So amidst all that capricious moralism, did I ever hear the Good News? I know I heard it from my parents. I know I felt it from my parents. I know I heard it in church in South Bend. I know I heard it in Tulsa. And I know I heard it in Michigan. Once. Maybe twice.
I was reminiscing yesterday about my high school summer adventures to CYIA — Christian Youth in Action — with Child Evangelism Fellowship. We were at Grand Rapids School of the Bible and Music learning how to conduct 5-day Clubs with Barth and Sally Middleton as the lead teachers. If you’re in CEF, you know them. They are legendary.
I was 16. I had been in a Christian school environment in Michigan which was, to put it as mildly as I can, harsh. It was like Little Marcy except without the sprinkle of saccharine. All my peers were going to the fundy WILDs camp wannabe — Co-Be-Ac — to fill up on the sadistic humor of the school’s up-and-coming-to-power assistant pastor, Les Ollila, or one of his proteges.
But my mother and father — my dear, dear parents had a different idea. They strongly encouraged me to be a summer missionary instead. See — mom and dad were on the state board for CEF in Michigan, and they knew that CYIA was a good thing.
So I went — somewhat in defiance of the send-your-kids-to-Co-Be-Ac-or-else preaching we were getting. And yeah, yeah, CEF is full of decision theology and Keswick formulas (when you teach teenagers to teach, that’s gonna happen). I understand that.
But you know what I really learned? Jesus loves me. I remember walking 18″ off the ground back to my room when I realized that. He loves me. Jesus. LOVES me!!
There I was among other high schoolers and college kids who were so unlike me. Most of the kids were from the inner city of Detroit or Flint. Most of them were not suburban white bread like me. Most of them sang Amy Grant songs. Most of them raised their hands when they worshiped.
And Jesus loved all of them. And He loved me too. That’s what I learned. And I got to repeat that over and over to children all over Michigan. And when I did, I heard Him whisper it to me too. Jesus loves me!!
I relished that adventure so much that I went back to CYIA the next year and was a summer missionary again. That was an equally exhilarating experience. Those summers I learned that I loved to teach. I learned that I was a good speaker. I learned that all people — whether 7 or 17 or 87 — need to hear that Jesus loves them. And they need to hear it a lot.
I was so full of non-fundy Jesus-love that the fundies around me were suspicious when I got back home. “You need to go hear Frank Garlock at Co-Be-Ac. Just to get things straightened out.” o_O My parents and I shrugged and said, “Okay. Whatever.” So I dutifully went that week. It was terrible. I hated it. I can now look back on that week as a microcosm of my life in fundyland. You get up early and get all dressed because looking perfect is the key to your righteousness (and because you aren’t actually doing anything actively except sitting and taking notes). Only to be doused by buckets of lake water during a pointless before-breakfast game of Big Ball Water Volleyball. I hated it. I hated the whole week. The preaching was the same way, too: “Be perfect! ::splash:: Now you’re not, see?”
That’s what counts as the Gospel in fundyland. That’s the metanarrative: “You must be perfect! But you can’t be.” Period. That’s the end. “Jesus? Who’s that? Oh yeah, you can’t be like Him. He was perfect. . . . Too bad. So sad. ::splash::”
Outside of my home and family, I can count on the fingers of both hands the times I heard or felt Jesus’ unconditional love in forty years in fundyland: 1) From Pastor Sprunger, when I was baptized. 2) From the CEF director’s wife, Bernie Mason, when I was spending the summer with my mom at the CEF office in Tulsa. 3) From my second grade teacher, Mrs. Stover. 4) From my fifth grade Bible and music teacher, Richard Murray. 5) From Randy Merrill’s sermon on Elijah. 6) From Ed Dunbar, when Elise died. 7) From Dr. Juan Teruel.
The Good News was never part of any formal fundamentalist curriculum I got. Not from 1st grade through graduate school. I only got it in school when my teacher or colleague was moved by God’s love her/himself. You see, fundamentalism is not just Keswick piety because Keswickians, like D. L. Moody and even Billy Graham and every CEF missionary, at least get the Love right.
And fundamentalists never do. They actually think that the Love is “liberal.”
I did have a “material religion” counter-balance to the horror of Little Marcy — the Bill Gaither trio. You can hear It there. You can hear Jesus’ love.
9 thoughts on “It’s a Miracle: The Good News”
wow. just wow. You have such a fantastic way with words and with putting into coherent sentences what was/is going on in fundamentalism. My jaw still hits the floor when I think that Jesus loves ME. He LOVES me. That message was not there while I was growing up. I don’t think the church I grew up in was as fundy-awful as what you experienced, but elements were there. Thank you for writing and sharing and encouraging.
Isn’t it amazing–He loves us! Which reminds me of one of my favorite songs–Oh, How He Loves Us. Every female on this earth needs to be secure in her identity as a woman deeply loved by Jesus. It’s awesome beyond words 🙂
Jesus loves me….Thanks. How often do I need to be reminded of that and remind others as well.
I truly hope that Jesus’ love is something that spills out of me everyday as a teacher.
I agree that you have a gift with words. But I will digress from the tone of the comments. I knew Les when he was a teen ager, altho I am much younger. My Mom was big in CEF when we lived near Detroit. Les is from the UP where we lived for many years. When he went to BJ and then was at a “big” church in Detroit, I was really sad that he didn’t want to share what God had for him with us. My life would have been different. It is still fundy-ism-ish, but perhaps there would have been a more genuine relationship with God, and I would not have struggled so much as a teen.
Thank you for your blog. Perhaps I will run into you when I visit my daughter in Greenville….
What better motivation is there to please our God than the fact He loves us so much? To paraphrase: Do right…because He loves you.
South Bend and Pastor Sprunger? You must have gone to Community Baptist — I did not realize that. I was a member there from 1982 to 1985 while I was in South Bend.
It is amazing how God reminds us that He does love us. Talking with you today really reminded me of that. Then my trip to the dentist reminded me agin. Then, tonight after mass, that was one of the themes of our study on prayer. God made us. He made us in His image. He loves us. He loves us just the way we are. Therefore we can love ourselves – the way we are, the way He made us.
Amen. AMEN! <3
Comments are closed.