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Sunday, March 2, 2014

When the Roll is Called Up Yonder...

Do everything in love.  ---1 Corinthians 16:14

 A few weeks ago, I ran into my former pastor in Walmart. I ran into him often there, as well as other members of the church I used to attend. 

He asked his usual question: Are you attending church anywhere?

You know what? In the past, when he asked me this, I stammered, blushed and could not look him in the face when I answered, "Not yet."

The truth? I wasn't looking for a church to attend. I had spent five years in this particular church and, after all that time, never felt welcome. Hey, I felt that, after that long, I ought to have felt comfortable, a part of the church family. But I did not. 

This time, when confronted with his query, I---from somewhere inside me---just smiled and said with no shame, "No, sir, I'm not." 

He just smiled and shook his head. But he didn't seem---as I'd expected---judgmental. Just smiled. 

Want to know what finally gave me courage, backbone, to face him without shame? 

I'd written a book. The book is now published, and it's titled Glory Lands.

I'm proud of this book. 

And I'm not incorporating a buy link, because I'm not here selling it, but facing why I wrote it. 

This book, in a way so powerful that no one but me could ever know intimately, freed me of years and years of perceptions of what is 'godly', what a minster is, what his job is, how much of an impact he /she should have on my life.

I'd been raised in a religious community. Southern Baptist. Thou shalt not drink. Thou shalt not dance. Thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt not. But thou shall judge thy neighbor, even though the good book says thou shall not.

I'd spent years where every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday were spent in church. And that didn't include Vacation Bible School and church camp. Round-the-clock church in which the Sabbath was round-the-clock, 24/7. 

It would be so damn easy for me to judge ministers, given all the force-fed religion. Every book I read, every single book, represents ministers as evil, all of them hating and judging, everyone of them hating homosexuals, everyone of them condemning divorced folks, everyone of them denouncing alcohol, denouncing everything. Especially Southern preachers.

But, even with all my religious upbringing, I still recalled so clearly many men who were ministers of the gospel---ministers of many different denominations---who were so far removed from this stereotype that I felt a need to present a portrait of a man who was such a pastor.

And he was my character, Pastor Charles Haddon Logan in Glory Lands

I'd read one too many books of preachers as the ultimate bad guy in the big scheme of things when homosexuality was involved. All presented as devils, as scripture-spewing monsters who condemned all gays to hell. 

Then I thought of my mother. 

A beautiful woman, an image of what a Christian ought to be. A woman who never taught me that folks came in different colors, they didn't come in different genders or religions. They were just folks and they were to be respected----all of them---by me. 

This wonderful woman, my mother, was an 'outcast' from the religious community, our church, when I was growing up. Because she smoked. Yes, she was one of those women. And yet she was and is---to this day---one of the most beautiful models of love and grace and a true non-judgmental spirit. 

And get this. Of all the folks at this church who condemned her...oddly, beautifully, the minister did not. No, he did not. He treated her equally, he saw the soul of her, not what she did outwardly. He respected her. In his mind, her smoking was a far lesser evil than the gossip of the people who pointed fingers at her. 

This man was a true minister. 

I chose to write Glory Lands after hearing a first-hand account of an incident that had taken place years ago in a rural east Texas community. A cold-blooded act committed by a sheriff in the town. I wondered what a man with so much prejudice would do if he encountered homosexuality in his town. And, using this man from real life (name, town, year changed), my story was born.

But what if this man of prejudice met head-on with a pastor? A man of the ministry who had always felt so secure in his beliefs? A man who not only taught love every day, but was now forced----upon the threat of losing his son, who was a homosexual---to back up what he preached? 

The writing of this book was a necessity for me. To answer so many questions in my head. To teach me that religion isn't bad. Religion has some bad folks in it, just like everywhere else. That all folks who call themselves Christians aren't monsters who hate everyone. That love and faith are not within walls of any building, but in hearts. That true faith, although many through the years have turned the very name into a mockery, can be a loving thing. 

The book was for my mother. For me. For ministers like Charles who get a bad wrap and get thrown into the mix with 'men of God' who really are prejudice and who really do condemn folks for their sexuality or race. This book was for preachers who are forced to see themselves painted in fiction as caricatures of evil. For men who just happen to minister but really, really do embrace love for all mankind. Who really do believe in equality. 

Men like my Pastor Charles. (who, for some reason, was always Clive Owen in my head...lol). 

I had to come to terms with myself while writing this book because, while I can't stand to see judgmental folks lump everything 'different' into a melting pot of things they can't tolerate----I realized I was doing the same thing by condemning all ministers just because they were...ministers. 

And, having written this book, I was somehow freed from that embarrassment at having to admit to my former pastor that---no----I did not attend church anywhere at this moment. I was liberated from that feeling that I was not a 'good' person because I didn't sit in a pew on Sunday mornings. 

Having searched my soul to write this book, I came to terms with a lot of things. And---although I don't practice religion in an organized congregation, and although I might do lots of things that some would consider sins---I feel that, if there really is a role and it really is called up yonder someday, I figure I'm as worthy to be called up as anyone else. 


Sherrie Henry said...

This blog was absolutely beautiful. I do hold out some hope for religion when I read that some pastors would rather face sanctions and being de-frocked for marrying homosexuals. Those men (and women) are the true heroes in my book. They stand up to prejudice and see nothing but love.

Bravo on the book and good luck!

Moria said...

What a lovely post and yes, I have to remind myself of not judging others as well.

Etienne's Stories said...

You've been looking in the wrong places - of course, with a southern Baptist background, you probably wouldn't.

FWIW, Episcopal Priests (the majority of them, at least) most emphatically do not resemble the fundamentalist types.

I've managed to work embarrassing things about fundys in general, and Baptists in particular, into many of my books.

As one of my fans wrote me: Fundamentalists are people who think with their fundament.

Try an Episcopal church sometime, especially one that is Anglo-Catholic, or at least High Church.
You'll be surprised at the difference.

carol percer said...

Hey, Sherie! Thank you for visiting! And 'amen' to what your say!
There are so many more of those heroes out there than folks give credit for. I sure do honor them!

Vastine Bondurant said...

Moria, it's been hard for me to realize that I AM judging when I lump all ministers...yep, even Baptist ones....into a category of the bad guys. Just because they ARE ministers. It's taking me a while to UNlearn that. Sigh.

Vastine Bondurant said...

Hey, Etienne!

You're absolutely right. There are many, many ministers out there who love ALL mankind, and we can find them if we open our eyes.
You are right...IF WE LOOK.

My realization---the purpose of my post---is that there ARE many, many wonderful, non-judgmental ministers and just followers of the faith---yes, even in the Baptist venues.

My wish is that folks would not lump them all together in writing fiction, making them all out to be caricatures of holy evil just because they happen to be certain denominations. There are, and I know many, good preachers who are not judgmental who are...yes...Baptist. They also exist and can be found if we look for them.

Thank you for visiting and for sharing that valuable reminder.

Eden Winters said...

I, too, have a Southern Baptist upbringing and questioned what was said from the pulpit,versus what the congregation did the rest of the week. Like you, my mother was outcast, for being (gasp!) divorced. Also like you, I currently do not observe services in a building. But my beliefs are important to me and I think I am a better person for them. They are my own. I'll share my viewpoint if asked, but never force it on anyone. Yet, if I say I'm Christian, people run. What does that say about religion? You've intrigued me about your book. And may I say that's a lovely cover?

Etienne's Stories said...

I have lived in the South for all of my 74 years, and I only ever met one southern Baptist whom I would trust. And, I know for a fact that that man is a closet Presbyterian.

There's a reason why caricatures and stereotypes become such.

In my experience if, when the first time you meet someone, they start bragging about what a good Christian they are, the best thing to do is run like hell in the opposite direction, keeping a firm grip on your wallet while doing so.

Vastine Bondurant said...

OMG, you know what I'm talking about, Eden.
And a GOOD question you have. What does it say about religion?
I would love to see those who aren't part of the 'pack' be known for the good folks they truly are.
And thank you about the book and cover. I tried SO hard to portray some of the folks I know from my life's experience who truly follow their faith.

Vastine Bondurant said...

And, Etienne, I have live ALL MY years...which are 61...in the south as well.

And I figure I've been more fortunate to have come to know in my years many men and women who are Southern Baptists who ARE people I could trust...with my life.

I remember the very minister who I mentioned in my post who was there for me in many times of distress in my life, who welcomed ANYONE into his church, who NEVER judged. And, no, he was no closet anything. He was just a man who had faith.

He had a huge burden for his church who were the traditional Southern Baptist of whom you speak. It HURT him to see, and his ministry was a fight against just that sort of thing.

And you know what? NONE of the good people---who happen to be from the south and who are Baptists like my beautiful-souled MOTHER---NEVER brag about their faith. She never went around talking about how good a Christian she was. Never.

She---and many like her that I personally know---just LIVE their faith. Quietly and with love.

Hope one day all people will be as fortunate as me to meet such beautiful people with beautiful souls. Like my mother.

Etienne's Stories said...

You mother lives her faith, but she obviously doesn't subscribe to some of the things her church mandates. I'm separating faith and church here.

She sounds a lot like my paternal grandfather. He was an elder in the Presbyterian church and a genuinely good man. He didn't waste time 'talking the talk' he merely 'walked the walk' so to speak. Everyone knew he was a good person - no need to go around flapping your lips about it. Of course the Presbyterian Church isn't quite as demanding as some.

I happened to re-watch the movie Latter Days the other night- it's one of those beautifully done little films.

In it, one character asks his co-workers if they believe in God. One of them, a black guy, says "I've been positive since I was fifteen, so I'm a walking miracle. Of course I believe, I just don't get all holy on your ass about it."

That about sums it up, I think.

Vastine Bondurant said...

That is about it, Etienne.

I even started to think, on my way to work this morning, about my former pastor who I do keep seeing at Walmart.

He's taken the time to call me at work before to pray with me when I would have troubles (back in the day, regarding my daughter). He would call to follow up. He was just...there. A mild-mannered Southern Baptist minister in a rural community.

I think, in some ways, I patterned the minister in my book after him. Just a man who was there for anybody who ever needed him. And it's when I think of HIM and men and women like him that I cringe to see ALL ministers made into cartoonish beasts. I feel bad that they must fall into this stigma as well.

Society, when it hates, destroys the good along with the bad. And those who deserve the image drag the innocent along with them.

A shame.

Lou said...

Vastine, I want to echo what others have said here--this is a beautifully told truth, here. If we lump others together and dismiss them, we re doing exactly the same hurtful thing others have done to us or those we love. It is true that some belief systems are more flexible and inclusive than others, but that doesn't mean that anyone we see in a particular place or position has swallowed the beliefs whole. A minister may work behind the scenes to change a church she's invested her life in, for all we know. Most of us grow into the system that surrounds us in youth, at least for a good portion of our lives, but later we may move away from it, or change it, or grow with it. I still don't feel much kinship with many "Christians" who use their so-called faith as a platform for bigotry, but your blog reminds me to be very careful about categories. Thanks!

Etienne's Stories said...

With respect, I disagree. It is inarguable that fundamentalist cults in general and southern Baptist churches in particular are inherently evil. If there are some good people among the members, it is their duty to change the system, or get out.

In my view, this is a black/white situation and there are absolutely no shades of gray.

I've seen what damage these people can do, and I, for one, am quite comfortable painting them all with the same brush.

Vastine Bondurant said...

Thank you, Lou. I agree. 100%.