[Word count: 855. Approximate read time: 4 minutes]
Jesus was born in Bethlehem some two-thousand odd years ago, not Bakersfield in the 1950’s. Most depictions show him as a white man with a mellow expression and Clairol-ad-worthy hair. Not a black woman with luxuriously extended eyelashes, high cheekbones, café au lait skin, and a shy, affable smile.
They are not one and the same. It took years of work to convince myself of this. And it seems the maintenance on this work is never done.
I was about 7 when my mother became a born-again, charismatic Christian. So by the time I became awkward and rebellious, all chastisement was paired with scripture.
- “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
- “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long…” (Exodus 20:12)
- “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” (Ephesians 6:1)
- “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry…” (1 Samuel 15:23)
You’d be hard pressed to find a child who grew up in a Christian home without these and other verses as the dramatic soundtrack playing beneath their most memorable ass beatings. And everybody knows a movie isn’t a movie without the score. They go together.
A couple other things went together too. My mother established herself as the authority figure and backed up her authority biblically. This fused her and God together in my mind. The message received was “if you keep Mom happy, God will be happy… and you don’t want God upset, do you?”
After awhile, I was unclear whose voice I was hearing: Mom’s or God’s. It was as if Moses heard God speak through a burning bush, then got mixed up for years trying to placate the bush. I couldn’t tell who was issuing the threats and who was just echoing them.
The child that’s got his own
For a long time, I didn’t think God was paying attention to my prayers. They weren’t like my mother’s. They weren’t persuasive and declarative. They didn’t have enough words. They were too quiet. Quiet things usually aren’t powerful. Frankly, I didn’t think my prayers were very good. I thought my life was going well only because Mom prayed.
It was years before I had a faith that wasn’t on loan from a parent and subject to their parameters. When I did, it was a big deal. Like the first time you can buy something with money you earned yourself, I finally understood that Jesus would answer my calls as Mark. I didn’t need to tell him I was My Mother’s Son in order to get a prayer through.
The apron strings
Currently, the problem is that this period of questioning in my spirituality has her understandably concerned. But concern or not, I’m in my mid-30s now. I am dutifully about the business of working out my own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). I disagree much more now. I love my mother, but I don’t want to walk in her spiritual footsteps.
Open my mouth to express dissent and, like a shock-training collar, I get an arresting bolt of misgiving slice through me. What if God’s displeasure does run parallel with Mom’s? I shrink a little. It’s still a challenge to disagree with her and not think I’m simultaneously disagreeing with all of heaven and its hosts in one fell swoop.
As someone sacredly entrusted to raise me, my mother worked out her own salvation while also helping her children work out theirs. She fostered my faith. If it wasn’t for her zeal and advocacy then, I wouldn’t have the remaining frayed shreds of faith that survive now. She’s used to supporting my belief. What she’s not used to is me popping her hand when she reaches in to help. I can never find a loving enough way to tell her, “Back away. This is mine. You need only work out your own now.”
Go your own way
So now I’m writing Junkyard Salvation while living Junkyard Salvation. And it’s not quite the life of faith my mother envisioned for me.
“Honey, did you go to church last Sunday?” “No.”
“Well are you going this Sunday?” “No.”
“Are you looking for another church.” “No.”
”Are you still a Christian?!”
Bristling with a hard sigh, “YES.”
As she and many Christians understand it, “forsake not the gathering” (Hebrews 10:25) means you need to go to church every Sunday. I don’t forsake gathering. Lately though, my gatherings are one on one with someone a little older and wiser than I. They’re conversational. There will usually be some testimony, some complaining, some countering, encouraging, prayer, and some food.
When I get the conviction, I may visit a regular church. But I’m free to do that or not as I see fit. Mama may have. Papa may also have had. But God has blessed me. I am his child. And this faith is my own.
- Reconsidering Mary, Mother of Jesus (stacialbrown.com) — “I cannot imagine raising Jesus… I would not have known how to behave like a mother to him… I wouldn’t have known how to chastise him… I wouldn’t have known how to love him with reckless abandon.”
- The Shakes (junkyardsalvation.com) — “There is a very singular way her hand shakes when Mom prays for me… It’s just the slightest bit stronger than the dryer on its final spin cycle.”
- Like A Child (junkyardsalvation.com) — “I’m the youngest of my mother’s children, so she still worries and frets a bit over me now and then. That’s sweet, but overall, we relate differently now that I’m an adult. Out of respect, there are boundaries she will not cross.”
- The Importance of Mothering On Your Day Off (huffingtonpost.com) — “My heart was about to bisect like the body of an earthworm. I would watch it walk off and play and chatter: a part of me, apart from me.”