My First Religious Experiences

The Joy Bus

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The Joy BusMy earliest recollection of contemplating the nature of God was around the age of six or seven. As a family we did not attend church at the time. The neighborhood kids I played with were all Catholic and were taken to church regularly. I heard much about God and church and in a way, longed to be part of that group.

In those days there was less fear of letting your child roam the neighborhood unsupervised, and I rode my bicycle constantly visiting others and just for the joy of riding.

One day a gentleman from down the street stopped me and asked me if I wanted to go to his church. I assume there was more to the conversation, and I assume he also spoke with my parents, but none of that is immediately accessible to my memory. Each Sunday, and even some weekday evenings the Joy Bus would come through the neighborhood and pick me up for church. The bus was a lot of fun. We would sing children’s songs praising God and Jesus. The most memorable was “He’s got the whole world in his hands”. Most of these songs were quite lively and we would make hand motions along with our singing. I remember thinking it odd that the music leader would stand at the front of the bus leading us in the songs, for on the school bus, nobody was allowed to stand while the bus was in motion. Such are the remembrances of my youthful mind.

The bus would take us to a large amphitheater style church called the Assembly of God. I say amphitheater because the main meeting room was octagonal in shape with a stage at the bottom, and seating curving around the stage for about 270 degrees. The seating was elevated in the back creating a significant difference in elevation from the back to the front. I tended to sit at the top and look down from there at the preacher or entertainment provided. The services I attended must have been geared to children. The meeting I remember most was one where a ventriloquist came and used his puppets to preach a message. There was a lot of humor involved and as a kid I found it to be great fun.

The other activity I remember in those meetings was the call to bring your friends out to the meetings. There were prizes and recognition to those that brought the most friends to the worship services. I was real excited about this, until I heard the winners often brought in excess of a hundred people. I now realize that I was probably numbered among those guests, but at the time, I wanted to win the prize, even though I didn’t even know a hundred other kids, even at school.

Between my experiences at the Assembly of God and talking with my catholic friends I had obtained a concept of God that was essentially – God is everywhere, and yet he dwells within us. This was very hard for my little mind to grasp. One day while walking down the street, contemplating God, I came up with a solution to the confusion that allowed me to understand. I determined that we were actually inside God. I took a very literal physical notion of God, that he must have a body like a man, and that the earth must be floating around in his stomach or some such thing. I felt so proud of myself that I had figured out how God could be all around us, yet that we could have him dwell with us. My young mind was then satisfied that I understood God.

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