The Big Man Upstairs

Feb 1, 2021

Photograph_of_Father_and_Daughter_at_RK_Beach_in_Visakhapatnam_02

Hi, I’m Marcy McKay from Amarillo, author of Amazon’s #1 Hot New Release, When Life Feels Like a House Fire: Transforming Your Stress. I’m excited to be a Radio Reader for High Plains Public Radio’s Book Club.

In The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Nathan Price is a preacher in the 1950’s who drags his wife and four daughters from their Georgia home to save the wicked souls in the Congolese jungle of Africa.

What I love about fiction is that is shows us the world in new and different ways. I first read The Poisonwood Bible in 2006. Rereading it this past year made me think about my faith journey.

Whether you grew up in church or not, our parents are our first gods and shape both our faith and worldview. In the book, Nathan Price in an emotionally-and-physically abusive man, whose words often hurt his wife and four daughters with the Bible.

Here’s an interesting exercise. Think of a few stories from your childhood about God, or the world around you. The younger the better, like back before the age of ten during your formative years.

Fortunately, my father was not like Pastor Price, but he was still a complex man. His name was Roy Mason and he stood at 6’ 3” inches and weighed almost 300 pounds. He had a big laugh. Big love. Big anger.

Story #1 is called The Big Man Upstairs.

My father took it upon himself to be the unofficial superintendent of Sunday School. This was the early 1970’s, so he roamed up and down the church hallways, chain-smoking Camel cigarettes, no filters and screaming at wayward children, “Get to class!”

One Sunday, when I was about six, we were doing a biblical crossword puzzle together.

One question really stumped us. It was a three-letter word, across. The clue read – big man upstairs. Instead of G-O-D, we all without hesitation wrote, R-O-Y.

Like the Price girls in the Poisonwood Bible, my father was everything to me. It took me years to deconstruct the good, the bad and the ugly of him because he died suddenly of a heart attack, while coming to visit me in college when I was 20 years old.

Like the Price girls, I made my dad – my father, my boss, my god. Like them, I had to learn that his sins were not mine to keep.

Lessons learned? I grew to be more than just my father’s daughter.

Credit Peter Paul Rubens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Story #2 is called, They were Naked. When I was in first grade, my church asked me to do one of the Sunday readings. I don’t remember if it was a Youth Sunday or what, but there was a problem. A big problem. The scripture was from Genesis about Adam and Eve. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked.

I remember my six-year old self sitting on my parents’ bed, sobbing, because there was no way I could say that word – naked – in front of our entire congregation. My parents tried to convey it was a compliment the church asked someone as young as me to read at all. I wasn’t having it. I was ashamed and terrified and felt God was somehow punishing me.

Unlike the father in the Poisonwood Bible, my father sat beside me. I don’t recall his exact words, but he conveyed how proud he was of me. He knew how hard this situation was for me to say that word, but he absolutely believed that I could do it.

Still, he said, the choice was mine.

I read the scripture that Sunday, and I survived. Lesson learned? I can do hard things.

Read The Poisonwood Bible. It’s an epic story about family, faith, power, abuse. It will show you different gods from different perspectives. Read it, savor it, then deconstruct your own faith journey. This is Marcy McKay, local author from Amarillo and Radio Reader from High Plains Public Radio. For more information, go to HPPR.org.