So. How does a nice Christian boy, who loves God, the Bible and Christianity come to be an atheist in a matter of a few months? You would think something terrible must have occurred, or some hitherto unknown flaw in character appeared. Yet looking back, I see none of those things. It may be, in my sharing this with you, we can discover together where it is I went horribly awry.
This is my tale.
The trouble is always—Where to begin? I cannot think of a better place than a sunny day at an amusement park. If you live within four hours or so of Northern Ohio, you know exactly the one of which I speak: Cedar Point. It seems every church within that distance would take at least one day out of the summer, collect the pre-teen and teenage kids and troop off for a day of roller coasters, spinning rides, and, if one timed their lunch and certain rides correctly, projectile vomiting. (I know this for a fact.)
Our day was Memorial Day. It was a rite of passage when one reached the age whereby you were “old enough” to go to Cedar Point. Being a small, country church, there was no budget for buses or vans. We would coerce some adult chaperons, and car pool in three or four automobiles. Meeting at the church at some ungodly early hour, we traveled together in a line with our lights on to let the world know we were convoying.
Since this was long before cell phones or walkie-talkies, we developed a complicated system to communicate from car to car. It basically consisted of honking the horns, flashing the lights and waiving one’s arms out the window which meant, (alternatively) “We better pull over at the next rest stop or else there will be some people arriving not smelling very fresh” or “Aren’t we having a blast, and we can’t wait to get there, and why are you stopping at this rest stop coming up?” We would arrive at the amusement park, meet together for a sack lunch at the pavilion, and then converge together again at 7 p.m. to once again car pool back.
James, Steven and I had finally reached the age that qualified to go on the Cedar Point trip. We were 12, and (respectively) a p.k., a d.k. and a d.k. For those familiar with American Baptist fundamentalists, those initials say a whole lot. A “P.K.” meant you were a pastor’s kid, and a “D.K.” meant you were a deacon’s kid. Being a p.k. (or d.k.) insured that you would be in the choir that was appropriate for your age, you were available for a speaking part in the Easter and Christmas pageant, you helped out the Seniors in the Spring and Fall, and you attended every Sunday School, Church service, Prayer meeting, Business meeting, and Meetings to set up meetings.
Your parents were friends. You helped them with their pastor/deacon duties, or mowing the church lawn or racking the church leaves. And, if there was trouble or shenanigans or (gasp!) sin—you were certain to be in the middle of it.
Three was the perfect number. If someone was reluctant to carry out a particularly evil plot, the other two would be sure to encourage (i.e. bully) the third to join in. My personal opinion has always been that the p.k.’s were a little worse sinners than the d.k.’s. I have been informed that I may be a teensy bit bias in that regard.
And so the three of us spent a happy day at the amusement park, ogling girls that were way out of our league, riding rides that were only partially out of our league and, as previously mentioned, testing the theory as to how much centrifugal force was required before we could have an opportunity to see our lunch again.
This was way too much fun to stop at 7:00 p.m. so we came up with a plan. It was as foolproof as a 12-year-old boys’ plan can be. We would set our sole watch back one hour, claim we did not know it had been set incorrectly and voila!—an extra hour of cotton candy, hot dogs and rides. It worked perfectly. Well… as perfectly as a 12-year-old’s plan can. We stayed toward the back of the park, riding the rides as far away from the entrance as possible (to avoid stumbling on the rest of the crew) and, at about 7:50 p.m. began walking toward the front.
The group had already left at 7:30 p.m. (mad for having to wait for us) and left a single driver back, in case we happened to show up. There he was, tapping his foot, not very happy. We put on our innocent faces, provided the required “bad watch” story and waited to see if he would buy it. I doubt he did. But he didn’t say anything, just gave us the “I’m disappointed in you” look and bundled us in the car.
Because we didn’t have to travel in that car pool, he put the pedal to the metal, sneakily passed them and arrived back at the church before the rest of them did. They were still mad. They didn’t buy the “bad watch” story at all. We were yelled at, informed we were inconsiderate, and there was serious consideration of banning us from the Cedar Point trip.
That was next year. This year we had gotten an extra hour of rides. And a shorter trip back. And every other kid was looking at us with a hint of jealousy.
That was God to me as I grew up.
He was a creature that had clearly set the rules. Leave by 7:00 p.m. He was somebody that knew we would not always like the rules. By virtue of being human, it was ingrained in us to attempt to rebel against those rules. If left to our natural devices, we would always do so. And, it was almost part of our duty, to come up with an excuse for why it was acceptable to rebel. A bad watch.
He was also someone that loved us. Despite our breaking the rules He clearly set, he would not abandon us in an Amusement Park. He wouldn’t leave us. Even as we broke his rules, we knew we were in no danger of permanent harm.
We would tell God our excuse first. We knew, in the pit our stomach, that he wouldn’t buy it. He was too smart. But it seemed to be part of the ritual we must follow. He would give us the “I am disappointed in you” look (in heaven, of course). We would then legitimately apologize.
Then he would take us back, ruffle our hair, and laugh with a “You rascal you.” See, we secretly figured God always kinda liked the rebel. He must have been bored with all those goody-two-shoes adults, with their prim and proper ways.
Look at who He favored in those Bible stories. Moses, David, Daniel, John the Baptist. They sure seemed pretty rebellious, and they were God’s favorites. And don’t forget Jesus himself rebelling against the authorities. Besides, if he didn’t like the troublemakers, why make so many p.k.’s and d.k.’s?
It was a simple system for a child. We were informed to not run in the sanctuary. So we didn’t. Unless no one else was around—and then it was relay races using a hymnal for a baton. When my friend slammed his head into a pew, taking a corner too fast, that was God saying, “Time to stop, boys.” We said we were sorry, God winked, and until next Sunday we didn’t run in the sanctuary. When, if no one got hurt, maybe God was saying it was O.K….