This post is part three of a series on the development of my religious beliefs from childhood in the 1950s and 1960s to the present day.The previous posts are Part 1: Worship and other secrets, and Part 2: The day God spoke to me. This post describes what happened in the days following the episode described in part 2.
I was so moved at what I had experienced, that I was bursting to tell someone – anyone. So I did. Perhaps I was somewhat naive, but I certainly did not expect the derision I received from my peers. Being surrounded by twenty or so school kids pointing and taunting and falling about laughing is not the most pleasant experience. Finally one class mate quietly took me to one side and she explained that there are some things that are better kept to oneself, and this was one of them. I think Janet was the only child that understood that I didn’t process social interactions in the way other kids did. It was from her that I learnt that it’s often necessary to select very carefully which battles are worth fighting and which battles are better to walk away from. For that I am very grateful. She had wisdom well beyond her seven years.
I decided my mother would be be more understanding. When I told her that God had spoken to me, her response of “That’s nice dear”, while turning back to continue with preparing dinner, I understood that it was a conversation she didn’t want to participate in – much like when one of my siblings tried to engage her in conversations with his imaginary friend. At that time my mother was the only person I was moderately successful at reading social cues from voice tone, body language and by what was not said.
Surely my Sunday school teacher would understand, so I resolved to tell her about on the next Sunday. However, a classmate got in first and blurted out that I claimed that God had spoken to me. The Sunday school teacher looked at me very sternly. What had I done wrong this time?
Teacher: Have you been telling lies about God speaking to you?
I most certainly was not telling lies.
Teacher [peering over the top of her glasses and looking even more stern]: Barry, have you been telling people that God spoke to you?
I found that question more difficult to answer. My first inclination was to answer “No” again. I had told the story five days ago, but not since. Her use of “Have you been telling” meant that I was continuing to tell the story, which was not the case, so a negative response would be appropriate. Experience had taught me people don’t always mean exactly what they say. Perhaps she really meant “Did you tell“, in which case “Yes” would have been appropriate. I pondered my options for a moment, then decided the best option was not to answer the question, but to make a simple statement of fact that should avoid confusion.
Me [with hesitation]: I haven’t told anyone since Tuesday.
Apparently I goofed… again. I realise now that my delay in answering and the words I chose was tantamount to an admission that I had lied the previous Tuesday. I then received a lecture as to why lying was a sin, and lying about God was an even greater sin. Finally came the message that it was necessary for me to confess my sin if God was to forgive me. This I refused to do.
Let’s just say it went downhill from there. I never went back to Sunday school again.
What did I learn from the experience?
- Personal experiences shouldn’t be shared with others
- I’m going to be misunderstood irrespective of how carefully I choose my words
- Delay in responding to a question equals lying in the eyes of adults
- Sunday school teachers don’t know much, and what they do know is wrong
- Be very, very careful who you identify as friends
- The God I know and the God in the Bible are not one and the same
- Mothers don’t always know when you are telling the truth
The Sunday school teachers had made it very clear that anything and everything about God could be discovered in the Bible, and in fact it was the only source of knowledge about God. Curious, I started a secretive reading of the Bible stating from Genesis. More about this in the part of this series.