Thursday, June 3, 2010


I was raised Southern Baptist, back in a day when the Southern Baptist Church was not nearly as conservative as it is now (it made a hard right wing turn in the early 80s). We'd go to church Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights. I enjoyed it, though I am not involved in the church now. I remember them as nice people. I also remember being hopelessly bored, sitting in the pew, as the preacher spoke.

I thought I remembered resenting having to go to church on Wednesday nights because it meant having to miss Star Trek, but I just checked the Wiki and found Star Trek aired on Thursdays. Weird how memory intersects with reality.

One of my favorite memories about Sunday evenings is this: after the service, as the adults did whatever they did inside the church, the kids would gather in the deepening shadows at the back of the church with the pastor's son, Randy Nail (his nickname was "Rusty") and tell ghost stories. He told most of the stories, though I think anyone who wanted could take a turn. But the job of the littler kids like me was to listen, and listen in deep awe. I don't remember many of the stories. One was about people bowling with human heads. One was about a ghost in a river, a woman crying for her drowned child. I think most of the stories were made up on the spot. In retrospect it seems very much like an attempt to construct our own metaphysics, a religion designed for kids, one that made more sense to us than abstractions about original sin, heaven and hell, the vengeful Old Testament God vs. the New Testament turn-the-other-cheek leanings (although Revelations did have a Jason and the Argonauts flair I found appealing). Our metaphysics was built on stuff we understood, stuff that scared us, blood and skeletons, witches and vampire bats, bits we could stack and build and piece together like Lego bricks.

It's a life-long process, the architecture of belief, regardless of your faith, or lack of faith. Forever incomplete. I suppose Catholics would see the resultant structure as a soaring cathedral, all stained glass and basilicas. I see a modest wood and brick building that Midwestern Protestants inevitably produced, built on a human scale, low to the ground and sensible, surrounded by a well kept lawn, green and soft and free of weeds, beckoning us to play.


Shayna Prentice said...

I love the way you write - this is such a beautiful and meaningful post. (and, oh! the "bowling ball head" story!)

Fresca said...

"stuff that scared us, blood and skeletons, witches and vampire bats"
--sounds like Catholic saints and demons!

I didn't grow up Catholic (or any religion) but I was always attracted to the imagery and stories---very like ghost stories, etc. Still love 'em.

But I was attracted (and also still am) to the stripped-down, Zen-like side of Catholicism too--the clean-lined hermitages of Saint Francis and all that "simple living" side of it.

I love religion, even though I don't believe in god.

Nancy Dancehall said...

"One was about a ghost in a river, a woman crying for her drowned child."

Sounds like La Llorna, a Mexican ghost and incredibly scary. In some versions she has long fingers that drag the river.

Clowncar said...

Thank you for saying such kind words, Shay (you share the name of my oldest daughter, btw). and that bowling ball head story seemed kinda goofy even at the time.

Yes, Fresca, I don't believe in god either, at least in any traditional sense (is a belief in self-organizing systems a belief in god?). But I have a fondness for religion based in large part to those early encounters with it. Frightening how the face of the Baptist church has changed. Gentle tolerance replaced by angry, xenophobic conservatism.

That story has legs, Nancy. I heard it in Texas too, from a cousin. I suspect there's an archetype hiding in there: the dead child, the forever grieving mother. That long fingers detail you mention is very creepily effective.

Shayna Prentice said...

How sweet to know that! (I am the eldest of three girls and I've always been fond of my name ~!~)

Hilary said...

I like the way you see things and how you express them. I'm not a religious person but I have my own sense of nature and wonder. Always interesting to hear about days gone by.. and a child's perspective, many years after.

Clowncar said...

Thank you Hil. I'd guess that "sense of nature and wonder" is hard wired into all of us, whether it expresses itself in religion, a love of the natural world, science, art. The list is pretty long.

Wow. Wonderful expression of faith through architecture, Fresca. I'd love to know if there is anything on the walls to mark the passage of time, the sun, the moon. A part of me scoffs that a vertical and horizontal line are a poor way to channel the light for an astrolabe (there are few straight lines or 90 degree angles in nature). But I'm old and cranky.