Primal Theological Memories

Steve, in his comment to my last post, tells a story from his faith journey when he realized that there were Christians beyond the borders of his faith tradition. I have a similar story. But before I tell it, I'd like to try to start my first internet meme.

There are some psychologists who suggest that our personality and worldview is influenced by and symbolized by evocative childhood memories. Primal memories often loaded with emotion, good or ill. Some have suggested that these early childhood memories affect our theological beliefs. For example, W. Paul Jones makes this claim explicitly in his book Theological Worlds. Jones suggests that early childhood memories set up and represent our obsessio, what we find perplexing about life.

I don't know if this is true and I don't want to get all psychoanalytical on you. But I do think there is some truth to the idea of primal theological memories. I think most of us can look back at childhood or adolescence and recall a time when our worldview opened up and was changed in ways we didn't appreciate at the time.

So, here's the meme. Tell a story on your blog (or here if you don't have one) that you consider to be a primal theological memory in your life. The rules:

1. This should date from childhood to adolescence.
2. It should be a memory that you think symbolizes or has directly affected your theological development. And this could be theological movement forward, backward, sideways, or just different.
3. Encourage others to share their memories.

To start, here is my memory:

I was raised in a very devout, church-going home. We were members of the Church of Christ. And, obviously, as a child we sang "Jesus Loves Me" almost every Sunday in Bible Class:

Jesus loves me this I know
For the bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The bible tells me so.

One day, and I remember this vividly, I was playing in the neighborhood and I heard a girl singing. She was singing "Jesus Loves Me." I remember walking closer to get a better look at her. Obviously, she had to be a girl from my church. Because that was a song I learned at my church. But when I got closer I realized that she wasn't from my church. And then it hit me. Other churches, non-Church of Christ churches, are singing "Jesus Loves Me." How can that be? My little mind swirled. How can they know this song if they don't go to my church?

Looking back, I think in that moment something started inside of me that is still growing and moving. From that day on I never looked at church the same way again. I thought "Jesus Loves Me" was MY song. OUR song. Owned by my church.

But, apparently, we didn't own it.

Others knew it and sang it.

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11 thoughts on “Primal Theological Memories”

  1. Hi Richard,

    I've seen a few of these internet memes and never felt compelled to participate. This one caught me right away. Very meaningful. Good one!

    Here's the link to my memory...

  2. I give up. I've done links hundreds of times, the link works on Jim's blog but not here....It's a sign. I'm going back home. :>)

  3. I grew up in the 30's and 40's in the hotbed of "we're the only ones". As a young child, I was in the car with my father surveying the wheat fields. He said, "The Smiths got a good rain shower but we didn't get rain on our wheat". I knew the Smiths were Baptist so I asked why God had made it rain on theirs and not ours. He said, "The rain falls on the just and the unjust." A seed was planted in me that continues to grow toward the realization that God loves "red, yellow, black and white" - we're all precious in His sight.

  4. For me it was being about 8 on the reserve and I remember this one day me and my brothers and one sister were home - as usual our parents were gone to town on the weekend.

    This storm was starting to blow in and I went and hid - because I was very scared of the strength and noise of the storm (and I was basically raised to fear). I remember praying to God and asking him to make the storm go away so I could go and play outside - and so I would not be afraid anymore. The storm subsided not veyr long after I finished praying - and a huge rainbow was in the sky.

    As a young child - I never felt more like God had answered my prayer then I did on that day. And the rainbow seemed like a smile to me - like a gesture to look up and know that God does watch out for me. I went and played and enjoyed the moment.

  5. Thanks to all for a great meme. Here is one from when I was eleven, the Oct 19 entry titled 1962 - Football and Salvation.

  6. I'll try to keep this as short as possible...

    My defining childhood faith experience is of and through a great grandmother I never met.

    Circumstances driven by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years on the Great Plains forced my mother to live with elderly grandparents, themselves poor, on a farm in Northern Minnesota.

    Yet my mother remembers those years as the happiest that she has know, mostly because of a grandmother of such uncommon good will, humor, and pracical insight that she turned what could have been a sad and desperate time into a happy and stable one.

    I was brought up on stories about the huge garden she kept, the emense pans of cornbread and cottage cheese, etc., that she routinely made in the wee hours of the morning, the huge chore that late summer canning was for her, and so forth. And in the background to these accounts were the understanding that she did these things because she had grandchildren who needed to eat; because she lived just off a road frequented by "tramps" during those desperate times--who also needed to eat--and she understood the critical role she played in helping those in desperate need.

    Three other factors played a large part of the background to those stories. One: she maintained a heartfelt loving attitude toward those she helped, salted with a great sense of humor. Two: my mother describes her as having the strongest faith of anyone she has ever known. And three: my mother went to church only once in the several years she lived with her grandmother, and what she remembers on that occasion is that "Grandma took me by the hand and we left the church as fast as she could pull me out after the service."

    I laugh as I think about how "churchiness' would have been a danger--to the scant resources and time she had to spare--as she successfully struggled to be a loving source of help to the desperate people in her sphere of influence. I laugh in delight because of her evident good sense and strength of character.

    I am sorry that brevity requires a vague description of my great grandmother, but I wanted to share this short account since I think that my personal religious heritage has taught me that we do not need to fear "religionless" Christianity. In fact, though a person can never know such things, I doubt whether I would be a Christian if not for it.


  7. I can remember a time when my parents decided to split up. I was about six years old. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was home alone. My mom was in the tavern across the street working, and my dad was there drinking. I suppose they got into an argument of some sort, and, as they would do on numerous occasions yet to come, they decided to separate. My dad came home, told me about their plans, and asked me whether I wanted to go with him or with Mom. There he was, kneeling in front of me, his hands gently grasping my shoulders, and asking me this life-altering question. What was I to say? I said I wanted to go with him.

    He went back and told Mom, and then here she came. She did the same thing: knelt down to be on my level, put her hands on my arms, and asked me tenderly and without any coercion. She and Dad were calling it quits. Did I want to spend the rest of my life with her, or did I want to go with him? Of course, I said I wanted to be with her.

    She went back and, I imagine, told him what a bold-faced liar he was, and, actually, he wasn’t -- because I had, after all, told him the same thing I had told her: I want to go with you. So, here they both came. Now what? With both of them in front of me, asking me to make a decision that was going to rip my heart to shreds, I began to cry and begged them to change their minds, to stay together, because I didn’t want to live apart from either of them.

    I honestly think that that was the most formative moment of my young life. I believe that, on that long and painful afternoon, I adopted a life script similar to one embraced by many a child of alcoholics. I convinced myself that I could not make a clear decision without hurting others and that I must always put their needs above my own. I became fearful that, if I were not careful, the important people in my life might become angry and leave me. So, I determined that, above everything else, I must try to please everyone. At the age of six, if not earlier, I became a card-carrying codependent!

    I don’t suppose a person ever shakes this tendency entirely. In my case, it’s more a matter of managing it. There are times it just about does me in; there are others when I am able to lay it aside and actually be decisive. I hope to live long enough to master it -- primarily because I have come to see how it affects other people. The rather dubious gift that it has given me is that I can see just about every side of any issue. As you might guess, I find it difficult to be dogmatic. Even when it comes to those who disagree with me, I can -- believe it or not -- see their point! I am probably not the kind of person you would want to have on your side in an argument!

    Thank you for the opportunity to share this. I encourage others to do the same.

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