We left the liberal Methodist church for a variety of reasons.
1. My parents are homophobic, first of all, which is an unfortunate condition brought on by ignorance.
Both of my parents grew up in small town Alabama. My mother, despite being more liberal in many ways than my father, is far more inclined to make homophobic comments.
Though no official reason for our departure was mentioned at the time, I, over time have pieced together the reasons why we left.
My mother took great offense to lesbian couples who, in her mind, had the gall to sit next to each other.
Mother would say things like Lesbians are sick and disgusting. I always wonder what they're thinking about me.
2. That sort of ignorant statement doesn't even merit a response. The correct answer is: nothing.
3. My father's reasons were more prosaic. The preacher, while well-intentioned, was not a convincing speaker. He was not a particularly effective speaker, and although earnest, was not exactly inspiring. In a moment of pure irony, I found out (rather recently) that later he divorced his wife because he admitted he was a homosexual. I admire his courage.
By now, I had grown firmly accustomed to my awkward adolescence. I had horrible acne which scarred both cheeks. My sister, the wild child, experimented with all sort of things much to the horror of my parents. In this period, Mom and my oldest of two younger sisters fought on a constant basis about wardrobe.
M was a punk. She dressed like Jane from American Beauty. She would walk down the stairs and the first word out of my mother's mouth was I don't know why someone so pretty would want to look so ugly.
Both my parents made an informed decision to go back to Jesus. Jesus came in the form of a non-denominational, praise and worship band that had split off from the Southern Baptists. I was 16 now, firmly skeptical of all things and certainly of anything telling me a list of do's and don'ts. I no longer prayed.
Instead I smoked cigarettes with reckless abandon. My God was Nicotine and self-loathing. Nothing the preacher said made much difference to me. It was my Patti Smith period: Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine.
M, however, took to the gospel with a fervor that surprised even me. She read her Bible. She put on the pretense of godly virtue. I couldn't have cared less. Any feelings of love between the two of us had passed years before. We had the true oldest child versus middle child sibling rivalry going on and neither of us would budge an inch. We barely talked and when we did it was in monosyllables. I might as well not have had a sister.
For the first time, I was told that Satan was real. He worked in spirit and could tempt and lead a person astray. I wasn't buying it. I thought to myself Satan is a concept. Satan to me was just an oversimplification of evil. I knew evil. Evil tormented me in the form of rejection from women and lunchroom bullies. Evil were the demons inside my head that told me I was worthless. A loner. A failure with the opposite sex.
Satan was in the form of my high school, which teemed with cliques and egos and insecurity. It was sensory overload, and I hid in neutral corners. My friends were books, musicians, rejects, artists, my guitar, and pornography.
I know now, at the passage of ten years or more, that the non-denominational church was comprised of seekers: Baby boomers with children experimenting with drugs and sex and worse. They didn't know how to control them.
The eternal boomer dilemma--I did it, now my child's doing it, what do I do?
So like many they returned to Jesus. Jesus had answers. Jesus could help them discipline their children. Jesus could cure their daughters' eating disorders. Jesus could solve their son's emotional issues. And if any blame was needed there was always Satan to point a finger towards.
Satan made their children rebel. Satan made the Columbine Kids commit acts of murder. Satan made their children smoke pot and make bad grades and drink while underage. They could absolve themselves of all responsibility and chalk it all up to Satan.
Underneath it all was hypocrisy. I was at that age when the world seemed hypocritical. The world seemed wrong and in constant need of reform.
Wednesday night youth services were comprised of sketches and plays performed to warn us of the evils of drink, intercourse, and of course, drug addiction.
I listened to testimonials of broken people expressing remorse for their actions.
Mostly they were early twenties, bohemian potheads, fresh from bad relationships, and arrests for possession of marijuana. They were nervous and acted the part. They used clumsy psueudonyms for bad boyfriend and girlfriends. They attributed their bad behavior to Satan and their own inherent lack of Godliness.
Meanwhile, I respectfully watched the volunteer actors perform their scripted roles of morality tales.
I paid attention to the spectacle, a part of me wanting to believe. Most of me did not.
And meanwhile, all of these children with eating disorders and substance abuse problems found no solution. They were not ready. They clapped at all the right parts, but at the same time, they made their drug connections. They arranged their hookups. They exchanged high school gossip.
They never took it seriously. This irked me to no end.
Our church was known as the party church. And by that point in time, I didn't party. I didn't drink. I smoked cigarettes. I had no experience with certain substances now legal in The Netherlands.
I was a year away from becoming a Unitarian Universalist. I was one already, but I didn't know it.
(Part IV: Becoming a UU)