Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chapter 3, part 2: Guilt at Every Turn

As soon as we got home, I took the cordless phone to my room called her.

“How are you today?”

“I’m actually feeling OK. The painkillers they gave me at the hospital are pretty awesome. How about you? You’re still alive so I guess your dad must not know yet.”

“Oh, he knows all right. My mom made me call last night and tell him everything.”

“Whoa, she’s hard core. So what’s your punishment?”

“I have to pay a portion of the damages and the bump in his insurance. But, I lucked out. The youth pastor at my church said I could work for him, so it’s all covered.” I knew it wasn’t just luck. Why didn’t I ever talk about God with Alicia?

“That’s cool. Hey, not to change the subject, but before the accident on Thursday I was planning to ask you about your plans for prom.”

“No one’s asked me,” I said.

“I know, but I thought maybe I could talk you into just going ahead and asking someone yourself. It would be so awesome for you to double date with me and Chet.”

“I’ll think about it,” I promised, trying to think of who I’d dare to ask.

***

Sunday morning we went to church and Bible class like we did every week. Blessed Redeemer Lutheran Church was a large brick building with Gothic spires and huge stained glass windows imported from Germany by the founding members at the turn of the century. Normally I enjoyed the ritual pomp and circumstance of the high liturgy and tried to take notes on the sermon, but today I found it hard to concentrate.

Instead I indulged in some games I’d invented to pass the time in my childhood days when my attention span didn’t match the length of the service. After counting the neatly spaced rows of light bulbs that dotted the ribs of the vaulted ceiling, I hunted for fairies and elves in the patterns formed by the swirl of creamy specks in the maroon carpet. 

Finally I turned my attention to the windows, which each depicted scenes from the life of Christ. I tried to remember each story. The one there with Jesus crouching and writing something with his finger in the dust. In the background, angry looking bearded men wore robes and tunics. A woman cowered nearby. I remembered this one well. The story of the woman caught in adultery. “Go and sin no more,” Jesus would say to her after all her accusers left.

The story was always presented as an example of God’s wonderful grace, but today it struck me that God’s grace had a catch. Could anyone really go and sin no more? Or was it another impossible standard? Is that what having faith really meant? What hope was there left then for me, who sinned over and over?

Kirsten and I walked together from the sanctuary to the old parsonage, where the youth group met for Sunday School. Kirsten squeezed onto one of the many multicolored thrift store sofas crammed in the living room between her best friend Heidi and her boyfriend Charlie. I awkwardly looked around for an open spot and finally just sat on the floor.

Most everyone there went to the Lutheran high school, while my parents had sent us to public school after eighth grade. I may not have made many friends at Citrus Valley High, but at least I wasn’t a total outcast like I had been at Blessed Redeemer Elementary. Even though I had grown up with them, I was never very close with the girls in my class, and three years at separate schools hadn’t made the heart grow fonder. Whenever I was around them I felt as awkward and unlovable and excluded as I ever did in junior high.

Pastor Jim introduced the new intern, Jolene. She had the most perfect blond ringlets and a broad apple-cheeked smile. It was how I dreamed of looking.

“Since we finally have a male and a female on staff, today we’ll be covering a topic I’ve been wanting to tackle for a long time now: sex. Girls, you stay here and guys, you come with me upstairs.”

Jolene gave the same basic overview of human sexuality I’d heard in high school health class. She talked about boundaries with boyfriends and how far was too far. She had us write down questions so she could read them anonymously and answer them for everyone. There were a lot of uncomfortable giggles, but we were hanging on her every word.

“Okay, last question. ‘What about fantasies or mutual masturbation? Is that ok?’” Jolene read from one of the slips of paper. She paused to think before answering. “Here’s my opinion. Sex is sex is sex, whether it’s in our mind or simulated, alone or with another person. If you touch yourself, repent,” she said. “Confess to God and then go and sin no more.  It may not be specifically addressed in the Bible, but it does say: He says ‘Be perfect as I am perfect.’  The standard is nothing less than absolute chastity. Sex saturates our media, so it wouldn’t be surprising if any of you girl struggle in this area. Right now, you can give it to God and he will empower you to make better choices. Pray with me.”

I made a vow to God then and there that I wouldn’t touch myself or fantasize ever again.