sins and the crucifix was everywhere. The worse crucifixes were the ones with Jesus nailed to them, a crown of thorns on his head and a look of agony on his face. I hated them. Some with painted on blood. Why did they not pull him off? Why did they put him up there? Gone was my gentle Jesus meek and mild. He who loved children and who was so gentle little lambs sat at his feet. Instead was this man riddled with pain and the Catholics seemed determined to keep him on that cross!
More by continuing to sin, as apparently I did on a daily basis, I was making Jesus’ suffering all those years ago meaningless. Scary stuff for kids.
We learnt with the Catholics all the nasty things God did to those who were bad. Poor Jonah! Didn’t feel like going out that day and the next second finds himself fish food. And Lot’s wife…a turn of the head and doom! Let’s not even talk about the flood! Even my mother looked good compared to this God. Well…no not really…but at least she didn’t have his powers. Otherwise I would have been blasted to smithereens a long time ago!
By the end of my Catholic indoctrination I didn’t like God at all. He seemed to me to be a big man who demanded I worship him endlessly and if I did the wrong thing, and blimey there were a lot of possible wrong things, he was exceptionally nasty and punitive.
I was still fond of Jesus and to be honest I felt incredibly sorry for him. The Catholics had taught me enough that I knew Jesus had wanted his father to save him from the horror but his father wouldn’t do it. I felt Jesus and I had a commonality in our bad parents.
Kids have an extremely strong sense of justice and can sniff out hypocrisy and falsities in adults in a millisecond. The Catholics that surrounded me were full of them and as a young person I was unable to look at them compassionately or see them as humans thus fallible. They were in my mind, just wrong, and so was their God.
Towards the end of my twelfth year I was introduced to a completely different Christianity. My best friend at school, Sharon, asked me to come to the Revivalist Centre. She said it was about the true God and that there, I would even find proof.
Besides a true longing to find out about what God was, I also wanted to go due to Sharon telling me the Revivalists taught that the Catholics were a tool of the devil. Perfect for a twelve-year-old messed up girl! I got the homes permission to go to two meetings.
I entered a hall of about four hundred or so people, sitting with Sharon and her Aunt and Uncle. The first thing that struck me was that the music was happy instead of the usual long drawn out sombre organ hymns of the Catholics. And they had a band with electric guitars and drums. Cool!
When everyone sat down, the second thing I noticed was that the Pastor wasn’t in Church robes but just in a normal suit. And of course there was not a crucifix to be seen. As he started talking I heard this strange rustling. Looking around I realized that everyone had their own Bible and were following the verses as the pastor referred to them. I hadn’t seen a Bible in any one else’s hands but nuns and brothers before and now everyone had one.
I can’t pretend that I remember the talk except there was a lot about being saved. Then the Pastor said we were all to pray so I bowed my head and closed my eyes with the expectancy of the usual droning prayer priests did.
Suddenly my eyes flew open and my head jerked up as this almighty noise erupted. For a while I just stared around madly wondering what the heck was happening. Everyone was praying at the same time and though they seemed to be saying words, there were certainly no words I could understand.
Bluntly it sounded like gibberish but the emotion of it was what struck me. The sound in these four hundred or so voices was a mixture of joy and tears with a sincerity that I had never witnessed in adults before. It was a genuineness that as absent in the catholics.
I didn’t know what to think of it all. Some people sounded slightly hysterical though I didn’t know that word at the time.
After a time of all this noise everyone sat down and the Pastor talked again. I was now paying attention simply because I wanted to know what on earth that noise had been.
He read straight from the bible (Acts) about the disciples having the Holy Spirit descend on them and receiving the gift of speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues was apparently God’s gift to you if you repented and were baptised just as happened to the disciples in the bible.
It was evidence that you were saved, that God had accepted your apology. There were other gifts. Healing, drinking poison and it not affecting you. And I too could be saved if I was willing to repent.
Was I willing? Of course!! In my mind still, Jesus was kindness itself, God was nasty but loved you if you did certain things and didn’t do other things. The God of the revivalist was pretty much the same as the Jewish/Christian God…big on revenge and attitudes but loving if you did the right thing. And the revivalists had evidence that their way was the right way.
I mean they had fair dinkum proof straight from the bible. If you are saved you get to speak in tongues. The Catholics had no such proof and more, had hypocrisy that spoke of a lack of God to me.
Now, it may seem weird to you that I jumped right in here, particularly when you rejected the idea of being a sinner at seven! But remember when I said it is unwise to judge others opinions and beliefs because you don’t know their journey?
Well you see until this time my life hadn’t been pleasant and being twelve I thought it was because I was bad. As such it made perfect sense to be told I was a sinner and it made even more sense to follow this god because this god gave proof!
The following day I returned to the revivalist centre and was baptised and yes, received the gift of the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. But for me that was not the most amazing thing. For me it was the reaction of the members of this centre. From the moment I showed the desire to be ‘saved’ they embraced me literally and figuratively. I had never had such an experience. I felt I was loved; by God, by these people. It was amazing and wonderful. I had found a home. Finally!
The Pastor talked to me after the service. He gave me a Bible and a whole heap of pamphlets to read. A lot of them condemned the Catholics. I had found acceptance, found God, found love, and found belonging.
I started reading the scriptures. The Bible if nothing else can be a reader’s joy whether it is considered true or not. And a reader I was. There are speeches and events and passionate moments that are brilliantly written.
Besides the sense of belonging that I so wanted, something else happened. I had found faith. I believed in this God, in being saved, in the gift of speaking in tongues. I had done it.
To this day I don’t know what speaking in tongues actually is, but I did it as did all the others. And these people walked their talk. I believed I was saved because I sincerely repented. In that bath tub (full immersion baptism) I silently begged God’s forgiveness for being such a bad person. And I promised to try harder.
I meant it. And I believed. I felt forgiven as long as I obeyed God’s word from now on. I still thought God comparable to my mother but after all…well he was God! And the Revival centre had the word of God down pat and could refer me to the scriptures quickly in evidence. Finally someone was telling me what I needed to be loved. No worries…I could do that.
The alternative to not being saved wasn’t good and I certainly didn’t want anyone, including myself to suffer. There were three levels of this suffering.
First there is the folk that are never witnessed to by a revivalist and thus don’t hear the word of God. Now, upon the ‘second coming’, (when Jesus smashes through the sky and that’s gunna be any second now), these first folks will be judged by their deeds and will be sent to their particular eternity on that basis
And of course at this stage of my life I was convinced by the sinfulness of humanity both via the Catholics and the revivalists and as evidenced by war and poverty and abuse and suffering.
Now the second folk are those that have heard the true word of God but have rejected it. They shall be chucked in a burning pit of fire.
And then there is the third and most evil group. Those that have heard the word of God…have been saved…witnessed by receiving the gift of the holy spirit and speaking in tongues…and after all that, they still reject God and leave him, i.e. leave the revivalist centre. These go into the raging burning hottest of hot fire. They will burn for eternity never turning to ashes but in endless pain. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth etc, etc…
By this time too I had got my hands on a little book that at the time I felt justified my choice over the catholic religion. It was called “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” and was an abridgment of a much larger work called “Foxe’s Acts and Monuments” but more commonly known as ‘The Book of Martyrs” by John Foxe.
At thirteen of course I knew nothing of the history of religion, nor the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants and just about every other religion in known history. I simply read these horrifying tales of persecution inflicted by the Roman Catholics. They were much much worse than my mother and unlike me (as I believed at the time), the victims were good people simply trying to live their faith. It was truly the final nail in the catholic coffin for me.
Not only did the revivalist preach a tough line they also live it. Having experienced both the catholic orphanage, and the overall hypocrisy (the ‘do as I say not as I do’) of most adults, this was impressive. Indeed up to this time I think hypocrisy was the behaviour that all adults seemed to have in common and that pricked my inner sense of justness constantly.
Not the revivalists. You will be kicked out of this group if you smoke, have sex before marriage, drink or use drugs, didn’t obey the Pastor, didn’t keep the ten commandments and all the other rules and you had to be living “in this world but not of it”, and on and on. But it was simple enough; the rules very clear and the adults followed them completely.
These were true believers. Their passion for their Jesus and God and faith was their life. Breaking rules was rare and dealt with severely, usually by being booted out.
I was required to attend meetings every Saturday night, every Sunday from lunch till 8pm, every Wednesday night. We had whole weekend fasts every six weeks where we came to the church early in the morning and prayed on our knees all day and the same the following day. It tended to be very noisy and my knees were not happy campers. At Easter and Xmas we were required to go to the revivalist camp. Two weeks and one week respectively we were in constant prayer and meetings.
I lived this way until I turned eighteen Skip and came to the conclusion that whilst I still believed their preaching I could not follow their God.
But that’s for next time little buddy…till then…my heart to your heart.