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By Maggie Rowe

And, for some reason, God also decided to include the animals. He drowned the bears and the elephants and your kid's turtle and your neighbor's golden retriever. He drowned the green alligators, the long-necked geese, the humpty back llamas, and the chimpanzees. He drowned the cats, and rats and elephants. And sure as you're born, our Father who art in Heaven drowned the unicorn.

That crazy God even tried to drown the fish.

And this murderer, this mass grave filler, this sick twist… is your Dad.

So you've probably known dads with really bad tempers -- maybe your dad was like that or your friend's dad -- but a big coping strategy with this kind of dad is you GIVE HIM HIS SPACE.

But according to youth pastor Dale, that wasn't possible with our Father who art in Heaven because the Lord is ever-present. He is always with us. Watching us. Literally everywhere.

To illustrate this point, Dale loved to recite the Footprints in the Sand poem -- which you've probably heard. A billion times.

It's about the man who dreams he's walking on the beach and sees two sets of footprints -- one is his and the other is the Lord's. But when times get tough, he only sees one set and so he says to God, "You promised me, Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I noticed that during the most trying periods of my life, there have only been one set of prints in the sand. Why, when I have needed you most, you have not been there for me?"

The Lord replied, "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints. It is then, my child, that I carried you."

Sweet, right? Just lovely imagery. Unless you BELIEVE IT. Then it's really uncomfortable and fucking creepy. Like when the fat guy on the subway is breathing down your neck. He might not be a pervert. He might just be a businessman. But still, you don't want him breathing down your neck. I mean imagine that God were here with us right now -- like right here -- watching us. Creepy, isn't it?

When I was ten, I told my youth pastor Dale that I had these thoughts about wanting God to go away because I thought it would be nice to have a little privacy now and then and I was afraid God was going to punish me for them. Youth Pastor Dale, aware I was at a tender impressionable age and that his answer would have a strong impact for years to come, said, "Maggie, listen. It is very, very important that you not feel the way you feel. God wouldn't like it very much if he knew you didn't want him around. I bet you don't like it when people want you to go away. No, you don't." And then he went into that whisper voice that every Baptist pastor does when he wants indelibly to etch some bit of churchly horror into a malleable child's still growing skull. "And Maggie," he said, "God sees and knows everything that we think. All the time. Literally."

So God was my Father who was always with me but then there were more images. God was a Dove. A Mother Bird. A Pearl of Great Price. A Spirit. A Ghost. The Son of Man. A Loaf of Bread. A Ray of light. A Grain of Wheat. A Glass of Wine. A Fish. A Bridegroom. A Lamb. A Mustard Seed. Yeast.

So I told youth pastor Dale "I'm really… really confused." Dale said "Maggie, those things are metaphors. Like when Jesus says, 'I am the bread.' He is saying his path of love and compassion offers spiritual nourishment, just like bread that you eat offers physical nourishment.

So I said, "Oooooooh well that makes so much more sense. So God isn't literally a Father and He's not literally always with me, watching everything I do." Youth pastor Dale said, "Maggie…don't blaspheme."

So I was left with two choices. Either God was a trigger-happy pathological maniac who was going to be breathing down my neck for the rest of my life or every adult I knew, everyone at church, my parents, my friends, my friends' parents, our neighbors, the little guy with the scarf at Blockbuster Video, the nice Indian family who ran the White Hen Pantry and every single one of my relatives and their parents -- were whacked out of their minds. And so I grew up terrified.

And what's frustrating to me is that it would have been so easy to take away that terror. It would have been as easy as taking away the word "literally." And replacing it with the word, "dammit." That's all. What they could have said was that "Jesus Christ was such an illuminated man, he so embodied the qualities of love and compassion, that he was he was like God. Dammit. And if we could likewise embody these qualities, our lives would be radically transformed and it would be as if we were born again. Dammit. And we are guided so surely to this realization by an inborn sense of truth that it is as if we have a wise Father. Dammit. Who is always with us. Dammit. And never leaves our damn side. Dammit.

But of course that's not what they said. So I guess the best way to describe my experience is to say that Calvary Valley Baptist Church fucked me up the ass. Literally.

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