We as people tend to be the sum of our experiences. Our experiences teach us about the world. What we learn from them not only colors how we perceive the world but also how we navigate it. You can’t fully understand a person or their actions unless you understand some of their experiences. This very basic concept is what has kept the species alive and thriving through the millennia. Not only because we learn to avoid behavior that is harmful to us, but we extend that knowledge to protecting our young.
Ouch. That hurt. I won’t do that again and I won’t let my kid do that either. That person is mean and hits things. I will stay away and stand between that person and my kid. I almost drowned as a kid so I will make sure my kids have life jackets and swim lesson. I might have lost a few IQ points falling off my bike and hitting my head. Man those helmets look like a great idea for the kiddo here. Basic stuff.
Now where I am about to go with this is holy ground for a lot of people. And I firmly believe we should respect things that are sacred to other people even if they are not sacred to us. However, when our experiences tell us that that sacred thing is potentially detrimental to either ourselves or others, we are under no obligation to keep it in our lives or to remain silent.
Eons of dastardly practices and permeating oppression have been permitted because something was decreed sacred and people kept silent.
Which brings me to church and Easter.
People who go to church are always subtly and sometimes not so subtly trying to get me to behave the same way they do. Which is a natural human trait. No judgement there. But when I indicate that isn’t a great thing for me and on occasion suggest that it might not be a great reflection on them personally either…the offense is taken. I shouldn’t be offended that you think my behavior should change. But you are offended that I think yours should? Hmmmm.
As a parent, I have had an overwhelming urge to protect my children from church. Not from God. We read Bible stories and say our prayers every night. But the church is a no go in our house.
I know. You just gasped. Possibly said a prayer for me and immediately decided I was crazy and/or love the “Foosball”. And I do love the Foosball just for the record.
I have to share some of my experiences in order for you to have a hope of understanding this personal and parenting decision.
As a child, I went to a church with a pretty fundamentalist Baptist slant. You know, not one of those cool come-as-you-are churches. It was one of those proper Southern churches. One of those churches where females had to wear dressy dresses and were shunned to the auxiliary. Pants were a deal. For real. I never understood it. Males could come in blue jeans (shorts for the young ones) if they wanted to. Because, you know, it was just important that they come. It doesn’t matter what they wear. (Seriously, this is the answer I was given when I asked about it. Draw your own conclusions on how important it was that I, as a non-dress loving female, come to church based on that response.)
It was a place where my Mom was told she wasn’t qualified to teach a Sunday school class because she smoked. At least two of the church deacons were chain smokers and they were fine Christian men qualified to lead all of us. I’m not arguing that they weren’t fine men here either. They were. Just that the standard was a smidgen double.
It was one of those places where the sermons were guaranteed to last until sun down unless somebody went forward and took the Lord Jesus Christ as their savior this very morning even if everyone in the vestibule had already done it at least twice already. I mean the church only had so many people in it. The organ droned on and on while we all stared at each other sideways thinking, “Who is going to do it this week.”
“For the love of God and all that is holy, somebody, anybody, get up there. I have to pee and it is two hours past lunch.” I swear they turned off the air conditioning to make us really squirm. Finally someone would take one for the team so that mass starvation didn’t occur.
I say this half in jest. One of the many reasons my diabetic father refused to go to church was because he would have full on insulin reactions because the service never let out on time. God forbid he get up and not die before a soul was saved. That would have been completely inappropriate. All about the appearances you know.
But what I have described here is just kind of church in the South. Lots of people have these stories and can laugh about it. Nothing terribly traumatic. Nothing all that uncommon given the era. Distasteful and mildly oppressive to some, particularly those of us who don’t like to be told what to wear or that we aren’t fit for a leadership position simply because of the inward orientation of our sex organs. But not traumatic.
Once a year on Easter, however, the mask would come off. What was really underneath it all stood in the full light of day. And friends…it was ugly.
Easter for me always started off badly not least of all because of the fashion show. We got out of bed bright and early to put on our fancy new Easter dresses. I hate and have always hated dresses. I am not comfortable in them. I feel out of place in my own skin and functionally restricted when wearing them. Add the stupid hat and the fancy, horrendously uncomfortable shoes and you had an unhappy girl.
At this point, I really must clarify the nature of the “fancy” dress. My parents didn’t have a lot of money. Which rarely really bothered me. But walking into the gag inducing ocean of Eu de Walgreen wearing a homemade dress (God bless my mother’s heart but some of those things were doozies.) when everyone else has spent enough money to feed a small third world nation on their fancy Easter dresses can be a bit humiliating even if it is the best you have.
(Imagine if for a moment, we didn’t buy shiny new dresses on Easter and say donated that money to a local food bank or homeless shelter. I know. Absurd. Never mind.)
Then the other girls make a point to mention your dress and laugh. The adults let them. Perhaps even making comments about it themselves. (No. Surely. Not. Maybe at least once.) Yep. Fun stuff.
What kid hasn’t been made fun of for something they are wearing? No biggie.
But then came the dreaded Easter Egg hunt. I have left with bruises from the church Easter Egg hunt on more than one occasion. More than once, beautifully dressed darlings have upended my basket, rifled through the spilled contents, taken what they wanted and shoved me to the ground. Where were the adults? I don’t know. Maybe looking at each other’s fancy clothes. But they sure as hell weren’t watching the kids. I hope. Because if they were…and I really believe they might have been…there is just no excuse. Especially not in God’s house on the day his peace preaching son, who loved beggars, liars, women of questionable morality, and princes equally, rose from the dead.
For all the ceremony around this holiest of holy Christian holidays, it really boiled down to who had the connections, who had spent more money on the fashion show and letting the strongest survive. Which is an incredibly accurate parallel for life in general. But not really a great example of the faith.
Eventually, I decided that I would no longer tolerate being uncomfortable in my own skin and restricted in my ambitions and actions. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to sign myself up to be humiliated and mugged once a year. I personally think the man upstairs has no problem with this.
I moved right on. But what never left me is the feeling that this church thing, especially on Easter, should be avoided at all cost. And that it is something that I probably, as a parent who cares about my children, should protect them from. Those things I learned that really paralleled life are not the lessons I want my kids learning before kindergarten. I know they will learn them eventually. But I certainly don’t want it impressed upon then at an early age in association with God.
I wavered when the children were young and took them to a local church for some Easter activities. Going as I was, most assuredly not in fancy clothes, I was offered many different kinds of assistance. So there was a bit of well intentioned judgement going on. No big deal, because the egg hunts were nice and civil. My kids weren’t knocked down by the other children. I began to believe that things had changed a bit.
But no. An adult someone purposely unplugged the bouncy house on my kid while I was trying to get him out. He gave me an oops shrug like it was no big deal he almost suffocated and most definitely terrified a child, and walked away. I am sure he was forgiven and has forgotten. But my son still asks me about it. And that was IT for me.
I have always measured people by the way they treated those around them day to day regardless of social status or similarity to themselves. And this lot has consistently been left wanting. And it is terribly hard, even when we super duper try, not to judge people just a little bit by the company they keep.
You don’t typically let your child around people you feel would not treat them well. And in my experience which has formed my opinion, the collective of people gathered in a building called a church, are those people. So I limit my kid’s exposure.
It is hard to live in the south and not be around people who go to church. Individually, they are usually fine. And I don’t really limit the kids there.But there is just something about putting them all in that building or an event space together that changes behaviors and not for the better. The whole structure causes a feedback loop that promotes some great and admirable behavior. It also promotes some behavior that I simply can’t ignore or willingly expose my children too.
So in my house, there are no fancy Easter dresses even though my girly girl would probably love it. But there just might be a donation to a needy someone. There are no trips to church. There are epic egg hunts with the extended family where no shoving or mugging is allowed. There is no indication that one someone is better than the other. There are strict warnings that if anyone is ever caught bullying someone, the consequences will be unfathomable. And there are prayers at night. Because you don’t need church to know God. And you don’t need a fancy dress or a sunrise service for Him to feel your faith.