Saturday, May 1, 2010
Somewhere between my curious nature and my desire to interact with my environment, I looked critically at the world. So as a child, when my family went to church, I really had no idea what it was about. I liked the children sermons given at Our Savior's Lutheran Church. It was fun to go in front of the sanctuary and sit with the other kids beside the pastor, since he seemed to be the reason everyone was there.
When I was a child my family attended this church in Durant, OK. It is Our Saviour's Lutheran Church. It was my first time to be exposed to anything religious. The sanctuary looks nearly the same as it did when I was a child. I remember that the cross was quite impressive and I would stare at it endlessly, enjoying all the colors and shapes of the tile artwork.
Some things I recall about church at an early age involves a lot of people that I didn't know. We shared Sunday School classes with kids that were not in my regular school. When singing songs, the words in the hymnals were not sung in the same order as a book is read. You got dress up in nice clothes when you went to church. The buildings were nice and had a lot of cool stuff to look at. Plus, we usually went out to eat on Sunday after church. These were a few of the reasons that I liked going to church.
This was the first church I ever attended of my own choice, Bethel Baptist Church in Ardmore, OK. It was just a few blocks from my house so I walked there most every Sunday morning. When I was staying with my Grandmother the Sunday School teacher, Don Ray Thomason, would come out in the country to pick me up. It was a very nice and friendly place.
A few years later my family moved to Ardmore, OK and the family pretty much stopped going to church. Strangely enough, I was the only one in my family, for a long time, that went to church. It started when I was ten years old with a Vacation Bible Study. I told my Mother about the church; we visited the church; she checked the place out and decided that the people were OK. At the VBS, I remember one of my favorite things was working on the arts and crafts, wanting to make them as good as I could. But I thought the stories were nice, too. This began my personal journey with God and Christians.
At church, during the sermon, I would listen closely to the words the preacher would say and read along with the Bible. When a verse was given, I would start ahead and read after it. I knew that would give me better understanding of the context of what was being said. I knew from growing up reading The Hardy Boys book series and other books. One has to read the whole story to know what is going on in context. I enjoyed the challenge of learning about what was being preached and taught in the church. So, I was in church almost every Sunday. I went to Sunday School, the service, and when I could, the Sunday and Wednesday evening services, too. If we had evening visitation at the nursing homes I would attend.
To me, this was one of the first things that I did for myself, outside my family. Besides going to school, living in the small town didn't provide a lot of options for activities. So for me, church became my hobby. I actually went there so often that I would show up on Saturday to help mow the lawn. I quickly learned many of the stories and words of the Bible. It wasn't long before I could say the books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation forward and backward.
This was also the time when I learned to read aloud. It was a skill I was quite proud of. I had received the King James Version of the Bible, so I felt that reading those “odd” words as I was speaking was doing well. It was the only Bible I had honestly ever read. It was odd that it was not written as a paragraph, but in separate verses, one at a time. I actually liked reading the Bible. The stories seemed so odd to me, but it sure was good when a story came up in church that I had already read. As I was familiar with the story, the message was easier to understand. Plus ,it made it better when I reading the verses aloud in my Sunday school class, because I knew what the story was about.
It was, at times, excruciating to hear others my age and even older, struggle with words as they read. Especially the Hebrew names and cities. Of course, I just said them the way I was taught. I had to correct some of the pronunciations, as I learned how to say them when I got older.
Recently, I went back to visit Ardmore, OK and took the pictures of Bethel Baptist Church and reconnected with my first Sunday School teacher. Don Ray Thomason was a very important influence in my life as a young boy. As one that believes in God, he is a good example of someone who tries to live the values he professes. At the time I attended the church, I would often ride with Don Ray as he picked up people for church. He is still doing that Today, however, the church now has two vans so Don Ray doesn't have to use his personal vehicle.
To me it was important to visit them. [Don Ray's wife is Betty Jo, whom I also knew at the time.] They are a good example of living a good life and applying the principles of the life of Jesus, without a strong persecution aspect. I would say that to me, Don Ray and Betty Jo represent the prototypical positive image of what a southern Baptist couple should be. If it was only based upon how someone lived their life, they indeed provided a good example.
However, there is more to life than just a sterling example of behavior. There is the reality of the Universe and the way cause, effect and logical principles apply to life. At this point, many people are more than willing to accept a good life and live blissfully in the limited knowledge of what they have learned. But, that was not the path I chose.
One of my early joys was attending the adult Bible study on Wednesday nights at Bethel Baptist Church. I had my own study guide. In the days proceeding class, I would read and fill in the answers according to the text listed in the study guide. I recall the first one I had was on the book of Acts. Of course, this really is not much of a study of the Bible, as there are often more than one answer that can be derived from the text and your understanding of the text. Until you go to the class, you don't know which one is “right”. But the idea that I was a kid and doing the same study as the grown ups was pretty cool.
This is the interior of the Bethel Baptist Church In Ardmore, OK. With very little exception the sanctuary looks the same it did in 1976 to 1978.
I was like a newly hatched chick in a nest. I just wanted more and more of this stuff. I still didn't really understand why but my adherence to Christianity surely impressed many of the older people in the church. I often received compliments about my attendance and participation. This is also when I was told, strangely enough, “That God has something special for you in your life, Thomas.” This always seemed odd to me for several reasons. First, what could this special thing be. And second, how could this person have an idea like that? How could they possible know? But it was just another of the anomalies that I came across with religion. I smiled and said, “thank you”.