I was a godly teenager tormented by Jesus and loins of fire

It’s nine o’clock on a Sunday morning. As always, I’m sitting on the balcony in church. My father, the pastor, stands in the pulpit. I’m in states of excitement. My roving gaze lands on Parker Ainsworth’s buttery thighs and the pink hem of her panties, visible thanks to the miniskirt’s recent popularity. Sitting next to Parker are other girls my age—Jaynie and June, Debbie and Shauna, Delilah and Jezebel—cross-legged, lithe, tanned, and silky.

I look away, bow my head in prayer, and search my head for Bible tips. “Whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, etc., ponder these things.” I think of Jesus’ bleeding, tormented, graphic death walk to Calvary, a walk made for sinners like me. Embrace the agony, young man. But the shifting and stabbing in my womb demands attention and a subtle rearrangement.

How hard it is to bring erections under the dominion of Christ – a mystery I ponder often. Not even my improvised chastity belt could help: tighty whiteties secured by a jockstrap so tight it squeezed my junk like some sort of BDSM zentai. Over time, after the temptation and fall, I found it helpful to rub a rough tea towel against my genitals until I bled.

According to FBI calculations, we had recently moved into the epicenter of white terrorism in the South. Yes, Brown vs. Board of Education was the law of the country longer than I was alive, and yes, LBJ had signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but in 1967, in deepest Mississippi, the explicit anguish of civil rights struggles was unfolding still. In nearby Meridian, federal prosecutors are trying 18 white Mississippians over their role in the killings of civil rights activists Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. Not for nothing did the respected journalist Curtis Wilkie title his new book When evil lived in Laurel. Laurel was my new hometown.

Reviewing those years as a scholar in my early thirties, I was struck by how pervasive a siege mentality had become among white Southerners; it was a complete way of seeing the world, with both an inner coherence and a breakdown in ordinary meaning. holiness meant power; civilized meant violent.

“Here was Jesus turning the other cheek, blessed-are-merciful Jesus showing us the dark hole in his great love.”

At the time, however, I was most aware of the principalities and powers colliding and clashing within my body—along with the sobering fact that according to the people I trusted to interpret this world, Jesus was about to return. And despite my adherence to the straight and narrow, I believed with all my heart that I would not make the cut on Judgment Day. I found nude photos torn from a magazine in the woods one afternoon and didn’t dispose of them properly; by which I mean I didn’t light it like I did The Chipmunks sing the Beatles album, my Simple rider Posters and a Ouija board. I hadn’t plucked out my stray eye, which I should have, because, you know, as the Lord himself said, it’s better to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to go to hell with two. In any case, I was pretty sure that the day the trumpets sounded and the sun went dark, Jesus would find me somehow compromised.

I knew my body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. The goal was to remain sexually pure – to present the temple unsullied – until I met my soul mate who had made the same arduous journey. My family, friends and the church prayed that I would run and finish the race; and they also prayed for my future consort, for the woman who had been chosen to be my helpmate before the creation of the world, an idea no less magnificent in God’s perfect providence than the firmament of heaven and the light on earth. I just had to wait to receive my righteous deserts.

“You need Jesus Christ, who gives you strength in (1) purity, (2) devotion, (3) courage,” my parents wrote in a letter for my birthday. My mother explained to me that premarital sex leads to psychological ruin. “All the girls I know who have lost their purity have emotional scars. They lost something precious that they can never get back. Your thinking is somehow damaged.”

These girls had committed the unpardonable sin, I realized. O Lord, have mercy, the unforgivable sin! From my first reading of the Gospel of Matthew – “Therefore I tell you, ‘Every kind of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men; but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven men” – I was consumed by the need to understand what this might be. Here was Jesus turning the other cheek, blessed-are-merciful Jesus showing us the dark hole in his great love. All sins would be forgiven except one. And he didn’t say which. But I was pretty sure I knew.

“The way I saw it, I was free to indulge as long as I stayed clean—no premarital sex, drugs, and alcohol. ”

Trouble was, the more I learned about my despicable flesh, the more I wanted to feel the shape and heat of my girlfriend’s womb where she sometimes rested my hand at the movies. She probably wasn’t my special person, nor was I hers. I was pretty sure Jesus would return to rapture the Christians to heaven before I could get married and walk the path. The lines of desire and purity collided in a pile of shame.

Numerous books on the subject of a young man’s struggles would mysteriously appear in my bedroom during those years, sometimes signed by a parent, sometimes accidentally placed on my bookshelf. You strengthened the life I expected: The greatest gift you can give your future bride or groom is your purity. Striptease and leg show, swimsuits that excessively expose the body, especially women’s bodies, magazine stories and pictures that focus the mind especially on the lovemaking, cinema, hugging dance – this leads to sexual desire and so on to teasing and petting. God wants more than just a person’s opinion or ministry in any future career. He wants his body to remain pure and clean. Now!

In my journal I recorded the slippery slope of affections: “1. acquaintance. 2. Casual friendship. 3. Close friendship. 4. Intimacy [sic] Friendship. 5. Immorality/impurity.” In a teenage script, I worried about how easily I could become “Satan’s main instrument.”

So I geared up for battle like the ascetic St. Anthony in the desert. I would fight the good fight. And I would lose my mind anyway.

My descent into juvenile delinquency began as a spontaneous act, as seemingly unmotivated as Meursault’s killing of the Arab in The unknown. One afternoon I was walking the sidewalk along Bay Springs Road having a bottle of soda with my best friend Mike West. I could see the bike approaching from the north near the curb shop, but didn’t think much about it until the Harley downshifted a few car lengths away. When the bike caught up with us on the road, I turned and pointed the bottle directly at the rider’s head. “What the hell?” Mike screamed. “What the hell?” We leapt over a grove of trees and hurtled through the kudzu screen in a jungle-like escape.

Puberty came upon me white-hot and smoking. The way I saw it, I was free to indulge as long as I stayed clean—no premarital sex, drugs, and alcohol. So I turned to throwing bottles and water balloons at passing vehicles. I stuck M-80s down the tailpipes of parked cars—the kind couples drank and fornicated—and watched from a safe distance as the tailpipes twitched and flared like fabulous Roman candles. I fired bottle rockets from Interstate bridges and overlooks and passed cops and highway patrolmen because I knew the trails that led through alligator weed and honeysuckle back to Ellisville Road. My father, thank god, and all of our parents were clueless.

“My friends and I had decided not to do the choir rehearsal. We didn’t want to sing in the music minister’s cheesy Christian musicals anymore”

My dad ran the weekly Royal Ambassadors, great gatherings that included Bible study and SEC football game highlights, and then dismissed us boys into the night, a horde of red-bible hooligans obsessed with chaos and vandalism.

By Wednesday night, my friends and I had decided to skip choir practice and instead play basketball on the corner lot. We no longer wanted to sing in the music minister’s cheesy Christian musicals – we had moved on to Sly and the Family Stone and ZZ Top. A week we found the church basketball hoops removed. In retaliation, Derek Ham and I set the Music Minister’s house on fire – although arson was not our intention. Disguised in purple amber pyramids, we bombarded the house with bottle rockets – only to make noise, only to disturb the despised minister’s sleep. Still, I wasn’t unhappy when a rocket landed on a bed of pine needles on the roof of the house, smoldered, and then burst into flames.

If you’re a fundamentalist boy growing up at the very point where the Bible Belt is breaking skin — before the internet, before Gameboy, before the millennium, of all — and with nothing to do in the afternoons and weekends than before hanging around the curb shop, you’ve probably already discovered the thrill of juvenile delinquency.

The fire has to go somewhere.

Adjusted out Evangelical Fear: A Remembrance by Charles March. Copyright ©2022. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/i-was-a-god-fearing-teen-tormented-by-jesus-and-fiery-loins?source=articles&via=rss I was a godly teenager tormented by Jesus and loins of fire


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