Monday, June 13, 2011

part 3, Such Love

My Love/Hate Relationship With Church And Denominationalism

That God should love a sinner such as I
Should yearn to change my sorrow into bliss
Nor rest till He had planned to bring me nigh
How wonderful is love like this?

Such love, such wondrous love
Such love, such wondrous love
That God should love a sinner such as I
How wonderful is love like this.

That Christ should join so freely in the scheme
Although it meant His death on Calvary
Did ever human tongue find nobler theme
Than love divine that ransomed me?

That for a wilful outcast such as I
The Father planned, the Saviour bled and died
Redemption for a worthless slave to buy
Who long had law and grace defied.

And now He takes me to His heart a son
He asks me not to fill a servant's place
The far-off country wand'rings all are done
Wide open are His arms of grace.
C Bishop, R Harkness © 1926, 1956 Lillenas Publishing Co.

My 3rd childhood church memory centers around this hymn and time spent with the Harris family (my father's sister, husband, their 4 kids and a poodle).  My Uncle Don Harris pastored a church on Joy Blvd. in Long Island, NY called Calvary Temple. I attended this church from the ages of 5 to 10 years old, so all of my memories of it are from a little one's perspective and are as fuzzy and disjointed as this account will likely be. 

My Uncle Don reminded me of Santa Claus except with a clerical collar.  To me he was always jolly, not in the " little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly" way (he's never been an overweight man) but the Twas the Night Before Christmas poem does capture, somewhat, my experience of my Uncle when I was a kid.  The poem describes this night visitor, "His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow...," this along with an infectious throaty chortle perfectly depicts my Uncle's demeanor most of the time. 

Though Calvary Temple was, I believe, an Assembly of God church and AG ministers are not known to sport black shirt and white collar, this was my Uncle's distinction of choice at Sunday services.  I think maybe it's because he came from a Welsh background and possibly Catholic (my cousin's will correct me on the details) so I'm sure he felt more comfortable and reverent clad in such attire.  What was wonderful about Calvary's worship services was the balanced mixture of the liturgical and formal with spontaneous and joyfilled praise.  There was ceremony and order in the form of hymns and responsive readings, but infused with the joy and freedom of expression such as raising hands and clapping, that I'd experienced at Teen Challenge.  Nothing captures this fusion more than my Uncle's personal anthem/theme song, Such Love.  Every Sunday morning, we congregants were welcomed to the familiar jubiliant introduction of this lively hymn.  It reminds me of the organ-based songs played on a merry-go-round.  I felt like I was walking into the circus; I don't mean that to sound critical, remember this is from a kid's viewpoint.  The song created a feeling of happy expectancy.  The lyrics reminded us that we can walk boldy and full of reverent joy before the throne of God because of "such love, such wondrous love...that God would love a sinner such as I...Did ever human tongue find nobler theme, than love divine that ransomed me?" 

My cousin's and I had sadomasochistic tendencies during worship services.   My cousin Laurie and I are one year apart in age, we were mostly inseperable at the time.  We would sit in services and take turns playing a game, I think we it called--red-brick-road.  The game consisted of one person sticking their arm out while the other one proceeded to give little pinches, slaps and deep slow rubs up and down the inner forearm until a crimson streak appeared.  The one who could endure such torture the longest and who had the reddest pathway from arm-bend to wrist, was voted the winner.  I believe that my cousin Jeff, Laurie's older brother, was commandeered to be the final judge.  This was all done through gesture and whispers, while the faithful listened to the Word of the Lord.  Jeff was, and still is by the way, one of my favorite people on planet.  At one point, when I was 8 and Jeff was 10, I declared to the entire family in back of the Harris station wagon, that when I grew up I was most assuredly going to marry Jeff.  My mother soon informed me of the potential problems with this plan, but I still secretly adored the ground he walked on.  The truth is I loved everything about this family and looked forward to every Sunday we spent together.  

Though the church was important, what is most memorable about that time are the meals we ate together after services.  There were two regular spots for meals.  One was the local Sizzler restaurant where we had a usual table.  Parents would order and then you had to wait for your number to be called.  While we waited, for our tough steak and overcooked potatoes, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Don, my Mom and Dad would regale us kids with stories of their times growing up.  We all had very similiar biting, sardonic senses of humor; we knew how to laugh at things that once brought pain or to find the funny inside the sad.  It helped us cope and, in a strange way, brought us closer together.  

The other feasting venue was in the Harris' dining room at their majestic colonial house.  My Aunt and Uncle had impeccable taste in decor.  They loved Old English styles of all kinds and their home, for little me, was like walking into a castle just in time to sit down with the Queen for high tea. It seemed as though the dining room table was borrowed from King Arthur & his infamous Knights,  a round top that felt has though it filled the entire room and we all could fit around it, no kids table needed, as I recall.  We ate like Lords & Ladies with white table cloth, fine china, fancy silverware and cloth napkins.  Though I loved these get togethers, I do hate lima beans to this day because my Aunt Ruth would shame me into eating them at every meal.  There was a Queen who ruled this household and she (or was it he?) came in the form of Topo Gigio, the family poodle (not sure the breed but it was a little dog with a curly white coat).  Named for the famous puppet made popular on the Ed Sullivan Show, Topo Gigio ruled the roost for sure in that house.  Full of personality and playfulness, she gave us hours of entertainment as kids!

Calvary was my first real Sunday School experience.  I learned a lot of stuff about my favorite Bible characters, none of which I can remember now, but one of my first most embarassing moments came in Sunday School there.  I was asked to sing a solo (all AG Pastors wives & daughters are expected to sing and play the piano), so I chose one of my early favorites, The Old Rugged Cross.  I chose it because I was so proud that I knew all the words by heart, but as any good Christian girl should know--pride goeth before a fall.  Half way into the song my mind went blank and I start to pee alittle and ran to the bathroom with little drips trailing behind me.  I didn't sing in public for the next 15 years. 

There are so many memory snippets of my time spent on Joy Blvd. in Calvary Temple. There were church family meals in the basement, homemade food piled high on flimsy white paper plates, food falling inevitably on to the forest green painted floor, everyone sitting on metal folding chairs gossiping about this one or that one, kids playing tag and hide and go seek, you know usual church stuff.  But, what warms my heart the most is the love, Such Love, that came in the form of an extended family worshipping, eating and laughing together.  How wonderful is love like this!

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