Today I have a guest post for you. Barbara Painter is a new friend from North Carolina. She attended the writer's workshop with me and I loved her response to one of our writing prompts: Write about a time when someone blocked your sun. I believe Barbara's reflection will resonate with many of you. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing!
Move, You're Blocking My Son
I would like to change one word in the prompt. Move, You're Blocking my Son.
Church as a whole and individuals representing the church have often blocked my Son. In the mountain community where I grew up, our lives revolved around church. Church was family and friends and where we went to socialize for there wasn't much else to do. This small country church in the hills of Avery County was where I first met Jesus. The rule was that you had to be in attendance every time the church doors opened: Wednesday night prayer meeting, Sunday morning Sunday school and preaching, and Sunday evening youth meeting. Of course, if there was a revival going on, or a "singing" taking place, you needed to be there as well. The walls in our church classrooms were adorned with pictures of our blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus. I don't remember ever hearing that Jesus was actually a Jew from a Middle Eastern country who surely had a dark or an olive complexion and dark eyes. No, our Jesus must look like us, thus the pale, blond Jesus with his arms outstretched to little children who looked just like us.
Now, if Jesus looked like us, then He certainly thought like us. Jesus shared our beliefs, our prejudices and our narrow minded thinking, and we could always produce a Bible verse to back up those beliefs. Jesus wasn't so sure about Black people, foreigners, or even those Catholic people we had heard of but never met. Maybe they were OK as long as they stayed in their place, and I was never quite sure where their place was. Women in church—we all knew how Jesus felt about that. They were somewhat inferior in their critical thinking skills and were definitely too emotional and flighty to hold a position of leadership in our church. Never mind that Jesus went so far as to approach a woman who was a hated foreigner and tell her that God's love included her. No, the men in church held all the power and made all the important decisions. The women cooked and served the meals in the fellowship hall, cared for the children, taught vacation Bible school, and cleaned the church.
Our Jesus was very big on love, very selective love that is. Jesus only loved those who believed as we did. Well, He might love them some but not enough to save them, unless they shared our beliefs and had been dunked in the river. Anyone who went forward as we sang "Just As I Am" was immediately taken down to the river that flowed beside our church and baptized that very day. There was no waiting for the water to warm up if it was winter or no postponing of the baptism for any reason, because if something happened and you died before you were baptized, it was very doubtful you would get to Heaven. As soon as the church service ended we all stood on the bank of the river, and as we sang "Shall We Gather at the River," the preacher and the new convert waded out into the cold river water. As the new baptizee emerged from the river, we could all rest assured that the conversion was complete.
“Are you saved?” This was a question we heard frequently. We were told often that Jesus was forced to die an agonizing death on a cross because of all our sins and our sins were legion. Yes, we were all sinners and deserved the fires of Hell. Oh, and we heard a lot about Hell. One red faced, boisterous preacher stood weekly in the pulpit, brandishing his Bible and preaching us directly into Hell. I remember sitting and listening to his yelling and ranting and thinking. "I don't like you and I don't like your God."
Our Jesus was also a very sad, serious man with no time for fun. In fact anything that was fun was suspect and probably a sin. It was certainly a sin to dance or go to a movie, and playing cards also led us down a slippery path. Having a glass of wine or a beer was absolutely condemned, and even having alcohol in our homes was a sin. Now, my mama always had a fruit jar filled with moonshine in the back of the jelly cabinet, but that was purely for medicinal purposes. Avery county was a totally dry county at that time and one did not go to the ABC store to buy their moonshine; no, that came from some of my cousins who made it back in one of the "hollers." I am sure that it was all used for medicinal purposes as well. It seems our church leaders and our preachers had never read in the Bible that the Pharisees complained that, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you say here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners." Seems to me that Jesus enjoyed a good party and certainly preferred the company of sinners over the pious, strict Pharisees.
Somehow I never heard that Jesus was a social activist clamoring for justice for the poor and disenfranchised. We all knew that Jesus had to die and shed his blood to save all of us poor sinners from the pain of Hell, but we never learned that Jesus' death was a result of his fight for justice. Our Jesus was certainly not a brave, fiery rebel who was not afraid to challenge the religious and political leaders of His time. He was always "meek and mild" and we were told to strive to be like Him. Well, we girls were to be meek and mild but the boys really didn't need to be.
In our church we learned that God, and probably Jesus as well, was always looking down at us, watching our every move and keeping record of each sin. I just knew I would probably have to stand before Jesus and explain why I told my mama I was going to Debbie's house when I was actually going out with a boy whose nickname was Satan. I was going to Hell for sure. [We] talked a lot about being saved, but we never knew if we were really saved until we stood before St. Peter and asked if we could come in. We sang, "Be careful little eyes what you see, ears what you hear, feet where you go and hands what you do. For the Father up above is looking down in love." Jesus might be looking down in love but the judgment was always there.
As with so many things in life, this type of Jesus and religion was all about control. If Hell sounded bad enough and if we were told often enough that we were going there, we might remain under the control of the church in order to avoid the horrendous pain of Hell. A fiery pit where we burned forever--we certainly didn't want that. We might never think for ourselves and never question any of the doctrine we were fed if we were constantly worried about our salvation. After all, it was also a sin to question and doubt. Education was also dangerous, for if we were too educated, we might actually see that the preacher pounding our pulpit did not have a direct line to God and that our thoughts about God might actually be just as true as his. Memorizing Bible verses was good, but stopping to consider the culture and the time in which the Bible was written was unnecessary and wrong, and heaven forbid that one would say that these verses can no longer apply to us in our time. Even as a nine year old in Sunday school I rebelled against the Jesus and God being portrayed to me. I remember telling a Sunday school teacher that I did not understand why Jesus had to die and that if Jesus' blood was what God required to forgive our sins, then He was not a very fair God. It has taken me 66 years to become comfortable with my Jesus. I choose the Jesus who turned water into wine, who ate with sinners and undesirables, who forgave instead of condemning, who was not afraid to challenge the hypocrisy of the religious establishment, who advocated for the poor and demanded justice, and who preached love instead of hate and peace instead of war. I choose the Jesus who loves all people with no distinction as to race, creed, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. To all these Bible thumping church people who aspired to sell me a Jesus more concerned with Hell and eternal punishment than with love and forgiveness, I say "Move, you're blocking my Son."
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