Monday, April 26, 2004

Tonya (not her real name) ( & the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship)- I encountered this young lady in a dorm bible study my 2nd year at University of Michigan. She was pretty, and cordial, so I casually figured it might be worth giving a try. Fates above, I thought I might actually get a girlfriend out of this.. But, at one point, she casually mentioned to the group that she’d like to get married to someone who would teach Bible study classes with her. What with my love of arguably violent video games, action movies, comic books, and rap music, I quickly realized that I would probably not make her ideal partner. My relationship with the “campus crusaders” contributed to my anxiousness. Here I was, thinking that I’d be free and clear to become the semi-hedonist that I had always dreamed of (since puberty, at least) after spending all of my formative years in Catholic school; I had every intention of partying with cool people, and finally meeting someone special; I had no intentions of spending my time in prayer groups and debating scriptures; as it so happened, Freshman year, my dorm room was next to two guys who ran the hall bible study (divine providence? Or just God’s sense of humor?). Being the affable chap that I am (for better or worse), I agreed to participate. Individually, and as a group, they were all nice enough; but socially, I felt our worldviews were often different- Most of them were white, and they had apparently spent a good deal of time being either ‘born-again’ or came from neo-fundamentalist aesthetics (example: some were firm Creationists), in small towns and suburbia. Me, I came from “the hood”; knowing nothing but Catholic dogma; part of the Gen X age-group saturated with pop-culture; even more specifially, hip-hop. A conscientious Christian on the outside, angry revolutionary on the inside. These kids tended to be fairly conservative politically (i.e. pro-life, “family values”), and some were fairly critical of secular society (MTV, etc.). The ‘hardest’ rock music they were into was stuff like BRYAN ADAMS & EDDIE MONEY; whoo-boy; and of course, many were into Christian pop, like Amy Grant or Michael W. Smith. I wonder what they would have said about my collection of Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and the Beastie Boys, which I never bothered to tell them about.
On one hand, I was truly fascinated by the level of apparent fervor that these people my age presented, which I had never seen in my collective elementary years & high school. Back then, even though catechism was part of our daily curriculum, most of the attitudes outwardly expressed by my classmates was that “I’m learning this just to take the test”. plenty people were still engaged in the typical teen rituals of smoking, drinking and screwing with abandon. I considered joining the priesthood every Friday night when I didn't have any parties to go to.. On the flip side, the particular kids that I now met seemed to really walk the Christian walk that they talked; and boy, did they talk it up. Up until then, I thought I was the only cat my age lobbying for sainthood (if only by default). After being with them for a length of time, you sensed that their spiritual shtick wasn’t just a hustle, to get you to join so-and-so’s ministry or buy a book not worth the paper it’s printed on. Unlike some of the guys I grew up around, these kids never asked me for any money, never swiped anything from me, never insulted me, never declined my company, and never told me a blatant lie. As it so happens, a few of the kids in the group had been overseas on behalf of varying missionary organizations, and some others definitely wanted to go. Me, personally, I couldn’t see it- Go to Japan or Israel or Haiti to teach kids English for the rest of my life? Hell, no…. Um, unless they could hook me up through one of those “mail-order-bride” agencies (with scores of beautiful-but-blissfully-ignorant native babes to choose from. Man, I’d be getting a divorce every two weeks.) I spent my sophomore year in a solo dorm room, vaguely thinking in the back of my mind that I could finally ‘get my mack on’. Of course, it never happened. During my brief flirtation with a fraternity, I thought it might help me score; but that just washed out after the frat bros. started acting flaky. I didn’t know that they treated you like jerks for weeks on end before you get to become one of the family. I’d had my fill of people like that, even if it was just an act, in the name of ‘paying dues’.
The Bible-study kids did like clean-cut fun, though- I spent a week with a bunch of them at a camp up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I couldn’t afford the regular fee, so I volunteered to help with the maintenance crew during the day, for 1/3 of the cost. Ethnically speaking, except for one counselor (a gentleman that happened to be from Nigeria), it was like being a brown fly in a bowl of rice. I remember also getting into a square dance (for the second time in my life). One particular evening though, was not as lighthearted- I had been invited to go square dancing (again!), but the dance was canceled (hooray!); we ended up heading back to one fellow’s house, and somehow, amidst sharing popcorn, the conversation drifted into discussing demonology and possession. Apparently, everybody I was there with really believed in it, and some told of their own ‘experiences’, either with themselves or with other people. The weirdness factor cranked up like a Kenwood speaker. One felllow spoke on how an alleged demon ‘held’ him in his bed, for several minutes one night when he suddenly awoke from a dream. They were all rather calm and matter-of-fact about it, and were quite articulate in how to ‘bind’ (reject) demons, by reciting scriptures & so forth. I was pretty quiet throughout the discussion. Part of me was freaking out, while the other half was silently chuckling. I mean, I had come to know some ‘devilish characters’ in my time, but I never encountered anything that I would qualify as full-blown headspinning stuff. If I remember right, in modern times, the Catholic Church has officially eased back from the work of exorcism: From being rampant in the middle ages, to being a relatively hush-hush topic now. In retrospect, there was probably a lot of misuse of power going on, particularly against people with physical and/or mental illness. So we were never really taught the particulars of that discipline in our Religion History classes. Everything I knew about so-called ‘exorcism’ came from hokey TV & movies, and Dr. Strange comics. I was definitely turned off to square dancing after that.
I ended up distancing myself from the “campus crusaders”- skipping meetings and general ducking out. The last time I spent any time with them was towards the end of the second semester- a small concert given by some of the students- one group was a band that did classic rock covers (“Joy to the World”, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, “Bye-Bye Miss American Pie”) with the twist that they also discussed the Christian context and/or message within them. I’m glad they didn’t take requests- I might have suggested Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” out of sheer apathy. Then there was another, acappela group of kids. I forget the exact routine, but at one point, one of the girls attempted a brief beat-box impression; a cute display, no doubt, but I had to rein in the laughter that wanted to escape. I felt both badly and relieved that I had cut myself off from them- They were, for all intents and purposes, sincere folk- unlike some of the knuckleheads I had grown up knowing, I didn’t have to worry about them swiping my things or freeloading. They didn’t care that I wasn’t a jock. But, like many young people, I was having my own version of an identity crisis. I had become weary with having a social circle that was almost exclusively White- or at least, that which didn’t really reflect most of the issues & interests that I was into- I had spent my years in high school being ‘absorbed’ into the subculture of my white peers; other than after-school ‘hanging out’, there was no formal fellowship among the black students. That was something that was important to me that I felt I was missing out on- having only, at best, marginal friendships with all of the black kids I became acquainted with. It had built up within me for some time, but I suppose after that, I simply became disgusted with humanity, or at least the element of it that I seemed to constantly come in contact with. I became resigned to the notion that the vast majority of people I came across were put here by God to ignore me or humiliate me. I ended up getting sick and dropping out later in the second semester.. I still owed the school money, so I couldn't go back the next year-- and I haven't been back since.. and the bastards still won't release my transcripts (it's over $10,000), so I'm going to Wayne State U. starting off as a freshman instead of a junior.. which only contributes to my bitterness...

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