5 blessings and 5 curses of an evangelical childhood

bend in a railroad

As, I assume, is true of just about any culture in which one is raised, my experience of being shaped by a fairly conservative, evangelical culture (in my case it was suburban Mennonite flavoured) gave me much to be thankful for as well as much that was less than helpful. Of course many with a similar background would experience it all quite differently, but here is a quick reflection on this:

5 Blessings

1. This culture did much to help provide a safe family and community in which to develop. There was a great deal of stability and a great deal of goodness.

2. I feel that it has been a gift to grow up with a taken-for-granted worldview in which matters of spirit and meaning were assumed to be real and of central importance. Perhaps those who grew up assuming an entirely materialistic or utilitarian worldview are equally grateful, but I find that hard to imagine.

3. Similarly, I’m very glad to have learned early to completely assume that God was present and was more than anything else characterized by love. The ways in which I have imagined God’s presence has changed a great deal over the decades of my life, but even as an intellectual exercise it has been hard for me to doubt that somehow there was a God who was more good than anything my limited self could imagine. (I don’t why, but somehow the presence of horrific evil in the world never seemed relevant to this question for me.)

4. My culture has given me an identity that is rooted in a rich and meaningful tradition that I could be proud of (in the sense of “delight in”) and simultaneously ashamed of. My Mennonite roots are full of heroic acts and values that I hope are somehow reflected in my life and family. They are also filled with terrible mistakes and misguided leaders that somehow did not entirely crush the life out of the movement. I’m glad there is both – the good helps me lay claim to the identity and the bad helps the identity to be worn with humility.

5. I learned that a commitment to following the life and teachings of Jesus could change my life, help others to turn their lives around, and just possibly, slowly, help change the world.

bend in a railroad

5 Curses (perhaps best thought of as “weights” that needed to be cast off or unlearned)

1. I keep having to unlearn in layers that it was silly and unhelpful to think that I was a part of a small group of people that correctly understood the Truth (maybe not quite perfectly, but close). And, of course, along with this comes the pressure to convert everyone else. The little sneaky feelings that this may yet be true are scarily hard to shake.

2. Believing that the Bible was meant to be used as an unchanging legal constitution (thanks for the language, B. McLaren) or was essentially without errors made it very, very hard to think well. I keep coming across these areas of very shabby conclusions and wonder, “How could I have believed that?” and then realise, “Oh yea – I felt that I had to believe that so I did.”

3. In spite of being committed to trying to be like Jesus, it was impossible as long as I kept feeling superior to and sometimes disgusted by the kinds of sinners that Jesus gave most of his attention to and hung out with. On the other hand, being really frustrated at religious exclusion made it seem easier to be like Jesus looks in the gospels.

4. It takes years to realise that the little nasty guilt feelings that I was trained to associate with alcohol, sex, swearing, other religions, etc. were not (usually) the conviction of the Holy Spirit but simple, learned associations. And those feelings are hard to unlearn in spite of how they can get in the way of loving relationships and the kind of freedom that the apostle Paul wrote about.

5. With all the unlearning that needs to happen, it can be hard to hold onto the beauty of a disciplined life and a submission to the Spirit of God – i.e. it takes such care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but feeling rebellious is usually not life-giving for long.

3 thoughts on “5 blessings and 5 curses of an evangelical childhood

  1. This is helpful! I’m aware that, for some time now, I’ve been in ‘deconstruction mode’ from similar “curses.” The time might be ripe for me to take that ‘bend in the road’ (photo) towards a more healthy reconstruction….

  2. Walter, it is so refreshing to read your description of the Mennonite culture i grew up in too. There are indeed blessings to cherish and curses to shed and it is so ingrained that it is difficult to see what is trained and what is really from God. I loved your explanation of the the divergence of paths from the evangelical and charismatic; to not bemoan the powerlessness of the Spirit but to join the forces crying out in the wilderness.

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