Content Warning: Physical abuse, blood
I was one of those kids who were forced to go to church. Sometimes, my church tried to spice things up and had movie nights. Of course, these movies were boring, and Christian related but they were movies and I was a child. I don’t remember any of the movies we watched, with the exception of the The Passion of the Christ.
I didn’t remember much of the beginning. There was a long-haired white dude with a beard, and I knew that was Jesus. Most of the movie I snickered along with my friends. Then came the crucifixion. The film was in a dark and gritty filter. These beefy guards put a thorn crown on his head. It was his yell that caught my attention. His scream boomed through the speakers. Blood poured from his mouth. Jesus sauntered his way in the center of some arena, heavy chains on his wrists and ankles. The first crack of the whip smacked his back. The first whip didn’t show the impact, but it really didn’t need to be shown. You could see it on his face. The next whip, they showed the damage, chunks of flesh just flew right off. My 7-year-old eyes couldn’t take it. I didn’t cry, I couldn’t. I sat there in shock, my eyes glued to the screen.
I believed in God (mostly because that’s what I was taught), but this was the first time in my life that I questioned my faith. It didn’t sit well with me knowing I had to give my life to this guy because he died for me. Did people love him because they actually wanted to? Or was it out of pity? Or fear?
There was a time at church when a really young boy walked up to the pastor and said he accepted God into his life and wanted to be baptized. I didn’t think it was much of a big deal. But then the church erupted in pure holy delight. His mother was the pews, sobbing her eyes out. “Hallelujahs” cried out from left and right, the keyboardist ad-libbed those church-y chords. Soon after, another kid got up and confessed his absolute love for Jesus Christ. One child after another. Imagine the scene “I’m Spartacus” from the movie Spartacus, but as a bunch of little kids. Then, it was my friends. Not too soon that little kid was me. I almost felt peer pressured into going up there. I wondered if everyone else did, too. I was hesitant when I stood up, but when I saw how happy it made my parents, I figured it was the right thing to do.
That morning of my baptism, my mom was so excited to pack my baptism gear. White clothes. Yipee. The baptism was after church, the next Sunday. Once everyone got changed, we went downstairs and saw the baptism pool filled for the first time. It was so blue, but reeked of chlorine. Twenty chairs set up in front of the pool. Twenty kids were being baptised that day.
Once everyone was settled, the service started. I was so nervous. Not because I thought I was misrepresenting God, but because I really didn’t like water up my nose.
“Jania Lindsay,” The pastor’s voice boomed. I was first, of course. Maybe this was God playing tricks on me.
There was a loud cheer from the crowd that followed. A reverend helped me step up into the pool, I dipped my toe in, the water was so cold. I pushed through, and the water was waist deep on me. The pastor was so big, it practically went to his knees. He put his hands on shoulder and turned me to the sea of elated Christians. Camera flashes blinded me, I felt like a prop for a show. The pastor said words, I wasn’t listening.
“…And in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit, cleanse thy soul,”
As soon as I knew it, my head was underwater. Then it wasn’t. I came up, gagging, coughing, with water gushing from my nose. That was it? I felt violated. Pastor shooed me off to the same reverend who helped me in, who held the warmest towel. People were cheering, though. They applauded so loud. My mom came from the crowd with tears in her eyes.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said. She hugged me tight. It was warm.
I didn’t regret getting baptized. What I did regret, was not thinking for myself.
When I finally became a teenager, I got a phone. On that phone, was the internet. I indulged in a lot of that. There was an interview I watched on YouTube with a guy who claimed to be “cured” of being gay. He found God, and now he’s straight. 13-year-old me wasn’t very convinced of whatever this was. This poor guy tried so hard to convince the watchers he was happily married to his wife. Everything about it seemed staged (it was). In a way, I think I empathized with the man. I felt bad for this stanger, because he tried to convince the entire world for something that’s not even wrong. I really couldn’t understand why. I was so angry at everyone in this video for saying that being gay was a sin. “God” loves everyone, at least that’s what I’ve been taught all my life. I told my dad about it, because I thought he’d get a kick out of it too.
“Oh well, good for him,” he said, unamused.
“Isn’t it silly? I mean, it’s bullshit, obviously,” I said.
“If he’s making changes in his life to make God happy, then good on him,” he shrugged.
Those words struck me. “To make God happy?” Does that mean, God isn’t happy with being gay? Well, that’s an issue. This was around the time, I was slowly starting to understand myself, and realized…I kinda liked girls too. So, maybe this was a sign.
I took to the internet and did some of my own “research.” I saw the word,
- a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.
I liked this idea. Someone who can just exist, without having to devote their life to some dude.
Years later, sometime in August, my dad officially became a pastor. I was 15. After he applied and preached at dozens of churches, he was chosen to be a pastor at Love Hope Baptist Church in Ellwood, City. He got the call, I laid on the floor doing some homework.
“Yes, this is he. Mhmm, yes.” He stood with a straight posture.
His beer belly poked out of his white beater. I locked my eyes on him the whole time and noticed each little out-of-character tick he had. He nibbled on his nails. He nodded his head rapidly, even though there wasn’t anyone there but me. He paced around in circles, it was entertaining to say the least.
“Thank you very much. I look forward to seeing you again.” He turned to me. His eyes filled with happy Christian joy through the lens of his glasses.
“Guess who’s a pastor!” He hollered. I stood up and cheered for him. All his hard work finally paid off.
“Guess who is gonna be a pastor’s daughter!” He shouted again. My cheering halted, but I still managed to force a smile.
One of the first “services” I went to for my dad’s church was this barbeque service. It’s at a park in Ellwood City. It’s a tradition of theirs when it gets warmer, plus it would be the “perfect” way to get to know the church members. My dad preached, since he’s a pastor and all. I found myself zoning out when he preached from time to time. I pondered about life, love, and when we’ll be eating those ribs I smelled off to the right.
Afterwards, it was time to “socialize.” I couldn’t do any of that, “hello, nice to meet you,” small talk I was used to. I followed my dad around everywhere he went. I stood behind him as he conversed. Only nodding when they asked me a yes or no question. Smile and nod, smile and nod. If it was an open-ended question, I’ll look towards my dad, so he could do the talking. I knew he was annoyed by me, he had to be. I knew this because after a while of this, he had to “go to the bathroom.” How dare you! I just sat there, didn’t say a word to anyone. What would I talk about? God?
Then, a frail, small hand, tapped me on the shoulder. This older woman invited me to go on a walk with her. The lady, her hair was short, like a buzz cut. The grey hairs swirled in her head. She was short too, less than 5 feet. She had a natural smile to her, even when she wasn’t talking. I smiled and nodded as usual.
“I’m sister Wendy. I was going to go on a walk, would you like to come?”
I had nothing else to do, so I smiled and nodded.
We walked on the outskirts of the park. The sun was out, but it wasn’t burning. The sky was clear, the brightest of blues. The clouds were so white and feathery.
“Wow, it’s so nice out,” she broke the silence. I nodded.
“Your father is really something else. You should be proud of him.” She smiled at me.
“A few years ago, I had a stroke,” she said. “ My husband helped me recover, and then the next year, I had a heart attack that nearly killed me. One night, I just knew that was the end of me. I was begging God to end it, right then and there. Let me tell you, I seen that light honey. It was Jesus. He was tellin’ me ‘it’s not your time, it’s not your time.’ And here I am today. Kickin’ it,” she ended with a warm smile and hugged me tight.
I still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of giving yourself to serve a “God,” but maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe sister Wendy doesn’t know either. Maybe my dad doesn’t know. Maybe they’re just along for the ride like anybody else. Instead, they put their faith in something. That something, just happens to be Jesus or God or whatever. If it can literally save someone’s life, maybe it isn’t that bad. Just knowing that this entity makes my loved ones so happy, makes me happy. I don’t care for the idea of religion, but it’s brought joy to millions of people over thousands of years. I think that’s all that matters.