Over the last two years, I have been writing a self-biographical novel titled “What the Church has Taught Me : and What I am Trying to Forget.” It is basically a story of this artist/father/son as he struggles in his attempt to find a place and purpose in the Kingdom as both a servant and a son. In anticipation of it’s publication, The Worship Community has graciously allowed me to publish a couple of chapters of the book for your enjoyment/critique, but be forewarned. This is a vain attempt to hook you on the story, and then compel you to purchase a copy when it releases! I hope you are okay with that. Please enjoy, and know that your opinion is both welcome and necessary!
Chapter 1: Small Town, Texas
Imagine, if you will, an apocalyptic moment in time. The air all around you is blood red. The streets are empty, silent, desolate, all except for a lone figure that you can hardly make out through the tepid visibility. It’s a boy, standing alone, whose fate is seems dire indeed. Surely, such a vulnerable individual could never survive in these brutal elements. The air is so thick that you can hardly breathe, and it is as though it is pricking your skin like millions of tiny needles, poking, prodding, finding every crevasse and pressure point. Is it a nuclear holocaust, or possibly an eruption from a nearby volcano, or massive wildfires ready to engulf your quaint little village? There must be something that you can do, some way to be a rescue, and pluck this beacon of vulnerability from the straights that afflict him.
Just as you are ready to don your blue tights, and stretch pair of tighty whities (or reddies, yellowies…take your pick) over said blue tights, a huge green station wagon pulls up with a honk, and said young boy throws his school books in the back, slumps in the front seat, and they drive away. Due to the fact that this apocalyptic situation occurs just about every day in March when the wind blows, the boy was neither fazed nor frightened. It is the everyday life of a boy growing up in a small town in West Texas.
This particular town is merely a dot on the map. No one travels there for the sites. Fast food arrived only recently via the gas station combo. People pride themselves by the size of their truck, the points of the buck hanging on their wall, or how many yards they rushed for on the Varsity Football team. It’s the town in which every teenage sports movie is set. It’s the town where most horror film psycho killers find their solitude to commit their devious acts. It’s a town that sucked growing up, but in a good way.
Seminole’s story is similar to that of many small towns. It used to have a thriving downtown, which was practically deserted when Wal-Mart moved in. There are two steak houses, two Dairy Queens, 3 Allsups, which is the small town version of 7-11 and 15 Mexican food restaurants, which are rivaled numerically only by the number of fellowships in this town of 6,000. Not too much happens in Seminole, and the people there either love or despise that fact.
The town does have its charm. It is the largest oil, cotton, and peanut producing county in the state of Texas. There were places like the White Rabbit, the Hill, and the Tanks where the senior guys would throw “keggers” and try to pick up the freshman girls. Was Seminole stereo typical? You bet your Bubba teeth, and your options were slim when it comes to entertainment. Those options numbered three: drink alcohol, pick up girls, or drag* the strip.
Bubba’s Buzzword of the day
The Drag – a hereditary chemical reaction that occurs in the brain after being subjected to decades of pure boredom. The result is a desire to use your vehicular mode of transportation and drive said mode through one area over and over again with the hopes that something exciting may happen. Examples of excitement include freezout, which the subject of Dragitus Ridus roll down their windows on a cold night and the remove of all upper body clothing in the vehicle, peel out, which is the squealing of your tires in the attempt to subject injury to your transmission, and butt out, which I will leave to the imagination.
I have heard many theories as to the cause of greenhouse emissions throughout our planet, and how Texas is a very large contributor of those gases. I know why that is. It’s because of the drag, and I do mean the carbon monoxide emissions spewed from your 1986 Ford F-150 and not necessarily the excessive play of “butt out.” We would spend hours a day driving around on this drag. It looped around the Sonic Drive in and ended up in the parking lot of our football stadium. All of my friends did the drag. All of the older and younger kids did the drag. You weren’t cool unless you did the drag. In fact, I remember the first time that I “rode the drag” with my sister. It was just after a basketball game, and my sis and her cheerleader friends let me tag along. We were listening to C & C Music Factory with the windows down, and I was at that moment the coolest seventh grader in the whole of Seminole.
Seminole is home to about a dozen fellowships ranging from die hard Church of Christ, who believe that they will be the only ones in heaven, to the raging Charismatic, who believe that they will be the most popular, with hordes of “bling” in their crowns. Religion is part of the weekend lives of just about everyone in the town, but much like the rest of the country, it doesn’t go much beyond that for the majority.
My religious life began quite typically. My mom raised me, because my parents were divorced. I remember vividly my mother sitting at the back door to our home, crying as my father left. She was married for 24 miserable years, and not only were my parents getting divorced, but he would shortly be remarried, and we would struggle through life trying to get by on child support and my mother’s meager government pay check.
I don’t say that to speak negatively of my father. He is now a good and generous man and a huge supporter of my dreams, without which, I would be pretty lost out there! I do speak of that time because it is necessary to understand the deep hurt that infidelity and divorce brought to my family. It’s an important distinction of this young writer.
What also is extremely important is that I grew up without a consistently present fatherly role in my life. There was no one to teach me how to hit a jump shot. I didn’t have anyone to teach me how to shave, how to treat a girlfriend, and of course I didn’t grow up in a home where I saw a husband and wife relate and love one another well. It is possible that it may take a lifetime to realize the totality of the impact that growing up in a fatherless home had on my life.
My Dad is a man who has done well with his life as it relates to being a good financial steward. I could always count on him when I was in need. Many times Christmas became bearable because of his contribution. Today, my father serves as a deacon at his local fellowship in the mountains of New Mexico. He has come a tremendous distance on his journey with Christ. When he told me he had been nominated and he accepted, it was a complete shock, because the last time I heard he was asked to do something in a fellowship, it was to end the service in prayer, and his response was, “I believe I’ll pass.” There is not another man in the universe like my dad, and I love the fact that he has never been persuaded by what society says he should be and I admire what he has become.
As a child, I was the definition of ADD, always into everything, having the attention span of a gnat, constantly in my sister’s business and constantly into trouble. This wasn’t because I was intentionally mischievous, but simply because I was a boy. I lived on a farm, so there were so many things to shoot with my BB gun, so much grass to burn down, and so many cats around the house to torment. My dad had built us a nice house, worked hard in the fields all day, and occasionally would come and pick me up, and I would ride with him on the tractor and pee outside.
We had a good amount of land devoted to the art of cotton farming, much of which was owned by my Grandmother. The land was irrigated, and cotton sprung up from the desert like an oasis every summer. When the cotton grew, the apocalyptic sand storms stopped because the top soil “stayed put.” Child labor was a part of the gig. I hoed in a field most days in the summer, which differs drastically from hoin’ in the city. Different goals all together. Weeds were our enemy. If they overtook the farm, the value of our cotton dropped quickly, and one bad summer would take years to dig out. It was the perfect place for a child to grow up. You were expected to work hard, and you had to be creative to have any fun at all. Now that I live in the city, I seldom see a teenager mow their own yard, and we wonder why we have a generation of youth without any work ethic.
I remember my first torrid love affair at the tender age of four. My heart was smitten for a girl named Abigail, and she and her family came to live with my family because they were having hard times. She had beautiful blond hair, and that was the point when I started to figure out that girls were different and that was pretty cool. Her older sister married us, but it was doomed from the beginning. The financial stress of no allowance and cramped living quarters caused a rift in our relationship. We sought some counseling, once again from the older sister. I was told that I had issues, which I most certainly did. I peed in the bed at night, my older sister consistently beat me up, and I lived in a house full of girls. Of course I had issues! When we finally broke it off after three hours, my heart was broken and I wasn’t sure if I could ever love again, until I met Sharon.
Sharon was, and probably still is, the niece of legendary country singer Tanya Tucker. She was, and probably now isn’t, in my kindergarten class, and to me, she was like a chocolate ice cream cone after playing on the playground for an hour, knowing that on that morning, my mother gave me $.35 so that I could partake of the tasty treat. I desired her. I longed for her. She would turn her tongue over and stick it out so that you could see the veins on the bottom, which come to think of it, I could too, but the fact that she did it first must have left an impression on this impressionable kindergartener. We played Connect Four and Candyland together. I can’t count how many times I cleaned my sister’s room because she threatened to tell Sharon that I wet the bed, but one day, I noticed that Sharon smelled a bit funny. It was probably my own stank after recess, but I was only just old enough to distinguish right from wrong. I was still quite a ways from distinguishing the tender, lovely smell of a woman from that of a five year old who had refused to bathe that week. It’s tough juggling love and loss in kindergarten, but fortunately there was nap time to help me focus.
My family had been attending an evangelical fellowship* until about the time when I was four. Naturally, I couldn’t sit still, and farted in public, so I can vividly remember being hauled down the long aisle yelling, “Please momma, forgive me! Please!” I am sure that most of that congregation was asking God to smite me. At the very least, they would no longer have someone urinating off the roof of the fellowship hall, which is always a plus. Are you detecting a theme of my childhood? Yes, urination, for some reason, was an important part of my formative years.
*BUZZWORD OF THE DAY
Fellowship – The local expression of the Church. You will not hear me refer to a fellowship as a church, because I don’t want to infer the incorrect definition of the Body of Christ to someone who is unfamiliar.
True to so many believers at that time who were beginning to look for something more than the dirge of the Church of the 50’s, my mother began to attend other fellowships when she wasn’t singing in the choir of the big one. The leadership found out about this activity, and put up with it until my parents went through a terrible divorce. Then she was no longer allowed to be in any kind of leadership and we were basically asked to leave. That was my first experience being snubbed by the religious elite that should have been our help during such a tragic time.
We started to attend a small charismatic fellowship, which were of course all the rage in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Robert Tilton and Jimmy Swaggert were the poster children of this movement, and who the *emerging church of the 80’s emulated. Just like today, in many cases, people made the mistake of attributing a movement of the Body of Christ to superstars in the movement, rather than to the sovereignty of an involved God. That certainly got us in trouble, but I am a bit concerned that we didn’t learn anything.
*BUZZWORD OF THE DAY: Part 2
Emergent-when someone gets a new idea, writes a book about it, has a conference, other people come to that conference and then act like it was their idea, come home, fire the choir director, and piss everyone off.
Did I just commit blasphemy to the cause of emergent movement by attributing it to the 80’s as well? There weren’t any candles or guitar wielding worship leaders wearing bowling shoes and sporting a *euromullet. Yes, today’s emergent church is not the first. It is probably won’t be the last. It could be the most significant, and is forced to the forefront of forward and backward thinking Christians because we live in an age that the information can be distributed beyond local boundaries or media moguls. Let’s only hope that we stop building on men, and rather on the principles outlined in scripture and made real by the Holy Spirit. If we choose the former, it will only be a matter of time before the magazine photos of ministers with toothy grins will be replaced by that of ministers behind bars or blubbering on and on about how much of a sinner they are. History has a way of repeating itself, and judging by what recently happened in Colorado Springs, those repeats only become more shocking, but at the very least they are far less devastating because the world has grown to expect it thanks to the 80′s. Finally desensitization works in our favor!
*BUZZWORD OF THE SAME DAY
Euromullet – a variation of the American mullet that is not shortly followed by camouflage and dead meat. The hair is short and messy up top and long on the sides and back. Where the American mullet is business up front and a party in the back, the Euro is all party.
And now back to the 80’s charismatic “emergent church.” My mother was skeptical at first. Due to the divorce, she was in dire need of healing and acceptance in which she hadn’t found until we began to attend this fellowship. It seemed that most people there were weirdos according to the rest of the community, so there was plenty of grace and need for one another to go around.
One morning, I responded to an altar call, not necessarily because I was convicted, but because I was bored out of my skull and had already finished off the grape juice in the communion cups in the fellowship hall. What happened after was nothing short of a miracle, and it has never happened since.
Basically, the pastor prayed for me, and I was “slain in the Spirit.” Now, if you took that phrase literally, one would assume that the Spirit of God used a blunt object and struck me in the head hard enough to kill me, but fear not, I lived to tell the tale. I only lost consciousness, but not at the result of any object, but because the Holy Spirit needed to do something. That makes me chuckle. Only in the Charismatic Church can you unexpectedly pass out, and it be OK, unless you brought your own oxygen with you that Sunday morning. That typically prompts concern.
I know that some fundamental alarms may have just sounded, but hear me out, because it wasn’t about me. It was the *Holy Spirit speaking to my mom. As they were praying, all I remember is going out like a light. I didn’t see or hear anything. I was just out.
Like I said before, I was the very definition of ADD, and my mother was freaking out because I was so still. Honestly, she thought something could be wrong, but at least I was still breathing. I don’t remember this moment in history other than the fact that it was a really nice nap, but I do know that it had a profound impact on my development as a believer. Of course after that, I figured that every time someone prayed for me, it was an excellent excuse for naptime, so pretending to pass out became a bit more of a common place, although I am much like my son in that I was completely unable to stay still or keep from laughing.
* BUZZPHRASE OF THE DAY
Holy Spirit – The heart of God and Christ active here on earth. The Holy Spirit is man’s conduit to God and who also convicts of sin and reveals God’s infinite nature to our finite minds. Also referred to as the Holy Ghost, but I am a product of Scooby Doo, and expect to hear Shaggy go, “Zoiks, it’s the Holy Ghost! Run Scoobs!” and the Holy Ghost is floating shortly behind them moaning and being super scary. Then Scooby trips over the leaver that starts the conveyor belt, and a hook comes up and pulls the sheet off the Holy Ghost and they discover it was just old man Harry from the mill. Thelma would follow, saying, “He was just trying to keep developers from reopening the mill as a trendy high rise urban loft development,” and old man Harry responds, “And I would have succeeded if it weren’t for you kids.” Yeah, so I prefer Holy Spirit.
That Sunday morning was my mother’s first encounter with the supernatural, and something inside of her came alive that day. I don’t know if it was the baptism of the Holy Spirit or just the awakening of that which was already there, but it was indeed real. From that point on, the Holy Spirit became an active part of our household.
Suddenly, in a place full of tears and pain, there was life and joy. Times were still hard, and often times made harder by the oh so popular “God wants you to be a millionaire” message, which we were certainly vulnerable being a poor, single family attending a Charismatic fellowship. My mom raised two difficult kids after she had raised three more difficult kids. I cannot think of a time when my mom did something wrong. I have never heard a curse word come from her mouth or even an ill word spoken about anyone, including my father. Well, I take that back. She did recently call someone a jackass, but they indeed are deserving of such a title. She’s in her 70′s now. She deserves a little slack. She prayed often and fervently for her kids, family, and friends, and has impacted so many lives. It’s too bad she didn’t have enough faith, prayer hankies, or Evian water from the stage of a crusade to be a millionaire though. That would have been cool growing up.
With my mother, what is significant is that on that day, she discovered the Holy Spirit’s role in her life, and it healed her broken heart, gave her a sense of purpose, and which helped make me into the man I am today, but I want you to know that that was a struggle in and of itself. You see, I became a “goooood” Christian. I wish that you could hear the voice that is in my head when I say that phrase, because it would make you chuckle. Well, I guess it is better said that I became good at being a Christian.
Popularity in school starts at a very young age. I remember being in second grade, the year the Challenger exploded, and wanting Pony shoes, because the Kangaroos were going out of style. I never got the Pony shoes, or the Kangaroos for that matter. I remember having the need for a pair of parachute pants, so that I could break dance during recess, but I never had parachute pants. In fact, break dancing was against the rules of my elementary school which was run by a school board of Church of Christ fundamentalists who believed that the dance would lead you down a path of teenage pregnancy and permanent jazz hands. I actually received corporal punishment for such deviant action. In other words, I was beaten with a board by a stranger. My, how times have changed.
It seemed to be the highlight of the school faculty’s day to be able to give me “licks.” Most of them were looking for an excuse and I would typically oblige them. I would get into fights, throw a dirt clod, or talk out of turn. I had a voice louder than most growing up. It was technologically proven, so if I did anything out of order that included my voice, the entire hall heard it, and there was a flurry amongst the faculty to see who could get their paddle first and me out in the hall second. Every such action may have been a stern warning for most, but for me, it was always the board.
At home, it was only slightly different. There was certainly no need to spare the rod on this behind. When my son gets out of line, we have a special plastic spoon that we use to remind him that his butt can turn different colors. My mom used what ever was handy at the moment. I have been spanked with shoes, fly swatters, belts, every utensil in the kitchen, hands, toys, vinyl records, swinging doors, brooms, combs, brushes, the mane from a My Little Pony doll, and the list goes on and on.
There is a good reason behind why so much sense had to be beaten into me. My brothers paved the way. They were legends to the small town of Seminole, not because they were football stars or started a fortune 500 company, but because they could whip anyone in the town. They were tough as nails, and I was expected to be the same, but I was just a bit different. Instead of rejoicing over a victory in a fistfight, I would typically cry. I was always encouraged to fight like my brothers. The funny thing was that my friends never got into fights themselves. Now looking back, their prodding was both rooted in their desire to see a good fight and to see me cry afterwards.
I also had to go to a special education class because I talked too loudly. You would think that special education classes would be reserved for children who are mentally handicapped, but they had a big seat with my name on it. We would sit and play board games, and my teacher would incessantly tell me to speak quietly. When I did, I got a scratch and sniff sticker. I guess that I did start speaking more quietly, because I literally graduated from the short bus to the long bus sometime around 2nd grade.
But there was also so much wonderment that happens during this time. You discover that you don’t have to pull your pants down all the way to the floor to pee. You learn how to do the spider on the swing set on the play ground, where you convince a girl to sit on your lap opposite of you and swing together, and you discover that “Ohhhhhh mama….” feeling for the first time. It was amazing being that young in a small town. You could act like a boy full of energy and curiosity and exhibit a ferocious appetite for any toy that resembled a firearm and not be required to go on medication before you could attend class the next week.
There were Transformers, GI Joe, Thunder Cats, that show with the black helicopter that went really fast and rose up out of a volcano, and the show with the black motorcycle that went really fast and jumped out of a warehouse, and that show with the black car that went really fast and jumped out of the back of a semi trailer. There were forts and tents and sleepovers on the trampoline, tree houses, exploring, bike trails and your first kiss on the playground. You could be a boy, run a muck, and suffer the consequence if need be. Parents worried far less about their children. Children feared far less on their walk to school.
I had an amazing childhood which reached a turning point far too prematurely. That carefree nature was slowly replaced with the desire to be accepted. One realizes that there are two paths in life: to ascend the hierarchy of the socially apt or journey the quick decent to being normal like everyone else. I began that ascent in 4th grade, and then tripped, struggled to gain footing, stopped for directions from Lucifer himself, and plunged into the abyss.
There was a group of girls one grade older than me who were the purdiest things I had ever seen. They were named Melanie, Chrissy, Sara, and Candy. Of course they were named Melanie, Chrissy, Sara, and Candy. Those are the quintessential name sakes of the hot girls in any school and consequentially in every teen movie, and Chrissy would often give me a ride home with her parents because my mother would have to work late, and we lived by each other. I thought I was the “it” guy in school because I got to ride home with Chrissy.
One day that crossroad came, and I was invited to Chrissy’s birthday party. This was a big deal, and everyone on the emerging social scale was going to be there. I spent the better part of the day looking and smelling just right, and of course rehearsing what I would say. When I arrived, I found out that Melanie thought I was cute! Melanie! She was a whole year older than me, and she thought I was cute! So we sat in the same chair for a while. I put my arm around her. We ate cake from the same plate.
About that time, everyone decided to go and jump on the trampoline, which is the most dangerous of all backyard play equipment. Kids would be safer playing lawn darts with steak knives than jumping on a trampoline. This was before there were nice foam cushions on the sides and safety nets. We were all bouncing and having fun, and Melanie says, “Double bounce me Rocky! Double bounce me!” So I did, and she went flying in the air. “Do it again! Do it again!”, she pleads, and I did it again and off she went squealing. The third time, she didn’t ask. I just assumed that she wanted it a third time, because I wanted to anticipate the needs of my woman, so I double bounced her again, and off she went squealing again, right off of the trampoline.
The squealing quickly turned to a quick cracking sound and a whole lot of screaming, and mass chaos broke out. There were mom’s hurdling lawn chairs, 4th and 5th graders with their arms crossed, glaring at me, and suddenly it was that dream that we all have where we are in a room full of people in your thighy shorts, and don’t know what to do. Do you run, hide, duck, or cover? That is how I felt standing on that trampoline. Melanie was one of the four hot girls in the grade above me, the most precious asset to Seminole Elementary School and I broke her arm! Right then and there, the open door to coolness was slammed in my face.
If I had not double bounced Melanie that evening for the third time, it is entirely possible that my life could be completely different. To have a relationship with one of the fabulous four would have no doubt been the springboard that I needed to be a top dog in Jr. High. Instead of a springboard, I got a trampoline, and only wish that at that time, I had the wherewithal to understand how significant that moment was, and to know that there are times, through the hand of God’s divine providence that we reach a major fork in the road. For David it was a giant, a crazy king, and ultimately a naked girl. For Paul, it was the status of the religious elite, the experiencing of Jesus, and eventually the road to Damascus. I have no idea what would have been if Melanie had not broken her arm, but I do know that after that evening, my life was never the same.
That moment will come in all of our lives. It will probably come a number of times as God in his immense grace and mercy weaves our depravity, selfishness, and greed into His ultimate plan of our destiny. Often times, I wonder foolishly, if because of my mistakes, I have missed God’s destiny for my life. In truth though, when I look at all God has shown me because of my mistakes, I can’t help but wonder in amazement if indeed those mistakes were part of his plan. At this point, my Calvanistically driven brother in law gives me a sports slap on the butt. “Good doctrine Rocky. Good doctrine.”