1/20/2015 | Share this article: View CommentsBy undercover agnostic ~
A couple of months after my mountain top experience at Bible camp, I entered Sixth grade, on fire for Jesus and ready to change the world. Sixth grade can be a tumultuous time for many kids, and my experience was no different. With the onset of puberty, raging hormones, acne and the insatiable need for social acceptance, it’s no wonder I have no desire to revisit 1974 even if my time machine could take me back with just the simple push of a button. To compound, an already difficult stage of development, my Christian zeal only added to the awkwardness. During Bible camp, I was warned that there was a cost to taking up my cross and following Jesus. I was told that I would be hated, ridiculed, alienated and rejected for being a Christian but the payoff in Heaven would be worth it all. When I threw my stick in the huge purging bonfire, on the last evening, I was essentially saying that I accepted the challenge. From that decision, emerged a recurring theme, one that ran contrary to my natural instincts. Just at the crucial time, when my greatest social need was to fit in, the Bible, my guidebook, the inerrant and inspired word of God said the opposite. I was told that Christians don’t belong here on earth. We are merely sojourners passing through on our way to Heaven. Our “real” citizenship is of a heavenly kingdom with streets of gold and a mansion waiting for us. Furthermore, Jesus was coming back very soon to whisk the believers away, and so my time on earth was going to be cut short. According to the traveling evangelists as well as the television preachers, Christ was going to come back before 1980 at the latest, and so I knew I had to be ready at any moment. Consequently, I entered sixth grade, bracing myself to be an outcast and even purposely alienating myself from the group at times to prove my allegiance to Jesus. While the other kids were busy passing notes back and forth and gossiping about who had a crush on who, and who was going steady with who, I was busy obsessing about being snatched up in the middle of the night when I least expected it, or worse being left behind. While this year marked a time of self-discovery for others, I was practicing self-denial. “Christ must increase, but I must decrease.” Christianity was about dying to self and resisting temptation.
Chuck, the new kid on the block, (funny how his name so perfectly fit the stereotype) with long blond hair and bangs in his face, was the boy every girl fought over. Apart from the unsightly plaque on his teeth, he was otherwise a perfect specimen, wooing hearts and then breaking them left and right with promises of going steady, followed by the terrible break up a week later. I must confess that I too had a slight crush on him, but I certainly never admitted it because I had bigger issues to worry about—namely, the rapture! I saw the whole boy/girl thing shallow and silly in light of eternity, although I couldn’t help but occasionally give in and secretly entertain my own decadent fantasies of forbidden trysts on the outskirts of the playground after school. Moreover, while the others were blabbering on about their heartthrob Donnie Osmond and cooing over the adorable Michael Jackson from the Jackson Five, I was memorizing Bible passages and looking for opportunities to witness to others about Jesus. I was constantly searching for signs-clues that other kids shared my passion for God, the Bible and Truth, but most of the students didn’t give spiritual matters a second thought. They were too busy telling dirty jokes and bragging about their sexual exploits like getting to “second base,” which I was pretty sure were partial, if not complete fabrications. There were two kids besides Jill and myself, who grew up in the Pentecostal church, but even they showed absolutely no hint of being saved. They both had come from very dysfunctional homes and were considered “white-trailer park trash” before the term was ever coined. The Mormon kids shared some of my zeal, but I was told they were a cult from Satan, so I couldn’t identify with them, either, though our beliefs were very similar. I remember at times, in the winter, retreating to the less trodden area of the playground and writing things like “Jesus Loves You” in the snow, hoping that someone would come along later, read it and get saved. To my dismay, however, not a single convert, to my knowledge, was ever made due to my proselytizing on the white canvas.
A Test of Faith
I was constantly searching for signs-clues that other kids shared my passion for God, the Bible and Truth, but most of the students didn’t give spiritual matters a second thought. For a few months, we had a young, vibrant, student teacher, who happened to be a peace loving, tie-dyed, granola eating, hippie with Birkenstocks on her feet to complete the image. The most scandalous news about her was that she, a white female, was “shacking up” with a black man. I’m not sure what was worse: that she was having sex outside of marriage or that she was in a racially “mixed” relationship, but the rumor mill had a hay day in our small conservative town while she was there. Nonetheless, the students were crazy about her because she was interesting and liked to think outside the box. One day she announced, that each of us had to dance in order to line up for lunch. Dancing was considered the “D” word in my circle, and definitely, a “sump’n we don’t do.” It was strictly forbidden in my church, along with smoking, drinking, going to theatres or pool halls, using face cards, playing with dice, wearing red lipstick or red nail polish, working on Sunday, listening to secular music and even mixed bathing (sharing the swimming pool with the opposite sex). Everyone else in the class giggled and started dancing their way into the line. But I knew I couldn’t partake. I was an alien, answering to a higher call. I had made a vow to God that I wouldn’t participate in “worldly” pleasures. So, awkwardly I stayed defiantly unmoved in my seat with my Smile, Jesus loves you patch sewn securely on my coat jacket for emphasis. When the last student had finally joined the group, the teacher noticed that I hadn’t budged. Puzzled, she asked why I wasn’t dancing and I informed her, in a pious, yet hushed tone that dancing was against my religion. “Against your what?” She asked, dumbfounded. “My religion,” I repeated, enunciating the words as if talking to a speaker of another language. “How could moving your body, be against your religion?” She asked rhetorically, shrugging her shoulders. The entire class looked back at me with puzzled stares. I could feel my cheeks getting hot. Shaking her head in disbelief, she motioned me to “just get in line.” I knew I had disappointed her. The class continued to follow my movements with a mixture of pity and mocking condescension as I quietly made my way to form the caboose, without so much as a hint of any gyrating.
My humiliation engulfed me until I got home and shared with Mama what had happened. Suddenly my soul welled up with pride as I was deemed a hero for standing up for my faith while my heathen teacher was villainized for inviting students into her evil little web of free love and debauchery. One would think she had forced us all into prostitution by the way she was so harshly criticized by Mama. But, what really mattered was that I had pleased God by my act of civil disobedience and I learned to equate embarrassment with spiritual maturity. The more I stood out as “different” and the more I alienated myself from my popular culture, I knew I was identifying with my citizenship in Heaven. There was a catchy tune, written by Tom T. Hall, that my hillbilly cousins taught me, when they came for a visit from Texas. It was called “Me ‘n Jesus,” which became my theme song:
“Me n’ Jesus, we got our own thing going,
Me n’ Jesus, got it all worked out.
Me ‘n Jesus got our own thing going.
We don’t need anybody
To tell us what it’s all about.”
My rose colored glasses masked the pain and humiliation of not fitting in. Instead, they showed me I had something far more valuable than temporary friendships or accolades from mere mortals. I had the creator of the universe as my best friend and he promised never to leave me nor forsake me. One day, we would get to dance on fluffy clouds and play harps together for all eternity. (Sigh…Yay.)