On Easter morning, our “Fireside” adult Sunday school class was down to four of us because some of the regulars were involved with choir rehearsal upstairs. We fell into a strange conversation about how each of us had been scarred in some ways by growing up in a family that was very involved in church activities and tried to instill habits of acceptable Christian behavior in us at an early age. We were all thankful for the faith that had been handed down to us, but we were pretty critical of the legalistic package it had been wrapped in.
As I was thinking more about that conversation during the week in my office, my eyes fell on a book that has been on my shelf, unread, for so long that I forget how it got there. It’s entitled No Swimming on Sunday (Zondervan 1999), and its author Lyn Cryderman reflects on his experiences of growing up as the son of a pastor who served in Free Methodist churches. The book’s title came from a taboo that must have been a big deal in that particular denomination. My family didn’t live near a lake, as his did, but I remember that Christian camps we attended had that rule. Apparently, having any kind of fun on the Lord’s Day is bad.
My mom had a thing about the Sunday newspaper; she wouldn’t let one in the house. Television, however, snuck up on her, and watching sports in the afternoon and variety shows in the evening was okay. However, I had a friend whose church was in a different denomination. I was amazed to discover that in his home, the Sunday rule was reversed: television could not be turned on, but the Sunday paper was spread all over the living room. They must have been gotten their rules from a different version of the Bible.
Lyn Cryderman explains in his introduction, “I have written this book for everyone who remembers all the words to ‘Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain’ and can still remember the smell of white paste and crayons and damp church basement Sunday school rooms. I believe our years of memorizing Scripture and sitting through object lessons and bringing a friend so that we both won a pencil were a great treasure that needs to be savored and somehow preserved.” I understand the nostalgia he feels, but I’m not sure I would sum up those experiences as a “great treasure” that needs to be “savored” and “preserved.” Cryderman describes how he himself went through a period of drifting and doubting, when he distanced himself from the church for a while. When he finally came to a mature personal faith, I’m sure it was not because he remembered with fondness those rigid rules of Christian behavior.
It was probably thirty years ago that I was teaching a young adult Sunday school class in the same “Fireside” room. Because of our proximity to Fuller Seminary and the U.S. Center for World Mission, a number of the class members were either in Christian service ministries or preparing for a ministry career. And almost all of them had grown up in Christian homes where their lives were patterned by legalistic dos and don’t. Over a few magical Sunday mornings, there was a contagious sharing of how hard it was to dig out from under some of the residual guilt and self-deprecation they were still dealing with. One young woman, who had grown up in a family that was nationally-known in conservative evangelical circles, was particularly angry and bitter. I’m not sure if she ever was able to develop a positive faith in God. As I read Cryderman’s upbeat, nostalgic, good-natured book, she kept coming to my mind. I said a prayer for her.
We live in a much different world. The “separation” conservative Christian families tried to establish by limiting worldly influences on their children is virtually impossible today. Radio, television, smart phones and social media constantly bombard our families. Even if parents are in full time battle mode, they can not hope to isolate their children from the surrounding culture. Our only strategy can be to present clearly and consistently a different viewpoint, one with God at the center and all of reality revolving around him. We need to portray this in our lives as well as our words, in our relationships and our personal integrity. That’s how they will be equipped to deal with all the other voices they hear.
“The world is too much with us.” This line was not coined by a 1940s Baptist evangelist in Georgia, but is the beginning of a famous poem by William Wordsworth, written in 1806. The issue has been with us for more than two hundred years.
–Pastor George Van Alstine