“Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to the garage makes you a car.” Dr. Laurance J. Peter, educator and writer, 1919-1990.
I’m a Sunday school dropout. But there was a time my family went to church. Picture a nice brick building where beautiful people are milling about on a manicured lawn. It’s the early sixties and I’m in a frilly dress and white patent leather shoes, ridiculous really. I’m unsure why God cares what clothes I wear to church. After Sunday service I slither downstairs to the church basement and attend Bible study class. I’m five years old and I understand the Bible no more than I do physics. I’m not thrilled to spend Sundays in school. I have better things to do like daydream about puppies and horses. One particular Sunday my dream is interrupted when the Sunday school teacher hollers, “JESUS!” this, and “JESUS!” that, and I nearly soil myself as I jump out of my little chair. At the end of class I sprint up the stairs faster then I run at recess.
“In the Beginning,” are the first three words in the Bible – I guess I picked up some information in Sunday school. “The End Happens” are the three words that concludes our family church experience. The pastor starts planning church functions at our house without asking. He explains to my Mom that it would be a good place because we have a swimming pool. He doesn’t ask, he just assumes it’s okay. On top of that, he makes a pass at my Mom and that’s the end of Sunday school. Thank God.
Dad is thrilled, too because he said, “No more neckties on Sunday!” After that, we spend a lot of weekends under the vast sky in the great outdoors, camping at the ocean or in the mountains. As a kid I think God is in the trees anyway (although as an adult I believe he’s in the heart), so I’m happy to be outside where no one hollers “Jesus!” at me. It worked for me. But then again, maybe not.
For example, I’m nine years old and steal, I mean “borrow” my sister Dalene’s makeup. It’s a hot summer day at the lake and I should feel lazy, but I’m energized from being fed up because I’m too young to hang out with the older, cool kids: Anne, Peggy, Jan and Dalene. I grab Dalene’s makeup from the red cabin and hold it in my sweaty palms as I trek into the woods to hole up in my self-made fort of dirt and dry pine needles that smell like Dad’s gin and tonics.
I’m in the woods a long time. I know it’s been a long time because the shadows of the branches creep along the dirt and change location. That, and my stomach grumbles. Then I hear Dalene hollering my name. “Dana, Toad! You’re in so much trouble!” I crouch deeper into the dusty bushes, feeling my heart pound as I wait for my impending demise. After what seems like hours, but was about ten seconds, the posse led by sheriff Dalene finds me, and I prepare to be strung up by my ankles. Instead they just laugh at me with blush smeared all over my face. I feel mortified as Dalene grabs the makeup from my palm. I’m mortified, not because I stole, I mean borrowed, the make up, but because I got caught by everyone and I feel that debilitating emotion called “shame.” You’d have thought I’d committed murder the way she was carrying on.
Mom follows the ruckus, leads me away, sits me down in the red cabin and scolds me that stealing is wrong.
“But cheating is okay?” I spit out desperately.
“What do you mean?”
“Dalene cheats at Monopoly! She takes our hotels and houses and hides them in her mouth when you’re not looking so when she lands on your property she doesn’t have to pay you!”
Mom roars with laughter and I fear the cabin will split in two. I’m getting no where fast defending my “borrowing,” so I keep trying to get Dalene in trouble.
“Did you know she unwraps her presents before Christmas to see what they are and then tapes them back up?”
This gets Mom’s attention, and that one eyebrow shoots up into the famous migrating geese upside-down V formation. “Oh, really?” she asks.
After that, every Christmas Mom hid presents around the house in all the nooks and crannies and closets we had used for hide-and-seek years before. On Christmas morning she’d forget where she hid them.
Anyway, after all that effort to redirect Mom’s attention to Dalene’s activities, I’m still in trouble for stealing the make-up. Even so, I keep trying to grow up so I can hang out with the cool kids. I persevere. I draw hair under my armpits with a pen, and “borrow” one of Dalene’s bras and stuff it with toilet paper. I pull my shirt over my new voluptuous ta ta’s and admire my figure in the mirror. She is only 13 and it takes three rolls of toilet paper to fill the bra!
If I had been attending church this entire time would I have done those things? Probably. That’s what kids do, especially this little kid.