When Life Is All Laid Out For You Like A Map
This post and the previous post have been prompted by a summer-time study we are doing as part of our Adult Forum at church titled “The Politics of God.” We have examined how our perspectives are formed rightly or wrongly. I’ve tried to write honestly, openly, and more from a child’s perspective.
This is how I remember the town where I grew up and read “Fun With Dick And Jane” in school.
The closer you were to the center of town the more important you were and the more your life looked like what we read about in the Dick and Jane books and the Sunday School lesson books. The farther away you lived, the less God liked you.
This was a lot like the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night with the children of Israel in the wilderness. This was also a lot like how the tabernacle was set up and later how the temple was set up.
Near the center of town, there was a Baptist Church and a Methodist Church and a Christian Church. The Baptist Church would dunk you. The Methodist Church would sprinkle you. No one really knew what the Christian Church did to you.
There was a Catholic Church out on the main highway. I have a feeling it was outside the town limits when it was originally built. Then as the town grew and new neighborhoods were added after World War II, the line was redrawn, and it became inside the town limits.
My best friends in elementary school were all Catholic, but I wasn’t. We all lived in one of those post-World War II neighborhoods along with the Jewish doctor’s family. This was not as good as living on the other side of the main highway near the center of town. But it was better than living outside of the town limits with the black families.
There was no Jewish temple or synagogue.
No one ever said these things to me, but this was my childhood perception of what God thought about people.
God didn’t know anything about the Jewish family. They were nice, but they stayed to themselves and God just didn’t see them.
God knew about the Catholic Church. He was there every other week when the priest visited or when He wanted to look at their medals and statues.
God probably never visited the Christian Church. They didn’t have any music.
God was definitely in the Methodist Church and the Baptist Church. That’s where most of the people were. The Methodist Church was brick, but the Baptist Church was just wood. The Methodist Church was probably a lot richer.
The smartest boy in my class went to the Methodist Church. He was nice to everyone and always got straight A’s on his report card. In school, he got to go home for lunch every day.
Most of the people I knew and the most important people in town went to the Baptist Church like me. My family moved to town right before I entered first grade. We were part of the “mixed multitude” that joined the Baptist Church, however I don’t think we were ever fully accepted.
It probably wasn’t by coincidence the Town Hall was right next to the Baptist Church. Those who were born into the Baptist Church were the leaders and decision-makers in town. Their children in my Sunday School class always had the best seats, the right answers, the special duties, and were always better than me. The other boys wore real ties, not clip-on ties like me.
Right next to the Methodist Church was the Town Cemetery. That made it important like the Baptist Church, just in a completely different way. Maybe when you died you became a Methodist. It was a mystery to me.
There was a Black Church outside of town. I don’t remember what denomination it was because it was always called “The Black Church” just like “Black” was another denomination. They got really dressed up and really noisy. Sometimes their Holy Ghost made them do things like “fall out.” (White people had the Holy Spirit, but black people had the Holy Ghost.)
The point is, just like for those people in Old Testament Israel, your life was all laid out for you, just like a map of my home town.
You were locked in before you were even born. You would need a lot of courage and willpower to change yourself into something else.
I guess if you moved to another town, you could say you were something else different from what you were born, but you’d be found out fairly quickly, even though you looked just like Dick and Jane and the people in the Sunday School books. Like the Israelites, every church had secret differences or peculiar ways.
You had to learn all of those things to fit in.
You also could not be a sissy, a hippie, a flower child, a draft dodger, or be a boy with long hair or a girl with short hair. Things like that could get you picked on, called names, beat up, or worse.
Of course you could do something about almost all of those things except for being a sissy. That was the worst thing to be, worse even than being black. When our schools got integrated, even the black kids could make fun of the white kids if they were sissies, and nobody did anything.
Yes, it was really easy to know who God loved and who God hated.
So a Gospel that has nothing to do with the way you were born had no more place in my small southern town of the 1960’s than it did in the first century occupied nation of Israel.
But a Gospel that has absolutely nothing to with the way you were born has everything to do with the Gospel of Jesus. (John 1:12-13)