I was an only child, born to two parents who were extreme opposites…
My Dad was a loose goose, wild-child troublemaker. He was raised in a hard-line fundamentalist home. It was the kind of Protestant church that hated Catholicism. In fact, my Dad’s mother was on the verge of joining the monastery to become a nun when she made a spurious decision to marry my Dad’s father, Edward White. Because of the flack that my Grandmother got from her family for making that decision, they shunned the marriage. My Grandmother and Grandfather became fire and brimstone, fundamentalist Protestants. My Dad was raised in that world, and it was all he ever knew of Christianity. He tells me stories of when he was a young pre-adolescent, and believed everything this church said to be completely true. There were even times when they would do something wild like kick out a guy because they didn’t like his beard, and quote something in Leviticus to back it up. I don’t know if they didn’t like the dude or just didn’t like his beard, but they definitely misquoted some scriptures. When my Dad began to question some of their judgmental attitudes at the age of 13, they simply told him that he was siding with the devil, and they’d hear no more arguments.
What came after that was my Dad’s long, wild road into the hippie sixties, and crazy seventies. My Dad rebelled against the religion of his youth, and rebelled against God. It wasn’t until the age of 56 that he came back to that relationship with God. This time though, it wasn’t the God who would strike his hand off with lightning if he so much as thought about masturbation. It was the God who loved my Dad, and longed for him to have eternal salvation, and leave behind a life of pain, anger and sin.
My Mom was somewhat of a goody-two-shoes type. She was a quiet, shy girl. She was raised by hard-working immigrants from Czechleslovakia (now the Czech-Republic), who raised her in the Vatican I Catholic church. She went to Latin Vulgate Masses at least twice a week, and Catholic school all the way up until High School .
My Mom was a born and raised Catholic to the grain. She still is, even though she severed herself from the Catholic Church, during her divorce from her first husband. However, she biblically divorced him because he was cheating on her, so in that sense she followed Jesus (Matt. 19:9 talks about this). But my Mom carried a fear with her through the sixties, seventies and eighties that led her to be afraid to return to the full practice of her religion. She did a little partying, especially around the time of meeting my Dad. But she never went overboard with it, and kept her senses about her.
When questions of religion and spirituality came from my mouth at the age of 10, a verbal war ensued in my family that carried some minor characteristics of the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Ireland. I was talking to my Dad’s mother about wanting to get a Bible and check it out. She definitely wanted me to have one, so she bought me one for Christmas. Then my Mom got involved, and was worried that I would get brainwashed into her church. So my Mom counter-acted and bought me a Catholic Bible. They’re actually both good translations- my Grandma got me the New King James Version, and my Mom got me the New Revised Standard Version. But I obviously didn’t realize that at the time, nor did they. What they were doing was warring about human doctrines, and not God’s Word.
From there on out, my parents definitely began to fight when topics of religion arose. A “fundamentalist-edge” would often come to the surface in my Father. He would get all fire and brimstone on my mom, and tell her that the pope might be the anti-Christ. Martin Luther said the same thing, and in his time, he definitely had a right to say it because the popes were so greedy, murderous, evil and power hungry during Luther’s era. But my Dad, on the other hand, was just trying to dig at my Mom. His basis for argument was weak as well because he was still occasionally using drugs and lying about money issues at the time. My mom would definitely argue back though.
Eventually she won my Dad over enough to get me to come to Catholic Church with her. I went a few times, and then made friends with my friend Dave, who played drums in my high school band “Mulberry Tree”. Dave and I would get dropped off at the Sunday night mass by our parents, and sneak out to go behind the church to smoke cigarettes. My mom would pick us up later, asking us, “How was it?” We’d reply, “Oh man, it was great!”
My Dad’s mother continued to be nasty to my mom. For one, my mom was once divorced, so in Grandma’s eyes she had to be an adulteress, because Jesus said so (though like mentioned above, my Mom’s divorce was totally justified!). Secondly, my mom was a Catholic. Also, my grandma had rejected the call to become a nun, and been shunned by her Catholic parents. Obviously, there was a lot more to the situation than met the eye. I think my Grandmother was battling something inside herself. It was easy to point the finger at my mom. Instead, I wish Grandma had faced her own issues more often. I guess we all should face the mirror as much as possible.
When Grandma was riding out her last days, something in her changed. The sourness of her legalism and condemning attitude towards people began to subside. She talked to my mom, and the last words she uttered to her were, “You’re a sweetheart, and I love you.” This was my Grandma’s expression of finding grace, and peace with God. The last words she told me were, “Ben, just remember to read your Bible, and listen to it more than you listen to ‘man’.” Maybe that was her struggle, because she had accepted a lot of religious garbage in preference to what God had to say. But the Word of God stood as the authority in her life still. Maybe it was a prophecy, and she knew one day that I would live for the Word of God. Or maybe she didn’t know, and God put it in her heart to say.
All I know is that about a month after she passed away, I began to follow Jesus seriously. At the time when she was dying, I was confused spiritually, and into all sorts of different beliefs. Somehow I think my Grandma sought rest with God, and things began to happen in my heart that changed me for good. Contrary to our complaints, God certainly makes no mistakes. He truly makes all things work for His perfect plan and will.
But still, I have a dichotomous history that I can’t ignore. My mom was an ex-fundamental-Catholic, and Dad an ex-fundamental-Protestant. I was a burn-out hippie wanna-be in an Upper Middle Class haven of rich, white people. My beautiful wife Sarah was an honors student, who was in homecoming court and listened to Britney Spears in high-school, and I almost failed high school, and listened mostly to old Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. I didn’t become a Christian until I went to a liberal arts school. I didn’t begin to care about social justice and the poor until I worked at a middle class medium mega-church.
I believe in being a counter-balance. I believe that the Body of Christ and the kingdom of God are vastly more than our obscure vision can make them out to be. Because I myself am an extremist, and struggle with non-conformity, I have to see that there are polar opposites in every assumption, and this is a truth that can’t be denied. Because in the Kingdom of God, wealthy tycoons are equal to lepers, the last are first and first are last. The poor are rich, rich are poor. The weak are strong, and strong are weak.
Leadership involves thinking outside of the box in every situation. When we stay in the Scriptures, we continue to wrestle with our own weaknesses, and the weaknesses we see in the church today. We have to speak out in love about these struggles, because the truth needs to be heard. If we don’t stand for what we know God has made true, then we’ll give up, become impotent, or sell out. Being truly outside of the box is leaving the box of the systems put in place around us, and seeking what God has to say. Its guaranteed that His way will always be harder to swallow and follow, but its always the best way.