I reckon when young folks in the church decide they are called to become missionaries, rather than sending them off overseas to give immunisations or sing Father Abraham to little wide-eyed, brown skinned babies on the other side of the world, we ought to just send them into their local state high school instead. And we ought to tell them to leave their Bibles at home, and take a tazer and supply of anti-depressants instead, and make their sole ministry to protect the life of any unfortunate soul who gets found out for being a Christian.
I was “saved” in the early eighties, at high school, in ISCF (Inter-School Christian Fellowship) one lunchtime after hearing a man speak who had been terribly burned in a bus fire. I had always known God, but Jesus was a whole, wonderful new concept to me. Once I’d heard the burned man speak, I felt I had found the bridge between myself and a God who had seemed to grow more remote as I grew older. However, if I’d thought being saved from my own innocuous, pre-teen sins would extend to my also being saved from the violent, abusive and oppressive sins of my peers, I was sorely mistaken.
I feel I must take at least some responsibility for the relentless persecution I suffered once I made it public I’d found Jesus. I mean, I stuck Jesus stickers all over my school books. I argued with the science teacher about evolution. I wrote slogans in white-out all over my Globite school case such as “Jesus Saves!” and “Know Christ – Know Life, No Christ – No Life.” Suffice to say, said school case suffered it’s own unique and truly awful indignities, thrust ruthlessly as it was across the asphalt quadrangle, and kicked out from underneath me as I sat on it in assemblies. I learned the hard way that when someone spits on your school bag, if you rub it in hard enough then some of what they wrote in black permanent marker over the white-out actually comes off…a little.
I thought for ages I was the only Christian in my entire year of high school. But over a period of time, usually after there had been a lull in me having garbage thrown at my back, someone would sidle up behind me while I walked between classes and whisper something like “Pssst….you know, you really need to learn to keep your head down. I’ll – uh – pray for you.” before slipping around the corner out of sight. How come those kids never went to ISCF? I learned that there were other Christian kids in my year all right, but they had learned the art of discretion. I would know them by their sympathetic expressions as they rushed by me in the hallway while I wiped someones spit from my cheek. They seemed to have learned when they were very young never to let on they were Christians to anyone outside of church. Only we dummies who had been saved late in the game were stupid enough to think being religious was something you’d be safe telling anyone you expected not to socially crucify you in slow, painful increments.
Even in church, you could always tell us newly-saved grace-trophies from the birthright-born-agains. We were a little rougher around the edges, bringing our embarrassing problems from home to the post-service prayer line, and we were always asking people to pray for our unsaved folks. We were the ones racing off after the altar call to the phone booth around the corner after to make giggly prank calls to the operator – “Did you know, Jesus loves you?” We’d be in the bookshop buying glitter chrome stickers for our school books or clever evangelical t-shirts , while the church-experienced kids would roll their eyes and compare the Bible covers they got for their birthdays. They’d never be caught dead with that witnessy stuff. After the youth-group meetings were over, they’d be dutifully picked up by their parents, while we’d all bus it back home together in the back of someones van. Our church attendance wasn’t carefully regulated by our parents, in fact, our parents were probably grateful just to have the religious weirdo they couldn’t believe they gave birth to out of the house for a few hours. I did feel bad for my mum. I once remember her overhearing me when I was praying out loud, and her coming in when I was finished and telling me not to pray for her, thank you very much. She’d had her share of God when she was younger, she said, and those church people never did anything for us when we needed them the most. I got the impression that she wasn’t as uninitiated into the ways of the church as I’d probably believed.
The whole thing had begun to really wear me down. I felt like I was living three separate lives. There was home, where my family were happy to reap the rewards of any “clean Christian living” I managed to demonstrate provided I didn’t give credit to Jesus out loud at the dinner table. There was school, where I kept all public appearances to an absolute minimum, and only ever went into the toilets when everyone else was in class. And there was youth group, where it seemed I was destined to only ever be the proof that God really will save just about anyone.
I guess it all started to go seriously haywire at school camp. Two other girls relented to share a tent with me, and I promised myself I’d try and justify their tolerant patronisation. One night, some of the popular kids decided to have a seance. Of course, being the only one present who publicly confessed any knowledge about spiritual things, I was asked if I wanted to participate. I thought it sounded simply terrific. Unfortunately, I was probably also the only one there who took it seriously, and I managed to invoke a realistic enough manifestation of something that caused every single person in attendance, including four of the toughest guys in our year, run from the room in terror, probably convinced they were about to relive a scene from “Carrie”. For my part, I was quite deflated when the seance ended early. I hadn’t considered that anything malevolent could possibly happen that I wouldn’t be able to handle. Hadn’t everyone seen this kind of scary shit before? Sheesh! We saw this stuff in church all the time. On returning to my tent, I found my two tent-mates had abandoned me. My social excommunication was complete. I was now not only the resident freaky Christian, I was now also the resident harbinger of supernatural evil. Oh, just frickin’ great.
By about year nine, I’d had about as much as I could take, and not just at school. My parents had dutifully endured what they hoped was my evangelical “phase”, and actually seemed relieved when I stopped going to youth group so much and started locking myself in my room listening to Pink Floyd for hours and hours. I’d already started trying to build back some credibility in school, taking up cigarette smoking and hanging out with the older, tougher girls on the back seat of the school bus. I began spending my Saturdays hanging out at the local roller skating rink, spending my pocket money on Alpines and teaching my girlfriends to do the draw-back behind the railway station. I stole alcohol from my parents bar and built up quite a resistance to intoxication at around the same time most of my friends were still having a sip of their mothers chardonnay at the dinner table. I rapidly became the girl parents warned their daughters to stay away from. The beatings and slangings at school relaxed, and I threw my offending school bag into the creek behind the school cross-country track. In just a few months, I went from being isolated in my own private religious piety, to being isolated in my own private delinquent infamy. It was quite thrilling and liberating, in a nasty, terrifying kind of way.
In fact, I really missed God, but I didn’t seek Him out like I once had. I no longer chased his silent, moonlit gaze around my pillow, instead resorted to sleeping with all the covers wrapped around my head leaving my legs naked, because I was actually terrified something would come and grab me on the back of the neck in my sleep. I hated the dark. I dreamed of vampires, and often just stayed up smoking cigarettes out the window until two in the morning, just to avoid having to try to go to sleep.
At school, I finally felt safe from my peers, but I’d had to become as dangerous as they were to do it. I still wanted God inside me and with me, and I certainly wanted more of Jesus if that meant more of God, but I didn’t know how to grow God big enough to swallow up the pain of having my guts hated because of Him. Being a Christian was clearly bad for my health – physical, emotional and mental. I couldn’t be with Him, and stay alive too. It meant I was going have to die one way or another – probably by being marginalised into an obscure social death by my peers and disenfranchised from my family of origin. I realised being a Christian would be an awfully lonely path for me, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t ready for that. But there was an alternative. Unable to denounce God, I decided I would confront Him with as much bad and stupid behaviour as I could muster, and try and offend Him into leaving me alone. Being a Christian was just too darn hard for me.
I figured that at the very least, next time I got saved, I’d really have something to get saved from.