One of the great lessons I learned from my mother was that we don’t have to understand it all; we don’t have to agree with it all. We can even be wrong about non-essentials and still be right with God if our hearts are pure and our faith is strong. For example, Mama knew God created all things; she just respectfully disagreed when it came to roaches. She knew the Scriptures reveal, and the Church of God teaches, Jesus is coming back and the saints will be resurrected; it’s just that after decades of physical suffering she was convinced she would be the blessed exception. “I don’t want this body back no matter how perfect He makes it and He won’t make me take it either. I just want to be in His presence.”
Sometimes her openness to alternative thought was challenging and even transforming for me. For example, she was dead set against going to movies. We often heard the story of her first conversion and the moment of backsliding; She followed Dad into a movie theater. (They were shopping; the theater was air conditioned, Jimmy was a baby and the day was extremely hot.) “I walked in one door and Jesus walked out the other.”
On the other hand, she paid for and insisted that Jimmy get dancing lessons. When I asked her about it some years later her response was simple, “Son, I don’t see anything wrong with dancing. As long as you’re not a member of the church I don’t see anything wrong with it. I thought it would help your brother learn how to talk with girls.” It seems that was my Grandmother’s opinion as well. I had always thought that as a teenager Mom slipped off to the dances, but Grandma had sent her. Oh, the irony; it was at a dance to which Grandma had sent Mom that Mom met Dad.
My mother’s response to the news that one of the young women of our church was pregnant and not married was a transforming lesson for me. I must admit that in my youth I was somewhat hard in my concepts of righteousness: sin is sin and sex outside of marriage is a grave sin. I had known this young woman all of my life and thought of her as family. I was therefore especially attentive in eavesdropping as Shirley and Mom discussed the situation. Mom’s response was filled with grace, uncertainty and self-identification. “I just don’t understand why God made a young woman most likely to get pregnant at the time she is least likely to say ‘no’.”
There was no condemnation, just compassion and a willingness to enter the struggle. I couldn’t put it all together theologically, but I knew Mom’s questioning and acceptance was a Christ-like response. “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” I learned in that moment that the purity of the church depended more on our willingness to embrace the sinner than on our vigilance for discipline. Love is our most powerful weapon against unrighteousness. Correction that does not flow out of love perverts the Gospel.
I also learned something about women and biology; I just wasn’t sure what I had learned.
May 18, 2010