Panic inducing memories in my old Bible
Yesterday I was rummaging around the garage when I stumbled on a giant Box of Christian Books. This box has somehow survived several moves, collecting dust in various closets, garages and sheds. Although its contents haven’t made our shelves in years, I haven’t had the strength to get rid of them. I haven’t even have the strength to open the box…Until yesterday.
The experience was a tour in the Museum of the Person I Used to Be. In it were the usual evangelical suspects. “Every Woman’s Battle” by Shannon Ethridge, “The Dream Giver for Teens,” by Bruce & Jessica Wilkinson, complete with a handwritten note on the inside cover from my old youth pastor, and “A Ready Defense” by Josh McDowell.
But what knocked the wind out of me was finding my old Bible.
It was a worn, dog-eared leather bound copy of the “Spirit Filled Life Bible,” edited by Jack Hayford, a Pentecostal legend. This was the Bible you needed to have in my church as a teen, for it was the only Bible with “full gospel” commentary, meaning it advocated for speaking in tongues.
My heart started beating faster when I held it in my hands, as a bizarre mix of nostalgia, anxiety and embarrassment came over me. As I flipped through the tissue paper thin pages, I found underlined passages, notes in the margins and circled words with corresponding dates of when that particular verse spoke to me.
Next to Proverbs 8:34, which says “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates,” I wrote in loopy, girlish penmanship, “Salvation is a DAILY process.”
In a flash, I was taken back to the girl I was, the one who had all the answers, whose faith was as easy as underlining a Bible verse each morning, as easy as sharing with my youth group All The Things God Is Teaching Me.
A small part of me longed for it again. But mostly, it panicked me to be confronted with the person I’ve worked so hard to bury in my 20s.
I was about to put the Bible away when a certain something fell from its pages.
It was a Sunday bulletin from the evangelical “non-denominational” church Joe worked at for one year. The ugly bright green church program was from Sunday, April 19, 2009 – the Sunday that the pastor cornered Joe’s father (who was visiting from out of town) after service, to lecture him on the alleged poor performance of his son. People were wandering around with their donuts and coffee and saying things like “Wasn’t that a great sermon?” while the pastor is in the middle of the room ranting to the father of one of his staffers about how terrible his son is.
(Joe was fired three weeks later.)
That bulletin brought back a lot of junk.
In it was an advertisement for the church women’s retreat that I wasn’t planning on attending – a huge point of contention from the pastor, we found out later.
“Calling All Women! Imagine a time to reflect on God’s Word, a time to connect with new and old friends, a time to relax… and not have to cook!!! Join us May 1-2 at Sally Kay’s house for $45. SIGN UP TODAY!”
The weekend of that retreat coincided with Final’s Week for me. Besides, spending a weekend in a house across town with no specific activity on the agenda didn’t entice me. At all.
Directly below it was an advertisement for the upcoming men’s 2-day whitewater raft trip.
I remember thinking the raft trip sounded way more fun.
Another page had a fill-in-the-blank sermon guide that I didn’t fill out. Prompts for specific answers given during the sermon, such as:
“While the law is ____ a means to salvation; it is a rule of Christian ________ – _________.”
I can only guess what those answers are supposed to be.
At the bottom of the fill-in-the-blank sermon guide, there was an invitation to rate your performance as a Christian.
“Considering the relationship between love and obedience, how would I rate my relationship with God today? Poor Fair Good Great”
And in one swoop of the pen, we were to judge the wonder of Emmanuel – God With Us – and rate our connection to the Divine. It brought me back to the spiritual claustrophobia I felt in that period of my life, the feeling we were all making it too small, too tidy, like a grocery store checklist on cute stationary.
I couldn’t breath, and I had to get out. All of it. The “DAILY process” of salvation. Rating my performance. The constant hunt for nuggets of revelation in the Bible. Church leaders who used their power to control. Filling in definitive answers during sermons. Women’s retreats.
April 19, 2009 was the last time I used the Bible of my youth. I ran, but never talked about it.
I’m ready to talk now.
What about you? Do you relate to any of my experience?