I’ve been thinking about my parents a lot lately. It could be the time of year. They both died in October, he in 1998 and she in 2000. Then too, they were married in November of 1947. Fall is a happening time.
For the past week or so, my thoughts have turned more to my father than my mother. Not because I loved him more but because of a family story that I’ve heard several times this month. I’ve heard this tale before, but only recently has it penetrated my consciousness and pierced my heart. The event took place when he was a small child, and I’m wondering how (or if) his life might have been different if this event had not taken place.
As the story goes, one Sunday my father went to church with his parents, sister, and probably some other family members who lived nearby. While I don’t know where the scene was, I’d like to think it was Ellenboro, NC because I’ve visited there and have a visual image of the town and nearby churches, especially Racepath. Did this happen there? I don’t know.
That Sunday, the pastor preached hellfire and brimstone and scared the dickens out of my father, a tiny little fellow who evidently thought Beelzebub was going to snatch him from below and make him one of his own. After church, the preacher came to my grandparents’ home for Sunday dinner, and my father crawled under a bed and would not budge. Too scared to face the preacher, he did without lunch.
Apparently this experience scarred him for life because he never felt comfortable in a church setting again. Lately I’ve been wondering if a different approach would have had a more positive outcome. For example, in the LDS church we don’t emphasize hell. We know it’s there, but the emphasis is on doing the right thing, being kind, and following the example of the Savior.
I think Brigham Young was onto something when he said that people couldn’t be flogged into heaven. To quote him, “A great many think that they will be able to flog people into heaven but this can never be done….people are not to be driven and you can put into a gnat’s eye all the souls of the children of men that are driven into heaven by preaching hell-fire.”
As a student of psychology I know that positive reinforcement works much better than punishment. Punishment has its place, but when people are just learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ, they need to hear the good stuff, the promises that come with the invitation to come unto Christ. “Come follow me,” is so much more appealing than, “Follow me or burn!”
It sounds as if I’m giving my dad an excuse. I’m really not. From studying psychology and observing human nature, I know that many people use their past to cripple them and/or to give them a ready excuse for not living as fully as they could. People can change at any moment. For my father, there was no reason or incentive to change. And in my heart of hearts (whatever that expression means), I think he just wanted to be left alone about the heaven and hell issue.
Today I’m wondering why I never spoke with him about the peace and sweetness I found in the LDS church. I console myself by thinking that I didn’t have to say anything because he already knew. After all, he was my biggest supporter.