This is a three part post that will hopefully generate some discussion, or at least raise some ire, somewhere. If we all agree, then there is no sense in talking about it, right?
First of all, let me tell you a little about what the concept of church was in my home, when I was a kid.
My father was a pastor, and so was my mother, in a manner of speaking, although we wouldn't have been allowed to voice that back then, much less put it down on paper.
Let me explain.
While my father was by profession and he may have even said 'calling' a preacher, it was my mother who had the shepherd's heart. Dad, ever the scholar, with an amazing memory quoted scripture, and points of doctrine constantly, both at church (in the building) and at home. It was Mom, though, who would spend her spare time with people, talking, encouraging, asking questions that often brought healing tears. From them both I received a lot of scripture memory and an interest in helping people. They were a team in many ways. I believe I was only a week old when I was brought to church the first time. I missed very few weeks ever since.
Our concept of 'church' was formed around a very specific model. Those of you who grew up in a similar circumstance understand completely. Those who didn't probably think people like me are from Mars. When I tell them I was born in the fifties and never listened to a Beatles album, that usually cinches it. I'm the closest thing to a Jim Jones fanatic they've ever seen. Sorry if you're too young to know who Jim Jones is. Ask a baby boomer.
Nonetheless, I am not the only one like me.
Church, as we knew it, was a place you went, a building that looked quite different than any other buildings around, to listen to a carefully crafted 'talk', 'sermon', a lecture, really, that was all about God and what we needed to know about him. We sat in rows, our heads looking at the back of everyone else's heads, and soaked in whatever the minister said, because whatever God had to say to us would most likely come from God through him to us. Even though we eschewed the Catholic extreme of papal hierarchy, we kind of crafted our own. We were protestants!
Dressing up was not optional. God deserved our respect. He was God after all, and on Sundays He wanted to see you in your best. (Well, really your parents did, but everyone bought into it, so we did it.) Easter was the high point, so you usually wore new clothes. This corresponded well with the current culture, as most people dressed up for the opera, school and other special events. It worked.
About the time the wild sixties gave way to the hedonistic, yet very hip seventies, the big controversy, and the main cause of contention in the church was the length of men's hair. This nearly derailed the older generation, and I remember it being preached against as 'a form of rebellion'. Anything you refuse to do that your parents have asked you to do fits into this category, but hair length was a hot one. The length of girls' dresses was a sister clause to the hair length, and received the same treatment.The coming Apocalypse was a favorite topic. It corresponded with buckets of social fear about how drastically the world had changed since the atomic bomb became a real threat.
I thought a lot about God, and feared the Apocalypse that was touted in nearly every religious venue. I wasn't afraid of not going to heaven. All that took was a little trust. It just all sounded so horrible, and I couldn't figure out why people were so obsessed with talking about it all the time. I also wanted to grow up and have a family, and it seemed to loom as a shadow on my plans.
I attended a Bible College, rubbing shoulders with really admirable colleagues and probably the most humble college president alive. It was a narrow, and yet widening experience. I traveled to the Middle East and wondered at the ordinariness of the place we call the "holy land'.
I made it to having a family, after joining a Christian ministry, which was a little like church traveling in buses, but more intense. I married a man who grew up in an almost identical paradigm. We took our kids to church, and everything was fine until I moved from the Midwest to California.