“We should never discuss politics or religion … (pick one: at the dinner table, at work, in polite company).”—Old axiom handed down for generations
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I’ve heard that saying all my life but never thought about it too strongly one way or the other until recent years. These days, however, it sure seems like we’ve forgotten that we’re all products of our varied upbringing, experiences, and education. And while it’s just not possible, or even desirable for everybody to agree on everything, being civil about it should be.
Speaking of religious views for example, my experiences on the topic were admittedly of one focus until I entered college. My mother, a devout member of the church of Christ, reared me with the unwavering mandate that I would pass through the doors at the Southside congregation in Mount Pleasant every Sunday morning with her. That was her declarative statement, not her suggestion or invitation. While she never questioned me about where I went or what time I got home Saturday night, there was no question as to where I would be when the church doors opened come Sunday morning.
Occasional experiences attending other churches included a few times at the Baptist or Catholic church in Mount Pleasant with friends and more often, attending the Methodist Church in Pittsburg with my grandmother. She was was a member there for 63 years although, as far as I know or was ever discussed, she never succeeded in getting my grandfather to darken the church doors, as some folks like to say.
My impressions of the Pittsburg Methodist Church were inspirational in some ways other than Biblical matters. One was the sight and sound of the massive pipe organ. The other was soft sunlight falling through tall stained-glass windows. One Sunday, I asked for permission to return during the week to take photos inside and was told that I could do that anytime I desired; the church house doors were never locked.
With that, you have the sum total of my upbringing and experiences on religious views … except for that one time which was perhaps the most “moving” religious experience of all. It happened around 1960 on South Jefferson Street in Mount Pleasant, and it didn’t even involve a church house door.
Home was 206 Redbud Lane back when South Jefferson was two lanes, I rode my bicycle to town, everything past South Ward School was cow pastures, and the west side of Jefferson south of Pleasant Street was mostly wooded acreage we called “the big woods” and a great place to play.
Good friend, neighbor, and fellow Southside Church of Christ regular, Ronald Rust, and I spotted a huge tent going up next to “the big woods” one afternoon and thinking maybe the circus had come to town, we parked our bikes to watch the activity. But instead of elephants and tigers, at day’s end the tent was filled with benches, a platform, a piano, and a podium.
When the banner heralding the commencement of a “tent revival” that night went up, after supper we returned to our vantage point across the street as darkness approached. Taking a seat on the soft summer grass, Ronald and I prepared to observe our very first tent revival.
After watching spirited singing and piano playing, enthusiastic preaching, and Bible proclaiming that could be heard for blocks, we sneaked across Jefferson and into “the big woods” for a closer look. As the service reached what was perhaps its crescendo exuberant with frequent ‘amens’ and other expressions of congregational affirmation, two young, wide-eyed, and spellbound church of Christ boys hid in the bushes watching religious practices the likes of which they had never seen.
In fact, we didn’t even notice two figures approaching in the darkness until they were upon us. Startled, and not knowing whether their intent was making sure we weren’t pranksters or praying over us to receive the Holy Ghost, we scampered out of the woods, across Jefferson and back home on Redbud without ever looking back.
In less innocent times today, the rash of church house shootings, having to lock church doors for protection during worship services, and the vandalism of houses of worship is unfathomable. Add the out-of-control local governments in some places imposing unconstitutional church closings and prohibitions on religious services and it’s clear that freedom of religion has joined political views and the growing list of other topics in the arena where differing opinions are no longer tolerated.
Maybe talking more about these subjects would be a good thing instead of running away like frightened kids or violently attacking and condemning those with whom we disagree. We just might relearn how to have civil conversations, respect each other’s views, and remain friends by agreeing to disagree.
Who knows, such civility might even lead to more people darkening church house doors again—if that’s what they choose to do.
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