I’m not a good Christian. I tried to be, mostly at the urging of my parents and grandmother, but it never stuck. Years of Christian schools, marrying a Catholic, becoming a Catholic and finally an Episcopalian all failed to save me from the clutches of Satan. History, science, logic and a tendency to enjoy sin won out.
I tried hard as a young child, dutifully following the guidance laid out by my dear grandmother, Ms. Moody in Bible School and later by my mother. Mom was a real mess before her Christian conversion. She’d been institutionalized, endured shock treatments and rounds of psychotropic drugs. Nothing really worked for her but Jesus. After her conversion, she became kind and more attentive and stopped throwing lamps across the room. When I asked what happened, she explained that Jesus saved her and made her a new person. She went on to tell me that if I said the “sinners prayer” Jesus would save me too. The change was so miraculous, I decided to give it a try. She quizzed me after the deed was done.
“Do you feel different?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, you will as you grow in Christ. Praise the Lord!”
Christ has died.
I never really felt any different, and by high school, I was in full rebellion against religion. The only thing that ever pulled me back into church was a cute girl with a good Biblical name. Sarah was a neighborhood girl with a lazy eye and big Coke bottle corrective glasses. Her beauty was crystal clear to me, and when those glasses finally came off, she looked like Julia Roberts.
Her father, Buddy, was suspicious of me and for good reason. I was a fifteen year old boy raging with testosterone that didn’t attend church, and her family was raging with evangelical Christianity. I hatched a plan. I asked to go with them to a Billy Graham Crusade, whereupon I would rededicate my life to Christ. The event was held in a football stadium, filled with all sorts of people toting Bibles. In the South, having a well-worn Bible is a sign you are a real Christian. Lots of notes in the white space are like Boy Scout badges. The more the better. My Bible was brand new and had no notes. This is the functional equivalent of showing up at a Marxist rally wearing a Citibank t-shirt. Ultimately, the scheme failed, and I was once again exorcised from their household like a demon.
Christ is risen.
Catholicism seemed much more palatable. My college girlfriend, Allison, came from a big Catholic family. Allison drank, went to clubs and liked sex, so she didn’t strike me as a cult member. Mass was pretty low key. No asked you to come forward and dedicate your life to Christ or make a large financial commitment. It was tolerable, but eventually the raping and misogyny became intolerable, so we moved on to the next phase of our spiritual development, spending Sunday mornings with The New York Times and Allison’s yummy butter soaked waffles.
Christ will come again.
My last stop, the final flavor in the ice cream case, is with the Episcopalians. Allison stayed away, still content in her agnosticism sprinkled with paganism. I tend to be the same, but enjoy community and felt something was missing. And of course, it was a woman that brought me back, this time a female priest that doubts her faith and like me, doesn’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. As the theologian Marcus Borg writes, the message survived a state execution, but the body did not.
This priest may be the most perfect woman in the world. Naturally blond and angelic, she feeds hundreds of homeless people every Wednesday, adopted an African-American orphan and wants to save the whales and the world. She’s a bright light. And isn’t it so appropriate that I end my journey with a woman? After all, the whole trip has been about women, and if I learned one thing throughout my journey, it’s that women will save the world, not men.