When I was a youngster, there was a word that sprang up early every summer that put me in blue funk. The word was “VBS.” Yes, it’s actually an acronym, but it was a three-syllable scary word to me. Keep in mind this was “back in the day before America took up child worship.” (Courtesy of Garrison Keilor.)
Many of you are aware that VBS stands for Vacation Bible School. It’s a church event in early to mid summer where kids go to Sunday school for two hours or more, every morning for five days. Did I mention it was during the summer? Yet, they put the name “Vacation” in front of Bible School. It was a flagrant misuse of the word.
I doubt there are many of you who come close to having the same religious background as I do. My church experiences would’ve really messed me up, had it not been for Elsie. That woman led her seven kids through the valley of religious purgatory. She never forsook us either. In fact, she taught VBS every year.
Every one of Faris and Elsie’s kids were in church the Sunday or Wednesday after each of us got birthed. Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. Usually during the spring we would have to go to a “meeting.” Most churches called it a revival. We were the early Church of Christ, so we didn’t call things the way most churches did. During “meetings” we listened to a preacher from out of town preach for a whole week. I don’t even think the grownups liked it.
Then of course, the kids got to go to VBS for a week during the early summer. Some churches had really fun Vacation Bible School experiences. They got candy and chips and sno-cones and cokes, and they played games and built chariots and stuff like that. Occasionally, Moses or Elijah would show up. Not sure where they dug ‘em up.
Our church leaders had a different concept of worship. Church was never meant to be fun, so we didn’t try to coax people with a gym or games or T-shirts or snacks. Back then, people didn’t attend church for enjoyment or even encouragement. People attended church out of guilt. If you don’t feel pretty bad about yourself when you left service, you must’ve gotten nothing out of it. – Again -- Back in the day!
About the second year of VBS things turned around a bit. We actually got Kool Aid and cookies. I imagined the apostles rolling over in their graves. At home, we had Kool Aid all the time. In fact, I got tired of Kool Aid. We didn’t have cookies all that often, but it was not too uncommon. Stuff like that wasn’t allowed into church, though. That’s made it so spectacular when we were served them in church. While it did little to improve my opinion of VBS, it was somewhat of a plus.
As we each got old enough to stay at home alone, Mom quit making us go to VBS. But, you know something? For years, we went anyway, because we hated to disappoint that woman. We did love Elsie. The last year I went to VBS I was in the ninth grade. Mom gave no indication in the least that she was disappointed in me.
As you can see, I went through some serious church going when I was young. I learned the upside to a lot of bible stories, too. You know there was a Rahab the Harlot who helped the Israelites overthrow Jericho? The woman even turned out to be one of the great grandmas of Jesus. Yet, each time her name appeared in the bible, she was referred to as “Rahab THE HARLOT.” The woman couldn’t buy a break. That’s always bothered me.
The church I first attended eventually closed down. Members probably got upset with one another over the degree of conservatism that should be applied to worship. That particular issue is called “religion.” Religion has messed up many a church. It causes people to question their “faith.” Muslims are messed up, because they have disagreements over how best to serve Mohammed and Allah. Christianity suffers because of disagreements over how best to worship God.
I’ve noticed a turn around the past decade or two. Kay and I attend a church that goes by the same label as the first one I went to, yet, it is so different. I no longer leave the building feeling bad about myself. The understanding is that each person in church is a mess. That’s why we go to church. We sees ourselves as among those not perfect. It’s really difficult to judge others when you realize you don’t have all the answers. Not even most of the answers.
Our congregation recently finished its VBS. I heard that it was a blast. The kids had fun, even! Of course, I wasn’t there to witness any of it. I’ve only attended VBS one time since the ninth grade. And, that was years ago when my good friend Cliff Miller (Husband of The Couriers Peggy Miller) and I played two old cowboys. Most of you don’t remember Gabby Hayes, but that’s pretty much who we looked and sounded like. We clowned around telling bible stories.
I agreed to play a cowboy at VBS as a favor to Clifford, not for the children. However, if Cliff were still alive, I wouldn’t do it for him again. Maybe if they took “Vacation” out of the name. So misleading.
Truth is, the church experiences of my youth helped me find greater security in my faith. I believe God used Mom to lead me on a journey for a better understanding of people and a greater sense of faith. I see myself as a survivor of the church days of old. And, I’m sure that years from now, there will be a big crop of those who will be survivors of the age of child worship. Somewhere between the two extremes is a proper place for parents to behave toward their children. But, again, who has all the answers? -- Next time.