Faith of our mothers

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, September 1, 2016

To the editor:

I grew up in Texas in a kind-of-Baptist family, Missionary one year, Free Will another, Independent at times, and, by default, Southern, but always with distinctions. Baptists have those, you know. Yet my Mother forever reminded me that, as a Texas Baptist, we weren’t like “the others.” Sooner or later we were going to take over Texas and then the world, just as soon as a good Texas Baptist like Ted Cruz became president. Maybe next time.

What did it mean to be a Texas Baptist? No fuzziness in Mom’s thinking. Evolution? A bunch of hooey. Think creationism instead, but you had to distinguish between several kinds, quick, seven-day, timeless, and don’t worry about intelligent design since I wasn’t. Baptism? Full immersion in a flowing stream. Sunday School? That happened every day of the week at home. Original sin? When I asked her for an explanation, she reminded me that my constant questioning proved its existence.

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Why all this about my Mother and Texas Baptists? In a time when we wring our hands and fret about the declining state of Christianity, about how fewer attend church on Sundays or anytime, about the dissolution of the family and of morality in general, and about why our children do not follow the faith of their fathers, I always, always return to that of my Mother’s. Whether romanticized or realized, sanitized or sanctified, whether memed in my mind or hymned in my heart, my Mother, the stoic Swede that she was, somehow managed to provide all her mischievous boys with a little dollop of social responsibility along with passages from her Bible, den Helige Biblen, the older Gustav Vasa version. I still have that Biblen.

Mom understood one of the most basic concepts about faith, that you were not born a Christian but had to learn to be one. Never mind that she went through the Great Depression, New Deal, World War II, the atomic bomb, Korea, Sputnik, and Godless Communism, the terror of its day, all trying times but, in her mind, simply part of her generation’s tribulation. She assured me I might have worse, but she never envisioned Prince replacing Elvis.

Distractions?  Too many leisure opportunities Sunday or weekly? Who or what to blame for all the economic, political, ethical, and social ills of the day that threatened her faith?  TV? The pill? Rock and roll? Drugs? NFL football?  Drive-in theaters? Methodist potlucks? Nefarious characters in Mom’s favorite soap operas? Bad preachers and irresolute church hierarchies who had a “weak conception of the divine”? Not really. How convenient to worship at the too easy altar of blame, she might say, singling out a group or individuals rather than doing the bothersome work of passing on the spiritual assets of one generation to another.

Yet how to do that? First, Mom seemed to treat all her sons alike, not necessarily as unique individuals but as subordinate to the family, group, or congregation. Woe to the son who complained of having Sunday School lessons, getting up early for church, doing chores, mopping floors, or visiting Grandma or neighbors. I found boot camp much easier with more leisure time. Indeed, securing a means of transmitting spiritual assets might require just a bit of insistence, supervision, time, and an occasional dose of “friendly persuasion,” not something wildly popular in an age that celebrates the individual. That’s difficult yet indispensable.

Years later I found that my Mother’s religiosity encompassed ideas of theodicy, dispensationalism, post and pre-millennialism, predestination, redemption, transubstaniation, and lots of other concepts later clarified by my college professors. I’m glad Mom only went to the sixth grade.

Lastly, my Mother did not especially care that I did not become a real Texas Baptist or that I embraced all her ideas, only that I studied the Biblen, went to church, followed all the Commandments but especially the first two, and that I passed on my spiritual assets to my children as she did. Sadly, like many, my faith has not matched my Mother’s.

~ Milton Ready, Tryon, N.C.