My Life

Memory Remix: When the Saints Come Marching In – Part 2

Click here to read the first part of this story.

 

The church bus sat there at the end of the gravel driveway, the split doors spread wide and waiting for us to climb the three steps up into the inner madness of the Jesus transport.

My sister gave me a look (“Why do you always have to do really dumb-ass things that confirm your geekiness in front of my friends?”) and then she stomped up those stairs and immediately slipped into a seat containing two of said cool friends, both of them consoling her and patting her arms, murmuring that stupid brothers were the bane of civilization.

The bus driver glared at me impatiently as I hesitated at the door, not bothering to hide his dissatisfaction that yet another worthless urchin was holding up the child-gathering process. With all this senseless dawdling, it would be that much longer before he could dump us off at Bible School and then go drink whiskey behind the Ladies Auxiliary Memorial Fountain.

I gulped and somehow managed to send the correct neural signal to my legs, convincing my lower limbs that we had a mission to accomplish, however unsavory the task might be. I trotted up the steps and turned to look down the length of the bus, searching for either an empty seat or one that held occupants who had their own social issues and would welcome me in kindred spirit.

There was not such a seat to be found.

Sighing, I worked my way down the aisle until I found a possible place of refuge, a seat containing a young girl sporting a smock that had apparently been repurposed from a tablecloth manufactured somewhere around 1947. I smiled at her hopefully. She glanced at me briefly and then turned to study something nonexistent outside her window. This was not an outright refusal, so I quietly sat down beside her. The alcoholic bus driver ground the gears for a bit until he found a promising one, and the bus eventually rumbled down the hill.

Then the singing began.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure of what I was hearing. After all, it was a bus full of supposedly-Christian but still rowdy youth, and there’s always screeching in such mixed circumstances. There are hundreds of conversations about this and that going on, creating a lot of white noise that can generally be ignored. Eventually, though, the vocals and the lyrics became clear. Several people somewhere on the bus were tauntingly singing the same worship-based ditty that had inspired me to become Isadora Duncan whilst standing in the driveway of a country farmhouse on a hill in the middle of nowhere.

I tried to ignore it initially, but you can only pretend for so long. Then my happenstance companion, she of the tablecloth modification, muttered quietly “Don’t pay any attention to them.” I smiled at my seatmate, she continued to study things out the window, and the bus rolled on.

Of course, the teasing didn’t end with our drop-off in the church parking lot. The doors of the bus had barely opened before the hooligans had raced to join up with the like-minded miscreants from the other collection vehicles, and I knew from the giggling and finger-pointing that this was not going to be a stellar day for me.

It wasn’t. I couldn’t go fifteen minutes without some fool reminding me, with loud-whisper comments in the classroom and taunts on the playground, that I had done an incredibly girly thing. My budding manhood was not only in question, it was firmly decided that I was a fag and that there was nothing but brimstone and some displeasing business about eternal flames in my future.

Good times, right? And I was maybe eleven, twelve years old.

But some growth came out of the experience. For one, it was the trigger point for me to begin questioning some of the concepts of organized religion. How could people claim to love God and then be so cruel? Why was there so much hatred for people who were different? And that hatred seemed to be fortified by the fact that as long as you claimed to love Jesus, you could do whatever the hell you wanted to do to demonize people that you didn’t understand.

Heavy thoughts when you’re not even a teenager, fumbling through life in a state that didn’t yet allow progressive coffee shops where you could show up and release some of your misgivings through non-rhyming spoken-word poetry whilst people snapped their fingers in oddball solidarity.

And the more serious aftermath of my exuberant pirouetting on a gravel driveway and the subsequent scarlet letter attached to my un-muscled breast? I decided to confront my Granny and inform her that I had no plans to attend any further sessions of Vacation Bible School, come what may.

She was stunned, of course. I didn’t really tell her the true detail of what had transpired, only that I was having an issue with what was being taught and how it seemed that there was something missing in the whole situation. In a desperate attempt to seal the deal, because I knew I was in clearly uncharted waters and there would be unknown repercussions, I promised to read The Bible every night and try to learn on my own.

Granny, completely flummoxed by this turn of events, initially had no response, just staring at me, a worn waffle-weave dishtowel in one hand, her mind processing. (Who challenges the concept of Vacation Bible School, especially in right-wing Oklahoma?) Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, as Granny had always known that her first grandchild was a little special, she decided to see how things would play out. I was free to design my own curriculum. But I damn sure better read that Bible, or somebody was gonna get a whippin.

And read I did. From Page 1, struggling through all that Old Testament mess about the begatting and the apparent belief that lots of people in the olden days lived for several hundred years. (Why are people not living that long now? What happened where, that this was pulled out of the program? Cuts to Medicare?) And the increasingly complicated part where it becomes clear that women should be subservient to men, that any variance from doctrine means that people who don’t conform to such should be destroyed, and some random crap about the wearing of multi-fibered clothing means you are a sinner that can never be redeemed.

Really? Hmm.

To be fair, the New Testament was a bit more encouraging. You know, the part where Jesus actually shows up and starts sending emails to the faithful. You really should love one another, bottom line. Don’t be so quick to judge. Try to understand what everyone is going through, and then do what you can to make life better for all people on the planet. And hey, people in glass houses…

I’m guessing certain proclaimed Christians, with their insistence on destroying that which they don’t understand, never got to this part of the scripture. Maybe they have an outdated version of the Bible and forgot to turn on the “automatic updates” feature in their software.

I liked this concept of Jesus, I really did. I still had lots of questions, mainly about why all these other people who were clearly not Jesus were allowed to speak for him. (Especially when you get to that Revelations business that nobody truly understands.) Yet we have all these self-imposed prophets who are firmly convinced that God wanted to destroy America with Hurricane Katrina because gay men dared to wear flashy outfits in New Orleans and do line dances on Bourbon Street. You know, just like all the straight people do as well, but ain’t no hurricanes comin’ for them.

I was befuddled, especially since the rumors of me being gay were actually true. I hadn’t told a soul at that point, but I knew it. Despite the people who scream “It’s a choice!”, it’s not. It just is, something that just happens, like left-handedness or blue eyes or little girls in tablecloth dresses who stare out bus windows who know just the right kind things to say.

Yet I didn’t share any of this with Granny. I simply explained that I was learning a lot with my daily Bible reading. Good stuff to ponder, sure was enjoying it, so glad you gave me this opportunity to approach scripture on my own. Then I would grab a Mountain Dew, curl up on one end of her couch in the living room, a couch that smelled of people and holidays long past, flip open my Bible (why are the pages so crinkly, what’s up with that), and proceed to peruse the dos and don’ts of Deuteronomy.

Granny, of course, had other thoughts on the matter, as well as an agenda. Always mindful of her social position in the small town where she lived, she strove to counteract the fact that her grandson was not attending the requisite summer Bible Camp. (The horror!) She arranged for the Christian daughter and son of a prominent Christian local bank president to spend some Christian time with myself and my sister at Granny’s Christian house, just to prove that we were dependable Christian offspring.

Granny went all out with this event, going so far as to create a dessert concoction that consisted of multiple layers of cherry and lemon gelatin, an extraordinary thing of great beauty for that time and that budget. The daughter of the banker, I believe her name was Cathy, joined me on a side porch of Granny’s abode, where the two of us could consume the sugar-based treat whilst out of range of our chaperones.

We plunked down on a porch swing that was older than dirt, one that regularly breached its moorings, aided and abetted by our healthy Oklahoma asses, and the swing would slam onto the concrete flooring of the porch. (You could lose a leg!) I didn’t mention the potential doom to Cathy, not wanting to trigger needless anxiety, especially since the last mishap had taken place mere months ago, and the subsequent re-trussing should be good for at least a year, based on historical patterns

Cathy, slurping discreetly on the nutrition-free goodness of the vibrant stripes of nectar, as we gently swayed in duo: “So, you’ve stopped going to Vacation Bible School?”

Well, her anxiety might be trigger-less but mine suddenly wasn’t. “Well, yes. I was having a hard time with… well…” Words failed, but my mind raced. Was this how it was always going to be, with people accusing me of not doing the things that they thought I should do, even though they know nothing about my life or-”

Cathy: “I wasn’t singing on the bus that day. I would never do that.”

And, thusly, the pendulum swung back. It’s not the people of strong faith who are the issue. It’s the weak people who subvert faith because they think it makes them strong. Slight grammatical variance, but a world of difference twixt the two.

Cathy and I finished our dessert and just sat there for a bit, silently watching a small group of birds in a nearby tree, as they happily hopped around on branches and had no concept of being judged…

 

Originally published in “Memory Remix” on 05/07/12. Some changes were made, mostly attempts to wrangle the overwhelming array of run-on sentences. For those of you keeping a very close score, you’ll note that this second part was written almost two years after the first, which explains why it was misplaced in my archives until I went Sherlocking. I no longer recall why I waited so long to finish the story. Perhaps I followed one of those hopping birds to see where he might fly, knowing we would eventually come back to the nest…

 

20 replies »

  1. One of the most amusing descriptions of the Beat-nik movement I’ve heard, “progressive coffee shops where you could show up and release some of your misgivings through non-rhyming spoken-word poetry whilst people snapped their fingers in oddball solidarity.”

    WONDERFUL 2-parter. I was thrilled to note the use of “Sherlocking” as well. I’ve used it for decades.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I actually loved Sunday School in high school because we had the most amazing teacher, who over several years, introduced us to most of the religions of the world. I don’t follow any religion now, but I respect them all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My true introduction to world religions came with a Humanities teacher in high school, a fascinating woman who could mesmerize me for days on end. How she got away with mentioning anything other than Christianity in classes at Broken Arrow High School is not clear, but I soaked up every word she spoke, and took every class she offered…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I grew up feeling only shame when I went within ten feet of a church. Talk to the hand was my response to the “freaks” who tried to shepherd me into their “cults.” I was certainl that any displayed religious passion meant cult. Thankfully I searched, no– desperately pleaded for God to show Himself. And He doesn’t disappoint. As you eloquently pointed out, it’s people who do that. Your story is refreshing. You should consider (here I am telling you what you should do, but I mean to compliment you. Lol) …writing a memoir. I get a lovely Ann Lamott feeling with extra sass here. Really. Pray about it…. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words, Kelly. Interestingly enough, this is the second time that someone has mentioned Ann Lamott to me in the last few days, but I really don’t know anything about her work. Which of her books would you recommend as a place to test the waters, so to speak?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s probably some adage somewhere about how the fires of our youthful pain mold us into the thoughtful beings we become. If not, hey I just coined it. 😉 You’ve evoked a lot of memories with your tale of the hatefully singing bus. Not good ones either. I had the torture of having to ride one (school bus) when I was in 8th grade. I’ll have to write about that because the tale is too long to burden your comment section with, but suffice it to say – I loathed the experience and am semi-convinced it helped tip my burgeoning mental illness into full blown flower. I never will understand why people hate. It’s just beyond me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Your first line is perfect. The fires, should we survive them, actually help the wood burn brighter, if that makes any sense. I’ve written before that I am much more comfortable around people who have been made to feel broken. I don’t quite trust the people who have never had a bad experience, because how can they feel true empathy? In any case, hate is never the answer…

      Like

  5. Whew! I’m so glad Cathy came your way!
    It’s interesting what you said about certain “Christians” and how they seem far more comfortable with Old Testament ideas than New. I’ve noticed that as well. But even then, they get it wrong. And while some say it’s a matter of interpretation, I still say, no, uh-uh, if you think God is about hate, then you’re getting it WRONG. Hence, the whole Jesus thing.
    And that’s our theology lesson for today.
    Yay Cathy! 🙋Dance, Brian, dance! 👬

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was very curious how you might take this little tale, especially the second part. I really didn’t think you would take offense, but you know how it is, when you have that little quibble of anxiety before you hit “publish”.

      As for the dancing, I will always be doing that, even if only in my dreams…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad you found part 2. Now if you could just find the final part, you know: wherein the whole world gets it’s act together and lives in peace, harmony, tolerance and understanding, this would be an outstanding trilogy. You can do that, can’t you, Brian? I have faith, in you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This pretty much sums up what I was going to comment, ” It’s not the people of strong faith who are the issue. It’s the weak people who subvert faith because they think it makes them strong.”
    You can sit in the garage and make vroom vroom noises as much as you like but it doesn’t make you a car. People go to church every Sunday but it doesn’t make them a good Christian.

    Liked by 1 person

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