Oh Jesus Christ…Where Art Thou? (He Wasn’t There…I Know That Now) Part Two

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By AmiMental

Mom and Dad remained Pentecostal for a few years after I left home but Pastor Jesusjumper retired and my parents moved on.

Again.

So I guess the pastor was the point at that particular church.

Eventually my parents ran out of new churches to try.

But the vagaries of small-town godliness causes the leadership of those churches to change and change and change, and my folks finally went back to the church they’d attended when they first moved to their small town, First Christian. There had been at least four different pastors in the interim.

They were fairly happy there, my mom played the piano and organ for their worship services, and my dad helped with keeping books and was on the board.

They’ve always enjoyed being pillars of the church, my parents, and as a result, pastors are more than happy to take advantage of them.

Pastor Manna used to drive a bread delivery truck in our small town.

I guess he thought being paid to deliver the God message would be an easier job than delivering bread.

If you attended his church and they approved of you, you were asked to join the congregation after three  services. If you didn’t want to add your name to the church roster, then it was suggested that you might want to go to church somewhere else, as ‘God requires commitment and we believe it.’

They were pretty selective about their members.

A wealthy guy retired to their small town and had them flummoxed.

He was a very nice man, my mom said, and always put a twenty in the offering plate, but people just weren’t comfortable with the way he dressed for church.

He wore Hawaiian shirts. Board shorts and deck shoes. Had a graying ponytail. Worst of all, he wore a single earring.

Pastor Manna and a couple minions had a conference with him. They explained that he wasn’t showing the proper respect by dressing so casually.

He moved on.

Wouldn’t you?

So once a person decided to join the church, the next requirement was to fill out a “promise card”.

This was a serious contract with God.

The card asked how much money a household earned and gave a helpful little equation to let a person know how much of that he or she was expected to give to God.

It started at giving 10%, but there were some questions on there designed to determine whether a family could afford to give more.

I wish I’d thought to keep the copy I saw on Mom’s kitchen counter.

My parents were quite happy to fill out the card, and it was a point of pride for my dad to give more than the minimum.

And important to him that other people knew it.

Religion is such a spectacle, isn’t it?

Pastor Manna was big on tithing. If you didn’t give what you were supposed to, he called you into his office for a shaming.

Er, conference.

My brother Dick and his wife, Snatchie were having a hard time financially. They were very close to losing their property and their home and appealed to my dad for help.

My dad, who may be a little nutty in some ways, is always willing to help his family.

He maxed out his credit card to get them some cash. He also took the funds that were earmarked for his quarterly promise to Pastor Manna.. oh wait, I mean God.. and added it to the pot.

Dick and Snatchie were bailed out.

Pastor Manna called my parents into his office.

He was not a happy pastor. He told them that they’d made a promise to God and that they had LIED to him instead!!

That God was NOT happy with their disobedience, and he wanted to know how soon to expect the money they’d promised.

My parents didn’t tell him to get stuffed. They didn’t call him any names. They simply got up and walked out.

And after discussing it, they decided not to walk back in.

Of course everyone in town was curious. Mom was kind of excited about the whole thing, telling me on the phone that they were not going to be ‘unchristian’, so they’d merely told everyone that they had a “disagreement in doctrine” with Pastor Manna and had decided that God was going to use them somewhere else.

A few months later, I discussed the incident with Snatchie. I expressed my disgust with the pastor’s money-grubbing attitude and my anger over his treatment of my parents.

She turned to me and snapped, “Well Pastor Manna has been placed in authority over the church. That was BIBLICAL. He did no wrong.”

Considering that the money had been used to help her and my brother, I thought her attitude might have been a little different. Nope. Another demonstration of why Christianity and logic are mutually exclusive.

My dad was ‘called’ to the ministry about 10 years ago and took over (temporarily) for a pastor who needed some medical leave. Dad got some sort of internet certificate and started preaching.

The regular pastor was able to attend occasional services between medical treatments and one Sunday he stood and invited the congregation to rejoice with him because he was ‘completely free from all sin’.

That’s pretty funny coming from a guy who was the world’s second biggest asshole when I went to school with his kids, but hey, I suppose with God, all things are possible?

Pastor Sinfree and my father had a few disagreements, and Dad called it quits.

Dad wasn’t getting a salary or any type of monetary reward for his hard work. Add the distinct lack of appreciation into the equation… that’s probably why he decided that Pastor Sinfree could have his church back.

For awhile after that, my parents did a home church.

They gave that up a little over a year ago due to health reasons, and now attend church sporadically for those same health reasons.

I never have told them that I no longer believe in God.

I can think of no good reason to do so other than keeping it a secret offends my need to be straightforward with people. I don’t like dishonesty in myself or in others.

I have balanced that against what it would do to my mother if she found out.

And it’s not worth the anguish it would cause. It just isn’t. She would live the rest of her life in an utter panic over my immortal soul and it would significantly affect her health, I think. She’s in her late 70s and has lived her entire life as a Christian.

I can’t hurt my mom like that.

I’m out to some people, but I think the majority of people I encounter just assume that everyone is a Christian. Since I don’t have horns or a forked tail, I don’t fry cats or hurt small children and I’m just a regular person they assume I am a Christian.

Mostly, it never comes up as a conversational topic.

When the young people I work with bring up religion and want to know what I believe or have me settle an argument about God, I tell them that they’re called personal beliefs because that’s exactly what they are. Personal. And that each person has their own set, and that religious discussion is something that’s best left up to individual families.

I’ve finally decided after all these years that whatever elusive thing my parents and all their friends were looking for does not exist.
And that’s why they never found it.

Sort of sad when you think about it.

Notes

I didn’t use anyone’s real name.

Butthump, Oregon isn’t a real town, although I’m pretty sure there’s a bit of butthumping going on there.

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5 Comments

  1. Kate Bartlett

    This was a fascinating read and an insight into small town Christian life. Also very funny.

    Reply
  2. Ami

    I did not expect to see it here, actually. I mean, I sent it to Bruce ages ago and he posted it. But I thought he wasn’t going to do guest posts anymore. So color me surprised. 🙂 But I’m glad you liked it. It was sort of fun to write. Cathartic.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Never put money on that Bruce guy. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Geoff

    Fascinating. To me, living in the UK, being an atheist is pretty normal. Okay, around 50% say they believe in god, but churchgoing attendance is somewhere about 5%. I find it incredible that people live in an environment where it’s so hard to admit to lack of belief. Thanks for helping me to understand.

    Reply
  4. Kate Bartlett

    Geoff that is the same with me in Australia, it’s semi ok to “be religious” as long as you don’t mention it in public. Really it’s kind of bad manners. Up until recently Australia was very tolerant of all religions although now there is a lot of hate directed at Muslims. Apart from that there is a distinct lack of interest in religion. But if someone is too out there with their faith people generally think they are wacko.

    Reply

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