A Man of Faith

Joey KennedyBless My Heart

By Joey Kennedy

My first exposure to faith scared me to death. I was four years old. Even at that age, I was curious.

My paternal grandparents took me to their one-room Church of Christ in a small town in southeast Texas.

I’m sure there were hymns, and preaching, and other stuff. I don’t remember all that.

What I remember is that a man, during what I now know is the invitation portion of the service, went forward. He dedicated his life to Christ. The man went down into the baptistery, in his suit, and was dunked under the water. The background of the baptistery was a stream drawn on a screen. It looked lovely.

After the man had been dunked, he came up, his suit dripping wet. Then a couple of other men escorted him behind the stream screen, and he disappeared and didn’t return. I looked up at my grandmother, my eyes wide, my mouth open. “What are they doing?” I asked her.

She shushed me, as grandmothers do to grandsons in church, and told me, quietly, “He’s going to Heaven.”

I was terrified. Up until that time in my life, “going to Heaven” meant somebody died. When our German shepherd “ran away,” my mom told me he had gone to Heaven. When my hamsters disappeared, they had “gone to Heaven.” When my great-grandparents died, three months apart, they had “gone to Heaven.”

My four-year-old mind couldn’t process this deluge of Heaven. I thought they were taking him behind the painted stream and killing him.

“He’s going to Heaven.”

Of course, I know now that the man wasn’t murdered in that small Church of Christ that day. He had been “saved.” At least according to the doctrine of that little congregation in southeast Texas.

I was afraid, until I wasn’t.

A four-year-old’s attention span isn’t very long. I soon forgot the horror I had witnessed. I played with my toy soldiers, killing them left and right—sending them to Heaven–and went on with my life.

But that first exposure to heavy religion has stayed with me.

I am a person of faith. I know, many of my readers may, correctly, ask, what faith?

I’m currently a Presbyterian, a member of a liberal Presbyterian church. I don’t attend. I’m not motivated to attend. But I am a member.

I wonder about God’s sense of humor. This year, Ash Wednesday–the start of Lent–is on February 14. Valentine’s Day. A day of decadence. Chocolate. Flowers. Hot dates. Ashes on the forehead.

Yet, on that very day we’re supposed to give up something important to us: Chocolate. Flowers. Hot dates. Bourbon.

To top it off, Easter comes on, of all days, April Fool’s Day–April 1.

What kind of joke is God playing on us? Is this one of those ultimate tests? Jesus is risen: April Fool’s! Well, of course not.

For many years, my wife and I were members of Southside Baptist Church, following three years at Homewood Church of Christ. My wife was raised in the Church of Christ faith, as fundamentalist as any denomination. When we dated, I attended her small Church of Christ in Anniston. I would slide my hand over to hers, and we’d hold hands in services. I’m sure it was a sin.

I never really paid attention to the sermon. I was in love. I paid attention to Veronica. Or, at least in church, her hand.

When we came to Birmingham, I was mostly an agnostic. I wasn’t ready to declare God dead, but I wasn’t ready either to give him his creds. I was conflicted.

But at some point, I decided I needed to get this religious stuff off my chest. Either God existed, or God didn’t. I started studying what I could find to decide.

My decision, looking at this like a journalist would explore a corruption case or something similar, was that, yes, there likely was a god.

So we decided to attend Homewood Church of Christ, which was good for me, because I’d been away from church for a couple decades and needed some remedial work in Christianity. The Church of Christ is good at that, with its base in biblical study.

But then I began to wonder why women weren’t given the same status as men in the church. Why weren’t women in leadership roles that mattered? We decided, together, to find a place that valued women as much as men.

And Southside Baptist Church was our calling. Women were deacons there. So where gays and lesbians. This was a church I could appreciate, I told myself. And I did.

I became active, became a deacon and a youth Sunday School teacher. Most of my Sunday School kids were girls. I told them, continuously, that men are pigs. Stay away from guys. All they want is that.

At a Sunday School party toward the end of my 10-years-plus teaching these kids, an older, more traditional Sunday School teacher asked one of my students the most important Bible verse I had taught her.

“Men are pigs,” she said, smiling. I was proud.

But I’m fickle. After my kids graduated, went on to college, started dating, started marrying, I felt I was at a distance from Southside. I also felt at a distance from God, once again. So my wife and I drifted a bit, then settled on a liberal Presbyterian church in downtown Birmingham.

We loved it, but we didn’t really feel at home. We didn’t really feel connected. We didn’t really feel it loved us back.

So now, we mostly sit at home on Sundays. Or, maybe, I should say, we sleep at home on Sundays. I guess we’re heathens. Or worse.

I swear, I’m a person of faith. I just don’t know what my faith has done to me. Or what I’ve done to my faith.

One Response to “A Man of Faith”

  1. Cooper says:

    You and Veronica are much beloved children of God, Joey. ‘Men are pigs’ is one of my favorites, too.

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