Today’s guest post comes from Steve.
I’m not sure why my parents sent me to confirmation classes. Ours was not a very religious family. While my parents rarely felt moved to attend church services themselves, they had a fuzzy notion that it would be good for my sister and me to go, and so they sent us.
I have vivid memories of all the ways I conspired to avoid going to church. I learned to fake a fever (if you spin a thermometer fast enough in your mouth, the temperature goes up). I would always lie in bed deep into Sunday morning, hoping my mother would forget me, emerging when it was too late for her to order me to church.
My best ploy involved my “Sunday go to meeting pants,” the formal trousers that I only wore to church. One day my grandmother gave me a discarded library dictionary, a musty, leather-bound monster so heavy I barely could pick it up with two arms. I arranged my Sunday pants in a pile on top of the radiator in my room and put the dictionary on them. If Mom ever caught me on a Sunday morning and insisted that I go to church, I’d disappear into my room and come out with pants so horribly wrinkled that no homeless guy would wear them. “Look, Mom!” I’d cry, my voice ringing with disappointment, “I can’t go to church in THESE!” My mother purely hated ironing. This gimmick always worked.
But I didn’t need to dress up for Confirmation Class, so the pants couldn’t save me. I think I was 14 the year they taught that class. That was a bad time, a time when I was convinced I was one of life’s big losers. Since I didn’t think much of myself I could hardly expect anyone else to respect me. Worse, I was beginning to resent what seemed like arbitrary edicts from my parents. I’d always been a sweet and compliant child—you could call me a disgusting little apple polisher around all authority—but now I was beginning to see the world with my own eyes.
Confirmation class was not intellectually demanding, and I didn’t mind it much. We mostly chased each other around the big old brick church in noisy games of tag. When the teachers caught us and sat us down for bible lessons, I found those lessons curious but innocuous.
To celebrate our impending graduation from Confirmation class, our minister—who shall remain nameless here, although I am tempted—joined our class one evening as a sort of visiting celebrity. The minister was in a genial mood, entertaining us with funny stories. He was a dry old Scotsman who was mostly famous for interminable Sunday sermons so boring that the statue of Jesus sometimes went to sleep.
The first started with a question. “Catholic nuns wear those big cloaks that have their heads hidden under a cowl,” he said. “But did you ever wonder what a Catholic nun looks like underneath that cowl?” I never had given a moment’s thought to what nuns wore, and I was beginning to find this story creepy. “One night I visited a nun who wasn’t expecting company, and I caught her without her cowl. And guess what? She was bald as a billiard ball underneath! Bald as a billiard ball!”
I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. This was the first time in my life I had encountered naked bigotry. I was shocked that this nasty, gossiping old man was the minister of my church.
The minister next plunged into the evolution controversy. “You probably have heard of this man Darwin and his screwball ideas,” said the minister. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I am not related to any monkey!”
That was totally confusing. Related to a monkey? Once again I felt disgust for the minister, but this time it felt better. Apparently there were people who thought differently from him. Somewhere in the world there was a guy named Darwin who said things that outraged my minister. Cool! I had an ally. I looked forward to learning more about this Darwin.
Here is a picture of the Confirmation Class of 1956. I’m the chubby dweeb just behind and to the left of the minister. What a smile! You’d never guess that I was at this moment struggling to hide my contempt for the first authority figure to spark rebellion in my heart. That ember of independent thinking would glow quietly for several years before it burst into flame, but it all started here.
Was there ever a time when you suddenly realized that you needed to rebel from authority?