The church youth group

Since Sunday, the downpour has never let up for more than a few minutes. Yesterday it sounded like a typhoon, as gallons splashed against and through the skylight over my head. Today, though, everything looks like spring training in Arizona, with nothing but birds chirping in the sunshine, so I rolled the cart to Telegraph.

And regretted it.

I set up the table and sold a few fish, talked to some homeless guy, got screamed at by a Christian, and screamed back. I tried talking to the vendor next to me, but he's a really boring person so I gave up.

Then it started raining again, and then harder, and after an hour of cursing at the heavens I put everything away, stowed the cart for a dryer day, came home, toweled myself off, and turned the space heater on.

And that's about all that happened on Thursday, December 14.

♦ ♦ ♦  

For reasons unknown and unfathomable, my soggy head is bubbling with memories from the mid-1970s tonight, so here they are:

The closest I came to being a normal kid was in my church youth group. Mr and Mrs Cheeks ran the meetings and parties, plays and picnics, and we had a wide span of years among the youth, with junior high and high school kids together, grades 6-12. The middle-school kids generally sat and talked in one half of the room, and the high school kids had their own tables, but we all got along, knew each other and liked each other.

There were about twenty kids total, with a solid core of a dozen or so who were always there. I was in the dozen, one of the "always there," along with Bruno and Leon and Stu, and the twins Stella and Priscilla, and Ray Ann.

We were all good kids. A few of us might've inhaled the forbidden plant, but never at a youth group function, and there were lots of youth group functions, enough to keep all of us out of trouble.

Every second Saturday almost year round, we filled Mr Cheeks' station wagon with kids and trash bags, and all of us picked up trash from the side of the highways. Other times we picked up trash in city and county parks. There was no proselytizing on trash days, nor at the car wash and dog wash events. The girls did not wear bikini tips, or if they did they were covered by t-shirts.

You were in the group if you or your parents went to the church, but the church was dying. It was physically a big building on the south side of Seattle, and my parents said it had once been a busy place, but that part of town had become miles of blackness and Asian immigrants and refugees. Our church was white like lilies, so attendance dwindled as the neighborhood changed.

We did door-to-door outreach in the blocks surrounding the church, so there was always a black kid or two and some Asians in the youth group, with the idea that they'd bring their families to church and then our church wouldn't be quite so white. It usually didn't work. The black and Asian kids were OK with the youth group, but with only rare exceptions, their parents didn't want to be dragged to lily-white worship.

I didn't care about church at all, and already knew I wasn't a Christian, but my parents required my participation in the youth group, and I never tried weaseling out. The boys in the group were OK, even friends, and virtually all of the girls were hot, and they treated me kindly, not at all like the kids at school.

Ray Ann and I tended to sit together in the back seat of the Cheeks' station wagon. She was some kind of Asian — Eskimo, I think. We laughed and kidded around, but she was too pretty for me, so I never asked her out. Didn't have the courage, and besides, I was just as interested in Stella and even Priscilla. Asking one of them for a date would rule me out from the others, so it never happened.

These were high school girls, just not from my high school, so they didn't know that I was a loser, and supposed to be stigmatized. Or maybe they did know, and didn't care. My dweebhood must've been obvious — I talked about Star Trek and comic books and science fiction, so they had to know I was nobody, but they didn't treat me like nobody. 

Every Christmas, the group staged a play in the church on two consecutive Sunday nights, and then took the play "on tour" to several local nursing homes, where the old people were happy to see wholesome kids, or kids pretending to be wholesome.

There were also parties and skit nights and roller-skating nights, and the latter was my fave. I couldn't skate well, and hid what micro-ability I had, so the twins, Stella and Priscilla, would take me by the hand, one pretty girl at each side of me, and pull me around the rink. I was maybe 14, and that's all it was — a boy being skated by two pretty girls. Twenty years later it's still a memory that makes me smile, and more wholesome than most of my smile-worthy memories.

Guess it's even Christlike — Stella told me that Mary Magdalene and her twin sister, Sherry Magdalene, used to drag Jesus around old-time roller rinks the same way. Pretty sure Stella was kidding, though.

A week later I gathered all my tiny courage and asked her out. They were identical twins but I could tell the difference and I liked Stella best. She said no, because she was already dating another boy from the youth group. They were keeping it quiet, so I hadn't known.

Stella suggested I should ask her twin, Priscilla, and promised Priscilla would "say yes to anything," in exactly those words. But damn it, no. I didn't want to go out with Priscilla. Stella or nothing, for me, and nothing is what I got.

Mr and Mrs Cheeks tended the youth flock, hoping we'd be the backbone of the church's future. And we were. Bruno and Leon and Stu and me have been friends for life, and they're all still in the church. I'm a thousand miles away, but I think they're still my friends.

Remarkably, the twins, Stella and Priscilla, each married a man who'd been a boy in the youth group, and both their families are still in that church. Another couple of kids from the group, Mickey and Barbara, got married too. And another girl didn't marry a boy from the youth group, but she married the older brother of a boy from the youth group. And they're all still in the church, except me.

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." —Proverbs 22:6

That's the strategy of any successful church. Pump kids' full of Jesus before they've developed sense enough to reject it, and chances are they'll be church people forever.

Now I'm long gone from the church, and never coming back. I don't believe any of it, but I do believe the church isn't all bad, and that some believers really believe. They're not all hypocrites full of hate, like more and more of the so-called Evangelical Christians.

It's my generally happy memories of growing up in a decent Christian church that makes me furious when I see the fakers on TV 24/7, telling the gullible to "support the ministry," or telling them who to hate, and how to vote. I don't believe of word of that rubbish.

Right up to and including the Pope, I don't think there's any famous Christian who's not a charlatan, using the Lord's name in vain to make money, and make the world a crueler, angrier place. But I do like some of the Christians.

From Pathetic Life #19
Thursday, Dec. 14, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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