Tales of A Third Grade Heretic — Part 1
When I was seven years old, I asked my parents to let me attend a Christian institution known as Vacation Bible School. I was as an easy recruit (initially) for Church-sponsored functions — I heard beyond the promised hype of craft projects and pizza socials — I was hungry for hard-core religious experience.
My serious dedication is evidenced by the above Perfect Attendance Certificate I scanned from my mother's records and included here.
Church-Sanctioned Spirit Possession
Someone had explained to me the Southern Baptist phenomenon of Being Saved, in which any average child on Earth can experience a life-long form of holy possession by the Son of God Himself — simply by asking for it.
This was incredible news! I already knew I was protected by an enormously tall lady who looked like Catwoman in a nightgown — my little brother and I lived in a house we knew to be haunted, had seen ghosts several times, regularly encountered a White Cat that was not a cat at all, and no child ever believed in, stalked, and engaged with fairies more than me.
Not only did I applaud my belief in fairies to save Tinkerbell when Peter Pan came on TV, I dressed up in full green Peter Pan attire — green tights and felt elf shoes — one of a handful of "Halloween" costumes that I found reason to wear on several other occasions throughout the year. Considering that I had never set foot in a Catholic Church until I was 19, my intense longing from the age of 5 to "go as" a Catholic Priest or Franciscan Monk for Halloween does make me question the notion of past-life memories.
Margot Adler, in her incredible work on modern Neo-Paganism Drawing Down the Moon, finds a common thread among the witches she interviewed — an instinct for engaging in spontaneous ritual theater at a very early age, despite socialization toward any particular religious tradition.
I certainly built enough henges in the woods behind our house, charged enough mystical paraphernalia — wands, crystals, arrowheads, amulets, potion bottles — and entertained an audience of invisible spirit guides and guardian angels with an artistic commitment and devotion only rivaled by my current blogging schedule...
And while all these mystical experiences would be quickly dismissed or, at best, patronized by adults — and I knew not to discuss such things with unsympathetic audiences — here was a similar magical experience that was not only socially-acceptable, it was praised, encouraged — an absolute sin if you missed out on it.
You didn't need to tell me twice — sign me up!
As if that wasn't promising enough, the Baptist Church attended by most families in our neighborhood was called Mars Hill — which I took as an affirmation of my desire to one day be part of the future mission to colonize the Red Planet. I really thought Being Saved would propel me in my aspirations to become a Priest and an Astronaut — simultaneously!
Yes, it took me three decades to renovate the disappointment...
It would be a few years before I came to understand that in polite white Christian America, there is a thin line between piety and stigma. You're supposed to be a good Christian — but you're not supposed to be too good AT it.
Damned if You Do
The same behavior that defines the believer also damns the mystic.
- Believe in God, pray every day — just don't tell anyone if He answers you
- Stand up in Church and sing — but without emotion or fervor — do not speak in tongues or writhe in ecstasy — if by chance you really FEEL something, for God's sake, keep it to yourself
- Do not rest until you've forced your belief on everyone you encounter — but don't make the mistake of behaving like you mean it — ask What Would Jesus Do? and if all else fails, set an example of what NOT to do by reminding everyone what judgment feels like
It never occurred to me that witches shouldn't attend Sunday School. Apparently — Thank God — it still hasn't.
Stay tuned for more confessions of humor and hypocrisy in (the still as yet unwritten) Part 2 of Tales of A Third Grade Heretic, in which I raise my hand and open my big mouth to undermine the teachings of the Southern Baptist Church by asking Sunday School teachers to address challenging philosophical questions like
- "Is Mother Nature God's Wife?"
- "How can it be Heaven if our pets aren't there?"
- "If God didn't want Adam and Eve to eat those Trees, why didn't He plant them somewhere else?"
And find out why I got sent to the Church Psychologist for portraying Adam and Eve in the buff — after my naive, passionate artistic response to the assignment "Create Your Own Illustrations for Bible Stories."
Seek Wisdom - Practice Love