Speaking of Jesus

For whatever reason, Joe’s last post reminded me of an experience I once had that I hadn’t thought of for a while. Several years ago I became friends with a newly converted Christian. She had several friends who were also Christian, though more forcefully than herself. And, at the time, she was dating someone who was also a very devout Christian.

Given the Christian theme among my new friends I decided to attend church with them on a semi-regular basis just to see what the experience was like. Overall, my church experience was a mixture of boring ceremonial procedures, insightful commentary on humanity, not so insightful commentary on humanity, deeply moving music (sound more than lyrics) and an invigorating sense of connection among people.

But what I remember most vividly was the end of church, wherein we were told to hold hands with our neighbor and simultaneously recite 5 things to each other at the cue of the pastor. I only remember one of the lines, which was, “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord Savior,” or something close to that. I always held their hands, but never spoke the lines. I couldn’t because I didn’t believe them, much less understand what they meant specifically. The expression on some of my partners’ faces was one of shock as I looked them in the eye and remained silent after each of the cues, leaving them the sole participant in a one-way interaction. After the recitations they almost always drew me closer to them, usually putting an arm around me, and would ask in a concerned tone, “Why weren’t you speaking?”. Then came the hard part. I had to be honest, so I told them, somewhat timidly, that I don’t believe that Jesus is my savior and that I don’t really understand Christianity. Then their jaws would drop, they’d pull me even closer to a full-on hug, and would tell me in a very consoling tone that it was okay not to understand. My belief will come in time and that they’ll be praying for me. One woman even cried.

I went to church for a majority of the Sundays that summer. Looking back, they were a strangely intense set of experiences through which I learned more about the emotional effect of ideological isolation than about how to be a good person.

1 comment:

karla said...

I remember a similar experience at my grandfather's funeral. I was probably only about 8 at the time, but was old enough to remember several awful trips to visit him at the nursing home where he lived for his last few year after caring for him became to hard for my grandmother by herself. He had Alzheimers--pretty bad, actually. I don't really remember him when he was healthy, just how he was towards the end. He didn't even know who we were or that his son was standing in front of him. He had pretty bad palsy, so he was really shaky and just mumbled a lot.
In any case, when he died, it didn't really mean that much to me, as awful as that sounds. I was too young to remember the real him. Moreover, these were the grandparents that I always dreaded visiting--they had this perfect little house with doilies and uncomfortable furniture with plastic covers and knickknacks and nothing to do. We only visited them once or twice a year, and they were always a strain on me and my sisters. I'm sure we were awful brats, but they didn't really seem to know how to relate to us either.
So at the funeral, I remember being sat down next to my grandmothr for the service. She was undersatndably crying and sad during the whole thing. At the end, when eveyone is standing up and I can't wait to get outside, away from all of these stuffy adults, she turns to me with tears in her eyes and holds my hands, saying, "Cry with me, Karla." I was very young, but that moment has stuck wth me as one of the more awkward experiences I've ever had. I never really cried abut anything when I was a kid, much less on cue for a man that I didn't really know and who my cognizant experiences with had basically been alarming and scary. Although I was young, I recognized that it probably would have been the best thing for me to muster up some tears, at least for her sake. But I have never been very good at faking my emotions, even when it would have comforted my grandmother's soul.