Saturday, July 26, 2003

Dating Jesus

There are several authors' works I live by. None of them include any critically acclaimed holy books. These books are too subtle. I applaud you if you have found a way to interpret them that satisfies your intellectual and spiritual needs, but I simply haven't the patience.

When I was a little girl, my mother sent me to Sunday School in my little black patent leather shoes. They clicked all the way down the street to the Baptist church where I would spend the following hour colouring pictures of Jesus. I don't remember actually attending any services, but I do remember when I reached a reasonable age to serve at church luncheons and sudden I was in high demand.

What I learned from these luncheons is that Nova Scotian Baptists eat cream cheese and maraschino cherry sandwiches. Baptists, I established after serving a second round, do not believe in eating crusts. Coming from a household that offered only homemade 100% whole wheat bread, this was heresy!

I was baptized Anglican, but I haven't a clue how that distinguishes me from Baptists. The church ladies were never that particular when they called on the youth to serve tea and finger-food.

When I reached junior high, it was no longer cool to serve at luncheons. The church ladies gave up on me after a year of calling my mother, and alluding to my voluntary excommunication. My mother was unable to pressure me into it; not even she wanted to attend these socials.

While in junior high, my best friend joined a Pentecostal youth group, prompted by her father and his sometimes questionable parenting tactics. They would help keep her on the right track, he thought. How could she refuse an opportunity like that? She begged me to attend. I avoided the youth group for weeks. My other best friend and I had just spent the entire summer trying to make her question her faith for kicks. How could I shame myself by hanging out with God's groupies?

Well, I did. I realized quickly it was an untapped social resource. It was fantastic! Here I was, meeting other kids, all older than me, all willing to take me under their wing. I was positive we could get one of them to buy us beer. I was wrong. They were true believers and never, ever drank; I thought that was fascinating. They were just like other kids, but more at peace somehow, exempt from some of the turmoil of the teenage years.

It took a while for me to realize they were stoners. Pot wasn't something I'd considered doing, but at the tender age of 15, it was certainly something I was curious about. The minister's son seemed to be the most corrupt of the group, so I set my sights on him, sure he would satiate my thirst for knowledge of the seedy underbelly of Christian youth groups. I sat next to him at every opportunity, my stream of daydreaming broken only by the nightly question: "Are you ready to accept Jesus into your heart?"

There I was, having lustful thoughts about the minister's son, wanting to have him tell me all about the illegal acts I'd heard he'd committed. The minister often alluded to these sins, and thanked the Lord he was able to free his son from such vices. Thank the Lord he has a hot son, I thought. That's all I ever thought at youth group. So, when they asked me the nightly question, I was pretty sure I wasn't ready.

Still so young, I was aware of my wild oats and fully intended to sow them. Not yet, I'd say, desperate to stave them off. As became routine, there would be a group frown and they'd move along to someone more pure of heart. One-by-one, everyone was "saved". Soon, I was the only bad seed chasing after the minister's spawn.

I should have known it couldn't go on like that, what with all my drool and fawning. I was expelled from the Garden of Eden that was the youth group, but not before my first real kiss---a long passionate, sloppy, gag-me-with-your-tongue-you-bad-boy-ex-con kiss. The unfortunate thing is that it occurred at 4 a.m., about an hour after my parents had notified the police that I was missing, and began searching the highway ditches, preparing themselves to be devastated. They found me, immediately post-kiss, sitting in the spawn's car at the government wharf.

It was all very romantic, but as with many religious epiphanies, persecution followed. I was upset that I'd scared my parents, but simultaneously thrilled by that hot first kiss. Being grounded isn't so bad when you have steamy daydream material.

Soon after that fiasco, I was taken aside at the weekly youth meeting, to a room where the youth leader had propped a large sheet of poster paper upon an easel. While he drew a cluster of exes he said, "This is the youth group." Then he drew a lone letter "x" on the opposite edge of the paper and said, "This is you. We don't want this to happen." He circled the cluster of exes and drew an arrow toward the one that represented me. "So, we're going to have to ask you to leave." That was it; they were scared I was leading people away from Jesus. I was the resident evil.

Friends stick together, though, so my two best left the group with me. We were just going to have to develop a new plan for meeting older guys, I thought. I was still hopeful, and later that summer, it just so happened there was a new candidate in town. I spotted him immediately. He was driving around with the minister's spawn, and I thought that made him seem all the more carnally desirable. The spawn stopped his car and chatted me up, introducing his friend.

This boy was a francophone angel sent from Quebec, who was staying at the minister's house to learn English. His accent made my knees weak. Over the course of the summer, he would become my first love. Each day was spent at the beach, often in silence. We held hands for hours, and melted into each other's gaze, sharing little dreams and compliments. We kissed but never anything more. It was so fulfilling, so perfect and pure, that nothing more was necessary. His name was Emmanuel.

Had I known him months earlier, I'd have been able to tell the leaders of the youth group that I would accept him into my heart readily. In fact, I would lay it on the table. I would be willing to break it in his honour.

As the end of August approached, this young Adonis prepared to return to his homeland. The day he left, I was crushed. CRUSHED, like only a first love can do, but, it ended bittersweetly. He left while I still worshiped him like a god, before either of us could screw it up.

We wrote each other love letters for a full year, and then when he started dating someone else, he broke the news to me so gently I could only be happy for him. He always assured me I would have a special place in his heart. He set a precedent. Each and every potential boyfriend would be compared to this hot, young gift from god, chiseled in his own image. I knew how I wanted to be treated; I wanted to be a goddess. I lived by the guidelines he set for me as best I could. Jesus saved me from my adolescent soul, cured me of angst.

When I moved to Quebec for university four years later, he called and left a message on my answering machine. We were living in the same city. A lot changes in four years, though, and I didn't want to risk devaluing my memories. I never returned his call. I wanted to keep my faith just as it was.

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