Home > Uncategorized > The Confessions of Mike Trapp Chapter III. The Early Church

The Confessions of Mike Trapp Chapter III. The Early Church

So there were some other early childhood experiences that were really impactful. None of us really had a lot of social skills. As for my parents, my mom was kind of broken from losing Dennis. I can’t ever remember getting a hug as a kid.

 

 

John Trapp and family

Back row right to left, Grandma Trapp, Frances Trapp holding Julie Trapp, and John Trapp, Sr. Front row, John Trapp and Mike Trapp. Credit: Betty Kneal

She watched a lot of TV and was pretty isolated and one always wanted to work. My dad never wanted her to work because he took that as kind of an insult and his ability to be a provider. He was very much into that traditional gender role stuff that I was just never very good at. I never really mastered the manly arts.

When John was in first grade, he also had a lot of anxiety about school and because we were dirty and poor and weird kids who were pretty isolated.

We both had Mrs. Thompson for first grade. And we’d sit in with her at church. We’d sit in a circle and you’d have to read aloud, but once you learned that you could read, you didn’t have to sit in the reading circle and you could describe a book and go off and read by herself. The kids who were still learning to read would have to read-aloud in the reading circle until they all learned. When John learned to read he became my person who could read me comic books. I had been obsessed with comic books for as long as I could remember. Before John’s reading to me, I just looked at the pictures. My parents were never going to read me comic books.

My dad would read me the Sunday funnies sometimes. My older brothers and sisters were not that great about doing stuff they didn’t want to do. So I would badger John to read me comics when he got the keys to the kingdom of being able to tell these amazing stories. He taught me to read, so that I would stop badgering him.

I remember when I would try to get him to make me breakfast and then he taught me how to fry an egg. So, he would make me breakfast once, but then I had to learn and then I was kinda on my own. He taught me to read and I was probably three or four years old. I learned to read. I become a voracious reader as I grew up in this kind of truck stop culture with randomness and garage sale books and a couple-times-a-year trip to the library. I read a lot of random stuff.

In addition to comic books a thing that captivated me was mythology. John brought home this book on the Norse gods: They were just like the superheroes and there were these stories. I got big time into mythology and read a lot of difficult books like Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, which I think is a college textbook. I read all of that stuff in first and second grade plus read a lot of adult books, westerns, and romance magazines. I’ve read anything that I could get my hands on because I had a lot of time on my hands when I was home with Mom. She was really focused on waiting because her life revolved around these episodic entrances when Dad would come home.

What I got out of being on the road with him is that you could go places and do stuff. I don’t think a lot of people realize that the world is your oyster and you don’t need a lot of money to be able to travel and see things and meet amazing people and see the wonders that are in this country. It’s so big and there’s so many places to go. I got to see a lot of it when I was a kid and I’ve kept traveling and have seen even more as an adult. That travel had a powerful impact on me.

Both my grandmas also had a big impact on me in very different ways. My Grandma Trapp was super-religious and my dad felt like that was important even though it was something that he didn’t want to have anything to do with or ever hear about. But he made us, I’m available and I would have been interested in those things. I think because of my fascination with Dennis, my brother who passed away.

I would go to camp meetings and revivals. I didn’t like go to church with my Grandma on Sundays, but there these events where there would be altar calls and there would be people jumping up and down. It was this phenomenal experience that was also terrifying. Grandma Trapp was not anybody you would want to go to these events with.

She had a strong condemnation. I remember she’d say, “Mickey (my childhood name), if you’re a friend of the world, you’re an enemy of God.”

That was a fearsome thing thought to put into a kid’s head. There were these apocalyptic stories and talking about death and hell and fire and brimstone and all that stuff put into my mind, which was active and imagination-filled what with mythology and superheroes. So I had this very kind of cosmic view of the world and a lot of fear and a strong interest in spiritual things. In my nuclear family nobody else was really into it. We didn’t go to church and had had minimal contact with that kind of thing.

My Grandma Allen had schizophrenia and she lived with auntie and uncle. That was, until auntie had heart attack in her fifties. She died pretty young. That’s when Grandma Allen came to live with us. What allowed us to be able to bring Graham Allen in is that my dad had built his dream house. My Grandma gave him nine acres of the family farm and he used that as a down payment to build a great ranch style house. And we really upgraded from a clapboard shack that we rented for many years and to this kinda suburban style ranch house back in 1978. I was about nine years old and it was not long after that that Graham Allen came to live with us. She was kind of scary. She scared me when I was a kid because periodically we would get walked back to her bedroom. She’d spent a lot of time in bed and or at least when company was over. She’d say crazy stuff.

“I’m afraid of the devil” was her thing. When she came to live with us I would have to take care of her. Around this time my mom and my dad started to struggle. He had owned his own truck and fuel prices with OPEC started to go up and his truck was getting old and he wasn’t able to replace it. He struggled with the ability to make enough money to pay the bills. Jimmy Carter deregulated the trucking industry and so freight rates dropped and expenses went up and we really got squeezed. He built his house during stagflation back in the 70s when American had a stagnant economy and high interest rates.

We had an 89% interest rate on the house and missed a couple of house payments and ended up losing the house.

When you’re a kind of poor, unsocialized kid, you’ll happen across church people who will want to get you involved in their youth activities. My sister had fallen in with some folks at the Bedford Nazarene Church. I went to church with her and attended Sunday school class. I’m still socially awkward and still a weird kid at this point. They asked “Does God speak to you now?” and about half of us raised our hands. And I raised my hand because I’d thought a lot about God.

We were going to revival and I was reading mythology and all other kinds of adult things. I had felt what I felt was the well-springs of conscience or some kind of connection. I felt that God had spoken to me. When they went around and said “Tell me how God speaks to you”. None of the kids could really answer that question. They called on me and I kind of stammered that while he just kinda does, it’s in your mind. That was not the correct answer. The correct answer is God speaks to you through the Bible. And I wondered about what kind of spiritual life this fellow had if he had not ever felt the presence of God or heard the voice of God. It wasn’t in words.

I realized that I had a different spiritual life than a lot of other people. I also learned that it’s better not to tell people about it because they’re going to look at you like you’re weird and they’re not going to understand. The next group of random church people that I ran into were this group of Baptists who were really nice. They would take us on activities like a trip to Chicago to go Christmas shopping.  Of course, we would have church and Sunday school and those kinds of things. I remember one night at church, they broke out this loaf of bread and some grape juice and we had this thing called communion. I thought that was a little audacious for this group of near-strangers to put that onto a kid.

I had certainly read about it, but it felt powerful and meaningful. I wondered what it all meant. My organized spiritual path really began when I fell in with the Monroe First Church of the Nazarene. Again, this was courtesy of my sister Brenda. She was into spiritual things and was always pushing: “Oh, you shouldn’t be reading that pagan mythology. You should be just as interested in Bible stories”.

I was a little bit hungry for socialization because of traveling. I would spend summers with my dad on the road and met random people, but I didn’t have those ongoing relationships with kids in the neighborhoods like a lot of other people seem to. Church was a great opportunity to socialize. It was also this incredible experience where I kind of learned middle-class values.

A number of interesting things happened to me at that time. I started going to that church when I was thirteen and made it my church home for about seven years. One day I was in Sunday school and they prefaced a story by asking who knew the story of Gideon getting into the walls of Jericho and blowing the trumpet and the walls come falling down. I had never heard of the guy and all of the other kids had because they were raised in the church. Their hands went up because they had been singing about Gideon in the church songs and hearing about Gideon in the church stories. They were also all in intact families where their parents were together. They spent time together and weren’t drunk all the time or depressed from watching TV, but had these kind of more typical middle-class lives. I felt a deep sense of shame.

I started to do better in school around this time. I still didn’t always do my homework and missed a lot of classes. I was, however, the best reader and could do the work and do the material. Often, I would come home and ask my brother John how to do stuff. He taught me things like fractions. That helped since I had trouble in school due to my social awkwardness. I was much more comfortable learning on my own and learning by reading or having John explain it to me how things were done. John could speak my language.

So I had this deep sense of shame that I had never heard of this guy Gideon that everybody else knew about. I grabbed a King James Bible that night and started at Genesis 1:1. I started reading and I started in the beginning. And it was a long, hard slog, especially through Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. There were parts that I really liked especially when I got to the New Testament. I crushed the Bible in about four months. I went from being the kid who didn’t know who Gideon was to the kid who knew all this stuff. After I read the Bible, I started to read all kinds of books about theology. I read every book the library had that they had and it was more than just kind of learning what the Nazarenes had to teach, although I was into that, but it was learning on my own.

The other significant thing is that I had this born-again experience. I was 13 and there was at our church this thing called an altar call known as “winning souls for Christ.” The church was evangelical in that it tried to reach out. That’s why they would have the church bus come and get me. And then when they didn’t have a church bus devoted church people would drive out to my house in the country and pick me up and take me to church. My sister went, but we lived pretty separate lives. Ron Richmond was the minister and they would sing heartfelt songs and there were messages from God. I went up to the alter and asked for forgiveness for my sins and asked Jesus to come into my heart.

There was this powerful kind of emotional release and connection and it really was transformative. I’d struggled with shame and then suddenly I found this answer of how I could get over it and feel whole. I got baptized. After that I really started delve into: What does it mean to be born again? What does that mean as a young teenager I started to try to live a life like Jesus ? There was this idea of being almost like where people in recovery start celebrating their recovery date as their birthday. My new spiritual being, I grew quickly in that.

There was a lot of things about being a new creation.

I wanted to be like Jesus. That meant something to me. I really started to work on it. I had a typical kind of adolescent anger. I noticed that as a character flaw and started addressing it. I would go out and chop wood or I’d go for a walk and I wouldn’t allow myself to express the anger. I was very emotionally sophisticated. I might’ve turned some of that anger and depression into depression by directing it at myself, but I also began looking at myself and kind of having an organized spiritual process of trying to be a better person. The other part of the church life was not just going to church on Sundays morning and Wednesday night, but this idea of discipleship where you would go into small groups and you would be accountable.

You’d talk and set goals, like: Did you read the Bible every day? Did you pray every day? Did you have goodness in your heart? or whatever you were kind of working on and you would make yourself accountable. There would be accountability partners. We also studied the doctrines of the church. And I was a sponge. I was open to all of that stuff and took it all very seriously and it was a chance for me to kind of shine and show leadership as I learned to be able to pray and pray like the adults did. I would get asked to lead prayer and talk to the other kids. And it was something that for a kid who didn’t really feel that he fit in, it allowed me to kind of fit in.

Evangelicals are an interesting group. I had a friend who said, “Oh, you’re a fundamentalist.” I said, “I’m not a fundamentalist or an evangelical.” He said, “That’s right, because fundamentalists say you’re going to hell and evangelicals say, ‘Hey brother, you’re going to hell’.” There’s some truth to that, but really the difference is in that they believed in this second work of grace called sanctification, the idea that not only are you not sinning, but have lost even the desire to sin and you live in this state of holiness. That became kind of the magic grail, because I was an adolescent having lust in my heart as Jimmy Carter would say. I had all those normal and powerful sexual feelings with no way to channel or control them.

It led me to a lot of guilt and going back to the altar, asking to be forgiven, seeking forgiveness for my sins. Sanctification was this kind of quest. There was always this murkiness of whether it was a gradual act or whether it was a sudden act and what happened, and what did it really mean. There was a lot of this kind of how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. I continued to read the Bible. There were some verses that really had emphasis with me. One of them was work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. One thing that makes Protestants different, if you’re not familiar with that, is that they believe that you can read and interpret the Bible on your own and that it doesn’t have to go through a priest. I took that as not even kind of having a pastor. I never joined the church because I didn’t know if I agreed with their theology.

The other thing that I got out of church were these youth retreats. It was great because it was a chance to be around girls and it was a ready made group of friends, which I sorely lacked and needed. We were, for the most part, a tight group, although I always felt like I was a little bit of an outsider.

Once in awhile there’d be some kid from a family of sinners that would get pulled into it, but it was mostly the church kids who had church parents and had been raised in the church and culturally much more middle class than the kind of barely functioning working class kid I was. We’d go on these youth retreats and there would be powerful spiritual things happening like revivals. We’d look at trying to be like the early church in the Book of Acts and be filled with the Holy Spirit. There was kind of a quest for that. What I got out of that was a real sense of community (even though I didn’t always feel a part of it and I felt a little bit separate, but I maybe because I was an outsider, it allowed me to see it more clearly in what it could be.)

I became entranced with the idea of this kind of sense of community and community-building activities. It also gave me a taste for eschatology, or the study of the end times. We were big on that. We had a youth leader pastor ,Dale, who was big on that. We showed these movies that were about these left-behind books, these powerful movies about the end times. When the anti-christ rolls over the world and Christians are persecuted and there’s the rapture and so there was a lie. I began to read a lot about that and thinking about the end times. I remember being in junior high and someone pulled the fire alarm, we went outside and there was a storm blowing in and the skies were dark and, and it was like nighttime during the day.

And I had this feeling like: Is this the end of the world? It was something that I expected. I read a lot of books. There was a lot of books in the 1970s written about the end of the world and you would find those in the used bookstores and Salvation Armies, which were my big supply of books. I never really had access to a great library or the ability to puruse. I read whatever came to hand. So I read The Late, Great Planet Earth and a lot of those kind of books. Then, I started to read books from the 1950s that I would find and realized they were saying that the world was going to be over. I got curious. I went on a search and found that in the 1930s people thought that was the end of the world.

With the rise of WWI there were people who thought that was the end of the world and the Great Revivals of the late 19th century. They thought that that was going to be the end of the world. And then I found that in the middle ages that they thought that was going to be the end of the world. And I read more history and I found out that the early Christians that thought they were at the end of the world. I realized that every generation thought they were the last generation. I started to have a little bit of doubt about this thing, but there was this interpretation of a verse that implied that that after the refounding of the country of Israel in 1940s, that a generation after that that, and so I thought there might be something special about our time.

Yes, I wasn’t really sure.

There was other one other moment where religion was really powerful to me. There had been this evangelist who had done a number of revivals. A lot of times pastors would age out of being a pastor of a church and then they would become evangelists where they would work the revival circuit and they would go from church to church and do these messages of salvation. Sometimes it would focus on sanctification. But usually it was to try to get new people in to the church or recruit people who hadn’t been involved or create this spiritual revival. The evangelist had passed away and we were talking about this guy who had done this revival. I was tone deaf and unable to sing yet I had gotten into doing some theater. I did a series of one act plays or skits that kind of helped illustrate the pastor’s message. I had gotten to know this evangelist well. When they were talking about how Eddie had died, I really felt like I heard the voice of Jesus telling me that I was to take his place. There had been this idea of kind of a call to ministry that I kind of took like that.

I felt like I had been called to to the ministry.

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