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Tuesday, January 13, 1998
By Paul Ford
Crazy teen Christian culture
It's a warm winter, and I'm getting an embarrassing case of religion.
Little poke-headed coincidences consistently appear. A dream about Rhonda, followed by her New York visit. Buying a book, Confessions of an Advertising Man, that mentions my old church, Derry Presbyterian, in Hershey, PA. This morning, my Carl Jung puppet burst into flames as I slipped it onto my hand. Last week, an apparition of Jesus ate all my corn flakes, used the sink to wash his hands, then filled the tub and stood above the water. He didn't say a word. I finally asked him to leave, after he used all my conditioner.
Could it be...synchronicity? I don't believe in much, especially after working for an athiest boss from 1995-1996, while dating an equally unspiritual girlfriend for the last two years. I reject any concept of soul besides an overwound gene spool. Despite this, I still perceive plenty of coincidence. I experience long-distance emotional connection with people I love, and dream about uncontrollable events that later occur in fact. I might be delusional about it all, or a little crazy, imagining a history, adding mystical drama to the secular moment. Or maybe the great cosmic hive mind really exists, and people share something without that they can't contain within. It's nice to think so.
I miss Jesus, even though my imagination never met up with him: he remained vague, cloudy, and mute while I mumbled to him from my bed in West Chester, PA. I tried not to touch myself as I prayed. My greatest show of devotion came when I trained to recite the Lord's prayer in 22 seconds. Hopefully, God appreciated brevity.
Prayer never worked for me; I liked church more. A mass of individuals can gather, listen to a person illustrate a text as old as language, then squeak out hymns. They repeat the ritual every Sunday, private, bouncing molecules cooled by the Holy Spirit into a singing liquid. The pastor's oiled voice filled the gaps in a room, and his sermons used the biblical calculus to solve impenetrable emotional equations. I can only remember one sermon, out of the hundreds. It was against war, and so am I. Instead of the details of his lecture, I recall the way a pastor's words could wrap around me on a sleepy Sunday morning and push away the taunts and jabs of life outside the sanctuary.
When I was fourteen I joined Westminster Pres., in West Chester, PA. I scratched out my Statement of Faith while sitting in my grandparent's station wagon, listening to Pink Floyd on the car stereo. Pencil on notebook paper. I read it to an elder, and she began to weep.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yes,” she snuffled. “That was well said, Paul.”
I lost the Statement in the last nine years, but I remember the process of writing it, trying out the words, leaning against the green seat covers, and anticipating the reading. I felt uncertain whether I believed or not, but wrote from belief anyway. Despite agnostic leanings, I felt an urge to continue through, get my free Bible, and wear my suit in front of the congregation. It felt good to raise my right hand and say "I believe." An ugly adolescent, I suddenly received sacred responsibility. I was reborn, which was good, because I knew I didn't get it right the first time. And if my Statement of Faith induced tears, I wanted to stick around and find the other literary chances religion could offer. I'm still searching out those possibilities.