Warning: this post contains an inordinate amount of parenthesis, but who doesn’t love a good parenthetical remark?
We’ve had our fun. We’ve aired our grievances. We’ve made our statement.
We are not the evangelicals of our parents.
But here’s the thing: I cannot separate who I am today from how my fundamentalist parents and church formed me. Nor do I want to.
I grew up speaking Christianese. I asked Jesus into my heart. I wore T-shirts with Christian slogans. I knew all the words to “Jesus Freak.” I belted out Michael W. Smith songs on road trips (especially when someone had a momentary lapse of common sense and announced their need to “tinkle”, at which point, my family responded with, “Sittin’ in the rain/Water on your brain/Got a hole in your boat/Tryin’ to stay afloat/Has got you down” because we loved each other that much) (also, I still love Smitty, so don’t knock it). I held my Bible high with the spine facing down for sword drills, and I did choreography to the latest church musical.
We blame the fundies for trashing the environment (a particularly funny complaint to me since my mom taught me to garden, even entrusting me as a ten-year-old with my own patch, and my dad is the ultra conservationist in all things, well, in all things [we used paper plates at the occasional barbecue; we reused and shared paper napkins (when we weren't using cloth napkins); Dad had a sixth sense when we opened the fridge door and ever so gently reminded us to turn off lights when we left rooms]). We hold them responsible for talk about going to heaven (instead of when heaven comes to earth). We despise their political affiliations (unfortunately, it seems to me, not because we now affiliate ourselves more with Christ’s kingdom than political tribes but because we have different political ideals). We laugh at their ideas of purity.
I may have my differences (a.k.a. my egalitarian beliefs about women, preaching, church leadership and ordination, which, if you must know, developed precisely from the manner in which these fundies taught me to study Scripture–to look at authorial intent, original languages, the larger picture of all of Scripture–and when I did these things–and because my dad included me in all those theological debates when his seminary buddies came over–I emerged egalitarian, but you can read about that another time) (that sound you hear is my dad slapping his forehead). I may make different decisions than my parents and other church leaders did. I may evaluate art and popular culture with different criteria. I may indulge in a glass of wine (or a margarita) with dinner.
But I treasure my upbringing, and I will mimic much of it as we raise our kids (in fact, I dance around the house to the same Kids Praise and Music Machine records my parents danced around the house to with me).
Here’s the thing: my parents and church(es) taught me that Jesus loves me no matter what, and they taught me to love him. They taught me that God has a plan to redeem creation. They taught me to love Scripture because this is how God reveals himself and his sovereign, loving plan to us.
They taught me that true love waits, and they answered all our embarrassing questions about sex, and though somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that girls don’t struggle with lust, which fed a sense of shame when I did, they taught me that sex is good.
They taught me to listen to the messages of the world with a wary and discerning ear, and though this often ended up in weird categories of “religious” and “secular” music (and, yes, I remember thinking Amy Grant had sold out with “Heart in Motion,” an attitude of which I’ve since repented, and I heart Amy Grant), they taught me to understand beauty and dignity from God’s work of creation and redemption rather than from fallen perspectives.
They taught me to respect myself and others because we were created in the image of God. They taught me that I didn’t need the affirmation of the world or of a guy because I belonged to God, and that was enough.
They taught me to love and include everyone despite race, ethnicity, and background. They taught me to forgive radically because God forgives radically. I’ve seen these things lived out time and time again.
They taught me to pray because prayer matters, because it changes us and because it influences God’s actions. Because it makes us partners in his kingdom work.
They gave me a place of belonging, and they taught me about my responsibility as a Christian to share God’s love, and because of this, I had the privilege of witnessing to my best friend in high school and embracing her as she decided to follow Christ.
They taught me that the Church is universal. My youth leaders took me to Honduras to build a kitchen and love on kids at an orphanage, and we learned that Christ blesses irregardless of nationality and economics. A crazy percentage of those who went on that trip have adopted kids. They taught us that what happens in the world outside our neighborhood matters.
They taught me to love art, especially music, and though they sometimes subjugated art to utilitarian purposes (oddly, not music because I could play Bach fugues and Chopin etudes for Offertory music for the sake of beauty), they taught me that pursuing a career in music was as worthy as a career in ministry.
They taught me that Christ will return and my hope is in him.
They taught me that the thing is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and mind and to love my neighbor as myself.
In this way, they shaped who I am and what–and who–I care about and how I care about these things and people. These days my parents and I debate our differences and care for one another. My parents may not agree that I should preach, but my dad will loan me his commentaries and talk Greek with me and discuss the theology of my sermon, and my mom will come hear me preach when she’s in town (my dad has his own sermons to give on Sunday mornings) and kiss me and tell me, “Well done,” and they don’t agree that we should baptize our children, but they come and they take pictures because this is how the Body of Christ works. We disagree, and we’re different, but we love, and I love my fundamentalist background and my fundamentalist parents and the fundamentalist churches who raised me.