|15 June 1956|
University Place Christian Church (Enid, Okla.)
Danny Dyer, 11, is in the front, at the far right
I did not object on religious grounds, mind you. In those days I still feared that a foul word issuing from my lips would rocket its way to God, immediately, Who, immediately, would launch a retaliatory strike--perhaps a lightning bolt, perhaps an illness, or (even worse) an errant throw in a little league game that would cost us the championship. Or maybe He'd break my bike. God did stuff like that, especially the Old Testament God, the One Who got angry and Took Care of Business.
As I've written here before, my grandfather, uncle, and father were all ordained in the Disciples of Christ, and church was the atmosphere I'd breathed since birth. I knew no other way. Could conceive no other way. Sunday morning meant Sunday School and church. No exceptions. God was real. Jesus was real. The Holy Ghost was real--though I was a little unsure about that one: When I heard references to the Holy Ghost, I could not keep out of my boyhood head those images of Casper the Friendly Ghost. Or those ghosts in the TV show Topper, who seemed nice enough. (TOPPER on YouTube)
And other religions? They were just flat wrong, that's all. Other Protestant denominations? They were sadly misguided, though, in a pinch, you could go to their services and not proceed immediately to Hell right after the Benediction.
Not the case, however, with the Roman Catholics, who just, you know, were all mixed up. Going there on Sunday would be the Eighth Deadly Sin. (Historical Note: I did not ever enter a Roman Catholic church until I was an adult and attended a wedding; I thought the service was lovely.)
So ... religion was not the issue. What troubled me? The incongruity of the terms vacation and school. Something was just very, very wrong about that. (I learned later about oxymorons; I wish I'd known the term back when.) I would complain to my mom: Why do I have to go to school during vacation? It's not right! Her reply was always very, very simple: You're going.
And so I did. Every day. In the wickedly hot Oklahoma Junes. Later, when I read that whining schoolboy stuff in Shakespeare, I recognized a Soul Mate. Regular school was bad enough--but vacation school! Now that was just plain evil.
Plus, I sucked at it. Although I did pretty well in the "Bible" part of it (see above), I did not do well with most of the other things we did--like cutting things out of colored construction paper, things that were supposed to resemble actual things. Mine never looked actual. Some didn't even look possible.
And lanyard weaving? (A feature of both Vacation Bible School and Summer Church Camp--about which I will write later.) Check out Billy Collins' poem "The Lanyard," and then imagine this: Compared with me, he was Leonardo Da Lanyard. YouTube: "The Lanyard"
The picture at the top of this page I found only recently in an old folder. Danny Dyer bearing the Ark of the Covenant. (When I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, years, later, I had no memory of my previous significance in the story). You notice I'm not smiling in the picture. Why would I? We had all read what happened to you if you even touched the Ark.
2 Samuel 6: A guy named Uzzah touches the ark, just to steady it, mind you (the oxen pulling the Ark's cart have shaken it). God has no sense of humor that day: 7And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.
As I said, I have no specific memories about that day--about why I was chosen to be one of the bearers (certainly not my strength, or looks, or piety), about what was going on, about who was watching ... though I was surely sore afraid, very much, of One Who was watching. Notice that my hands are nowhere near that ark.
I'm guessing that pageant was the culmination of my week (or was it two? I think it was two ... it seemed like months). Afterwards, I shucked that costume, sprinted for home, hopped on my bike and rode off into Evil for the rest of the summer.
Nowadays, I see that some marketing folks have decided they will jazz up Vacation Bible School. I read on announcement boards outside churches that it's now "VBS"--as in "VBS Starts Monday!" VBS. Sounds a bit more tolerable. Like USB or MP3 or DVD or Wii.
Look at those kids in the graphic I stole from Google. VBS is fun! We're gonna par-TEEE at VBS!
But kids are not stupid. I'm betting that the term VBS does not fool them. I'm betting they know they're going to be making lanyards and dressing up and preparing for pageants. Some of the lucky ones might even get to carry the ark. And they'd better be very, very careful about that!