This is one post in a series called “Finding God.” You can read Chris Day’s entire series here.
Attending a Baptist church after growing up Catholic was definitely a shock to my system. As I was introduced to the pastors, their wives, the ushers, deacons, lay ministers, and general attendees, I couldn’t help but smile. I exchanged pleasantries and we finally made our way to our seat in a very comfortable, upholstered pew. At that moment I made the most surprising discovery of all. There, inconspicuously planted behind the choir loft, was one of the coolest things I had ever seen in a church. A swimming pool! Containing my excitement was next to impossible. I leaned over to my hosts and began asking a million questions. Who swims there? When do they swim? Is anyone welcome to use it or just members only? Is their pastor also a merman? On and on. I was truly fascinated. In my simple mind I couldn’t come up with a scenario where anyone would need a pool inside a church building. And not even once did I piece together that I was asking about a large reservoir of water and the very name of this denomination was Baptist. I must have seemed like a moron, but they treated my childlike questions with respect and answered me best they could.
One visit turned into two, then ten, and twenty. Months turned into years, and I eventually stopped double dipping and quit going to Catholic church altogether. I was officially a Fundie (Fundamentalist) at that point. Over time, I learned the nuances of baptism by submersion and that singing hymns could actually be enjoyable if done in large groups of believers who aren’t afraid to express themselves through song. I learned that the homily, or lesson, seemed to be much more important than any other part of the church service, which confused me because it only occupied about five total minutes of the Catholic masses I had attended. And though I knew, and had been taught, that Jesus was a savior and died for the sins of all, the Baptists placed more emphasis on that than any other single belief. Every sermon and every song seemed to come back to that very truth. Abraham and Moses and Noah all took a backseat to the crucifixion. The Virgin Mary and the apostles were spoken of merely as supporting cast in the story of Jesus. Much of this took getting used to for me. Not that I had ever worshiped Mary, which seems to be a common misconception in the minds of non-Catholics, but I definitely placed her in higher regard. But even habits that die hard eventually die, and slowly I began letting go of all the rituals and traditions I held so dear. In actuality, though, I was merely swapping them for new ones.
Baptists are bold and aggressive. Using the guise of urgency, they tend to force-feed Jesus to the masses. As a new soldier in the Baptist army I, too, was given my marching orders. Those orders included uncomfortable tasks like door knocking and something called visitation. Door knocking consisted of literally going from house to house or apartment to apartment and knocking on the door. If and when you got an answer and someone was willing to listen to an overdressed, pimple-faced, late teen, you would then begin your Jesus assault on them. Ask them if they go to church anywhere. Ask why not. Ask if they know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Ask why not. Ask if they want to accept Jesus into their heart right at that moment. Ask why not. Ask (through the door) why they just slammed the door in your face.
Door knocking had to be one of the most awkward and insulting things I had done in my life up to that point. But if your mindset is that any of the people behind those doors could die at any moment and go straight to hell and burn for eternity, you get past the awkwardness fairly quickly and focus on being their knight in shining armor riding up on your horse named King James.
Visitation, however, took the awkwardness to another level. It involved going to visit the “backsliders” who once attended church regularly and then somehow had the audacity to come less regularly, or [gasp] stop coming altogether. The word “visitation” ended up being a super nice moniker for a shame session. And, in my right mind, I could never understand why anyone would open their door to a group of Baptists in ties and prairie dresses just so they could totally shame and humiliate them into coming back to church.
I found myself becoming more bold and confident, and really it should have been a red flag, but I missed it. See, I was already a bold person. I was confident and never embarrassed easily. So the fact that I was becoming more bold simply meant that I had crossed over into a land called Arrogance. My tongue was as slick as my $6 haircut and three-piece suit. I became a student of the bible, but not for knowledge’s sake. I used the bible to formulate arguments. I had an answer for every question and every answer ended in a reference to book, chapter and verse. To put it simply, I became a huge, bible-thumping jerk.
Photo (Flickr CC) by River City Church