You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I was a holy roller for a time. I swung from the rafters.
Yep. I'll wait right here while you get over that.
Okay? You all right? Good.
I have a theory that in high school, a teen turns to sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, or religion. There might be sports in there, too, but since I can't hit the wall with a spitball, that was never for me. And sex... well, I was a little confused about that one, so that wasn't my choice. Drugs scared the bejeezus out of me after I read Go Ask Alice--I was convinced I was going to drink a Coke that was laced with acid and end up clawing my own skin off. Rock'n'roll, well, I was really into '40s big band, so that didn't work, either.
I was left with religion. It started when I was a freshman--my new best friend Nicole brought me to her church, and I fell head over heels in love with the LOVE. Everyone loved me! They thought I was funny! Smart! They wanted me there! They hugged me all the time!
The Pentecostal church was nothing like the Episcopalian one I'd been taken to as a child with my mother. They raised their arms while they sang and prayed out loud with their eyes closed. They said, "Yes, Lord" and "Praise Jesus" while the pastor prayed. They spoke in tongues (and eventually I did, too, something I don't actually like to think too much about). They stayed in church from 8am till noon on Sunday, and Wednesday night service was encouraged. People came to the altar to get saved at least once or twice a service, and someone was always confessing something (and that something was often BIG--they'd cheated on their spouses, they felt attracted to the opposite sex, they'd started drinking again).
And they were loved, too! Those sinners were loved so hard that it was easy to stay once you came in the doors of the church. I felt God's love, sure, but what I craved was the love of Patti, the youth minister. When she smiled at me from the wisdom of her twenty-two years, I could fly.
I also loved LaRae. She was a hard-knock case--didn't come from the best family, had done lots of things that maybe she shouldn't have, and she was a grade older than I was. She both scared and thrilled me. When I was a junior and she was a senior, she'd pick me up to go to school in the mornings, and we'd sit in her little brown Honda Civic in the high school parking lot, the heater running, clutching each others' hands tightly as we prayed as hard as we could. Pray that we could witness to others. Pray that we'd ace the geometry test. We'd pray for just about anything or anyone, but what I remember most was the way her hands felt in mine.
I dropped out of the church in my senior year when I realized that yes, maybe I was interested in girls, and maybe the church was a little bit too intolerant on that one. Of course, this was twenty years ago, and I didn't say these things out loud to many people. I just remained in love with my new best friend (Monica) and went about the business of growing up.
Years later, I tracked down LaRae and called her. "So... are you still in the church?"
She laughed. "Hell, no."
She laughed harder. "Gay? Hell, yes."
But I believed in that religion I'd found in her Honda between our chastely clasped hands, and I'm still worshiping there. Love, friendship, kindness, acceptance. That's really all the church I need.