Saturday, April 16, 2005

Trying to tell you something 'bout my life

There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
Closer I am to fine
---Indigo Girls, "Closer To Fine"

In order to start this thing I thought I would post a series of e-mails I sent to a friend recently, documenting the spiritual changes in my life.

I was born on October 2, 1966 into a family that was nominally Catholic. My mother brought us to church, but my dad didn’t care, and I knew it; so when I got old enough to have an opinion I didn’t want to go either. When I was young I found it quite boring; as I grew older it took on a certain fascination for me. I can’t pinpoint the time when I first became aware of God. Perhaps because I was in a home that at least gave assent to God’s existence I was always aware. My grandfather being an ordained Baptist minister with a book published was pretty cool. I do remember that around the time of fourth grade I became enamored with the mystery surrounding the Catholic Church, the “smells and the bells.” I would read things and play Mass and even thought about becoming a priest. I didn’t have a lot of understanding about Jesus Christ dying on the cross for me; I knew he died- I could see the crucifix every Sunday- but it wasn’t personal. My concept of God was mysterious and not loving. So I developed some semblance of a desire for God, but it also came and went

I also had no understanding of church at that point. I thought “Christian” was just another label worn by people who went to church on Sunday, along with Baptist, Methodist and Catholic. I didn’t realize that “Christian” applied to all of them, at least theoretically. I remember a couple of things happening that subtly reinforced the differences for me. One time on the way to school, probably when I was in third grade, a guy was handing out flyers on a street corner promoting a revival. He said that if we went we would get a free candy bar. Well that was enough for me- I didn’t care about what a “revival” was, but I could dig free candy. My parents, however, weren’t as interested. Knowing what I know now, I’ve deduced that it had to have been a Baptist thing; they’re the only ones using candy as a bribe, and they’re the only ones approaching children to try and get them to church.

We lived in California in the mid-1970’s and I saw a commercial on TV for a booklet called The Modern Romans, and it was ABSOLUTELY FREE! They also offered a free (free has always been good) Bible correspondence course and a subscription to a magazine called The Plain Truth. I was an altar boy at the time, during one of the years that God was on my mind, and my fascination with the mystery of the church was just beginning. However, why a free Bible study held any kind of attraction for me I do not know. But I called the toll-free number and sent for it. My father didn’t care to see it in the house. I wasn’t sure why he had an opinion on the matter; he didn’t attend Mass regularly and from what I could tell he and God had “an understanding.” In the ensuing years, as I gained an understanding of the kind of church The Plain Truth was a part of, I understood a little more. Garner Ted Armstrong and Herbert Armstrong had some unique beliefs regarding the trinity and the Sabbath. Not that it made a difference to my dad; he just didn’t want to see non-Catholic materials leading me astray.

I attended the Catholic equivalent of Sunday School, and occasionally I had a teacher who made it all come alive for me. One teacher I remember in particular was named Mr. Geimer. He had a certain fascination with the subject matter that was infectious. He made it seem like Jesus Christ was worth knowing about. (It planted a seed in me. Whenever I speak before a group I make a point of being genuine and real. People will know the difference.) Because of his influence I didn’t mind when my mother made me go to a vacation Bible school that was held at the interdenominational chapel on the military base where we lived. I was given a New Testament there, Good News For Modern Man, and this actually looked cool. It didn’t look like a Bible, and that was a draw for me. I think I even read it, but as time passed it went on the shelf and I forgot about it. Being a military brat, we moved frequently, and we couldn’t stay very involved in the parishes where we attended Mass. No matter what kind of influence a Mr. Geimer might have on me, it was lost with the next move. For every Mr. Geimer there were two priests and teachers who made it boring.

In 1980 my parents attended a Marriage Encounter retreat, and something changed. My dad wanted to go to Mass again. I wasn’t too hip to that, because it meant that I didn’t have an out when I didn’t want to go. If he went, everyone went. All of a sudden we were immersed in a culture of family camps and “one ringers” (someone hanging up after one ring to let you know they were thinking about you). It was just too sappy for a 14-year-old like me. Just give me my Kiss albums and my Strat-O-Matic baseball game and leave me alone.

My teenage years held the same changes and challenges that teens still face- all of a sudden I was overwhelmingly concerned with what people thought of me (they didn’t think much), I became painfully aware of my own shyness, and I despaired of ever finding a girlfriend. And boy oh boy, were girls ever a part of my consciousness. For whatever reason my parents decided to send their depressed, chronically shy son on a teen retreat styled after the Marriage Encounter event. This retreat was a turning point for me. I started talking to people, who couldn’t believe that I was shy. I went to Mass with these people and for the first time in my life it held some meaning for me. This 1981 retreat was also where I met my very first bonafide Jesus Freak. Ted Thiry ate, slept, breathed and drank Jesus Christ. That intrigued me. He wore a t-shirt with the Resurrection Band on the front. Now I was on top of popular music at the time, but I had never heard of this “Resurrection Band”; however, since Ted couldn’t go three words without saying “Jesus Christ” in a non-cursing manner I figured it had to be a religious thing. Ted even used phrases like “Jesus saves.” Jesus saves? That’s not something you hear at Mass every day. I was drawn to Ted’s energy and what seemed like his love for me.

The end result of attending this retreat was that I wanted to know about Jesus Christ. If Jesus was more than a fancy picture in a Children’s Bible, if he was more than the body on the crucifix, then I wanted to know. My mother had been attending a neighborhood Bible study, so when I went on this retreat and wanted a Bible, she was more than happy to oblige. She also bought me a basic Bible study book geared to teens which I loved. It was meant to teach basic facts about characters and books, and it whet my appetite for further study.

I still have the notebook they gave us to take notes on the various talks with. At the end of the retreat they served as de facto yearbooks. “I’m really glad I got to know you this weekend.” “You’re a really nice person.” “God bless you!” “Love, Lea... Michelle... Jennine... Diane....” Typical yearbook stuff, but being the naïve teenager that I was, I took it seriously. Wow, all these girls love me! Boy was I in for a rude awakening :)

One more recollection before I leave the retreat to the winds of history. A couple of months later someone scheduled a reunion party. I was excited to see these people that meant the world to me for those three days we were together. What I got was my first taste of an underage teen drinking party. I brought a camera to memorialize the event, and most of the pictures I took were either of people kissing or drinking. At the time the only thing that registered was that some of these people who expressed their love for me two months ago didn’t remember me. In retrospect that party is an example of why discipleship is sorely needed. But I digress.

And with that, I will leave you until Part Two.

2 Comments:

Blogger Dan McGowan said...

Hello Sean,
What a wonderful testimony. I always enjoy reading about all of our journeys from "before" and into "the now." You seem like you have a lot so share and I will plan on coming back for more visits... any views or comments on music and worship in the church you'd be inclined to share with us?
Blessings, Dan McGowan

6:05 PM  
Blogger Sean MacNair said...

Once the testimony is over I'll start expounding on everything. Probably looking at two or three more parts as I track my way through various churches I've been a part of.

6:23 PM  

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