Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Lame Odyssey, Part 2

In my earliest life, I had no idea I was “lost”. 

I didn’t really have anything to be lost from.  Frankly, I was pretty ignorant about anything that resembled spirituality until I was twelve.  I remember two of my ten year old friends—Mark and Danny—were walking home from the store with me when the subject turned to deep theological matters.  Mark was a part of a strong Catholic family who held a weekly Bible study in their house.  Danny often joined them.  As we were walking, they were discussing the differences between Catholics and Protestants.  Then they turned to me and asked, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?”  I didn’t have a clue what those terms even meant, and I certainly didn’t know why I should care.  I responded honestly, “I don’t know.”  “Oh,” said Danny, the Arbiter of Ultimate Judgment, “then you must be a Protestant.  If you were a Catholic, you’d know.”

            As ignorant as they were about comparative religions, I was obviously even more ignorant.  As far back as I could remember, my Sunday morning worship consisted of watching cartoons on television, especially Popeye, the best moral teaching of which consisted of a warning: “Don’t try this at home, kids.”  I do remember vaguely going to a Methodist church once, being forced to wear uncomfortable clothing and sitting so close to my grandmother that I couldn’t escape that almost musty smell, covered with perfume, grandmothers used to have.   I remember the stained glass windows and someone just droning on and on about something I didn’t really get.

            I was pretty familiar with the words “Jesus” and “God”.  Grown men were often chanting their names every time they were the slightest bit irritated.   Of course they were some kind of spiritual beings.  But they didn’t have anything to do with real life.  They didn’t have anything to do with the school, or my siblings, or convincing my parents that I needed a copy of Destroyer by Kiss.  

            My earliest hearing of the gospel (that I understood) was the recording of the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  My mother took me to a neighbor’s house and had me listen to it.  This was long before Tim Rice was bought out by Disney and Andrew Lloyd Webber was permanently scarred by Phantom of the Opera.  It was haunting, direct and, in parts, frightening. The crucifixion scene sounded like birds and spaceships in a symphony of blood and murder.  It had Judas as a twentieth century doubter and Annas and Caiaphas as murderous schemers, but much of the rest of the gospel story they had right.  The cluelessness of the disciples, the almost suicidal Jesus, and God as the ever-present background figure, moving all the pawns to establish Christianity.  And Jesus’ death was the climax of it all—the end of Jesus as human, and the beginning of Jesus as exalted superhuman—it was both sad and exhilarating at the same time.  As soon as I received my own record player on my birthday, it was the first album I stole from my parents and I played it so often as to deepen the grooves of the record and I could soon sing the falsetto with Ian Gillian of Deep Purple, who played Jesus.

            So I guess I was a little prepared when I discovered the Jack Chick tract in the doctor’s office.  Does anybody here remember Jack Chick?  He wrote comic-book style conservative Protestant diatribes in a 2” x 3” book format.  Some of his titles are, “Somebody Loves Me”, “This is Your Life” and “How to Placate God by Supporting Zionism and Hating Catholics” (not a real title, but it could be).  His popularity, especially on the West Coast, led many to directly attack his conservative evangelical, stance.   The tract I came across was one of his pro-Israel ones, offering his argument that the United States had better be nice to Israel, or God would zap them.  Fascinating reading for a twelve year old, actually.  And the comic-style illustrations made the text all that more interesting (maybe I should have some for this book?).  Although the argument wasn’t all that clear to me, it did impress me with two things—the Bible is important as a source of Truth and Jesus will Save us.  So, in accordance with the booklet, I prayed the short prayer to receive Jesus, and then I was convinced I was Saved.  At least that’s what the book said the Bible said.

            I tried to read the Bible, made it through Genesis and part of Exodus and gave up—one book out of sixty-six ain’t bad.  What a tough book!  Why couldn’t those guys write in a way people could understand?  You know, like Dr. Seuss or J.K. Rowlings?  Well, they lived two to four thousand years ago, so I guess they have an excuse, but it seems to me that with all the versions out there, someone could really update this book, give it more characterizations, more psychology, highlight the drama.  It sure doesn’t need any more sex or violence, except perhaps the New Testament.  Sure, you’ve got a crucifixion and some stonings, but it’s just not packed with over-the-top melodrama like the Old Testament.  Anyway, I gave it up after a couple months of trying.  And prayer?  I just didn’t get it.  Besides, it’s boring.  Who wants to talk to someone who never talks back?  I couldn’t even tell if he was listening.

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