Scaffolding: Family/Church Framework

The six of us, my parents and us four children, put down our roots pretty quickly. We were actively involved in our church, which included Sunday school & other church services. In the summer, we had Vacation Bible School and Good News Evangelism outdoor activities.  Our church was very motivated to get the children indoctrinated.

The church leaders instituted a Summer Camp program.  Children got points for attending Sunday school classes, for remembering to bring their Bibles, and LOTS of points for memorizing Bible verses.  We got rewards for knowing the books of the Protestant Bible, in correct order.  When we accumulated enough points, the church treated us to a week at a Christian camp. If someone almost made it, the church paid half.

Memorizing whole passages of the Bible, such as the 23rd Psalm, lent us prestige among our peers.  We had Sword Drills, in which we could compete against each other in locating Bible verses quickly, honing our skills so that we could follow along in the Bible when the pastor preached, when we were old enough to attend regular “adult” services.

Music played a huge role in cementing doctrine.  We had choruses with simple lyrics which reinforced our principles.  Even the adults enjoyed singing these choruses with us in the evening services. Our hymnals were filled with songs written by Fannie Crosby & other well-known hymn authors.  One Sunday evening a month, we would have what we called “hymn sings”, during which a congregant would shout out the name of a favorite hymn, and everyone would sing that one.  We’d sing our hearts out for the hour long service.  Local churches would host special hymn sings for the youth groups, and we met other peers who believed the way we did.

All of us four children dived into these services and activities with gusto.  We had memorized great swaths of the Bible, knew the words to tons of Christian hymns and choruses, and were surrounded by carefully screened friends. We were the typical church family.  This was my life from my birth (I was in the church nursery) all through my childhood, from the mid-fifties into the sixties.  But changes were ahead.

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Scaffold: My Family

My parents met when my mother, a nursing student, was caring for my dad’s mom in a hospital.  He told his mom that “that girl is the one I’m going to marry”.  They started dating, and in 1949, when they were both 21, my mom dropped out of nursing school and they were married.

They went on to have four children, all of us named with the letter “S”.  Sandy, Susan, Sheila (me), and Stacey.  And so we were a family. We ended up settling down in a rented house in the town of Pleasantville, NJ.  My dad bought our first home in 1959,in Northfield, NJ, when Stacey was a newborn and I was four.  That would be our home for nearly 20 years.

My first memory of religious indoctrination is my Sunday school class at a Baptist church in Pleasantville.  My mom’s parents lived in Pleasantville, which was close to our new house, so we drove to Pleasantville on Sundays for church.  After church, we often visited with my grandparents.

[My dad’s parents lived in Pennsylvania, and we didn’t see them often.  Usually there was an annual summer family barbecue at my dad’s parents’ home in PA, with all of his siblings & their kids, and that is how I came to know my aunts, uncles, and cousins.]

When I was in second grade, my dad announced that we were leaving the Baptist church and joining a fairly new church, a non-denominational church, in Linwood; this church was really close, just up the road from Northfield.  The church is Linwood Community Church, and it still exists to this day.

I was upset.  I loved my current Sunday school teacher and my friends, and could not understand how my dad could just up and move like that.  I remember clearly that my parents had recently quit smoking because they believed it “hurt their testimony”. My dad was upset that the church we were in allowed smokers to be leaders in the church.  I came to know later that my dad was very active in our Baptist church, had raised a stink about the whole smoking issue, was shot down, and felt he had no choice but to find a new church.

So, in the second grade I learned that Christians shouldn’t smoke.  I didn’t know why, but my dad said so, and that was it.  Frankly, I was disappointed when they quit.  My parents used to let us take turns blowing out the match when either one of them lit up.  Funny to think about that now.

Linwood Community Church was non-denominational, but its theology was close to Baptist theology.  It was also hard-core Fundamentalist.  If you’ve read all this without being bored, I thank you.  The next post will be about church and family life after we began attending LCC.

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I will be visiting the building of my life’s scaffolding, as well as its demise, in 2016.  I hope everyone is enjoying the first day of this new year.

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My Father’s Legacy

2015 was a bad year for me.  I’m happy to see it go.  However, it seems as if my father’s legacy will likely extend into 2016, so all bets are off for next year.

My father died on April 16 of this year.  It seemed to be the culmination of three years of fights over his care, and his own suffering.  I had no idea at the time my father died that his legacy was anything other than a Christian man who attempted to raise his children in his faith, provide for his family, and reach out to his community with the love of Jesus.  Grief prevented me from objectively seeing how my father’s actions adversely affected the family.

My dad was away from home a lot.  Church twice on Sunday, prayer meetings Wednesday, visiting nursing homes, a rescue mission, partnering with a charitable arm of his employer, and serving as a deacon in the church; all of these activities kept him busy.

I had an online spat with my brother back on Veteran’s Day. it was a misunderstanding on both of our parts, but he told me he was done with me, and sure enough, he cut me out of his life.  I have no way to reach out to attempt reconciliation  He blocked me on every social media platform we share, and also has blocked my cell. phone.  His pastor has done likewise, so my assumption is that the pastor advised my brother to do this to me.  I was quite devastated.  I’ve always been close to my brother. We’ve had disagreements before, even heated ones, but we always found a way to make peace.  Not this time.  All through Advent and this past Christmas week, I was sure that all of the teachings about the purpose of Christ entering the world, would soften his heart.  Not so.  On Christmas Day, my brother was the only one who didn’t return my Christmas greeting. I asked my siblings to tell him for me that I wished him a Merry Christmas, but I believe no one did.  As I pondered all of this, I realized:

This is my father’s legacy.  He spent so much time away from his family, trying to “save” sinners, to reconcile them to God through Jesus, that he never gave us the tools of conflict resolution and reconciliation among his children.  So, I’m entering 2016 watching the scaffolding of my life fall to pieces.  I’ll address that in upcoming posts.

I hope everyone else has a decent New Year’s celebration.  Make sure the people you love know that you love them.  Reconcile with as many people that you can.  That is the purpose of life–to live as peacefully and civilly with others as you are able.

Good-bye 2015.  Good riddance.

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Blue Christmas (What To Do When The Holidays Hurt)

john pavlovitz

sad_Christmas‘Tis the season…

For many people these are days of magic and wonder, a time when hope rises and peace falls and where miracles begin to feel commonplace. They are moments of joyous reunions and fierce embraces and boisterous laughter and crowded tables, all accompanied by waves of easy gratitude. Christmas is for lots of folks, a time when Goodness has the run of the house in their hearts. To them, it is sweet and possible and glittering with promise.

But you are not one of those people, and that’s what makes this season so much more difficult to endure. Your days are not merry and bright, in a time when the rest of the world’s seem to be and so the normal cavern between you and everyone around you feels wider than usual, the isolation more severe, the disconnect greater. You seem to find estrangement everywhere you look.

Christmas is here—and Christmas hurts.

Maybe it’s because of the chairs…

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The First “First”

Losing a loved one sets up a year of firsts.  This will be the first Fathers Day without my dad here.

I still sense his presence in my life.  I still talk to him.  I believe he is with Jesus, wherever that is.  Is there a place called heaven, fixed at some far away location?  I have no idea.

My dad was very suspicious when I joined the Roman Catholic church eleven years ago.  Now that I have left it, I wonder if he is somehow communicating with God, guiding me? I am on a journey towards progressive Christianity.

Part of the reason I left Fundamentalism was its emphasis on condemnation and judgment.  Fear kept us in line.  Even though the particular church in which I was raised preached “once saved, always saved”, there was a constant drip drip drip of dire warnings if we lived a life that “quenched the Holy Spirit.”  Partaking of communion without the proper attitude could cause you to get sick, or even die.  The things of the world were put forth as spiritually deadly, leaving us bankrupt in our faith.  The church taught that if a person persisted in sinning, he could die.

Lots of threats of death.

I still have to get into the nuts and bolts that led me out of fundamentalism, and, now, the RCC.  But for now I will miss my dad on Fathers Day, regret that I didn’t have enough time to really communicate with him.  But I rest assured that my dad now knows way more than I do.  He gets it.  He’s with his loving creator.

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When I was an adolescent, my mom bought this contraption which clipped onto the side of our ironing board.  One interesting feature of this thing was that the very bottom of it was a plug, attached to a long extension cord, which was then plugged into the wall.  One could plug and unplug the iron without having to bend over and try to reach the wall outlet.

One day I was not paying close attention when I plugged in the iron, and, when I was done, reached to unplug the iron without looking.  I had not, however, pushed the entire length of the plug into the extension cord.  My fingers came into  brief contact with metal which was still a bit exposed.

The jolt of electricity that suddenly and unexpectedly ran through my fingers and up into my wrist instantly got my attention.  I had never paid attention to the reality of the power lurking right at the edge of the plug, but I promise you that my encounter forever changed how I approached the simple procedure of plugging something in.  To this day, at age sixty, whenever I plug in anything, I make sure that it is fully plugged in.  An electric shock will do that to you.

I haven’t been on this blog site for quite some time because my father, whose views on fundamentalism I was beginning to critique, spent the last three years of his life battling one medical crisis after another.  He simply was worn out, at the age of 87, when he passed on.  His dying process was such a peaceful death, with a radiant smile on his face to the end, obvious (to me, anyway) that he was already communing with the other side. It had a profound effect on me.  Shortly after he died, I read Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

My soul felt as if it had inadvertently touched some great source of power.  Everything I had been wrestling with, up to the day before my dad’s death, looked suddenly different. Scripture suddenly became more alive, lyrics to the songs in church meant more, and the Lord’s Prayer was more intensely sacred.

I experienced a spiritual shock, and I want to digest that here along with a continuation of my story.  I am not a good writer, but I am so transformed by what I discovered recently that I want to put it down into words.  I don’t know if it will help anyone or not, but it will be a record of what is an awakening.

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Good bye, Dad

My father passed away yesterday, which means at some point I will resume my writing here.  As his health declined, I experienced a wide range of emotions, and much confusion. Now it is all in the past and I believe I will be able to put things more into perspective.

RIP, Dad.  I love you.

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Gay marriage and the fall of American civilization?

Excellent post on promoting the love of God.


I recently stumbled across a short article of prominent Evangelical philosopher, theologian and apologist William Lane Craig where he laments the inexorable progression of same-sex marriage into the heart of America.

*** very significant happened over this past weekend that we need to be alert to. As you probably know, several weeks ago the Supreme Court refused to hear a case concerning a federal district court’s decision to strike down all of the pro-marriage laws that have been passed by various states – Idaho, Oklahoma, and others out west. These were regarded as unconstitutional because they declared marriage to be between a man and a woman, or in other words, they prohibited same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court refused to hear the decision, thereby in effect ratifying same-sex marriage in the United States by judicial fiat.

When this happened, I just felt as if I had been kicked in the…

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Christians understand your feelings better than you

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