My earliest memories were in church. Life began and ended there. My life began there, and, some would say, my “real life” as a child of God began there too.
We went to this remarkably big church for a while in Broken Arrow, OK, which is just outside of Tulsa. It was your typical early to mid-eighties Charismatic church. There was singing and dancing galore – holy rollers to be sure. I have a vivid memory of that church because, apparently, that’s where I “accepted Jesus into my heart.”
“Accepting Jesus into your heart” was a big deal in my family. It seemed like every moment of your life your family would look forward to you “getting saved.” It happened to me when I was five or six. To be honest, it never really was that big of a deal to me (the getting saved part, not the being a Christian part) and apparently it wasn’t that day either.
The band at the church had been pumping for what seemed like an hour (in that church it could have been) and the pastor kept saying that “the Holy Ghost is obviously in this place.” I took as evidence of that the fact that people were running around the freaking huge sanctuary like they were at a track meet, dancing in the aisles, on the seats, banging tambourines, and clapping like Jesus was, literally, on his way back to pick them up. It was a riot.
But to my little boy sensibilities, it was not a riot. I was intrigued at the total abandon that people were able to experience. I was amazed to see grown men and women flailing their bodies about. I was always too embarrassed to do it. To this day, I have a difficult time dancing in front of other people, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that dancing for me has always been equated with religious fervor – a fervor I have struggled to understand my entire life.
I’m not sure how it happened but after a while I was up on my feet. I don’t know what was different about that particular Sunday, but I needed to move. Of course I thought it was the Holy Ghost coursing through my veins (and it may have been) but all I knew was that I needed to move my little body.
So I began to run and run and run and run. The music was frenetic and exciting and triumphant and I was like a little Christian Rocky Balboa taking the spiritual steps of Philly.
After a while the music seemed to calm down a bit and I landed on the front steps of the stage. An adult came down to talk to me and, almost without thinking, I told him that I guessed I wanted to be saved.
Now I knew that I was not a perfect little kid, and I never really claimed to be. I’ve gotta say that I wasn’t really scared of hell – hell wasn’t even a thought in my mind. All I knew was that it felt good to be there and to run and dance and sing and if that was what having Jesus in your heart was about then I was all for it.
It wasn’t about Jesus for me. It was about me. I’m not ashamed of it, nor do I think that it’s wrong or unique. In fact I would be willing to bet you that if you asked any group of little kids why it was that they “got saved,” they would most likely tell you one of two things: a) because Mom and Dad told them they should or b) because they wanted Jesus on their side.
It was the second for me. I wanted Jesus on my side. If what the pastor said was true then it seemed to me to be a pretty good option for me to have the kick ass King of Kings in my corner. This Jesus he was talking about is the one that told the Devil to shove it, cast out demons, and walked on water. Oh damn – he walked on water!
To be honest that was the coolest freaking thing about Jesus to me: the guy had superpowers. Now, we were taught to call them “miracles”, but, let’s be honest, these are superpowers were looking at. Raising people from the dead? Healing people of diseases? Lame to walk? Deaf to hear? This is straight outta the comics folks, and I wanted to be a part of every bit of it. But, whereas superheros live in the comics – I’ve got Jesus in my heart. Take that, Stan Lee.
So this guy asks me if I want to have Jesus I my heart, and I say yes. Then he asks me if I’m sorry for all my sins. I have no clue really what I should be sorry for, but I say yes. And he tells me to repeat after him, and I do, and now I’m saved.
Kind of a let down. You’ve got the most powerful entity in the universe, who can kick the shit out of anything, and all I had to do was say “come in”? Fine by me, if there’s nothing more to it.
Later when we were standing outside of the sanctuary with another family my mom told me to “Tell so-and-so your exciting news.” I was puzzled. Exciting news? What the hell was she talking about?
My own mother had to prompt me to retell the story of how I had just gotten myself saved from the fiery pits of hell. All I wanted was to have a superhero for a best friend.