I am a “recovering Baptist.” Seriously. Steeped in a tradition that, early on in my life, would not hear of broader, ecumenical thoughts, I have spent the last thirty years struggling to be free from the grip of that addiction. Trust me, it is strong. If anyone has an ego at all (and I do) then the seduction of it plays right into ambition, certainty, glamour, applause, and near show biz activity. Christian theology is secondary; Baptist beliefs are ultimate. And the two are not always the same.
The heart of all this cold demagoguery was my old home church. They were as traditional and conservative as can be; genuine Southern Baptists. But they were also the bridge that brought me over. They loved, nurtured and encouraged me and for that I am forever grateful. They were like many who are traditional stereotypes; they did not let it make fools out of them. But about twenty years ago, I decided that while I will probably always be a baptist (little b) who lives in the South, I will never again be a Southern Baptist. And there is a difference. I retain the emphasis on the priesthood of the believer and religious liberty taught me by my baptist forebears, but everything else is open to re-interpretation.
Match that effort of recovery with the family crucible into which I was born. My maternal side of the family was hard-working, straight, thrifty, rigid with conviction, “church-going” ……and stubbornly racist. I am now convinced that about the only thing that seriously frightened any of them was the presence of someone with a different colored skin.
The paternal side was total opposite. Almost to a person (with the actual exception of my Dad who I think really lived under the sway of my mother because he loved her so dearly) they were loud, profane, earthy, risky, heavy drinkers and smokers, brawlers, who seldom showed up at the church building. If they liked you, they loved you with an uncommon loyalty. If they didn’t like you; well just forget it. And they had a tendency not to be very inclusive of anyone, regardless of race, creed, and especially religion.
At first, I followed the lead of the religious side, although their racism troubled me at a very early age. But though I was a Baptist who frowned upon such profanity, I could not get away from the paternal side; especially the earthiness, the risk-taking and the unusual loyalty.
I am an inescapable product of two families. This is the stuff of my life and the clay with which God the Potter works. I am doing my best to leave behind the conditionings that shrivel my soul and cause me to live in the land of “what would people think.” I think AA members call it getting rid of “stinkin thinkin.” But how, in the midst of all this, does transformation occur?