As a child, I was always suspicious of Jesus. I mean, I know he’s the Son of God and loves all the little children of the world, but it’s not like he created the world in seven days or parted the Red Sea. In my mind, God was the Big Kahuna, and that’s Whom I was taught to pray to bless Mama and Daddy and, I suppose, my big sister who was sometimes mean to me, too.
I suppose it started with the rolling papers I found in the back of a Volkswagen Bug that my dad bought to fix up for my mom. “Put those yellow papers down and go wash your hands,” my dad told me. Naturally, I had to ask why. “Because they’re yellow papers and they’re bad, that’s why.” Again, I had to ask why. “Because hippies use them, that’s why.” So then I had to ask what a hippie was. “Hippies are men with long hair and beards who wear sandals. They don’t work and talk about love and peace.” My father leaned down and looked me in the eye. “You should stay away from them.” Obviously, being a hippie was a bad thing.
Some time later I remember being in Sunday school. It must have been shortly before Easter, because we were cutting palm fronds from green construction paper for when Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Our teacher had just finished passing out those little butter ring cookies in the shape of a flower. It was fashionable, at the time, to slip the cookie onto one’s pinkie and nibble it until it was all gone.
So, I was cutting palm fronds with safety scissors with one hand, and nibbling a cookie on the pinkie of my other hand, when our teacher held up an illustration of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey. In a flash, I noticed that Jesus had long hair and a beard and he wore sandals. Furthermore, he didn’t work because he was too busy traveling around with his disciples to preach about love and peace. My blood ran cold. I felt my head start to spin, and I reached out to brace myself from falling over. My butter cookie ring shattered as my tiny hand hit the table. Suddenly, I realized the truth: Jesus was a hippie!
Even though I was only five or six, I can remember feeling quite paranoid when my mother picked me up and escorted me to the auditorium for the main church service. My father and older sister were there. Daddy smiled at me and I quickly smiled back. I couldn’t let on that I knew the truth. Didn’t my father realize that Jesus was bad? That he was a hippie? And then near the end of the service, the Lord’s Supper was served, and the ushers passed around collection plates with saltine crackers in them, which the preacher said was the body of Christ. If it wasn’t bad enough that Jesus was a hippie, now I was expected to grow up and eat him. It blew my little pre-kindergarten mind.
There was a period where we changed churches several times, and then we didn’t attend regularly for a number of years. During that time, hippies sort of disappeared from the media. I remember that I was wrestling with some sort of adolescent trauma, when a proselytizing schoolmate suggested that I turn my problem over to Jesus. I remember laughing and saying, “Why in the world would I want to do a thing like that?”
“Because Jesus is the Son of God,” she said.
I shook my head and explained to that silly girl that God was the CEO of the Universe and Jesus was just the Manger on Duty. “If I have a problem, I certainly have no intention of messing around with middle management,” I said. “I’m going straight to the top!”
“You’re going straight to hell,” she said. “Unless you accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal savior.”
I was confused. I thought, Gee whiz, you don’t go to church for a couple of years, and suddenly, it becomes the Jesus Fan Club!
When I got home, I asked my dad about it. He tried to explain the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to me.
“I thought you said that there is no such thing as ghosts,” I said.
“They’re not,” my dad replied.
“So how can there be a Holy Ghost?
“Well, he’s not a ghost, really, he’s more of a Holy Spirit.”
“Isn’t that just another word for ghost?” I asked.
“Okay, so there is such a thing as a ghost, but the Holy Spirit is a good ghost.”
“Yeah, like Caspar.”
“Why did you lie to lie to me, then, Daddy?”
“I didn’t like to you,” he said.
“You told me there was no such thing as ghosts!”
“I meant like in haunted houses,” he said.
“You also told me there was a Santa Claus, and that turned out to be a lie, too,” I said, crossing my arms in front of me. “For all I know, you’re lying about this Holy Ghost business, too!”
And the next thing I knew, I was grounded because my father had lied to me about ghosts–and Santa Claus. Maybe I still blame Jesus for that. I should have never trusted that hippie …