Tag Archives: church

VBS

This post was prompted by a video shared on a forum I’m in that features a bunch of adults acting out a certain song that was rather commonly sung at VBS. And while I thought it pretty sad that grown adults were acting out all the motions to a kids song, it got me remembering my own experiences.

Ah, VBS. Vacation Bible School. It was a time of the year that I looked forward to. School was out for the summer. I got to go to church (a central part of my childhood) and see and play with my friends (since for a good chunk of my schooling, I was homeschooled, I didn’t get to see my friends anywhere but church). Snacks were usually involved in some way, and I swear those church ladies knew how to make the meanest rice krispy treats. And those little plastic juice barrels! Oh yes, you knew it was a good day at VBS when they brought out the juice barrels. That and those little cups of vanilla ice cream with the strawberry or chocolate flavour swirls in them.

I went to a lot of VBS’ over the years, at several different churches. Even though they were all different in some little way, they followed the same basic principle. Play time, singing time, story time, snack time, bible time…sometimes memorization was involved similar to AWANA. There was usually some sort of fundraiser type of thing that happened. I never really won anything with that, as during that time, my family wasn’t able to give me much to donate. I didn’t really like that they did that, because it seemed to isolate the kids who weren’t able to give and rewarded the kids who were with…things that they could have afforded to buy themselves. I tried not to feel too jealous, but sometimes it was hard. I wouldn’t say we were “poor” exactly, but we weren’t exactly diving in the vault ala Scrooge McDuck.

Aside from those awkward feelings, I still had plenty of fun. It mostly seemed to be a super-charged combination of AWANA and children’s church. There was usually a theme for the week and the stories and decor went along with that theme. Story time was usually hit or miss, depending on who was doing it. If it was my mother, I knew it would be good. She was a great storyteller, and she used felt boards to illustrate the story as she was telling it. Some people would use a felt board and it would be awkward, but she used it masterfully. I was always entranced, even if she was telling a story I’d heard at least a dozen times before. I remember watching her carefully cut out the various figures from new story sets, being careful to place them oh so exactly in a box so they wouldn’t rip. I wasn’t allowed to touch and play with them when I was younger, but I always watched her and wondered what story she’d be telling next.

The ultimate guilty pleasure of VBS was, of course, Veggie Tales. I had to google this because I didn’t remember the exact year, but it came out for the first time in December of ’93, so by VBS of ’94, there were videos at the ready to play. It was usually Friday, the last day of VBS, unless a teacher wasn’t feeling well or particularly prepared and decided to opt for a video. We loved watching Veggie Tales, especially singing along with Silly Songs with Larry. Today, I think the great thing about Silly Songs is that the songs have nothing to do with any religious message, really, they’re just silly and fun. Kids need that. Growing up in the church the way I did, we were constantly bombarded with Jesus and the Bible and messages from all angles, even when we were just trying to play. We really just wanted to bust out and have fun without it having to involve religion. And even though the rest of the video was chock-full of religious messages, the Silly Songs part was the one part that I could look forward to and know that I didn’t have to pay attention for a message.

The last time I was ever involved in VBS in any way was when I operated the puppets in my teens. By that time, my religion was losing his luster and VBS no longer held the appeal it once did as a child. The songs that I’d previously had fun singing and acting out were corny, contrived, and condescending in a way. The stories were old, having been told hundreds and hundreds of times before in more entertaining ways. The shiny facade was gone, like adults find in so many things from childhood, but in my case specifically, it was still present for a time, taunting me in a way. The joy experienced by the children, while wonderful for them and wonderful for me to bring out of them, was not the same as I experienced. I tried desperately to hold on for years, to convince myself that I was happy in this faith, that this was my life. But while it was, it wasn’t in a sense. It wasn’t the real me. I only said I believed because I didn’t have any other option.

While I’ll still look back on those summers with fond memories, that’s all they are for me anymore. They have no power to draw me back to a church I can’t reconcile my personal beliefs with. While they may seem to haunt me at particular times, they have no true hold over me. Any pang of hurt I feel came after, and I understand that. I work to separate that. The bad memories don’t overshadow the good memories, nor do they cancel each other out. They exist side by side, hand in hand, simply as they are. That is one thing that I’m trying to keep in mind while writing this blog: that while some memories are painful, and some hurt, that the good memories surrounding them shouldn’t bring on that same hurt. I try to just look at them as they are, acknowledge them, allow myself to remember the good as it was, untainted by any bad memories. Just because they may be surrounded by bad ones doesn’t mean that they are bad themselves, and remembering them as they are should only bring back a sense of nostalgia, not of pain.

When I previously tried to remember certain things about my childhood, I only ended up getting depressed. Indeed, my fiance was concerned when I started this blog, not wanting me to go through a downward spiral that he knew I was capable of doing. But I’m working towards bettering myself, and I’m evolving and growing, and I’m trying to change my point of view of my past. And, by changing my point of view, owning it.

I am Elisabeth. Former fundamental, evangelical Independent Baptist. Today I am a hippie-ish, body modded Pagan. In the future … I don’t know. Who really knows? Life is a constant journey, and takes us to different places. Some things stay the same, other things change, but what I’ve found to be true is that the journey of self-discovery is never truly over, and that we should embrace it.

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Puppets

One of my coworkers was talking about doing puppets at her church, and I was reminded of my own experience with puppets.

When I was about 14, I volunteered to be backstage help with a specific children’s church puppet program at the church I was in. I didn’t work the puppets, but I basically helped direct everything backstage. We had quite the elaborate setup, so we actually helped the actors out quite a bit as they transitioned from doing their people characters on the stage and then coming backstage to take over doing puppet characters. I loved doing it, it was very rewarding work. I did it for two years, giving me some nice backstage experience.

By the time I was 16, I was in another church that was even more conservative than the previous one. It was actually a lot closer to the Baptist churches I had grown up in. My mother signed up to do an age segment of VBS one year, and between us we decided that I would do a puppet opposite to her to help with the lesson. I wrote the scripts myself based off of the lessons she had, got a tiny stage setup done, and we were good to go! I actually used a Hush Puppy puppet that I still had from childhood and christened him “Norman Kaddidleski”. It was such a rousing success that at the end of the week, we had all the age groups get together to enjoy the puppet show.

The next year, Norman was a given, he had been such a hit. They actually ended up combining the age groups for the lesson time so everyone could enjoy him, and he got a proper stage set up in the front of the church. It was great fun. I enjoyed writing the scripts and performing for the kids. There was a time where I even considered if this was possibly my calling in life, to put on puppet shows for children that put a comedic spin on a righteous message. I really sold myself on it, too.

Unfortunately, things unraveled. I started having some spiritual issues here and there, though none I specifically disclosed to anyone aside from counselors at a leadership camp I attended. However, after I returned from that camp for the last time (I was at the max age), it seemed that my church treated me differently. Despite his popularity, Norman was never brought back for VBS or anything else. I was somewhat distraught, as I had very much enjoyed it and I knew that the children and even the adults enjoyed it. I suspect that someone from the camp had corresponded with my pastor (since they had his information, as I had to have a letter of recommendation from him to attend) and that led to me not being able to participate in something that had been particularly fulfilling to me. I think that’s one thing about fundamental Christianity that I really dislike: if there are any perceived weaknesses, instead of offering real help and support, the person is punished and restricted until they “get right”. It makes going through things like depression and anxiety a real shame, at least where I was, because it was a sign of spiritual weakness. Sure, I had issues with depression and I had questions, but was that any reason to bar me from an activity that I enjoyed and that also brought joy to others?

Nowadays, of course, I’m glad that the whole Christian puppetry thing didn’t work out, seeing as I’m not a Christian anymore, which would make things rather awkward. But I still wish that my season of puppetry had ended on a better note than it did.

Memory Triggers – Songs

This is now the third entry into specific memory triggers of mine (and the last one for today, I promise!). The previous entries have covered one particular scent and phrases. This entry will cover songs, and will probably be longer as there’s more that was coming to me as I was writing. Since there’s a lot to explain in some parts, this might end up a little more ramble-y about music in general, but I’ll start off with the specifics that I first had in mind.

A couple of weeks ago, my fiance started singing this little song that I recognized from my childhood. He had heard it from The Simpsons – who wasn’t singing it exact to the original, simply the melody and a few terms – but of course, I remembered it from somewhere else. While I knew the song as “Rise and Shine”, he simply quoted a line about getting the animals on the “arky arky”, which is a specific term in that song and a theme in every other line to end in a “-y” sound. While the song doesn’t tie to a specific memory – which isn’t surprising, considering it was a pretty common christian children’s song when I was growing up – it does bring back memories of churches I’ve been in, children’s groups, children’s church, even AWANA.

Several different songs like that will take me back, especially old hymns. One in particular – “Just As I Am” – was very popular as an altar call song, but it would always make me groan when I saw it listed in the bulletin. For those who may not know, “Just As I Am” is typically sung very slowly, somewhat softly, and is so boring repetitive that it can be repeated very easily, almost without the congregation noticing. If the pastor wanted to extend the altar call for whatever reason, signaling the pianist/organist was a very simple matter. Just thinking about the melody immediately transports me, usually to a specific church that we attended when living in GA. The layout and everything comes back, even down to where we usually sat: third or fourth row, organ side.

I’ll admit, there were times I would get so bored during a long altar call, I’d go up myself, kneel at the steps, close my eyes and just rest my forehead against the top step. I did so just to give myself a break from standing. I don’t know if anyone else ever did that, but I accumulated little tricks that I now call “church hacks” to make church more bearable for myself. My favourite time was probably mission times, where various missionaries would come through. They’d usually have a little table set-up similar to what you’d expect at a science fair, and I’d love looking at them. Sometimes it was pretty plain with just a lot of writing and some pictures, but my favourite ones were picture heavy and also featured little bits and bobs from the various foreign countries that the missionaries went to. If a sermon or presentation got boring, I’d leave on the pretense of a bathroom break (or water break, though bathroom breaks afforded me a reasonably longer time away) and just wander around the atrium areas where the tables were set up, looking at the ones that really caught my eye.

Back to the topic of songs, conversely, certain songs would excite me to see listed on the bulletin. If “I Surrender All” was listed as the alter call song, that would mean that the invitation would be short, and we’d get to go home sooner. When we started attending churches that weren’t as strict with their music and did praise and worship songs, there were certain ones that incorporated simple hand motions or just plain clapping. Anything to avoid just standing there still. I swear I’ve spent years just standing in church. As a teen, it got to the point where I’d over-exaggerate some back problems I really did have just so they would allow me to sit for certain portions of the service that we normally would have had to stand for. Well, perhaps I over-exaggerated, or perhaps I just expressed how I really felt as I did have back problems that I knew would be exacerbated and I wanted to head them off before I actually got into an “ouch” level of pain.

When I was little, no secular music was permitted at all. It was hymns and southern gospel songs only. My parents loved the Gaithers and bought quite a few cassette and vhs tapes featuring their singing. At first, I liked them just because it was different than the hymns we usually had. A lot of songs were more upbeat and “swing-y” (in my terminology only, as a child, it just meant that it was more lively) and sometimes even featured an actual beat! With drums! Haha, I know certain people that would clutch their figurative pearls at the thought of songs with beats. Devil music! But my parents liked it, so it was permitted. Soon enough, though, their songs got so repetitive and similar that it just all blended together for me and I began to dislike it. Whenever I would hear a snippet of a song I would start internally cringing, and I still do to this day.

Later on, my parents loosened the reigns on music little by little. Old country music became okay. When I was a pre-teen – probably 12 or so – I literally had to beg my parents to allow me to buy a Steven Curtis Chapman cassette. I am not exaggerating when I use the term “literally”. Let that sink in. For anyone who doesn’t know who Steven Curtis Chapman is, he’s a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artist whose music is pretty much easy listening/light-rock style, but with Christian lyrics and themes. He is not in any way possibly offensive, being a visible family man and not having any songs that are borderline not-Christian (as some CCM artists sometimes have in their repertoire, especially if they were going to cross over into secular music). While I’m sure he is a perfectly nice man, he’s about as vanilla as you can get in the CCM world. I must have spent weeks pestering and badgering my parents to allow me to buy one of his tapes, and I felt incredibly triumphant when they finally relented and okay’d the purchase.

Around the time that I bought it, there was a PC game out that I’d seen advertised. I don’t remember the exact title, but it was a Barbie dance game. I never played it, but the general premise seemed to be stringing together pre-set moves in order to create a dance. I took a few of the moves and started using them to dance along to a couple of the songs on my new tape (in my room, with the door closed, because dancing was not something that was allowed in my family).

When I was 14 and going to a Christian school, I met my bestest best friend in the whole wide world, and she helped widen my horizons as far as music went. Her mother, while religious, allowed secular music, especially if she liked it. She had quite a few CDs lying around of Queen, Styx, Boston, Michael Jackson, artists like that. Classics. I remember the first time I heard a Michael Jackson song, it was amazing. It was “Billie Jean” and I was enchanted. I discretely burned a copy of the CD and listened to it on my Walkman. I did this with several other CDs, compiling playlists of classic rock to be listened to in private. I never labeled them, for fear my parents would find them and I would get in trouble, which is why I also never played them in my regular CD player. I kept them in a CD holder at all times, never leaving it lying around for long. When I started driving alone, I often kept them in the truck so I could blast them while driving to and from school.

Of course, that wasn’t my first exposure to secular music. It’s unavoidable, really, with how many stores play radio stations overhead, but my parents conditioned me to tune it out. The older I got, the more rebellious I got (or felt I got, as my rebelliousness was rather mild on the scale of rebellion…in the Christian world I was in, though, it was still worthy of getting in trouble). When I was 12 and 13, being homeschooled, my mother started going to school herself for Medical Transcription. When she had day classes she left in the morning for, I would turn on the radio to the local popular hit station 95.5 (WIFC, Wausau…I can still hear the call sign being sung) and just listen. I was always very careful to switch it back to an approved station when I was done listening, though. There was one station that came out of Pensacola, FL that we somehow got on our big radio that played some of the most boring music that my parents seemed to love. If I ever used the big radio for my listening, I was always sure to turn it back to that station before I shut it off. I couldn’t have my parents switch on the radio and have Backstreet Boys or Christina Aguilera start blaring. As Jasper Beardly would say, “That’s a paddlin’.”

I did the same when I was home alone when it came to TV as well. When we had cable when I was a teenager, I’d switch over to the “bad” channels (MTV and VH1) and watch, always careful to leave the TV with two “good” channels (in case my parents used the “last channel” feature on the remote). This was before the days of Teen Mom and Jersey Shore, where reality shows took the place of the music. I watched music videos and documentaries and countdowns and lists and absorbed information like a sponge. These days, since I’m still limited in my music exposure, I get excited when I see a reference to a music video or information about an artist that I saw on one of those channels. Kind of like Steve Rogers in the Avengers … “I understood that reference!”

These days, my tastes in music are extremely diverse, and certainly nothing like what I was raised with. I like just about everything, and even genres I don’t particularly like, there are songs that are exceptions that I enjoy. Music is one of the things I find most soothing and yet energizing to my soul to this day, and while I regret that my exposure to it was so limited growing up, I’m glad I now have the opportunity to explore.