I have a brother, almost three years younger than me. When I was seven and eight, he was only four and five, and almost a full-time job for my mother. In the summertime, in my little town, even full of tourists, I was free to get out from under foot, and go wherever I wanted, as long as I didn’t get into trouble, and was home for supper.
Roll out of bed in the morning, pull on a bathing suit instead of underwear, shorts, tee-shirt, runners, a towel around my neck, and I spent large portions of my days at the beach. With almost two miles of warm, white sand, I attended different sections on different days. One day, about two blocks off the main street, I saw something intriguing. Six or seven twenty-somethings marched out onto the sand. Two of them were toting a pump-organ. The rest had shovels, bamboo poles, a rolled-up banner, and a bunch of books.
Watcha doin’? They were a Christian outreach group for youngsters, labelled C.S.S.M. – Children’s Special Service Mission. We’re having a meeting. Go gather up all the kids. Me like a damned fool, I did it. They put up the banner on the poles, dug trenches and piled the sand behind – instant pews. Got a kid to pump the organ. Evangelism lite – handed out songbooks – a few hymns, a bit of sermon, believe in God, obey Jesus, a little homily. 40/45 minutes, we were done, same time, same place tomorrow.
The seeds of individualism already growing strongly, along with cynicism, I didn’t see this as missionary Christianity. I was just fascinated with the social aspects. The next day, and the next – two weeks on the beach, I put up poles, strung the banner, dug the pews, pumped the organ, and helped them carry stuff to and from the beach.
Soon there were afternoon get-togethers – hikes, scavenger hunts, badminton games. Although we had a net, and acres of sand, apparently volleyball had not been invented. I learned discriminatory thinking. An item for ten grains of sand in the scavenger hunt didn’t mean only ten, very carefully counted, grains. Lean down and pick up a handful – there must be ten grains there!
Then, before the town got all pissy about them, we cleaned the driftwood off the beach, and had evening campfires and sing-alongs. Silly camp songs, a few hymns, an uplifting story, roast some marshmallows, a quick benediction prayer, and off home you go kids, it’s getting late. I was part of a group!
Next year, they came back. Same hymn, different verse. I was ten, and it wasn’t a bad way to spend two supervised weeks. The following year, they returned again. I was eleven, they were nice, and I was learning interpersonal relation stuff.
On the day they left, I had my Dad drive me to the cottage they used, to say goodbye. At a time when two dollars would gas the car for most of a week, my Dad dug out and donated $5.00, to help repay for all the things they’d done for me and given to me. By the time they returned the next year, my Dad said that he should have put his hand in his pocket, and just left it there. They had spent $10 on paper, envelopes and postage, beseeching him to donate more, and more, and even more.
The next summer, I was 12, going on almost mature. I hadn’t even thought about them coming back. I headed downtown one July Saturday. I was just in front of the Baptist Church we infrequently attended, a block off the commercial district, when a sedan and a station wagon rolled in and parked in front. Out piled most of my old faces, along with a couple of new ones.
Hi! How are you? How was your winter? You’re looking good! Hail-fellow-well-met! These people remember me. They missed me. They love me! We’re so proud of you! Oh, what for? Well, we heard that, over the winter, you were baptised here at the church.
There were three Smith families in town, no two related. One had an only-child son, with the same first name as mine. They religiously (every pun intended) attended the same church we occasionally hit. It musta been the other “John Smith” – and the shades came down, and the lights went off. They couldn’t dump me on the sidewalk fast enough.
If you’re donating money, they can’t get enough of you. If you jump through all their strangely-shaped hoops, recite their magical words, and make their particular mystical gestures, you will be adored and supported. If you have the temerity to tell them that you have opinions about other ways of living your life, these Good Christians will treat you like a fur-ball the cat hacked up, and Jesus will be the only one who loves you.
I’ve met some very Spiritual Christians, loving, forgiving, inclusive, acceptant. These weren’t them! Sadly, I’ve met many of their compatriots over the years. Christ drove the money lenders from the temple, but the “business” of religion marches on.