not your mother's vacation bible school

Warning: This record contains backward masking which may be perceptible at a subliminal level when the record is played forward.
-Warning sticker mandated by Arkansas law in 1983

$950 and some change.

The elementary school kids earned and donated over $950 for families in need in our area, handing over their piggy banks and birthday stash, doing chores for their parents at last week's VBS. I got choked up, listening to the kids clamoring to help other children, feeling capable of making a difference and then following through.

Now it's no secret I love VBS and not just to have a few free mornings in the summer. Where else can they sing songs, learn to care about their community, make crafts and eat clever, themed snacks with fabulous volunteers on the cheap? I'm an enormous fan of the ones we've attended, always welcomed as guests and treated kindly.

VBS hasn't always been such a sweet experience for me. I remember some neighbors - peculiar, spinsterish ladies - that invited us to their VBS, to save our souls because clearly we didn't attend the right church.

Or at least that's how I recall it. They were probably 30 and may have kept unseen husbands, but as for peculiar, I am right on the money.

(Now before I continue, I must say: The Peculiar Sisters picked us up each evening so my Mom missed out on all the fun while she enjoyed a little R&R at the church where I had attended preschool. And I am pretty sure I didn't give her many details until much later, because I was a private kid. No really. My mom is off the hook.)

I have some happy memories: Fun music, crafts and that was all good. But the rest? Holy melting records Batman! It was time for some heavy-handed Satanic backmasking training lest we were lose our way compliments of KISS.

The lights went down each night as they played the evil music - forward, and then backwards - so we could really soak up some Ozzy (evil); Judas Priest, (Satan). I hadn't even heard this music up until this point and each night I found myself drawn in, scared, curious. The leaders swooned and whispered words usually not meant for my ears: Suicide. Drugs. Bloody bats. Demons.

I liked the music. I was equally scared of hell. And I was probably 10.

It was bad enough worrying about someone sneaking some angel dust into my root beer, when I wasn't looking. (The anti-drug message I picked up somewhere, about drug dealers lurking, I don't know, everywhere, trying to drive me crazy with their wares.) Now I had to worry about musicians and my soul and the Beatles, NOT THE BEATLES, and the welfare of my family.

I hit every altar call that week, crying scared little girl tears and offering up terrified prayers, certain, like those bands, that I would be damned to hell and clueless to how Satan had tricked me.

I think that week was part of my development, seeds sown that would one day lead to rigid black & white thinking, my search for perfection, an obsession with doing things religiously right that would stay with me for another decade.

It was why I agreed to be baptized twice at 15 because my elbow might not have been dunked properly.

It played a starring role in my eating disorder at 16.

The fear gripped me early and often and I tried to quell it the best I could.

I am better now, a grown woman that can see this kind of spirituality for what it is. I've let it fall away.

I still wonder about those sincere sisters, that church leadership, exposing us to inappropriate images with a side of fire and brimstone. My little sister had been there with me, four years my junior; she was frightened by a clown, trying to usher her up onstage. (I must have been too busy repenting to notice.)

They finished the week with a record burning bonfire. We were not allowed to attend. By then my Mom had caught wind of the nonsense and saw me eyeing up their record collection.

But they lit up the records, down by the city park, releasing demons into the ether, claiming to hear them plead and squeal.

I guess all small towns have a few.
The kids are upstairs; my nephew is playing with Zack. This was his first week going to a bible camp. He's having a blast, telling me about the funny skits. Holding my hand as we leave the parking lot of the church I screened last year, ever vigilant all considering.

It's a treat, seeing how much fun he is having. It's a treat to see it done right.


San Diego Momma said…
I'm still getting over my early childhoon indoctrination into Catholicism. These days, I clearly see the difference b/w religiousity and spirituality, but still, those childhood experiences stay with you.

I do pray that they're getting it right now.
Mrs. G. said…
I love the idea of kids helping kids-that's my kind of religion.
Oh. My. God.



Those sisters? They were doing it wrong. Oy vey.

How cool is VBS now? Our church is like that too. Kids earning money to help families. I like the hands-on learning approach to community service.
~Swankymama said…
I also grew up with a lot of legalism.

Grace is so much better!
I grew up a cool catholic with faith guitar playing bands and a youth group that went camping, so I think I had it good. But I never heard of VBS. Nope, never. Not til I went "down south" to "church country" where the Fiance (now Ex) lived. And I saw signs for "Vacation bible school" and laughed my ass off. Til I looked over at him and he wasn't laughing. Neigh he was looking at me like an unwashed demon monster b/c I never even _heard_ of VBS so obviously I never WENT. Fast forward 10 years and there I was, gaily leading the Southern Baptist VBS music program! Loved it. We helped kids and they brought their pennies and it was all love and all good. Wow. Who knew....
flutter said…
you just fascinated the hell out of me
Oh. My. How very, very disturbing. So glad your kids escaped that sort of experience.
Jennifer S said…
I was brought up in the same vein of religion. (And the records played backwards!) The altar calls. The tears. It took years to pull away from, but I did.

I'm glad you've found something better for your kids.
Tricia said…
Congratulations to the kids!
oliver rain said…
Sounds like a great VBS that your children are attending. I had some interesting experiences in my youth, mostly positive. HOWEVER, this was one very scary introduction into 'speaking in tongues' where people's eyes rolled into the back of their heads and passing out. Yeah, I was 12.
Daisy said…
I agree with Denise, grace is so much better. But, having said that, there is a balance between grace and truth. Jesus isn't our buddy or best friend but He continually assures us to "fear not." Last time I checked Revelation, He has snow white hair, burning redflame eyes and has a double edged sword coming out of his mouth. A bit scary for sure -- enough for John to hit the deck "as if dead."

Still, these kinds of images are not for the faint of heart or the newbie in the faith. And certainly not for a VBS lesson!

Our VBS this year was fabulous -- 250 screaming elementary kids with about 80 adult and college volunteers. "Medieval Knights" theme with tons of crafts, cool food, games, songs, and lessons. Very fun!
You know what really gets me and defies logic: The adults in charge - right or wrong - believed that the music in question could cause us to lose our free will, cause us to shoot ourselves in the head - they were clear on that - and yet they played it for us .

Even as a kid, I thought that was strange and I was worried about the fact I had heard the very thing they told me to avoid.

Mixed message.

Ok, I'm done again. I promise a lighter, fluffier post this week.

holly said…
i'm really really confused. why did they play 'devil' music for you? did i suddenly take some drugs myself and not know?

funky, funky!

you see this is why i don't go to church. at least people *expect* ozzy osbourne to come out of our house.

and that is why i work. to avoid the ozzy osbourne music.
Anonymous said…
I remember the days of the "subliminal messages" in records. Thank goodness, though, I had nothing so heavy-handed to tell me about it in my childhood.

I feel for your ten-year-old self!
Beck said…
.ynnuf yrev si thaT
stephanie said…
Wow, and I thought seeing The Exorcist at 10 was freaky for my spiritual psyche.

Bless you, my child, and your little kids too...

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