My parents were both fairly ordinary people, my father was a Policeman at the time, and my mother had worked as a nurse’s assistant, but was now a full-time stay at home mother of four children. We were raised in a very traditional and religious environment, our religious education was taken very seriously in the form of weekly attendance at Sunday-School/Catechism.
Being a Pastor here in the USA, and having been a Pastor in the UK for 11 years and 5 Years in Africa, quite often people will ask me where I was educated, its important to establish ones “credentials”, yes education is very important but one may ask the question “What do you mean by education?” I think mine stared many years before I really realized that God has His sovereign hand on us, even while we are in our mother’s womb.
For me it began in early 1969, I had just started School in January that year, and was still only five years old. As a family we also attended the local Roman Catholic Church.
It was during the Church service, or “mass” that the phrase “Thanks Be to God”, jumped out in my mind, and would be the basis my first great theological question. I must remind the readers that this happened in the days before I could read or even before I enjoyed reading.
Part of what was read or recited involved the above mentioned phrase, but this was not what it sounded to me, it in fact sounded like, “Thanks Peter God”. Now even a five year old in those days knew enough about basic Christianity to know that a vital element of our faith is the most sacred and orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, God is one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is Father; God is Son; and God is Holy Spirit, and God is and was not and will never be Peter, Peter was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, the spokesman of the twelve, and of course a good Roman Catholic also believes that Peter eventually became the first Pope.
Do you see the problem yet? We were all reciting something that was totally unacceptable during the service, “thanks Peter God”, I can tell you that when I was sufficiently literate enough to following the order of service in the booklet everyone read from, my theological conundrum was resolved once, and for all. It actually read “thanks be to God” it was simply the hurried way the congregation was reading through the order of service; I had misheard the statement what a relief to my then tiny and impressionable mind.
I can truly thank God, for the ability and privilege of being able to read and write, literacy is taken for granted by some many, but what a difference it makes in our lives, and even in the life of a presumptuous young five year old boy.
My next spiritual and religious encounter was to be checkmated by a bishop.
No not in a chess game I assure you, We were living in a small little village not more than about a mile from the Indian Ocean. Our town had this tiny little church, the village of Mtunzini (a Zulu name, that means Place-in-the-shade) actually fell within the boundary of a large magisterial district, as well as being part of a large diocese, and our local priest was in fact no ordinary priest but was in fact the Bishop, Bishop Bulgari.
So as far as the church faithful are concerned we were in a very privileged position, but as far as we children were concerned, I think I was about six years old at the time. As children we did not fully appreciate the privilege as we should have.
In fact our catechism lessons seemed very long and worse still, terribly boring. Summer weather was unbearably stifling in a day an age when almost no one had air-conditioning. To be blunt, the bishop was as dry as dust and incredibly difficult to understand, the Bishop had a very strong foreign accent.
Incidentally the whole situation concerning having to attend these catechism lessons were my mother’s fault, she was horrified when we moved into town from the Forrest Inn Motel few miles outside town and to find that there were no regular catechism lessons for the local catholic kids. So she did what she did best and made it happen after severely rebuking the Bishop for neglecting our education.
Well one day after school we kids got together and decided that we did not feel like a lesson that afternoon, the collective decision was we would go down to the Church property’s small Banana Plantation, to be truthful it was so small the term “banana patch” best describes it.
So we went to this veritable place of refuge, genuinely believing we would not be discovered during the next hour, it was a good idea at the time and the best we could come up with at short notice. Convinced that it was foolproof, O, the disillusionment, it was not to be so, we heard the bishop calling for us, and alas he found us rather quickly in our hideout.
Now was his moment to deal with these troublesome kids and after an absolutely caustic and very verbal attack, he really put the fear of God into us. The Bishop went on about the seriousness of children wasting a bishops time, the sacrilege involved in our neglecting our souls, the damnation that awaited us, if we kept this kind of behavior up, and then the one threat all of us were most afraid of was, he threatened to inform our parents and this he assured us would result in very severe discipline. He did not know my parents as well as I did, what he called discipline was what I understood to be a real hiding, My Father had a belt specially reserved for discipline. We were well and truly check-mated by the Bishop, not only did we never forgot his threat, but we also never misbehaved in his classes again. Learning begins when we respect our teachers, so yes banana’s and bishops both have a place in Theological education.
True theology can never be reserved to book learning only, Yes the Bible is our sole source, our unique and inerrant light, it is for us the Word of God. I believe that we must also look back at our lives and appreciate some of those lessons God was lovingly teaching us even before we really knew Him.