|Post-conversion Roy? No.|
The next day at school, Rhonda (object of crush, introduced here) seemed to have forgotten all about my public conversion, possibly because her family had a television. No one, in fact, treated me any differently. No congratulations, no pat on the back, no Secret Saved handshake.
Young people used to believe that the day after their first two-person-or-more sexual experience, people could just look at them and tell: "Well, I be danged. Rufus went and lost his virginity last night!"
I thought it would be like that after accepting Jesus, but no dice. I did not look like Charlton Heston as Moses, glowing, moussed and frosted as he descended Mt. Sinai. I didn't look like anyone from the bible. I looked exactly like Roy.
I found myself breaking off from the herd occasionally during recess, walking alone in that Wilderness school playgrounds often become, pondering and muttering to myself.
What was supposed to happen now? I was "changed." Changed how? If some kid who was always getting in fights or throwing Coke bottles through the school windows at night, if that guy accepted Jesus, he would become -- for a while -- a little Billy Graham in the making, and everybody would take on over him.
But due to genetics or self-preservation or fear of being caught, I already was a model child. I was never evil and I never rebelled. Aside from being bored in church, I could think of very few sins I had committed, none of them enjoyable.
Other than Improving Behavior and Not Going to Hell, what other reason was there for this weeping, singing, embarrassing conversion ritual? I couldn't even be sure about the Hell part until it was too late. Until then I would just be a paranoid Puritan, unsure if I had indeed been washed in the blood of a legitimate religious experience, thereby becoming one of the Elect.
Of course, I didn't actually hear Jesus calling me. So what were the consequences of a fraudulent conversion? Was the "new person" I just became someone even God had never heard of? If my conversion somehow worked anyway, would I go to a fraudulent heaven, the same one people go to if they read only the Cliff Notes or Spark Notes version of scripture?
If, on the other hand, God considered it an unworthy sacrifice, would I be sent to a fraudulent hell, and if so, what would that be like? Or would I just be cursed with the mark of Cain and forced to wander alone throughout eternity?
I was smitten with existential angst long before I'd heard either of those words.
I hold this dilemma, this flu-like mingling of dread and uncertainty, responsible for the rapid fading of my post-conversion euphoria. It lasted about two weeks tops, and then I was "back" to being regular Roy, a pretty nice, well meaning guy, certainly, but with no halo to show for it.
As I continued to wade through the pond of sharks otherwise known as adolescence, I had a couple more mini-conversions, harmless aftershocks emanating from the original quake, sort of one-week stands that never amounted to much, just a few days of feeling sanctimonious with brief traces of sympathy for all the poor bastards who were damned for eternity.
And now for a succinct delineation of the event and its immediate aftermath or afterglow, depending on one's point of view: I was born into a family and a culture that believed in the Christian God. I believed, too, seeing him not "through a glass darkly," but through one already dappled with doubt. But I couldn't imagine not believing in him.
I believed in Hell and the Devil, and often tried to picture the latter in realistic terms, i.e., not the one used in commercials or cartoons or as a high-school mascot, but one who was a human-shaped incarnation of evil. I believed I needed to accept Jesus as my personal savior in order to avoid both Hell and its CEO.
I never doubted the authenticity or necessity of the traditional adolescent, pubescent conversion. None of this was a joke to me. As far as I know, some of those countless teens really did hear Jesus tenderly calling, and that's why they walked to the front and cried. It just didn't happen to me.
(Which probably makes writing a memoir easier for me, because how do you put an actual Jesus encounter into everyday language? Good luck, lucky ones!)
By the time the Air Force sent me to Japan, I was almost old enough to think seriously about this issue, and think about it from a good place, literally and figuratively. More on that later.
Oh, and I never told you about my Baptism. . .