Johnny Cash. This is a song from my youth. As a child, my Mother would take us to church almost every day of the week. I remember going to tent revivals of Leroy Jenkins and a host of others. Parts of my family owned Churches. Uncle Michael, who passed away much too young from diabetes, was a gifted guitarist and singer. At least, I remember it that way.
We’d go to different churches all the time. Evangel Tabernacle in it’s various incarnations. Trinity Assemblies of God. Clifton Baptist for summer bible school. Ginger and I attended a choir at Clifton Baptis. Forever, it seems. Although, I think I was more a disruption than a singer.
“I’m a little piece of tin.
Nobody knows what shape I’m in.
Got four wheels and a running board.
I’m a four door, I”m a Ford.
Honk Honk Rattle Rattle Honk Beep Beep!!”
Our Dad drove the Sunday School bus at least one winter or one year that I can remember. We’d sing songs on the bus on the way to Sunday School and Church.
“Oh you can’t get to heaven on roller skates…
Cause you’ll roll right past those pearly gates!”
I remember waking early in the morning because we’d have to get the bus from the Church. Then make the rounds through the neighborhood to pick up the families and kids to take them to Evangel and Sunday School.
But this song. I sometimes ask myself or God or whomever might be listening.
“What have I done to deserve my life?”
I feel so fortunate. Blessed by God or the Gods.
Strange to think that at one time, I’d had “hands laid on me” by Jimmy Swaggert and Billy Graham and no telling who else. I only went up there because Ginger wanted me to go with her. But it was still a neat experience.
The only preacher or evangelist from those days who hasn’t fallen or become a shadow and hypocrite is Billy Graham. Swaggert, Robertson, Bakker, Falwell. They all preach hate or they are have been caught “being human” or “making mistakes” of all sorts. The Bakkers being the most public and egregious.
I remember going to Royal Rangers. A sort of Christian Boy Scouts. Basically the same thing but directly sponsored by Evangelical Churches. “Prepared, Always Ready. Ready to…”
Childhood and Church. I can’t imagine what it would have been like with no Tent Revivals. None of the memories of Grandma Hackney, Aunt Lola reading the bible to each other over the phone. The impromptu Bible Studies that were held at Grandmas house with Aunt Lola, Aunt Hope, Aunt Helen, Momma, Barbara Jean, Mary Ann, Aunt Lillian and many other friends and family at the house on 120 N. Bellaire. They were Pentecostal. They were holy rollers. And it was always electric.
It made life interesting that is for certain.
As kids, we used to spy on them. And we’d sometimes feel the “spirit of the Lord” emanating from the room. They believed so fervently that one could not hope but feel that vibe or that spirit if you watched them. I was fascinated by it myself. The Spirit of the Lord.
If a child was sick and in the same house as this group of praying and Bible reading women. There’d be a laying on of hands as they surrounded the bed or couch on which one lay sick. They’d pray for you. And I swear to this day, it helped heal whatever ailed you.
I remember them speaking in tongues. We’d imitate them as children by saying “heeka ma hockema, seeka ma sockema.” We’d run around the room. Screaming and shouting that as well as the obligatory “Praise Jesus! Halleluba! Amen! Praise the Lord!” Imitating what we thought we saw in our parents and grandparents.
One story has it that my older brother Terry was upset when my mother had hands laid on her by a preacher. They asked people to the front who wanted to “repent” or be prayed for “in the name of God.” My Mother was one who frequently went forward at these times. The preacher starts to pray for Mom and does that whole “slap the forehead” thing that Pentecostal preachers did back then. When he slapped “Sister Millie” on the forehead and yelled; “BE HEALED!” Momma fell to the floor. Of course, she was helped down. They didn’t just let her fall. Upon seeing all of this frightening act, Terry who was all of 4 or 5 years old starts running toward the front yelling; “You get off of my Mommy! You get off of my Mommy!”
I guess I drifted away from the Church about the time that my Mom and Dad were divorced. I was about 16 years old. My Mother re-married and we started the Mormon/LDS expereince. I drifted in and out of the Church for about a decade before I left it altogether. I almost married a Mormon girl that I met in Korea. Sandra. I was baptized and actually started being a good and sober fellow for a bit.
But I fell away from that after a time as well. I, personally, have no bad memories about the Church. None of my experiences were bad. Mostly good. Mostly decent folks with whom I interacted over the years. I’m sure that I met a few bad apples here and there. But not enough to convince me that all of Christianity is evil.
My personal opinion is the organized religion is unhealthy. We, humans, are too prone to the mob mentality. We start assigning spaces in the afterlife for ourselves and those who are not of the same belief all too easily and this leads to too much division in the here and now. Not sure that Jesus intended it that way when he said; “Love the least of me as you would me.” But this is merely my mortal opinion.
I’m still more of the mind to follow Buddhism and let others follow what path they will.
Nevertheless, religion was an amazing, exciting and major part of my childhood. I do not regret the experience of it. I feel fortunate to have had many of those experiences and many of those people in my life.