“Do you know Jesus in the pardoning of your sins?”
The answer to that question was all that mattered when I was growing up in Pensacola, Florida; Foley, Alabama; and Buffalo, New York.
No, my parents weren’t in the military, though my uncles and an aunt did serve. My parents weren’t missionaries, though they did send us to church.
Instead, my parents were young and inexperienced at raising children, so they accepted support from family members.
I spent a lot of time with aunts, uncles and cousins. For a couple of years, I lived with my uncle John, a retired Army sergeant who was strict but dutiful.
He was more like a father to me, calling me every week until he couldn’t remember my phone number. He didn’t forget my name, though he always forgot the “r” in Starlette.
I eulogized him last year. No more calls, no more encouragement from this side of the family. It was my last trip down South. No more eulogies.
Let the dead bury those now dead to me. TMI. Too much information?
No more flights via BWI – Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Long story short, I am the black sheep of the family for one reason or another, reasons not unfamiliar to those who are the first in their family to go to college, to graduate school, to do post-graduate work or to accept a call to ministry.
I assure you it is nothing more than that. I don’t do drugs, didn’t have a child out of wedlock and have never been arrested – though this last fact almost changed last summer while protesting in Washington, D.C.
These are markers of shame in my family and most, if not all, of the grandchildren bear one of them.
Instead, I heard things like, “You think you’re better than us” and “You think you’re smarter than us.”
They hate my New York (pronounced “Yawk”) accent; southern drawl gone, I talked proper now. For them, we are related by comparison only.
My goals in life didn’t match up with their plans for me, so there is nothing more to say. They simply cannot relate to the person I grew up to be.
But it’s not my fault. Blame your mother and my grandmother, Eva Mae. She introduced me to Jesus and having a church family changed everything for me.
I lived with her for a couple of years too. Divorced mother of 10 children, she had married my grandfather, John Curtis, at 16. All she knew was home and church life.
When the children were grown, and after rumors of an 11th child, he divorced her. A friend called and asked her if she had read the newspaper. He had announced it there but hadn’t told her.
All of this happened under long dresses and a face that wore not a stitch of makeup. Because she was “saved and sanctified.” Because all that mattered was the answer to the question, “Do you know Jesus in the pardoning of your sins?” If you knew Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, nothing else mattered.
We were not encouraged to give much thought to this world because it was “passing away.” I was 12 years old when I became a Christian. It was 1992.
It would gather lots of answers, and I would have plenty of questions. But the one that my grandmother always asked at the start of every conversation was, “Are you yet holding on?”
She wanted to know if going to college had caused me to lose my faith, to let go of Jesus. It was all that mattered; everything else was secondary.
Heaven or hell? My Pentecostal-Holiness church, which practiced a kind of southern monasticism, said Jesus was on his way back to pick us up and we needed to ensure that our houses were in order.
“Rapture ready” with a big Bible in hand, we were ready to offer Jesus to anyone at any time. Because the conditions were dire.
People weren’t “living right” and were “dying in their sins.” The leaders were so confident, and I was sure they had everything figured out. A divorced mother of one child, John Curtis, I am certain that they did not.
Because letting go can be liberating, some things are not worth saving, should be allowed to die and rest in peace.
We are already in a post-Christendom, post-denominational, post church-building world. There is a generation asking, “Why are you yet holding on – to binary questions and realities, to a world that has passed away?”
Witnesses to, and victims of, the church’s hypocrisy, we are asking, “Do you know Jesus in the pardoning of your sins?”
The answer to this question is the only thing that matters.