JESUS AND BOY
Let me start by saying this, I’ve never been super religious although there was a time in my life when you might not have believed that. I have already said that I was born and bred Catholic, Mass every Sunday and once a week at school. I had years of religion class and took all your basic blessed sacraments. I was one of those kids who had Christianity fed to them since birth; however I was not one of those kids who never questioned it. Even when I was very young there were times when I wanted to shout “yeah, right” in the middle of church. One thing I never thought about was what separates Catholics from other Christians. And then I got a sampling of it. When my mother married my stepdad Jim she started to become disillusioned with the Catholic Church to which she’d been faithful to all her life. Well around the time I was eleven years old mama decided she was on spiritual quest, and she brought me, Alli and Jim along for the ride. I think Jim would have been fine at any church as long as they didn’t frown on golf, but my mother was harder to please. At first she tried Bible studies, and I would be dragged to some stranger’s house where I was corralled into some rec room with kids I didn’t know who always thought I was weird and forced to mingle while the adults did whatever they were doing in another part of the house. Then we actually started to attend a new church. All I was told was that it was a non-denominational Christian Church, whatever that meant. In Sunday school I was told that Smurfs were demonic and that everything I watched, listened to or was remotely interested in was going to send me straight to hell. Um, I was eleven! Then we went to the service where I bore witness to people raising their hands and speaking in tongues and shouting to the Lord. I’m Catholic, the only time Catholics shout to the Lord is when there’s beer. Oh beer that’ll send you to straight to Hell for sure. I was amazed, and if my eyes hadn’t been open so wide in shock I would have rolled them sarcastically. This was the church that I went to the accursed camp with and the legendary pee pillow incident occurred, so I really shouldn’t have been all that surprised. Needless to say we didn’t not stay involved long, well except Alli that is. She was sucked in for a few years. They made her feel somewhat welcome. I think they thought of her as some sort Church mascot. Not to mentioned the fact that she developed a strange obsession with the pastor’s wife, a woman named Debbie, whom she even went dressed as one Halloween. I’m not sure what Debbie would have thought of that seeing as that Halloween was a celebration of Satan. I shouldn’t sound so cynical, there were many people there who I am sure were filled with good intentions and were very kind to my special sister. It used to drive me nuts when she’d go on one of her Holy Roller kicks which were always strangely well informed, but hey if it gave her a few years happiness I shouldn’t have teased her about it. For me, mom and Jim though, no way Jose!
The next church we tried was one not that far from our house. In the mid to late eighties this was a church on the move, growing rapidly. We’ll call it The Really Big Church. The Really Big Church began in someone’s basement and now has approximately 17 million members and is roughly the size of the Death Star! when we started going to The Really Big Church I was twelve and it was only moderately big. Theologically speaking nothing changed much in our house, I mean the basics where the same. The Really Big Church was every bit as conservative as the previously charismatic one but much more subtle about it, not that I could perceive such things at twelve. I think my mother did and she only continued to go for a brief while and she was careful to keep us separate from some of their teachings. For all of her religious yearnings and quest for piety she has always been at heart, quite liberal and never really subscribed to the literal interpretation of the bible. I was the same way, but all of that stuff was lost on me anyway, I didn’t see that until much later. For me at twelve the place was fun. I liked it well enough. I still didn’t want to go to church, but I was twelve I did what I was told. I would be lying if I said I didn’t run into the same sort of taunting that seemed to plaque me because I did, but much less of it and by this point I’d become practically bulletproof to that type of mocking. The only time I felt a little uncomfortable was when my mother wanted Jim and I to get baptized. I didn’t see the point in it since I was baptized as a baby. Also I was seeing my dad fairly regularly at this time and he was not happy about anything non-Catholic. In the end I agreed and Jim and I were baptized on mom’s birthday. I am not sure birthday present for your mother was one of the motivating factors John the Baptist had in mind. Ironically, shortly after this my mom seemed to lose interest in The Really Big Church, not Jim though, he really liked it. I still went from time to time, mostly when my mother felt guilty and I was coerced into going. This went on for about two years; we were very much hit and miss in our attendance. This changed when I got to high school though, then I went because I wanted to.
I drifted in and out on Sundays, but I was a Wednesday night regular, and not for any spiritual reason either. By this point The Really Big Church was getting fairly enormous. The numbers started to reach into the thousands. I was on the youth drama team and every Wednesday we performed skits, in front of about four to five hundred teenagers, it was a blast. I joined the youth choir and was featured as a soloist when the choir would go on tour in the summer. Then I was allowed to sing the occasional special on Sunday during the youth service. I should mention that the youth department had an entirely separate building which was down the street from the main church so I never really felt that connected to The Really Big Church as an entity. Still, I was by no means what you would call a diehard Christian. For me it was very much like an extracurricular activity. Not that church and school ever mixed. On no, most of us were very good at keeping our school selves and church selves separate.
I made a lot of friends at The Really Big Church some of the best I ever had. It was on an outing with The Really Big Church that I met my life-long best friend Abby or Buns as we would later rename each other. We were fifteen. Our tenth grade Sunday school class was taking a group of under privileged children shopping for Christmas. I knew Abby only peripherally, we did not go to the same school but we were both core kids. She and I were assigned two young brothers who didn’t want to be separated therefore we spent the day shopping at Value City Department Store together. They younger of these two brothers informed me that his shoes could talk. When I asked him what he meant he lifted up his toes and the holes in the front of his shoes opened up like a mouth. The details of that day are etched in my memory, but I think the reason for that is because that is the day I met my Buns, with her bleached blond hair adorned with a gigantic red bow, chomping her gum. I did not know that day that she was to become one of the most important people in my life. I was getting less and less anxious about what my friends might think of my family. The problem lays in the fact that I wasn’t letting them see the real me at all. I was letting them see the careful orchestrated me in all the right lighting, with all the hidden details safely concealed in the closet. I never let my guard down and the more I hid things from others the easier it became to hide them from myself. I was beginning to believe in my own façade, and that my friends, is very dangerous indeed.
I did make great friends at The Really Big Church; it was a safe place for a kid like me. But I thought that after high school I would go off to college and pretty much be done with it. Like I said I was never super religious. I would get caught up in all the excitement of worship songs and dynamic speakers, and conventions, but it always faded away as I got back to my normal life. But then a couple of things happened. Thanks to my lackluster academic performance throughout my school career I was put on a waiting list for the college of my choice. This meant I was going to be staying home and going to the University of Louisville, which worked out great because Abby had encouraged me to start a band with some other guys in our youth group. I was about to become a member of the Christian world full time, and in it I found the perfect place to hide.