Growing up as a preacher's kid, days at church were much longer than what most children had to endure, and I use the word "endure" intentionally. As one of the first families to arrive and one of the last to leave the building, often an hour away from home, my brother and I would come up with a plethora of amusements to keep ourselves occupied. My easily excited cousin, also a pastor's son, would climb on the outdoor wall of the church and sing improvisational reggae in a Jamaican accent to the passersby, while dancing a little jig, repeating "Come to our church and be baptized! Be baptized in the name of the Lord!" Strangers would stare, but we would duck and hide and we would quit before our youth leader could hear us. Now, although there were not any converts won thanks to the enthusiastic lyrics of my relative, this anecdote pretty accurately characterizes the attitude of my childhood Christianity - figuratively and sometimes literally fortified behind the safe wall of the church.
I loved my church, my Christian friends, my youth group, but the people in my world were neatly and perhaps somewhat unfortunately compartmentalized into those who belonged to my faith and those who didn't. This didn't bother me, nor did many of the other issues that now confront me daily, like the authenticity of scripture, and the debate over intelligent design and evolution.
The only difficult questions posed by my childhood spirituality were questions like, "How many animals were in Noah's ark?" and "Will my deceased, overfed goldfish - the one I named after a prominent Welsh soccer player of the 1990s - be in heaven?" It was, understandably, a lot easier to be a Christian as a child, very little angst and suffering to get in the way of my prepackaged faith.
Apart from the aforementioned aquatic mishap and the passing of a pair of nonagenarian great-grandparents, death was not too much of a worry for me growing up. I was much less concerned with death than I was with the eternal consequences of what comes after death. The questions I have about life and the universe today replaced what were originally an already prepared series of answers, each connected to a Bible verse and a worship song. I remember preaching sermons and giving devotional talks to children and playing guitar for worship when I was in my early teens, and while I would never say those actions were disingenuous, they puzzle me today.
Let me be clear, I am still a Christian today, and I plan on being a Christian for the rest of my life, but it wasn't what I was taught as a child that brought me to that decision. It wasn't the felt board Old Testament stories, or singing hymns to the majestic pipes of the organ, or even the friendships and new doors that Christianity opened for me that sealed my commitment to Christ as a young adult.
Rather, it was seeing what God had done in my life and the lives of others that won me over. I devoted years to studying the character of Jesus and I am continuing to discover how his unique and incredible life changed the fabric of the universe and made the impossible possible.
I still find myself behind the wall of the church at times, looking out at those who are different than me. But as a jaded and often cynical adult, I am also on the other side of that fortification now and then, desperately in need of some enthusiastic child-like singing to put a smile on my weary face.
Martin Surridge, who studied at Walla Walla University, now lives in Georgia.