I was worried about Nanny and Paw because they didn’t attend church. As a 7 year old, I thought there were three kinds of people.
1. Folks who were saved,
2. Folks who went to weird churches (at 7 that meant anything other than Baptist, Methodist, Church of God or Assembly of God) and probably were n’t saved,
3. and folks who did n’t go to church and must not be saved. That’s what the preacher said.
We did n’t have children’s church on Sunday mornings. We’d go from Sunday school to the nursery to play while the adults had 15 minute breaks, and then we’d go to big church. Occasionally during that 15 minute interval we’d run down the halls and get barked at by grumpy old women, or we’d walk down Lee Road to Pete’s Convenience store to buy candy. Nickle candy like Laffy taffy or Rollos. But we’d be back in time for church or we’d get beat. Sometimes, we’d play on the Royal Rangers Ropes course, until someone screamed at us for getting Georgia Clay on our dresses.
Church started around 11 am. Three songs, and usually one of the old women would speak in tongues in between the third song and the offering. If we were lucky, the spirit would move on Sunday morning, and we’d get out early after jamming to music for a bit. That usually did not happen until Sunday nights. After everyone sang, my mom and Dad would come down off the stage and get comfy with me in the pew. I sat and listened to every preacher who came to speak. I couldn’t sit with the other kids at church because we’d get in trouble. So mostly, I drew on the printed bulletin while the preacher droned on about hell and sexual sin.
At night, I would pray a long time. Each night I would pray for those who I thought weren’t saved. I remember crying a lot at night because I didn’t want to be away from my Nanny in Heaven. And I also thought I was a sinner. So I’d try to remember all my sins and ask God to forgive me. I thought God hated people. I really thought that only Jesus loved me. I thought God was angry all the time.
Angry all the time.
Angry like my Dad sometimes.
Or like Pal. (pronounced like “Paw.”)
I kicked the end of the rocking chair a little bit, mimicking the old man who sat adjacent to me on the front porch swing. He bounced his feet up and down, kicking at the air, as his yellow fly swatter kept away any invaders. The roses swayed in the summer breeze, and the front porch swing creaked each time he bounced, kicked, or swung. I ran my fingers along the edges of the rocking chair handle, where the white paint gave way to the weathered wood. I cleared my throat. I knew at 7, I had to ask about his salvation. A bit nervous, but really genuinely wondering why my grandpa didn’t go to church. I called him “Pal.” I would spell it “P A L” on the rag tag gifts I’d make him, or the small dogs I would draw for him on the paper tablet next to the rotary phone. Paw said he went to church once, and that was enough. After I pried a little bit more, he gave his answer. Paw came from simple people. I am not really sure what they did, but they had horses and crops. He worked in the fields somewhere out in West Georgia near Waco or Villa Rica. During the depression he had two sets of clothes, which was more than most people possessed. He had overalls, and some white button –ups. He wore this to a church one time. He recalled it was hot and dusty that summer, and he worked extra hard everyday. Someone invited him to attend a revival in town at a church. He walked for miles to get there. When he arrived the people stared at his clothes, and told him he was not honoring God the way he dressed. He was a sensitive man, and had a great temper. He said the snotty people warming those pews made his blood run hot. He swore he’d never enter a church again. If his overalls weren’t good enough for church, then he wasn’t good enough for church. And that was his clothing of present, every day I could ever remember him. A button up shirt or a t-shirt under a pair of overalls. He looked down at me from the rocking chair, as he killed the fly buzzing on the hanging flower pot, and said “I don’t need church to know God.”
Occasionally, the old Baptist preacher from Chapel Hill would pop by on Sunday afternoons . Nanny and Pal would entertain him. I suppose he was a friend of theirs. I can’t really recall. But the preacher was faithful to come over.
I wondered about Nanny for a long time. She had some Bill Gaither tapes. She read the King James Version of the Bible. And she would always get a strange sparkle and squint with the News reported anything devastating. She’d rock back and forth and say “Wars and rumors of Wars.” I didn’t understand why she wasn’t at church.
One day, Nanny decided to go to Kmart to look for a garden hose. She said I could go with her. I had been praying for her every night. Just like my preacher said to do. I started to tear up before I could even speak. I didn’t want my Nanny not to be with me in Heaven. I loved her so much. My tiny voice cracked through the tears, and I said “Nanny, Do you know the Lord Jesus as your personal savior?” I started crying harder. She looked over at me, just as we neared the bridge on Prestly Mill Road. She patted my knee, and said “I was saved along time ago.” It was such a relief to me at 7. I could finally rest knowing she’d be with me in Heaven.
That story may completely revolt you as the reader. Conservatives, evangelicals, and charismatics might even freak you out. But try and understand their hearts. And understand my seven year old heart. I didn’t know much about theology, but i loved deeply. My little heart moved out of compassion. And sure, it was exciting to tell others about the people to which you witnessed.
I have seen a lot of bashing of conservative Christians. I know there is plenty of hurt out there. Check out Post Traumatic Church Syndrome’s Facebook group, and you’ll realize it. I hurt a lot of people as a fundamentalist. I hurt people as a drug addict. I hurt a whole lot of people when I became more progressive. But the need to evangelize every damn body, isn’t just about feeling good in front of other evangelicals. It really is about compassion. And more and more evangelicals and conservatives are taking that compassion and moving into justice work. The tide is changing.
Please try to love your neighbor. Even your bapticostal, conservative, charismatic, evangelical and republican neighbors. Many of them are doing the best they can with the knowledge the have. I am thankful that some folks in the emerging progressive church loved me when I was still peaking out from behind my evangelical cloak. The good outlaw preachers listened to me, and gave me hugs early in my “changing” thoughts.
My Nanny and Pal aren’t doing so good these days. Pal and me had a parting of ways almost 12 years ago. But I really do love them. Nanny has spent more days in her recliner, or in the hospital, than in her own bed. I don’t know what happens after we die. Yet, I truly desire to be reconnected with loved ones. Especially, my Nanny. And my Father, and my brother, David.
And, I’d guess that most conservatives desire connection with Jesus and others when they have the need to evangelize every damn body. I just hope that I can refrain from snark, and being a jerk to conservatives, fundamentalists, and the religious right. After all, being an asshole is not a fruit of the spirit.