Monday, July 12, 2010

The Reformation, Part II

If you didn’t grow up Baptist you may be unaware of some of their strongly held beliefs and stern positions. Having been raised in a Baptist environment I can state with some authority these following unswerving and conservative postures: theologically, Baptists believe in the redemptive power of Christ’s death and resurrection; the mystery of The Trinity; the reality of heaven and hell; the transforming work of prayer; the effectiveness of missions; the call to evangelize and the commitment to The State of Israel. Culturally, Baptists frown on dancing, movies, card playing, drinking, smoking, gambling and swearing. Also, speaking mildly, Baptists do not like Catholics.
When I was an adolescent several of these issues began to take a toll on me. My mother would not let me go to dances, which played havoc with my social life. None of my friends understood why it was against my religion to do The Twist, The Jerk or The Eddie and, frankly, neither did I. (If you’ve seen me dance as an adult it is clear that I had no early training or practice.) Mom was not quite as tough with movies but I had to work her for a few days to get the okay to go see a Saturday matinee with pals or a Friday night film with a girl. Movies like Gigi, Old Yeller and Ben Hur were shoo-ins whereas Beach Blanket Bingo, Where the Boys Are and The Graduate were not on mom’s must-see list. We never really played traditional card games in my house, either. My dad, brothers and most of my aunts and uncles all smoked and some drank to a modest degree of excess. The popular music of the late 50’s and into the 60’s was more or less forbidden in our home, also. Mom thought it was sinful and Dad simply thought it was loud and awful trash. So, from the time I can remember I was in church on Sunday mornings, Sundays evenings, Wednesday nights and Friday nights attending one or another program hearing the Old, Old Story, singing the Post Civil War era hymns and preparing for Jesus’ Second Coming. During these same hours my friends were dancing, playing cards, going to movies, having a great time and planting the seeds of eternal destruction and damnation in their own souls. Poor things.
My best childhood friend was Rick Vargo. Rick was a neighbor of my same age and we walked to school together from kindergarten through 12th grade. Rick’s dad died of a heart attack when Rick was a young child and my dad and a couple other neighborhood dads were happy to fill in with some of those ‘dad things’ for Rick because he was such a wonderful kid. My dad loved Rick and so did my mom. We were always hanging out at each other’s houses – especially on those long summer days and nights. He was the kind of kid parents trusted. If I said I was going to be with Rick no further inquiries were made. However, Rick had a fatal flaw – he was a papist; yes, that’s right – Rick was a Roman Catholic. Although he was very kind, polite and trustworthy Rick was going to burn in hell. Rick attended a state teachers college in Pennsylvania and immediately returned to our hometown and began teaching 2nd grade in an elementary school 5 blocks from our childhood homes. He did that for 30 years – rejecting many offers to become a principal in many PA counties because he loved teaching the kids so much - and then he developed a brain tumor and died after suffering for 18 months at the age of 52.
If Rick Vargo is burning in hell I have completely misread The New Testament. He believed in Jesus and – more than any other human being I have ever met - lived a life of love, mercy, kindness and gratitude. He was humble and caring; forgiving, understanding and patient. He may have had The Virgin Mary and St. Christopher on his dashboard but I know he had God in his heart.
I’ll see you when I get there, old pal – and then we’ll dance!


Post a Comment

<< Home