Sunday, February 26, 2012

Growing Up on Farms and Church Pews

I grew up in the dirt.  Yes, muck and mud up to my elbows.  Bucking hay, weeding gardens, shucking beans, mixing cement, digging trenches, and cleaning stalls.  From Monday through Saturday, there was always a dirty job that needed doing.  Yet that changed come Sunday.  Oh yes, come Sunday morning, I was the cleanest kid in town.
You see, growing up on the farm in Colton, I’d rather be scalped by a wild savage than sin by my own accord. I was a good Christian kid who memorized Bible verses about faith and fruit and forgiveness and fortitude and those were just the “F’s.”
So terrified was I of … you know, “H. E. Double Hockey Sticks,” that I wore itchy woolen britches to Sunday School in the winter and starched shirts in the summer to Vacation Bible Camp. Suffering was a necessity to the truly devout, and yes, years of making Crucifixion Depictions out of macaroni shells and earning Caravan Merit Badges for Nativity Scene Dioramas has a weird effect on a kid.
Another byproduct of being a Super-Christian farm kid was that I memorized the Ten Commandments. You know, those stone tablets Moses carried down from Mt. Sinai only to find his punk kid brother building a golden calf to worship and so Big Moe was like, “Come on chosen people… you’re chosen to suck!" And so he smashed the original tablets... becoming the greatest sinner in history (you know, because he broke all Ten Commandments at once...haha...I told you, years of Sunday School, huh?)
Now, I understand that nobody follows the Ten Commandments anymore. Try telling a Starbucks or Wall Mart employee to, (Number 4) “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy,” or some of the kids I teach whose parents are meth addicts to (Number 5) “Honor Your Father and Mother.” It just doesn’t seem relevant anymore, or does it?
Of course, growing up, I used to stare at this picture in my boy’s Bible of the Ten Commandments. There was Moses looking all Charlton Heston-like with his wispy beard and Roman numerals etched in stone. To a boy, rules like (Number 6): “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” or (Number 2): “Have any Gods before Me,” are easy. I mean seriously, who am I going to kill? My younger brother? Erect a God? What, like out of Lincoln Logs? And (Number 7): “Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife.” Have you seen Mrs. Alfred next door? She has a hump back and liver spots.
But the doozy was (Number 3): “Do Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain,” this was a tough one. As a super-Christian kid, I wouldn’t be caught dead uttering phrases like, “Oh my… Big Guy Upstairs” or “God… Big Water Structure the Little Boy Sticks Finger in!” It’s just not my way. But I did have friends that tried to get around it… you know, the whole, “Swear by Mumbling” thing. They would caw, “Oh my Gaaaaaah…” Which would make even the heathens in the room pause and shriek like fingers on a chalkboard. “Did you just say, ‘Gaaaah’? What is that?”
Later in high school, there were all these great 1980’s movies that came out like “Pretty in Pink” and “The Breakfast Club,” just funny and serious and all around excellent. One of my favorites was Nick Cage in “Valley Girl.” And this popularized the “Oh my God!” bubbly air-head who twists her pink gum and stands dumbfounded with one hand on her hip. But I still didn’t do it. Couldn’t. In the same way I still wore fresh clean white underwear to Wednesday night prayer meetings.
Fast forward twenty years and I am stuck in Asia… I say stuck but…let’s face it, I love it here. Among Asians, one of the most common phrases you hear is, “Oh my God!” People say it almost as a reflex to studying English all their life. Walk into 7-eleven and the store is out of milk, clerk will slap his forehead and exclaim, “Oh my God!” Little Boy passing me on the street and his bicycle runs over my foot, laughing he speeds away, “Oh! My! God! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Standing on the corner a careening bus almost kills you and your family, the driver screams out the window in relief, “Ohhhhh Myyyyy Gooooood!”
I suppose, it seems to fit, but it still leaves me jarred.  There are just some expressions I'll never say.  I just don't take the Lord's name in vain.  I won't.
I guess even in lands so foreign and bizarre, where methods and customs baffle and delight, I'm still just the same old farm kid as I ever was... of course, I threw out the tightie-whities a long time ago.  Thank God!

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