Over the holidays one of my family members asked me, what I was going to write about in 2011 now that the series on thanksgiving was nearly over. Just for a laugh, I responded, “Things That Tick Me Off.” Only, I used a Biblical word for “Tick,” a word I don’t think I have uttered since I was eight years old and my mother nearly washed my mouth out with soap for using it. I begged for God's forgiveness before I went to bed; really, I did.
One of the blessings of growing up in a holiness, Pentecostal, southern environment is the shelter offered by the long shadow of the Victorian era. For example, women were not said to be “pregnant” or even “expecting;” a woman in that condition was said to be "in the family way.” Thus, we were shielded from the harsh realities of modernity and those of human frailties, being instead comforted by the poetic, if archaic, verse of the King James Bible. In that subliminal reality some things just were not what they seemed and our task as children was to navigate the glorious river of truth fraught with the difficulties of double entendres.
I once asked my mother why it was wrong to dance if people danced at church. For just an instant she had the look of a possum caught in the headlights of an oncoming eighteen wheeler. But she quickly gained her composure and threw down a trump card, “You know better than to ask a question like that.”
“But Momma, it’s in the Bible; David danced.”
Her response was the stair of a lion about to pounce on an unsuspecting wilder beast. Discussion closed.
Furthermore, I was often confused about the reason preachers got to use words I was forbidden to use. How could they get by with statements like “You are going to burn in hell if you don’t repent.” We were forbidden to even mouth or spell out the word “hell?” On top of that they could use the word “damn,” or at least cognations of it: “damned,” “damnation.” They even used the “B” word; “by this you know you are sons and not b…ds.”
My confusion was heightened when I began to read. For a long period of time my mother led us in family devotions every evening. It was more like evening Bible school than anything else. We read through books of the Bible beginning with the historical books of the Old Testament. We went around the family circle, each reading a verse until a chapter was completed. After Shirley and I had struggled through a few sets of verses with Old Testament names, Mom would let Jimmy finish out the chapter to move things along. After reading there was time spent in Bible quizzes; these were sort of a Bible Trivia game she developed before there were such games. Finally, we would spend a few minutes in prayer before being sent to bed.
On one of those nights we were reading through I Samuel. Now that is an exciting book for a young boy. It fell my lot to read 1 Samuel 25:22 “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”
“WHAAAAT DID YOU SAY? What was that word you used?”
“Let me see that. That word’s not in the Bible.”
She grabbed my Bible out of my hand and silently read. “Well, it might be in there, but I had better not be hearing you use it. I think ya’ll better just go to bed now.”
There was no quiz and no prayer that night.
And so I learned that the Scriptures are the infallible Word of God, profitable for reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. We believed in the whole Bible rightly divided. And for my mother that meant her children should study the Bible carefully, all except for those sections and words she divided out of it. Looking back on those cherished days, we never got around to reading the Song of Solomon, either.
January 7, 2011