The Origin of One Fundamentalist Baptist Preacher

Well, I’m giving up! I was born and raised to be a preacher and I’m finally gonna just do! I’m “coming out of the closet,” borrowing a metaphor that Fr. Richard Rohr uses to describe one who finds the courage to “come out” of hiding and be true to his inner most self.  So I will “preach” here though not in any formal sense as my approach to life and to the Bible is literary, the metaphor now prominent in my approach to life

This “virus” has cursed me from earliest days of my life, and technically even before as my dear mother had promised me to the Lord if He would let her have a son, having “struck out” three times already with my three sisters. And one of my earliest memories was standing on a feather bed in what we called “the splinter room”, wobbling so as to accommodate the give and take of the mattress, holding a Gideon’s New Testament in my right hand, and “preaching to momma” as she was ironing.  I must have just started fumbling with language as the only words from the Bible that stuck in my imagination were seven words from the book of John, “John the Baptist…locust and wild honey.”  Mother was preoccupied with ironing for a family of six…later to be eight…and at first did not give me the attention that I desperately needed.  I can still feel the desperate need for mother to look at me, give me an “atta boy” of sorts as I stood there reciting the same five words repeatedly, bible out-stretched in my right hand like I’d seen the pastor do in church, and hungrily looking for her attention. She finally did, and I’m sure it was much more quickly than I remember; she paused as she finished ironing one of my shirts, looked at me, made eye contact, nodded approvingly, and then resumed her ironing. I must have just beamed in my heart for the experience is still vividly intense in my heart some 64 years later.  And yes, this anecdote reveals volumes about the heart machinations that I’ve wrestled with over my relationship with my mother.

This “virus” finally came to a head when I was sixteen years when I “announced my call to the ministry” and “surrendered to preach the gospel.” I had known this was my destiny, my calling, and at last I gave into the itch and began scratching it.  I took comfort in finally having an identity, knowing that I could dutifully “walk through life in the closed cab of occupation” (W. H. Auden) and no longer wrestle with the existential question, “Just who in the hell am I?” But two years later, though the itch was still there, I began to realize that all of that “scratching” was not assuaging the hunger in my heart, a deep-seated need for an identity grounded in something other than indoctrination. After doing a year’s time in a Baptist Cemetery…oops, I mean “seminary,” an experience that deeply troubled my soul. With great shame and humiliation, I renounced my call to preach, taking decades to understand how “shame and humiliation” is often the driving force of an identity that is only “performance art.”

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