All in all, it went well, the church service brought me back in many ways to my past life (especially my teen years). In some ways, I was reminded of the fact my church in some small ways was actually more moderate that my own family.
One of these ways that I was reminded of that facts was by the music playing in the background before the service, a song was playing by the group Casting Crowns. They are a part of the Christian Contemporary music genre, an attempt in the last 20 years or so to bring Christian music into the modern era. This was never allowed at home when I was growing up. No sir, no "rock music" around here (which was defined as anything well, modern, except for country music, oddly enough).
In my fundamentalist past, I always enjoyed that kind of music, probably because it was in fact more modern that the old hymns of the past, and because it was a bit of "forbidden fruit". I remember finally turning 16, and getting to drive by myself, and listening to a local Christian Contemporary station called WIBI when I was well out of the reach of home. It felt like a minor, but refreshing revolutionary act.
Seeing some of teens/young adults wearing jeans into the building also was quite a flashback as well, that was never allowed in my home either. I always had to "honor god's house" wearing jeans was "disrespectful" to the church. (Sigh)those were the days.
The prohibition on wearing any kind of causal clothes in church always made me uncomfortable, I mean I was a fundamentalist, but I was a teenager too, I wanted desperately to fit in with the people around me, and I didn't realize then that it would be fully impossible to do so due to what I know now is a combination of my OCD and the effects of isolation in my childhood due to my family's beliefs, and part of it self imposed due to the extreme depression I had (and still have, but it affects in me more in physical than emotional ways now).
Anyway, another story for another day. For more on the isolation both from other people and the culture around me growing up, read my post Experiencing Life All Over Again.
The service started with a preschool presentation, it was supposed to be a Christmas skit, but any of you out there who have kids knows that's hard to accomplish. Trying to get about twenty 4 to 5 years old to concentrate long enough to say a few scripted lines is impossible. Two of the kids were trying to play sword fight with the shepherd's staffs that they had, and several of them kept trying to look at and wave to family members in the audience who were filming and taking pictures of the whole spectacle. It was quite a job for the volunteers who were a part of it, including two of my friends from my fundamentalist past whom I'll call Sam and Rose (not their actual names). Sam and Rose are two of only 4 people from my past who know about my transition to agnosticism, and have still accepted me for who I am. (I may talk about them more in later posts, they're great people).
I did wonder though, looking at the children, what their lives would eventually become. How many of these kids are going to remain in fundamentalism as adults, and become deacons, Sunday School teachers, etc? How many are going to end up lost and confused like I did, and eventually reject it?
Much had changed in this church, the pastor I knew is gone, he retired suddenly without explanation He was always a man who could put people at ease, make them feel like the understood them, and cared about them. People felt like they could trust, and felt like he was an old friend. He was even popular enough in this town to become the one of the town's three police chaplains. He certainly looked the part of a retired cop or solider, with his flat top haircut and he was reasonably fit for a man his age. The cops all liked him, even the non-Christians/fundamentalists.
With his departure, and the assistant pastor also leaving recently to start his own church, attendance is down. In his place is an elderly southern man who is a former missionary to Argentina. It's odd to hear him speak about his missionary past, because when he does, he goes from his moderately thick southern accent (he's originally from Oklahoma) to pronouncing names of places in Argentina almost as well as if Spanish is his native language. I wish I had thought to bring some sort of recorder so I could upload an mp3 file, you all should hear it sometime.
His sermon was on, not surprisingly, missions. It wasn't a coincidence, it was part of an annual fundraising drive for the denomination's missions agency.
He goes on talking about his past as a missionary in Argentina, and talks about how in many cities there's few "evangelical" churches, or churches of the denomination that my former church belongs to. It's apparent that Catholic churches which would be plentiful in a Spanish speaking nation like Argentina, or liberal denominations like United Church of Christ don't count in his idea of Christian churches.
He then goes on a ramble about a "pagan" god worshiped in some of the rural communities with roadside shrines dedicated to it. Let me give you a note of explanation her as to the term "pagan" as it is used in fundamentalism. I see the term much differently now, and I have a very favorable few of neo-pagans and Wiccans that I have encountered in real life, as well as online, they have proven to be great people, and very open minded. The fundamentalist use of that term is very different, though, it carries the idea of satanic and/or uncivilized. My views of Wicca/paganism now, and the fundamentalist views on it are explained further in my post Finding a Lot of Beauty in a Religion I Once Thought Was Evil.
Essentially, if you could ever get a fundamentalist to speak to you honestly, they would tell you that if you are not one of them, that no matter what you believe, or how moral your life, you are deceived by the devil, and working on his behalf (even if you may not realize it, or be intending to do so).
I myself felt this way, and used to quote a verse to people on the subject from the book of Isaiah 64:6, that says that all our righteousness (attempts to be good without god) are like filthy rags, unacceptable to god. I don't know if it was true or not, but I had been told that the original Hebrew was referring to rags used by women during menstruation, which in the Old Testment and ancient Jewish culture was one of the most repulsive comparisons imaginable.
I'm so glad I don't believe in all of this anymore, and it's nearly embarrassing to think that I did at one point.
I'll keep everyone posted on my future adventures in this church, and I may write soon about my past and de conversion, especially what it was like to finally "come out" to my best friends "Sam and Rose", who I referenced earlier. That's an interesting story there....