Tuesday, January 8, 2008

God's B-Movie Horror Flick: my scenic route to God ~ PART FIVE

You were probably afraid that we were going to be hanging around the fifth grade for the next year or so and my story was going to have seventy-three chapters. But I'll spare you the dull years and fast forward to when I was fourteen because this is when the really juicy chapters of my spiritual journey begins. My eighteen-year-old uncle started dating a sixteen-year-old girl who was a back-slider from a Pentecostal church. (Incidentally, I hate that word: back-slider. What does it even mean? Like you're hanging out with God and suddenly you fall backwards and slide down some hill, and you hit the bottom all dirty and disheveled with sticks in your hair and God doesn't like you anymore? I only use this word because it's how she described herself.) They ended up getting married a year after they met, and she and I got pretty tight.

One night I stayed over at her house and she started to tell me some really scary stories. It was exactly like when you have a slumber party with your friends and someone says, "Let's tell spooky stories!" except she was dead serious when she got to the end and said, "And it's really true!" She told me stories about the moon turning to blood and the stars falling out of sky like scud missiles. She told me that God was going to come back any day now and all of the "saints" (folks who spoke in tongues and were baptized a particular way and believed exactly what she believed) would suddenly disappear like smoke, and everyone who was left behind would be in serious shit.

Now, I had been a good little Catholic my whole life and I went to church every Sunday and went to confession and attended catechism and was even recently confirmed and no one had ever mentioned any of this to me. It seemed like a pretty important thing to skip over. At first I felt really sorry for her because she obviously was confused. I tried to correct her as gently as I could. But she pulled out her Bible and started giving me the low down on the book of Revelation. To be perfectly honest, I had never once read the Bible and I fully expected that the names of the books would be The Book of Jesus or Mary, The Really Good Mother. It gradually occurred to me that no one had actually taught me much about the Bible. This left me feeling pretty betrayed and it also left me completely vulnerable to her version of exegesis. I was MAD. But mostly I was terrified that someone was going to come and stamp 666 on my forehead before I had a chance to get myself "saved".

I made an appointment with my priest and asked him very nicely why he had not bothered to talk about this stuff. I don't remember much of the conversation, but I vividly remember that he had a huge commentary open in front of him and at one point he slammed it shut furiously and said, "You're putting the cart before the horse!" I don't have any idea what he meant by that, but I don't think it was a reference to the horses of the apocalypse (one of which is pale green and has a rider named DEATH, in case you didn't know.) When he slammed that book shut I knew that my Catholic days were over.

My first Pentecostal service was a youth revival. I didn't know what that was, but it was not at all like your average Catholic mass. People were clapping and dancing and running around and speaking in tongues. I'm tempted to make fun of it, but the truth is that it had a strange beauty. These people were utterly abandoned to God in ways that I had never seen before. The music was loud and pulsating and really kind of awful and cheesy, but it just dared you to open your mouth really wide and sing along. The preacher was also loud and pulsating, and just in case I was thinking that my new aunt had gotten it wrong, he confirmed the whole bloody moon story. My heart was thumping so loud in my ears that I only heard about every third word he said, but that was plenty.

So I became a Pentecostal, propelled along by sheer crazy paranoid fear. This church viewed Scripture sort of like it was a big legal document and they were the only ones with the secret decoder ring. No one was getting into heaven but them. Catholics taught this too, but at least they said it in a boring monotone voice so it wasn't quite as convincing. I shed one form of legalism for another, more virulent form. The really horrible side-effect of this view of the Bible is that it makes God look like a crabby shriveled-up prosecuting attorney hunched over his desk finding all the ways to send you to eternal bloody moon jail. Yuck.

Oddly enough, I honestly encountered God there. Despite all the propaganda, I was able to keep my vision of him intact. And the crazy environment actually gave me permission to go after God with passion. I was able to abandon myself in worship. I was able to explore regions of the Spirit that I never knew existed. When I look back on Catholicism or Pentecostalism these days, I have a much kinder view than I ever did before. But I wouldn't go back if you paid me a million bucks.

The truth is, even though I spent the next nine years there, I never was a very good Pentecostal. I was always asking annoying questions and getting myself in trouble with the rules police. I finally went and got myself kicked out. But that's the next chapter.


  1. Ooh! You got yourself kicked OUT?! Can't wait to hear THAT installment next time.

    But seriously. Wow. This is such an important post on so many levels. I think what I love most about this story is how continually honest you are about how things happened and how you felt. Everything is so vivid, I feel like I'm watching a movie of your life. I can just see the slumber party-like conversation with your new aunt, the pulling out of the Bible, the slow spread of dread and feelings of being duped.

    Also, the way you speak of things makes me laugh -- the part about the green horse named DEATH and God sending everyone to a bloody moon hell -- even though these words are so serious. This tells me that you've got enough perspective on your story to tell it true. And also keeps me plugged in to find out how the story unravels to bring you to who you are today -- who you discovered yourself and God to truly be.

    Oh, Terri. I fall in love with you more each day. Can I please have a visit with you, too?

  2. Terri -- you crack me up!! In spite of this story's seriousness & weighty spiritual matter, the voice in which you tell it keeps me bated. I can't wait for the next part.

    Bloody moon jail. The Book of Jesus, Mary the Really Good Mother. I'm giggling because a) it's funny, and b) those probably would be good books of the Bible.

    And I love hearing about the details leading up to the great book being slammed in front of you by the priest. WOW. You ask some good questions & it's worthy of a huge book being slammed in your face? You must have been one imposing threat of a 14-year-old, huh?

    Mostly what I love about your story is that God so obviously had His eye on you through it all. Going from Catholic to Pentecostal, being taught about a God who was that crusty, shriveled, crabby, exacting judge, going from one form of legalism for another ... yet somehow ... here you are: somehow sane, in love with the Lord of life, knowing that He's not a crabby guy with big sausage-y pointing fingers that likes to figure out all sorts of creative ways to send folks to Hades. Somehow through all the muck & the stuff that wasn't true -- He found you. He pursued you. I'm not sure if I've ever heard another story that has illustrated that truth so clearly before: that He's after us. That He came after us, still comes after us, & will come for us.

    Oh shoot. Where'd my socks go?? They've been knocked off AGAIN.

    I feel like I'm not saying any of this the way I want to (which probably does not bode well for someone who wants a writing career), but yeah. And this story is still in medias res, that's what is so exciting!! He needed you to be part of His story (sorry, had to bring that in somehow!!), you were that word He's spoken just once in all eternity.

    And by the by ... I love that you got yourself "in trouble with the rules police". It seems Jesus did that a time or two, Himself. ;o)

    And PLEASE, PLEASE ... when can Christianne & I come for a visit!?

  3. I'm laughin' my butt off..you are too funny! "The Book of Jesus or Mary, The Really Good Mother." T...even though I know you...your humorous way of looking at "crap" makes me fall more and more in love with you!

  4. Terri;
    Thank you for:
    1.) Listening to your aunt's scary Armageddon, Jesus is coming back and boy is he ever ticked off, end of the millenium stories.

    2.) Letting your aunt introduce you to the young bag-boy at Knowlans with the "really dorky" hair cut.

    3.) Giving him a chance.

    4.) Falling in love with, and marrying him.

    5.) Showing me lovingly it was possible to leave people and a church that I cared deeply about and not loose my sanity . . . I honestly don't think I could have left without your story unfolding there in front of me.

    6.) By the way, you left I got kicked out! Hah

  5. Ooooh it's getting even better. This was certainly an unexpected twist. I’m curious to see what’s next.

    I had to laugh about your fearing 666 being stamped on your forehead because I had a very similar experience. I was younger than you were, about 10 maybe and a practicing Catholic, but I innocently went with a friend to a youth group meeting at her church where they showed a film about the last days. It described being left behind to fend off savage heathens and struggle for food and safety. Still scares me just thinking about it.

    Sorry that I keep going on about myself when I’m here to post on your comment, but I so relate to your descriptions. I understand what you mean about being able to give yourself with abandon in a way so starkly different from Catholic services. There is something worthwhile to be learned from each experience I suppose.

    I really appreciate your humor and perspective.

  6. Terry,

    I found you via Christianne and Kirsten. This story is so FULL. I don't know you, but I see glimpses of your heart and that's really, really cool.

    I ditto the comments that can't wait for the next installment!

  7. Holy perichoresis! Thanks for this trinity dance. You sure are touching deep spots in the Body. Ditto to what Marcia said! Having heard this particular chapter of your story told by your best ever UPS guy whose post(s) are the cherry on top of yours....doubly loving this!! I've been meaning to ask, granted this is ridicously random, but do you know Semia from your churchmouse days? And if we ever do a really cool event that isn't like, well, you know...would you share this story of how God kept his eye on you, pursued you, found you finding him...Christianne and Kirsten, Chloe and Sarah, and every flippin' Eve around in the whole war torn creation would be so blessed! This is so powerful and real. Even the revoltingly beautiful parts.

    Vivid~harmonious~tingly~a fresh palatable aroma not to mention deeply thought provoking and inspiring... conceptually, albeit inadequately, I guess that covers it for now.

    From the student who doesn't do fear and is NOT kinesthetic. LOL even that has a new meaning now. Who knew the capacity God gave us to shut those parts down so well. So grateful to have not been left buried alive!

  8. Christianne: I'm glad that my way of telling it is giving you a front row seat. I worry a little bit that I'm being a little too flip, but I hope that even in my more blunt moments some truth and kindness shows through. Being funny is one of the ways I didn't kill myself along the way. It's one of the the things I really like about myself, but it gets me in trouble sometimes if I'm not careful.

    And you can visit me any old time you like!!!

    Kirsten: I'm so glad you're giggling because I was cracking myself up too. (Sometimes I worry that people won't get me...but I see that you do.) And I knew you'd love the priest-slamming-the-book part of the story. I hope it will give you courage, my friend. If a fourteen-year-old can withstand that awkward moment, I know you'll be fine: you with your fierce heart.

    I guess I must have missed the thing about you wanting to be a writer...me too! I'll buy your books if you'll buy mine. And you and Christianne just book those tickets any old time you like and we'll make room for you. The coffee is on.

    Marcia: I love having you peeking in on this and laughing with me. You have the advantage of knowing what my voice actually sounds like and that's kind of nice. And you get my sense of humor too. Glad to entertain, as always.

    Dave: Oh my love (I hope that wasn't that OTHER Dave) you are the greatest treasure I found in that place. And you're right technically, I left and then you got kicked out...so sue me. :)I'll clarify all that in my next installment. But truly, what a gift you are to me. My closest witness to the movements of my heart. I love you.

    Chloe: Hey, I saw that movie too. It was called A Thief in the Night if I remember correctly. That thing beat Night of the Living Dead all to hell. SO hitting below the belt. How did you ever extract yourself? Those places were like tractor beams pulling you in. Probably being 10 helped a little. Your parents probably said, "Oh I don't think so sweetie."

    Seriously, we have a lot in common as our stories unfold. I'm so excited to be getting all cozy with you.

    Sarah: any friend of Christianne's and Kirsten's is a friend of mine. Welcome!

  9. Oh Di, you snuck that one in while I was posting...I love you so much! I do remember Semia...was that YOU? [For all you others eavesdropping, I used to post on a theological chat room as "churchmouse"] Funny how we all connect in these weird ways. I'd be open to telling my story, but I write much better than I talk. Actually, I get away with things in writing that I could never get away with in front of a live audience. Never say never though.

    We've come a long way since you told me (and you) all those lies about yourself. hah! I'm glad you made it out of the snowbank. :)

  10. Looks like you saw both sides. I used to work for a guy that was penticostal. (I can't even spell it) He was always telling us that we were all going to burn for not being like him. I never thought he was a very good person. :)

    I can't wait for the next chapter.

  11. Aw shucks, Terri! That's sweet. I now wish we had met before I booked my airline ticket; it'd be pretty inexpensive to tack on a trip to MN to my ticket to Orlando. But then again, do I really want to be in MN in the dead of winter? Hmm ... ;o)

    And oh yeah, I've definitely got the writing bug!! I'm so glad you want to also, because you are so freaking good at it! I like it when a Christian who can write isn't a afraid to be a little "irreverent" (if I can use that word) if that is his/her true voice. I'm pretty tame on my blog most of the time, but in person I often shock people with what I say, so ... yeah. I love your distinctive way of writing & storytelling, FO SHO!!

    As the days go by, I find myself less & less concerned about how that conversation will go. Given all that's transpired, I know there's nothing he can say that's going to scare me or change my mind. Sorry, dude - I belong to God already.

    And thank your hubby for the sweet e-mail. What a guy!!

  12. Terri,

    Could you tell it any more vividly? Too funny. I got my spiritual start in a small store-front Pentecostal church where there were only two messages: fire & brimstone; turn or burn! But God used it somehow.

    The one thing I do remember the preacher saying one night as I sat with a couple of friends was, "Your friends can laugh you into hell, but they can't laugh you out." This was a direct challenge to any pride or embarrassment I might have from the surrounding peer pressure.

    It worked. I made a beeline to the altar and repented my little 13-year-old heart out. Unfortunately, nobody told me that this new-found salvation had an expiration date that exceeded 24 hours. Consequently, with every bad thought that entered my mind, I kept repenting and getting re-saved. I can't tell you how challenging that is for a boy who just started puberty.

    Eventually, I thought, "Well, I obviously can't stay saved and live this life; it's too hard. If I'm gonna go to hell, at least let my time here be happy." Enter a lot of sin.

    Fortunately, some four years later, God showed me He was a loving Father at a concert I got duped into attending. For the first time in my life, I saw God as someone Who was on my side, my Dad, someone Who really loved me.

    I wish I could feel the intensity of that close connection again -- even though I know God has not abandoned me.

    Thanks for sharing your experience Terri. It made me laugh and brought back a lot of both scary and fond memories.

  13. Sometimes when I'm sick of sql, I'll go here...it's kind of like being in a parallel universe and it feels good. Just thought I'd share that with the rest of the virtual world lol-ing.

  14. Well! I never!! say never. That's true. Dang that's probably a lie too but I like thinking I never say never. It kind of fits. You can

    How about if we let you get away with reading something you wrote? Imagine the impact. Nuff said.

    Can I interject as I'm reading and writing here...CRACK Nathan! LOL in the traditional sense of the word :) [insert emoticon!] goll I feel so limited as a novice blogger! So puberty confess puberty confess. too funny dude. Happens to the best of us, even reformed Catholics that missed out entirely on the whole pentecostal pendulum (amazing because I'm pretty good at finding such extreme swings to go to a fro on!) I guess I was probably too busy getting stoned. (oooh that's so miltonish ;)

    I'll take swimming upstream with the real saints who sometimes keep sinning but eventually stop, anytime.

    Terri, my last paragraph is proof positive I am not Semia. That girl could write! Would have sworn it was you except for she wrote of her parents' death so that should have sealed it since I've never read anything fiction about you.

    I still have a treasured archive of Semia's she wrote to GB when his dad died. Shivering, expansive beauty. Greg knows. At least it's Possible Greg knows : )

    I'm getting too random...gotta go back and get sequential. bye for now.

  15. When I was a kid, my parents used to invite all the neighborhood kids over to our house and show the 70's film A Thief In the Night on the wall of our backyard (film projectors back then).

    Every time I saw the scene with the electric razor running in the sink (the shaving man had been raptured), I would say, "Jesus, please come into my heart!" over and over and over.

    Then when I would get home from school and nobody was there, I was 100% sure that I was left behind.

    Can't wait to hear how you got kicked out of church... (I went to a Pentecostal church for a year or so, but it was because a girl I like went there... what you won't do for young love.)

  16. I just gotta echo an AMEN!!!! to Kirsten's last comment about belonging to God already when it comes to facing the priest. WOOHOO, BABY GIRL!!!!!

    And yeah, I'm with Di -- Nathan's comment had me laughing so hard. Great humor man! (Er -- when I typed "humor" the first time, it came out "human," making the line read, "Great human, man!" Which, I should say for the record, it true. But also funny.)

    Okay, I think we're all getting a little delirious and punchdrunk on love here. Terri, you've created quite the giddy and sharing little community around here. It's amazing! And HOW long have you been blogging again, exactly?! :)

  17. Wow, I LOVE you people!! I BELONG here, I really do. :o)

    Nathan's comment made me laugh too; in a tragic kind of way, of cousre ... it's unfortunate how many of us have had those kinds of experiences, but look ... here we are, [mostly] sane, laughing, & loving Jesus. And yeehaw, thanks Christianne!! I think Terri said it well (i can't remember whose blog, let alone what post), but i think that when that moment comes, if my mouth speaks what my heart is full of, then I've got nothing to worry about. Nada.

    And I just had to say something about A Thief in the Night. They showed us those movies (wasn't it a small series of movies?) when I was in middle school. They scared me TO DEATH!!!!

    Oy vey. So many memories are coming to the fore right now, but I must go eat something for dinner. I think I may be a tad delirious ... ;o)

  18. Wow! I go away to teach my class and you all have a love-fest behind my back! :)

    Greg: That sounds very unpleasant. I think I know that guy. ;)

    Kirsten: You most emphatically do not want to be in Minnesota right now. Maybe sometime in the fall when the leaves are changing. That's primo weather around here.

    I'd love to hear you say something shocking. FO SHO!

    I'm glad the thought of that meeting isn't so scary anymore. You go!

    And Dave wouldn't let me see the email, but I'm assuming he said something mushy and wonderful. I love that guy!

    Nathan: Dude, you completely nailed it. Every stray thought or impulse...every rock song that you secretly enjoyed...every opportunity to share the "truth" that you let slip away...it all had the power to put you back to square one. I'm glad this made you laugh and that it brought something back for you that's valuable. Don't worry about the intensity and connection...I know God is after you big time my little brother. You're pretty damn brave and God digs that like crazy when we put ourselves out there for him. Keep talking.

    Di: I do the same thing! (Even though I don't know what sql is)

    So I could do a "reading" like a poet or an author? Sweet! You provide the venue and then the body guards so I don't have to deal with all the people who get all ruffled and weird about my "irreverence."

    And your ability to free associate has me rolling!

    BTW...I think Semia was Abby...did you ever meet her? Tyler D's friend?

    Tom: Oh my Lord! I think everyone who ever had their pants scared off by that movie had a similar experience. Dave told me that one time when he was twelve he came home and no one was around but something was boiling over on the stove and the radio was on. *RISING PANIC IMAGINING THE TRIBULATION!!!* Poor kid. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

    And wow...that's some serious love...

    Christianne: Oh yes...AMEN! And whether it's great humor or great human it's all the same but I think Freud would be happy about that typo.

    And I've been blogging since December 19th. My husband says I'm like a little virus. I'll take that as a compliment. Spread the love everyone!

  19. Oh, Kirsten, you snuck up on me like Di did earlier today. We love you too!!! Big happy family, yessiree! And mostly sane. Amen.

    I think we could probably start a support group for kids who were brutalized by that dumb movie. "Hi, my name is Terri and I'm scared to death of being left behind." "HI TERRI!"

  20. I should mention for the record (just to join the club even deeper than before) that I watched that movie in junior high, too, and was pretty scared to death by it. Kids my age walking around with Unicef badges on their arms, and that spooky song they sang over and over again. Yikes!

  21. PS: Don't people get guillotined in the end in that movie? Some weird memory is surfacing that tells me they do. Double yikes.

  22. I hardly remember anything about the movie. I only know that it creeped me out and left me completely insecure for years. (This is where dissociation probably came in handy...I don't have to haul around all those lurid images.) Anybody remember heads rolling in the movie?

    Welcome to the support group Christianne! "HI CHRISTIANNE!"

  23. I distinctly remember the guillotine, and they were clothed in sackcloth too. How apropos. And FREAKY.

    Yes, run like hell [pun totally intended] to Jesus because if you don't, it's off with your head!!

    Yes, fear is such a great way to inspire an authentic & transforming faith in Christ. GEEZ.


  24. Oh dear, I'm totally going to wet myself from laughing so hard. (Old people frequently have these embarassing bladder issues.)


  25. laughing my butt off here in Haiti!
    oh and I love the post title too...dude you're putting me to shame...

  26. Jennifer Rose...this is supposed to be an antidote to shame. Shame on you for feeling shame. :)

    "HI JEN!"

    Glad to get you laughing. I'm guessing you've seen a few things already that weren't so funny. Love you! Wish I was there with you slapping those mosquitoes.

  27. Man, go to work for the night and miss out on all the fun!
    Hey Kirsten is it "scarred" or "scared"? Either way that movie did both to me! And was that the same movie that had Dallas Holm singing somewhere and then all of a sudden all you see is the microphone lying on the ground . . . I'M DAVE AND I WAS SCARED TO DEATH OF BEING LEFT BEHIND

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. Being left behind never came up at Mass. Hi, I'm Di, and I feel left out.

    Never met Abby. I'll have to see if Semeia is still around CVM.

    Free associate you say...hey that makes being random actually sound like a skill. Thanks for the resourceful reframe.

    Yes, Terri you could totally do a "reading" like a poet or an author! We're after real not reverent and if that means a few ruffles, we'll surround you with ridges like RK,DK,JC,MBK. We'll cover your back and bounce a few highbrows with unsurpassable worth. And throw in Pacem if you need resuscitation.

    Now back to the regularly scheduled program of writing sql which stands for structured query language and it's how I communicate with databases for a living to fund what I do for Life.

    Ciao for now.

    (Good pacing, and we're ready for part six now. You're paying off way better then Carnival slots!)

  30. better THAN Carnival slots (subtle typos make me mad) do 7th grade teacher tapes ever really die?

  31. Hi Dave - I most definitely meant "scarred", but "scared" would be appropriate too. :o) Scaring was in the short term, & scarred in the long term.

    I think I need to engage a professional therapist now ...

  32. WOW! Walk away, come back, and the conversation is crazy. I LOVE it! You guys are a hoot and a half.

    Nathan, you story is nothing short of hilarious. Dave, I was also scared of being left behind. And Kirsten, I know some good therapists but they're all in LA!

  33. This is awesome. The way you tell the story. The way I can truly really feel this experience.
    I grew up in a very apocalyptic religion. Not Christian but there was much violence and gore and end times talk. It deeply affects a person.
    What strikes me most about this post is your compassion. Yes, this view of things is not what you choose to claim as your truth at this point. And yet, it is not a dismissal of this time in your life, this quest and experience. Rather than discarding it, I hear you opening, expanding to a much larger view and reality and god. This is rare and quite powerful to see through your words.

  34. Dave: that's what you get for leaving me all night to make a living. Sheesh.

    "HI DAVE"

    Di: That's ironic. You feel left behind because you didn't fear being left behind. We'll save a seat for you anyway.

    As you know, I'm the queen of resourceful reframing...actually, I'm the princess and you're the queen. No one reframes like you.

    And no, you'll never get the teacher out of your head so you might as well kiss her on the lips and make friends with her. She's not who you think she is.

    Kirsten: I'm actually a pretty good counselor. I think visiting my blog counts for therapy hours and it's really cheap.

    Sarah: Isn't it crazy? TOO FUN!

    Bella: I think there's a weird strand of that violent hatred running through most religions. Anne Lamott wrote that you can pretty much tell that you've made a god in your own image when it turns out that he hates all the same people that you do. So true.

    I hope that compassion comes through. Through all the muck and laughing, that's so important to me. If you make enough silly mistakes you develop a deep sense of humility regarding what you think you know, and who you think you have the right to judge.

    "HI BELLA"

  35. Sweet!! The blogging price is *definitely* one I can afford!! ;o)

  36. Do any in the gang here do yahoo messenger? If so, maybe we can have a chatroom get together sometime? I think it would be nice to interact with all of you in an atmosphere with different dynamics. Let me know.

  37. Sorry Nathan...I don't have yahoo messenger and if I spend anymore time in cyberworld I'm going to get fired and divorced within the week.

    Now, when I quit my job and become a full-time writer...game on.

  38. YAY for Terri becoming a full-time writer!! I was thinking about this earlier tonight, actually, with regards to you. More along the lines of "I really hope it turns out that this move into the blogosphere propels her to write a book along the lines of what she's writing about right now!"

    Nathan, nope, I don't do YM either. Sometimes (but very rarely) will chat on Gmail Chat if I happen to be online for a long while when a friend signs on and chats me. But I like your initiative! Maybe this will eventually result in some kind of blogging reunion someday . . . except none of us were ever "union-ed" in the first place. Uh, except for Terri and Dave. And maybe me and Kirsten. Oh, and I guess a few of the friends Terri has in the real world who are part of this community, too. :)

    Okay. Long comment. Must. Go. To. Bed. Soon.

  39. Actually Christianne, I would love that so much and the thought first came into my head when I was reading about your own journey and the moment your husband asked you what your perfect day would be like and you talked about writing and reading and I thought, "Oh yes, me too!" I can't see from this vantage point how that would be even remotely possible, but it's sure fun to dream about it.