I was raised in a Christian bio-dome.
My sisters and I were homeschooled, church met in our living room, we only listened to Christian music and always had missionary stories or sermons playing on the radio. If we rented a movie, it was clean. Sometimes we took a risk, which usually meant mom would end up jumping in front of the TV from time to time, widening her shirt, and making a lot of noise so we couldn’t hear or see what was happening (usually a swear word, or a kiss gone too far). We even had a Christian dentist, making our teeth especially white.
As you can imagine, I grew up with a distinct sense of “us and them.”
Certain memories are burned into my brain, moments where my sensitive, fundamentalist soul bumped into the dark and dangerous secular world:
- I saw my uncle—my Christian uncle—standing at a family gathering with a BUDWEISER in his hand. And here I thought he was going to heaven . . .
- One of the missionary kids took me aside one afternoon, said that he wanted to show me something. He pulled out a little radio, turned it on, and “Funky Town” burned into my eardrums. I literally trembled, feeling dirty, as if he had stuffed a cigarette into my mouth.
- I remember reading a science fiction novel that I picked up at the library. Somewhere in the middle was a one-paragraph sex scene that left me feeling shocked and spiritually assaulted for days.
However, in the midst of my insulated universe, I was still me.
I am, by nature, a curious person, and more than a little rebellious. I think the two go together. If my life is dictated by others, my instinct is to wonder what they are hiding from me, or what I am missing. I am tempted to ask questions, push through the borders, peek behind the curtains.
I never pushed back against my fundamentalist theology because I genuinely believed it. In time, I began to think more critically about my faith, but after so many miracle stories, and more than a few personal experiences, I never came close to abandoning my belief system altogether.
I wasn’t an easy kid to raise. I would push back against my parents, but not because I felt controlled or manipulated by them. I knew that they loved me. My pushbacks were always about the rules. My personality thrives on freedom. Which means I can easily get into trouble without a healthy leash.
I remember going to the doctor for a physical before leaving for college. He sat me down and talked to me about the dangers of promiscuous sex, offering me some condoms. First of all, the conversation made me very uncomfortable. Just the word condom was bad enough. Secondly, I was bothered that I, of all people, would have to be subjected to such a conversation. I wasn’t like those people. I would never sleep around. And I told him that.
To his credit, this wise man only smiled, shook his head, and told me that a lot of things can happen in college. And he was right.
Even though I went to a Christian university, my freshman dorm was not exactly a beacon of holiness. I had a Nazarene roommate. He grew up without going to movie theaters because of the whole “appearance of evil” thing. So what did he say the first day we met? “Let’s go to the movies.”
I was invited to join a bunch of strangers to watch some soft porn during that first week of school. Actually, porn was everywhere in the dorm. That was the year that Madonna’s “Sex” book came out, which a couple of the guys were showing around. It wasn’t that I didn’t have my own private thoughts about these things, or private experiences. I just didn’t understand how comfortable and open so many of my Christian friends could be about it.
I spent the majority of my first two weeks of college in APU’s small prayer chapel or in one the practice rooms. In my mind, I was holding on to righteousness in the land of slippery slopes. But the truth is, I was going through culture shock. I had left my bio-dome and had entered the real world.
Some might be upset by my fundamentalist childhood, like how some people might feel when they see Amish people passing through a city in a horse and buggy. They might think my parents brainwashed me. They might think that, in not preparing me for the real world, they had abused me in some way.
Now, some 25 years later, I can look back at my childhood and see that their sheltering was actually a blessing. I have no regrets.
I’ve had plenty of time to catch up on secular music, get comfortable around swear words, develop a taste for alcohol, enjoy a stogie from time to time, and be more mature about sex. The years have worn away many of my unhealthy prejudices, allowing me to see people as people without thinking of their sins or eternal destinations. It has even helped to temper some of my radical theological ideas, and nurture a genuine relationship with the living God and not some fundamentalist caricature.
Basically, I’ve been learning to be less of a self-righteous jerk.
My wife was my first kiss, my first everything. With my curious mind and rebellious nature, I should have done a lot more experimenting. I should have a lot more regrets. I can thank my parents for that.
If I wasn’t raised Christian, I would probably be a Buddhist right now. Maybe a cult leader. I wouldn’t be a Christian, that’s for sure. Too popular. Too many hypocrites. But thanks to my parents, I was introduced to something real, and that has sustained Laurie and I through some very challenging years.
Speaking of Laurie, I must be a serious rebel because not only was I born into a conservative household, but I married a conservative person.
Laurie’s not a stooge. She can sit down with a beer and watch a movie with violence and swearing and drug use, and feel nothing negative, as long as the movie has to do with truth and the human condition. She is constantly learning and leading, heart first.
But Laurie has no patience for gross-out violence, promiscuous sex, horror, or anything really dark or disturbing. I’m not a huge fan of those things either, but I am much more apt to stick my nose in there. She helps me keep my nose clean. Most of the time.
Seems like I can’t escape tethers. And I’m okay with that. I feel like they are blessings from God, guardians of my heart and mind.
And even though we haven’t shielded our own children from alcohol in the house, or swearing and violence on the television, or the existence of Dodger baseball, we have been careful in other areas, recognizing that there is plenty of time for them to wade through the dark places of this world, and it is probably best to get their hearts and minds ready to make good choices in the meantime.