FRESH YARN presents:

By Maggie Rowe

"Do not shit on my class," he said. "You may not come in here and take a shit on my class." Yvonne stopped singing and looked up in shock at our instructor: legendary singing coach Leonard Jack, a genteel stylish 80-year-old man dressed to the height of fashion -- for a homosexual in the 1930's. Leonard came to every class wearing ballet slippers, whisper thin nylon socks, and perfectly tailored dress pants, which he would hitch up when sitting - to display his delicately argyle-laced calf. For the ladies.

Leonard Jack continued, "You are singing horribly. You should know better than to come here and shit on my class." Yvonne blinked back tears and put on a brave smile. Her fierce Puerto Rican pride would not allow this irate little ballerina octogenarian to see her cry.

After class, one of the other students asked Yvonne what she thought of Leonard Jack. "Joo know, everyone thinks he's so fucking brilliant. This Leonard Jack. Well, joo know what? Joo know what? I think he's a pendejo. What he said to me in there? That was totally -- I mean, Leonard Jack fucked me up the ass….Literally." There was silence as we all thought -- I wonder what she means by that…exactly?

Maybe it was a translation thing. Because if Yvonne were talking to a Puerto Rican she probably would have said something like "Leonard Jack fucked me up the ass. Carajo." And in Spanish the word carajo doesn't really mean anything -- it's just an expletive. It's used for added emphasis. You know, like we say, "Dammit." "Leonard Jack fucked me up the ass. Dammit." And when you think about it, a lot of people use the word "literally" that way. So Yvonne wasn't really that far off.

Like all the people in the church I grew up in, Calvary Valley Baptist, used the word "literally" like that.
They taught me that all that stuff in the Bible literally happened. It was history. Like Mt St. Helen erupted in 1980. Or John Glenn was the first man in space. Or Thoroughly Modern Millie won best musical in 2002. The Bible, I was taught, was like that.

Take the story of Lot's wife who turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back on the city of Sodom. This is a fantastic metaphor, right? It serves as an interdiction against excessive mourning, a warning against becoming consumed by the bitterness of regret, drowned in the salt of grief. But that's not what it meant to the people at Calvary Valley Baptist. What it meant to the people at Calvary Valley Baptist was that Lot's wife looked back over her shoulder, saw the city of Sodom, and turned into a pile of salt. It wasn't a question of what it meant. It was true. Literally.

So when youth pastor Dale would say, "God is your father in heaven," he didn't mean anything by that, it wasn't a metaphor expressing some aspect of the human experience. It just was. God was a Big Cosmic Parental Ego in the sky. Like my Dad -- if he had made the world and had a lot more responsibility.

Youth pastor Dale would talk all the time about how our Heavenly Father was just. "The Lord is known by his justice." "The Lord will shepherd his flock with justice." "The Lord's justice will not tolerate the wicked." And what justice meant…well you had to figure it out.

But luckily you had help -- The Bible, which was the absolute Word of God.

It was true.


And the Bible has many examples of God's justice. There is, of course, my favorite, the story of the Great flood, of Noah and the Ark.

I was in a play at Calvary Valley Baptist when I was 10 about Noah and the Ark called…100% Chance of Rain.

I played the narrator and I started off the play by saying, "The Lord saw the wickedness of man was great on the earth and that every intent and the thoughts in his heart were continuously evil and the Lord was sorry he had made man and he was grieved in his heart. And The Lord said, 'I will wipe out man whom I created from the face of the earth. From man to animal to creeping things to birds of the sky.' But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. And God said to Noah, 'Make for yourself in ark. It's gonna rain.'"

Then came the opening song where we all danced with rain slickers and umbrellas.

Now the Lord was unhappy with the people on earth
They were not what they ought to be and not what they're worth
They were bad and ugly and mean as could be
So the Lord wiped them out as you will see
It's gonna rain, rain, rain
It's gonna rain, rain, rain
100% chance of rain!

So just to go over this. Basically God had told the people on earth to do certain things and they tried to do them but they were imperfect so it came out different than they intended so… God drowned them -- wives, children, parents -- All of 'em. Just wiped 'em out. All except one family.

Scientists, or as we called them "heretics" or "lunatics" estimate that at the time of the Flood, the population of the earth was fifty million people. And according to the Calvary Valley Baptists, with the exception of one family, God slaughtered them -- fifty million people by dropping water from the sky that filled up their lungs until they asphyxiated. That's just what happened.

It's true. Literally.

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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