Sunday, November 20, 2005

I was ten ...

... and our little family was at the beach that day, not right on the beach at that moment, but in the park-like picnic area set back from the water and its sandy fringe. There were two slightly older girls at the table nearest to ours. Periodically, they would briefly break into some sort of dance step, just a few steps. I suppose it was the jitterbug. I regarded them curiously, for this was new stuff to me. Apparently, as I was watching them, my saintly mother was intently studying me, for at the very instant that I began to emulate these exotic creatures by audaciously daring to move my feet — just a little, mind you — my mother was right on me, like salt on potato chips: "Just remember who you are and who you belong to." (Translation for those who require one: "Remember that you are a Christian and you belong to Jesus.")

You see, we were Pentecostals, and, in those days at least, the devout were greatly influenced by the holiness movement. Heeding the words of the apostle Paul, we were supposed to be "in the world but not of the world." We were not to derive enjoyment from worldly pleasures. We weren't to smoke, even then when it was a more common and socially acceptable habit. We didn't drink, didn't gamble, didn't go to movies, didn't play cards, didn't go to amusement parks, didn't watch tv on Sunday, and didn't dance. And who knows what else we didn't do? At that age, kids believe what they are taught — it's called indoctrinaton — and since we all spend more time in the world than in the church, my beliefs began to cause me some confusion and discomfort.

I didn't quite know how to deport myself through most of my high school years. How could I be in the world but not of it? I would have to be careful of making the wrong kinds of friends, of overhearing the wrong kinds of jokes, of being in the company of people who might use the wrong kinds of language. I was forced to live my life on the fringes, relegated to hang about the periphery, constrained to be careful about becoming too involved with the wrong crowd . Difficult, painful and lonely times indeed.

At some point, I began to tenuously, very tenuously, experiment with some of these supposed vices. I wasn't being particularly rebellious, but I guess that I was beginning to think and evaluate for myself. I went to an amusement park and failed to find anything particularly unregenerate about riding the roller coaster or The Wild Mouse. Even a little more tenuously did I venture into the dank confines of a theatre to watch a movie. I came to a similar, surprising conclusion, for I discovered it to be no more grimily stainful to my soul than watching tv at home.

No, I didn't plunge headlong into the wild life, always thought that there was some virtue in moderation or even in eschewing certain activities, and I continue to think that way. Even as an adult, in my late-twenties or early-thirties, I remember getting involved in a card game with some of Cuppa's worldlier relatives. I felt sick to my spirit at having to gamble despite the fact that the grand purse consisted only of paltry pennies, nickels and dimes.

There's no scintilla of doubt that I will always be affected by those early years, for we are what we were when. For example: although I now drink a little wine or beer or put a dab of Bailey's in my Christmas coffee, I remain pretty darn moderate. I no longer hold it sinful to have a drink, but, at my core, I can't help but feel that it not a terribly moral choice to consume significant quantities of alcohol on any sort of regular basis. I'm sure that I have never been drunk although two glasses of wine can render me a trifle woozy. Hence, my daughter, somewhat jealously, deems me a cheap drunk. I say "jealously" because I'm sure that she wishes that she could be as easily affected by consuming such a paltry volume.

Pretty well the last Thou Shalt Not item on my list has been dancing. That is really what I wanted to write about today, but all of this seemingly necessary background has consumed so much of both your and my time, that I feel it incumbent upon me to put these ruminations on Pause for the nonce and advise you to stay tuned for some of the more recent developments in my journey towards some semblance of normality.



mreddie said...

Was raised the same way - and then came the Army. It wasn't a conscious effort but the end result of those 3 years was the busting up of all the "Thou Shalt Nots" I was taught.

After those years I came full circle and back to the fold - though now the positive side of a relationship with God is stressed more than the negative, plus I have accepted it of my own free will. ec

Bonita said...

Wonderful post AC, and I too have always been on the perifery for about the same reasons growing up. But, after awhile, I saw I wasn't missing much out there, and that my inner world was richer, always richer. And, I've remained there, ever since. God's laws had nothing to do with it - my curiosity and imagination held me captive in a world of my own creation.

Dale said...

"This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord."

My God wants me to be happy, AC. He wants me to sing and dance and rejoice. And Jesus himself drank wine. Indeed, Christians claim He turned water into wine for a celebration.

If God loves me, why would He deny me pleasure? I think the answer can be found in one word: moderation.

Christi said...

What I find funny is that I'm pretty much where you are now, even though I may have experimented a little more when I was in my teen and early twenties years (yeah, so I'm just barely in my later 20's, but...). What's so funny, though, is I was raised the exact opposite of you. My dad was an alcoholic, my mom a gambler. We watched too much television, partied all the time (yeah, they took us along, even to the bars), they took me to R-rated movies at young ages, etc. Now, though, I'm a very moderate drinker, and I can't possibly find a reason to gamble, even pennies. I love how so many different variations of a life can bring you to so many different places, and sometimes to the same place by different paths.

Anonymous said...

This is so interesting. Yes, I do believe that what we are taught as children always assumes a voice in our lives. Lucky are those who acquire enough knowledge of self to moderate the words.
I hope you dance!

Ginger said...

It sounds so familiar! I can't wait for the next installment....

Meadow said...

I can definitely relate to this. My father was a preacher, so not only did we have the regular thou shalt nots but we also had the you're-a-child-of-a-preacher thou shalt nots.

That and a few other terrible experiences totally turned me off from religion. I respect it for other people but I don't want it for myself.

Heather Plett said...

I've had a similar journey. And then I met and married a French Canadian who's family is ALL ABOUT DANCING (and drinking, but that's a whole other story). We had the greatest time at our wedding, and the best part of the evening was when most of my family (siblings and mom) got up to dance. I felt so loved and un-judged (I know that's not a word, but what's the opposite of judged?).

Now I've settled into a relationship with God that's more about the relationship than the rules.

Gina said...

To my way of thinking, God is all about free will, asking questions, and learning from our mistakes.

Besides, "Thou shalt not dance" never made it into the Ten Commandments!

It is interesting how people (and this is not necessarily a criticism) will latch on to a few particular Biblical phrases, even while ignoring others that contradict them. I have never understood that.

Sue said...

I was raised in a traditional Anglican way, with a fairly 'reformed' mother, but dancing was considered a Good Thing. My mother wasn't happy about barn dances on a Sunday, or ballet exams on a Sunday, but that was the only restriction. Sunday had to be special, but I don't think we were given any extra-biblical thou-shalt-nots. The idea of not being allowed to dance seems very odd to me, considering how much dance was a part of worship in the Old Testament.

But I do agree that childhood prohibitions or even childhood traditions run deep. My parents used to say it was 'cheating' to look at the picture on the box of a jigsaw puzzle while doing the puzzle... and until I was about 21 I really thought it was inherently dishonest, like cheating at exams. Even now, many years later, I still feel a tinge of rebellion if I decide to take a peek at the picture of a difficult puzzle.

Valerie - Still Riding Forward said...

Let's hear it for the Free Methodist and Baptist!

Me, too, but I have long ago figured out something "churches" seem to miss.

God made me the way I am. If I am being truely myself, the best I can and strive to keep the big 10, I'm good with him.

I have weaknesses and he knows it. According to the book, he built them into me. I have strengths and try to use them.

Dancing was never a strong suit for me...LOL but I can party.

What I have come to with the editing of what my children saw of life is for a long post I my blog.

I'm 'backlogged' right now. Will get to it when I can!

Yummy! Irish cream!

Paul said...

Excellent post! It sounds like we're all in this together -- trying to be ourselves and find our own faith but never quite able to escape without at least a small amount of guilt even if it's not justified.

-epm said...

Serve others before yourself.
Be a good steward of the planet.
In all things, moderation.
Thank God for your blessings, even if you're not sure anyone's listening.

Oh yes, and never argue with your wife... you know you won't win, and she's probably right anyway.

Madcap said...

I wonder how many of us in the Land of Blog are still hobbling on the dance floor? I can't entirely regret my upbringing, though, because it started me off on a heck of a journey.

Great post, lots to think about and remember for me here.

Melodee said...

My mother always said, "Remember who you are and act accordingly."

Yeah, no pressure there.

Another Child of the King Who Can't Dance