Am I getting old? Life was way different when I was a kid, and it wasn’t just because I was a kid, either. I thought that maybe one day I would be like Peter Pan or Johnny Unitas, or Wilt Chamberlain.. Or maybe Captain America, or Superboy, or Matt Dillon, or Mark Twain. Someone besides just plain ole’ me. Life was different then. We seemed to have more time to think. Part of that was probably because we weren’t constantly scoping out which electronic gadget to buy next. Pong, Pac-Man, Atari, Commodore, and X-Boxes were all science fiction back then.
In my family, we didn’t watch very much television, because we were too busy living life. There were only three channels, anyway, and they shut down after the ten o’clock news. We loved to sing, play Monopoly and dominoes, or see what the neighbors were doing. In person. We didn’t call, we went to the fence.
No smart phones? Heck, no one had cell phones either, unless you were Batman, Perry Mason, or Dick Tracy. They didn’t live in our neighborhood, though. Our phones were considered to be modern because we had rotary dials, and we could dial our own calls without talking to a telephone operator first.
The white kids and the black kids would joke with each other about whether God loved the white kids better – because He took them out of the over before they got burned. The black kids opined that God loved them better, because they got a two-tone paint job. All in good fun. We didn’t learn about racism, separate drinking fountains, and so forth until we were a little older. We never heard about Black Panthers, White Supremacists, race riots, or wanton vandalism in those days.
When I was nine years old, I loved to climb trees, ride my bike and explore the neighborhood until dark. After supper with the family, sometimes homework took thirty minutes. The whole family loved to read, and to share what we had read with each other. We talked together.
I read Mrs. Minerva and William Green Hill, Captains Courageous, Epamanondas and His Auntie, Huckleberry Finn, the Boy Scout Handbook, Gone with the Wind, The Chip Hilton series, and among so many others, a book still being widely published: The Bible.
The stories in the Bible, I was informed, were all true, but not all of the stories were pleasant. There was romance, which held almost zero interest for me, as a nine year old boy. There were stories of warfare, travel, mysteries, and conflicts between brothers. There were conflicts with in-laws, a major deception where this guy named Jacob was tricked into marrying the wrong sister. What a surprise that next morning must have been!
One of the many fascinating things about the Bible was that sometimes the bad folks turned out to be the heroes, while at other times the heroes turned out to be disgraceful. A man told a king that his wife was his sister. He took the coward’s way, to save himself from trouble, just in case the king wanted the man’s wife for himself…. and the wife didn’t tell her husband to get lost!
A prostitute named Rahab welcomed spies into her home. Jericho, her town, was to be destroyed, but her family was spared. The prostitute’s descendants included the second and greatest ruler of Israel, King David! In turn, King David, who is still revered as a warrior, singer, poet, as a generous man, and someone who passionately loved God, was guilty of contract murder, adultery and shameless treachery against one of his loyal servants. President Richard Nixon’s Watergate cover-up wasn’t even close to being this evil.
The Bible is one of those books that doesn’t have plastic heroes who never ever did anything wrong, or who always had a great attitude. Sarah was told she would have a child – which she wanted – but laughed out loud when the birth of her son Isaac was predicted. She thought she was too old for all of that. Later, Sarah was mean to her personal assistant; no, it was worse than that, she demanded that her assistant (or slave) Hagar, be tossed out of her home, along with her teenage son.
Did I understand all of the Bible? Sure didn’t. Still don’t. The mysteries of the Bible aren’t as simple as what might have been seen on The Twilight Zone with Rod Serling, or on one of the Alfred Hitchcock presentations. Episodes of Gunsmoke, or even Gilligan’s Island were much easier to figure out. Star Trek and Star Wars had plot lines that were far more simple. But reading the Bible made me think, even though parts of it were actually very easy to understand.
I did find myself in a strange predicament, though. When I actually read the Bible, I wanted to know more. Somehow, though, when I wasn’t reading the Bible, I wanted to do anything but read the Bible. Why was that? Why did comic books seem more attractive before I read them, and boring after I had read them? Why was I uncomfortable talking about what I had read – when it was the Bible?
The television shows, and the comic books usually seemed to wrap up the story in just a few minutes. If I read the Bible, I had to think more deeply to understand. Even the obvious and simple stories in the Bible could also be understood on deeper levels. For the most part, Bible personalities were more complex, and the stories more complicated. Bible stories don’t usually completely resolve every issue within twenty-three minutes plus commercials.
Sometimes, I felt like a dummy because the Bible was interesting, but I couldn’t figure everything out in just a few minutes. Comic books and television shows were easy. “My name: Jose Jimanez” followed by a stupid prank was much easier to digest. The problems of Dobie Gillis, or Barnaby Jones, or even Jed Clampett seemed so much easier to understand. I was frustrated by my own ignorance, and felt lonely because I wasn’t willing to trust anyone with my questions.
I suspect one reason I felt dumb was that I wanted to know the answers to my questions. I didn’t understand as much about the Bible as I thought I should. My efforts to deal with that issue was to cover it up, to pretend that I knew more than I did. I looked for clues from others, so I could act like I understood. There was no desire to tell the truth to anyone. My wish was to fake it until I knew what to do. Acting like I did, I felt like a fraud. Dirty inside. Lonely. Wishing I really knew.
Next time, I’ll reveal more about my search.