A Lifetime of Religion

Shirley - Fairport, New York
Entered on March 5, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

THIS I BELIEVE

I believe that invisible strings connect everything on this planet so you’d better be careful where you point those scissors.

It’s taken me sixty years to boil down my life philosophy into this simple sentence. I started as a sinner – Reverend Barnes’ exact words –and was doomed to burn in everlasting hell unless I prayed for salvation and asked Jesus to intervene on my behalf with God, kind of like sponsoring me for membership in a special club. So as soon as I was four feet tall, that’s what I did. You had to be at least four feet tall to get saved because that was how deep the water was in the church baptistery. Otherwise, I guess you just floated round like a croton in tomato soup. I was nine years old.

In our church, the baptistery was a kind of built-in aquarium at the very front of the sanctuary. It had concrete steps down into the water on one side and steps back up on the other. A scenic mural was painted on the wall behind the pool. Heavy red velvet drapes closed to hide the whole thing and only opened for baptisms, like at the movies. I guess it was a lot of work to fill and empty that thing so sinners had to wait until there were enough to make all that work worthwhile. During revival season, the schedule got speeded up; people seemed to remember their sins and needed saving more with a visiting preacher.

I backslid (that’s what it was called when you were already saved but forgot the rules), was re-saved, backslid some more and all this happened before I was fourteen years old. It seems like a lot of sinning for somebody barely a teenager. I was more diligent in those days.

I left that little church and the South when I was sixteen and went east to live with relatives on a liberal college campus. I joined a fine old stone church where music came from an antique organ and a paid choir. Kids in the youth group had last names that were the same as some buildings and streets in town and we discussed whether God was dead. There wasn’t a velvet curtain in the place.

Later, I read philosophers and feminists and “The DaVinci Code.” I don’t belong to any church. I don’t regret being saved, baptized or even being labeled “sinner” but I didn’t impose any of that onto my children. I can’t say if their lives are narrowed by the omission but they surely do not have the religion crutch to use as excuse for deeds good or bad. They’ll need to find another machete to get them through the jungle of life.

I aspire to leave behind something beautiful that wasn’t here yesterday before I hit town. In the meantime, I observe nature and on good days, I can nearly see those invisible threads.