Monday, July 10, 2017

Mom Forced Me to Go to Church

I recorded a guest segment with Ray Guarendi for his EWTN TV show "Living Right with Dr. Ray." He wanted to know how come I never gave up on God or the Bible even through my parents forced me to go to church. 

Dr. Stan on the set with Dr. Ray.

The answer is in my memoir, GROWING UP CHRISTIAN: Searching for a Reasonable Faith in the Heartland of America. But Ray and I didn't have time to read the entire book on the air and then let Dr. Ray comment on the salient passages. There WAS time to read the book, but Dr. Ray would take too long psychoanalyzing why I didn't like my mom. (smile) So, I winged it. I'm told the episode will air (probably) January 2018. In the meantime, below, is the answer I prepared and of which we hit the high points during the segment.

Why My Parents Forcing Me to Go to Church Didn't Kill My Faith

My mom was brutal at times.You could rightly say she beat the hell out of me and the fear of God into me. In order to involve my Dad in my frequent punishments, she would borrow one of his old belts, with which to whip me. And yes, I was forced to go to Church, not just on Sunday mornings, but Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, too. In today's world you might correctly assume that such "brutality" and "force" of religion on a kid would turn him away from the faith.

The whippings were not fun, and I do think she over did it. I relate, in Growing Up Christian, the day the whippings stopped---I got big enough to stop her.

But there was a consistency about the beatings and a   moral imperative behind them along with the moral and religious life of my parents that together made a strong positive impression on me. I didn't get to say this during the recording of the show with Dr. Ray, but, as Dr. Ray has said many times,  parents can do a lot of things wrong but if there is moral consistency and a love of God and a love of the child in the mix, the kid will recognize their parents' love and respond correctly. That was true of, actually, that true of my parents.

As the narrative unfolds in Growing Up Christian, there were four things that drove me toward God, even as I ran from my mom's beltings.

I grew up knowing a good deal about my ancestors from stories, photographs and even books about them. My ancestors were missionaries, preachers, teachers and one was even a famous Christian martyr in the New Hebrides (today the islands are known as the Nation of Vanuatu). There, John Williams, was killed and eaten by cannibals on Erromango in 1839. My missionary grandmother, Edith Willobee, during her retirement from India, helped care for me as an infant. My Dad's father, was a horseback circuit riding preacher, Jeremiah Williams. The stories told about these ancestors made a Hollywood impression on me. In fact, if a movie were to be made about them, you'd have to dumb it down to make it believable. Their lives were those of any boy's adventure heroes. In looking back, I believe I was rooted into God's family because of a promise in Exodus 20:5-6:
I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Those that came before me, loved God and kept his commandments. And from their place in heaven, looking down on us, they continue to pray for me.

But another aspect of their existence were the many stories I heard about them and how they responded to God, which is explained further in number 3 below. I don't have the space here to relate them all, but in Growing Up Christian I relive a few of those miracles.

My parents also forced me to memorize verses from the Bible. Many of them I still know. This forged the mold for my life because these Bible verses offered up scientific hypotheses that my young life could test...and over the years I found they were true. Here's a sampling....I'm typing these for memory by the way. Notice the cause and effect relationship between the requirement and the promise in each.
This book of the law will not depart from your mouth. You shall meditate on it day and night, and do according to all that is written therein. Then your way will become prosperous and you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8) 
Trust in the Lord will all your might, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him (God) and He will direct your paths with success. (Proverbs 3:5-6) 
All things work together for good to those who love God, to them who are called according to his purpose [which means you are obeying His commands]. (Romans 8:28) 
Whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it---not forgetting what  they have heard, but doing it, they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:25)
Now without No's 3 and 4 below, these No's 1 and 2 might be meaningless and could easily be ridiculed. But in spite of mom's mean personality, there was something very righteous about her. And these versers helped me to see that in her and realize how God works with the imperfections in all of us.

On a daily basis I was confronted by the the practical consequences of No. 1 and No. 2. If you obeyed God, good things happened. If you disobeyed God, bad things happened. These consequences were not forced on me or the world by parents or other religious practitioners, but rather they were the natural consequences of Nature...or Natural Law. They just happened, like gravity happens, and there was no way to stop them.

As moral agents we can make any decision and take any action we want, but Nature takes care of the consequences, over which we have no control.  This Natural Cause and Effect of life surrounded me was made real in a number of ways, most notably by No. 4. (But I'm getting ahead of myself.) Here is how my parents made the natural cause and effect of Christianity real to me:

1. They walked the talk.They did talk a lot about the Bible, Jesus, God, and the moral life they expected me to live by. But they also lived it. There was no lax attitude toward God in their lives. They prayed, read their Bibles, witnesses to others, were active in church matters and supported missionaries and preachers.

2. They never asked me to do anything that was contrary to what the Bible taught. I felt their interpretation was too narrow, at times, but they were consistent in one thing...they feared God. They believed we would live safer., happier lives by living well within God's boundaries and not testing His moral law and getting singed or scorched in the process.

3. They daily pointed out to me people around us who tested God's limits and ended up paying sad consequences. Dad drove me past skid row more than once and I saw the consequence of bad habits and disregard for taking care of God's gift of health. Mom would clip newspaper and magazine stories for me to read about people who disobeyed moral authorities and ended up in jail, or in an accident (for foolish behavior), or the families that fell apart because they mocked God's laws. I heard relentless and miraculous stories of my grandparent's exploits on the preaching circuit and mission field. My aunt, who lived with us, was a Detroit policewoman. She worked the domestic beat, and we would hear stories every week about crime, drugs, and fights where God's laws were broken and lives were destroyed.

4. When I disobeyed one of God's rules (as narrowly interpreted by my parents) there would always be punishment. Yes, they would forgive me, but the punishment was always there. I saw this in the Bible, as well. God forgave you, but there was always the temporal reward or punishment. When King David murdered Uriah and took Bathsheba in adultery, the prophet Nathan confronted David, and David repented and God forgave him. But according to Exodus 20: 5-6, there was also a punishment....the death of his son, and the rebellion of later sons. And when King David took a census of Judah and Israel against God's will, David was quick to ask God for forgiveness. But shortly thereafter there was a severe consequence, and 70,000 of his people died.

Mom was strict and mean, but she was focused on obeying God. As Dr. Ray has said, better your parents discipline you than a judge or a cop, or worse still....your wife. She never punished me out of revenge or to bolster her ego. It was to put the fear of God in me, even if that fear was of her. She knew she stood in for God during my up-bringing. There would be a day and time when I out grew her influence. But until then, she knew she was acting in God's stead.

The sum of this life was that God was in everything we did as a family. We were the domestic church. I was trained in the things of God every moment of everyday. Yes, I was forced to go to Church, but that is not where I got most of my instruction about God. It was at home and the stories of what and how I learned, are many...thus my memoir.

In spite of my mother's overbearing personality and demand for obedience, she had a relationship with God that could not be denied. When she prayed she got results. In my experience the results were miraculous and often the prayers involved my punishment or my reward.

In Growing Up Christian I relate a number of these experiences, but here I'll relate just two, and ever so briefly. (They are more entertaining in the book).

Every night of my life at home, even as an adult when my young family would visit my parents, we would all gather in the living room of our house to read the Bible and pray. One person would read a passage of Scripture. We'd talk about it, take prayer requests, and then EVERY one would pray, on our knees, extemporaneously one after the other. My parents prayed so long I would put my head down on the seat of the couch I was kneeling at and fall asleep.  Mom would wake me up with a nudge of her elbow and say, "Stanley, it's your turn. Pray."  At the end we'd recite The Lord's Prayer. One night, Mom said she had been impressed to pray for the missionary that had taken her mother's place in India (Mom was a missionary's kid and Dad was a preacher's kid -- M.K. and P.K. in Evangelical jargon). That day, Mom had felt there was some danger and we needed to pray for the village where Miss Bibbee was working. We did, and it was clear that Mom was worried. Three weeks later a letter came from Miss Bibbee. On the day my mom was impressed to pray, a hungry leopard had found its way into the village at night, and was looking for dinner. Two of the native men awoke and chased the leopard out with sticks, but not before a great deal of fear had arisen. Reading that letter and remembering my mom's agitation on that day weeks earlier, left an impression upon me, that although I didn't much like my mom, I better fear God.

Another time, in high school, I had persuaded my Dad, against my mother's strong objections, to help me drive to visit a summertime girlfriend 14 hours away in Missouri. Mom had met the girl and the parents after our 8-week summer camp, and determined that they were not Christian enough for me...or rather for her. So, she was against me going and argued with my Dad over it. But Dad, having given into my Mom most of the time, understood my attraction to this young lady and told mom he was driving me nonetheless. So, on the appointed day Dad and I took off in his new Plymouth. When we left the house Mom was no where in sight. Dad and I got about a mile down the road when suddenly the transmission failed on the car, and we came to a halt by the side of the road. I can point to the spot today where that happened. Hours later, when we got back home after the car was towed to a repair shop, we discovered that Mom had been on her knees asking God to stop us. Clearly, I ever forget that.

My Mom forced me to church. She forced me to obey her. She forced me to memorize Scripture...and I, at times, hated her for it all. I did not have a happy childhood. But, what I could never deny was the presence of a God who demanded I obey him for my own good. My mom was determined, as was God through my Mom, that I would live within the bounds of Natural Law and be a man who sought after God, even though imperfectly.

And I think that is the message for parents who want their children to stay in the Church and not leave the faith. For kids not to leave the Church and God, in my experience,  parents need to make sure they are completely sold out to God, and do everything according to what is written in the Bible and the Catechism. Many Catholic parents are saddened today because their kids have not taken Christianity seriously. Well, did the parents take it seriously when the kids were young? Did the parents moment by moment make an understanding in God a practical, natural reality that could not be messed with without negative consequences? In other words, did parents teach kids that the stove burner was hot by letting them experience it, or did they just never turn on the stove? Experience is, after all, the best teacher.

Click on the image for information about the book

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