I suppose I realized that my family and I were different from those around us when I asked my girlfriend and neighbor to attend church with us. I had to go, no questions asked, and I figured if I had to go, maybe it would be more tolerable if I had a friend along.
Together we asked her mother if it was okay that she went and then we asked my mom if it was all right with her. So a couple of hours later, we were sitting on a hard-–as-rock wooden church pew and she was gawking around us like she thought everyone was naked or something. Her eyes were huge and each new person she gaped at seemed more outrageous that the last.
So I asked her what was wrong and she looked at me as if I had stripped naked too and asked me with a shaking voice what was wrong with all these people. I told her they were praying and got the spirit of the lord and were shouting.
“I know they’re shouting, but why?” she asked me.
What she was asking hit me about ten years later when I realized that not everyone’s church had movers and shakers. Our Pentecostal church seemed so ordinary to me because I had been attending this church all of my life. My father was even the preacher every once in a while. Folks feeling “the spirit” of the Lord and shouting, and even falling on the floor and doing a Pentecostal version of break dancing was an every day event. These folks were the epitome of vehemence, especially about their religion. I just thought every one was.
Well my friend wasn’t my friend for very long after attending church with me and my family. I think we scared the beJesus out of her. We didn’t play together very often for a very long time.
My parents were “saved” or as they call it these days, “born again”, quite a few years before I was born. The church was called the Pentecostal Holiness Church and my father and mother were part of the brethren. They all called each other “brother” and “sister”. They had revivals and the neighborhood would complain for weeks of the noise and intrusion in their lives. The congregation would occasionally hold dinner and meeting on the ground where all the sisters would cook and bring their finest dishes “in the name of the lord” and they would have an all day picnic with praying and worship and shouting and singing. It was what “holy rollers” did.
It was a sin for the men to wear long hair or facial hair but the women weren’t allowed to cut their hair. When the congregation had foot-washing meetings, the women would sometimes unroll their long hair to dry the men’s feet with their hair. (Boy would my friend have crapped if she had seen one of those meetings!)
Part of our religion involved what men and women should wear. I was forced to wear dresses until my sister, who was ten years older than I, got a job in the real world and purchased some shorts for me. I think she thought it less sinful to cover up my panties when I was being my tomboy self, beating up boys and climbing trees than to defy God and the church by wearing pants. To this day, I have never seen my mother in a pair of pants.
One of the worst times of my young life involved the first time I had ever worn my newly acquired shorts. I had been playing outside when my folks asked if I wanted to go for a ride. I climbed in the car and did not realize it until we were at our Pastor’s house where it was that we were going. My parents went in for a quick visit and I was left in the car because I was so horribly embarrassed and ashamed of my sinful shorts that I didn’t want to get out of the car.
As chances were, the Pastor’s kids were outside playing in a sandpile and begged me to get out of the car and we would play. I finally brought myself to getting out but as I got out, I fell to the ground and began to cover myself with the sand. I have never felt such overwhelming shame in my life.
We were not allowed to wear make up, bathing suits, go bowling, dance, listen to rock and roll and so many other things that I think it will suffice if I tell you what we could do. We could go to church three and sometime four nights a week, revivals even more nights. Sunday morning was Sunday school where we learned Bible stories and their interpretation of them. Sunday night was church. Tuesday nights were Bible study with more hellfire and brimstone and all that kind of good fanatic Christian stuff. Friday was more church and if they got a good Christian music group we would have another church service on Saturday with special guests.
The music, I have to say, was the best part. Brothers and sisters all joined in on guitars, piano, organ, and tambourine or clapped their hands. Everyone was encouraged to join in. Everyone sang and really got into the music. That usually when someone found the spirit and jumped up and danced around shaking their arms and talking in “tongues”. Sometimes they would fall to the ground and break dance. And everyone thought it was beautiful and it was. They had really felt “the spirit” of the Lord. They had shared it with the whole congregation.
When folks were called to testify for the Lord things would sometime break loose and get pretty zealous. Folks would tell their story of how they came to the Lord. Or they would ask the congregation to pray for someone in need. I remember once when I had a fever or a bad tooth or something, my mother (God bless her) asked the congregation to pray over me. Here I was, just this little kid. Some sweaty minister took out his handkerchief and anointed it with Olive Oil (I swear it was Pompeian) and applied it to my forehead. At that point most of the congregation gathered around me so close that I could not breathe without smelling the sweat of every one of them closeby. They prayed, cried and yelled so much that I’m sure if any germs had been near they would have been lambasted away from me.
These were very good people. They would do anything for each other. They worked together when someone needed their house reroofed. They built their own new church when the congregation became too large for the little original church. They were kind to each other, but that is where their kindness ended, with each other.
They were bigoted toward Baptist, Presbyterians, Catholics, Jews and the “coloreds”. And the unbelievable part is that they didn’t hate all of those people because they were different, they hated them because they didn’t worship God correctly. They condemned everyone. Even new comers to the congregation had to take an occasional stab from some holier-than-thou Pentecostal. It sickened me.
I attended their church until around age 12 when the congregation considered an individual an adult who could make up their own minds whether to be saved or not. I chose not to be saved. I opted for a life of sin and damnation. I went out for cheerleading. I bowled. I kissed boys and let them kiss me. I attended Vacation Bible School at the local Baptist church. I even went to Catholic mass with a friend of mine during college. And worse than all of this, I took Eastern Philosophy in college. I was even married by a Presbyterian minister.
The gist of all this rigmarole about my Christian upbringing is that I am one moral yet pissed citizen. I am pissed that the congregation that raised me and gave me my moral value structure is still even more despised, discriminated against, totally misunderstood by the society that we live in but has never been discussed in the open, that I am aware of, by anyone.
This society who cries for understanding and sympathy for the physically handicapped, the alcoholic, Jews, Blacks, Amish and even the mentally ill still cannot accept fanatic Christianity with any civilized attitude. Hell, Charles Manson gets a better rap from society than Holy Rollers.
In my searchings of self help books I have yet to come across any literature to help the offspring of these people to overcome the brainwashing they went through as children. The guilt alone that lives with you from day to day is overwhelming. And going to visit for holidays is pure hell. Everyone acts as if nothing is going on.
When I go to visit my parents it is like this big ice cube that surrounds the whole scenario. You can almost reach out and touch the coldness. You are afraid to breathe for fear of the fog. My father is constantly on the verge of breaking into a litany of hell & damnation over the least thing. We cannot watch just anything on television for fear of his wrath. My mother acts like she is walking on eggshells the entire time. She is constantly guiding us off various subjects that could enrage my dad.
Things are better now that Daddy doesn’t hear well but it is still not very comfortable to be around them. My one constant fear is that I will someday end up at their bedside where their last wish will be that I “get saved” before its too late. At which point in time I will sin my best and worst.