I was fifteen when I fell in love for the first time. Everyone told me I was too young to be in love and that it was “only puppy love.” But it was pretty doggone severe. I quickly went head over heels.
My best friend, Bill, had been trying to set me up with Teresa for a long time. She was his girlfriend Jan’s best friend. I wasn’t interested at first. Teresa was only thirteen . . . plus Bill’s girlfriend . . . well . . . was sort of ugly.
Finally Bill one day saw the writing on the wall and said, “Mike . . . you got to meet Teresa, she is really beautiful . . . a heck of lot prettier than Jan.”
Well I did meet her at a Halloween party and was in love before the night was over. I moved quickly. By the second date I was using the “I love you” phrase. By the end of the month I was talking marriage (remember I was fifteen and she was thirteen). Like I’ve said before, I’ve always had the tendency to feel things deeply.
But the strangest thing happened, which I totally didn’t expect . . . I fell out of love with her just as fast as I had fallen into it. It perplexed me. She was still as pretty as ever. Her personality was very sweet. There was nothing wrong with her. But I tried and tired to keep the flame alive and the embers just wouldn’t glow.
I hated myself during the next tedious six months of breakup. I felt so much like a jerk. I wish so much that she had been the jerk to justify my lack of love. I can’t count the number of times she called me and was crying because I had “forgotten our six-month anniversary” or “I hadn’t taken her to a movie in three weeks.” The worst tears came after I had given my friend the “permission” to ask her out himself.
“Why!? Why!? Why!?” came her shrilled voice (and that was almost 40 years ago and I can still remember it last yesterday). She screamed those desperate words over my sister’s pink, princess phone (I could only have a private conversation on my sister’s bedroom) I didn’t have the heart to speak in poetic prose like Gordon Lightfoot;
I never thought I could feel this way
and I got to say that I just don't get it.
I don't know where we went wrong
but the feelings gone
and I just can't get it back.
I think I was finally able to break up with her when I became a Christian at age 17. I was looking for some humane excuse. When I became a Christian, I stopped dating completely for the next eight years. I simply told her that God didn’t want me to date anymore. I lied.
I keep my radio tuned to NPR (because I don’t have any fancy MP3 or other system in my Jeep). However I have to keep turning the dial because there are three NPR stations and I live in the mountains. Within two miles I may have to dial between all three channels to keep up with a story and I’ve never have figured out how to program my station buttons so I can toggle between them.
Sitting in the middle of those NPR stations is one “Christian station” and two Canadian stations. The Canadian stations are easy to detect because I listen for the pronunciation “aboot” for about and the other one . . . well, it’s in French.
During my drive home I will sometimes, briefly, listen to the Christian radio station for short periods of time, especially during NPR's fund raising week. It is like looking through a peephole, with a fish-eye view of the old life. I was never a big fan of Christian radio, except maybe during my most fundamentalistic days when I thought that by listening to those crappy stations, I made God smile at me.
I really think that I occasionally listen to them now because I have the hope that I will hear something that restores some of my hope in Evangelicalism. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised . . . often I’m not.
Yesterday I had a hole in my schedule and left the office to run some errands. I turned on the radio and I didn’t realize it was before 3 PM (All Things Consider on NPR starts at 3 PM on the west coast). I turned the station from static until I heard the news but I didn’t recognize the voices. I found the news to be interesting. Most of it was about the overturn of proposition 8 in California. Then a short segment about the Israeli-Lebanese cross boarder skirmish. I was surprised when the news only reported from one angle. NPR usually interviews people on both sides of the question. It certainly left you feeling that the judge who overturned prop 8 was a nut case and extremely biased and that the evil Lebanese brutally attacked the innocent Israelis.
I was already thinking that the news seemed to have an agenda. Then a fund raiser came on . . . but then I learned it wasn’t NPR. It was a “newscast” on the Christian radio program. I could have guessed it was a Soviet news agency in the way only one side was presented.
If a psychology researcher would have recorded the fund raiser, they could have used it as the perfect example of guilt manipulation. It started with a verse. Then it took two words out of verse and used them in an entirely different way than the verse intended, to show that God wanted the radio station to succeed and that God was looking for a few “Men and women of God” would pledge $100/month to keep the radio ministry on the air. By the time that they were done, I felt like if I didn’t send in my pledge that God would despise me. Even NPR is never that manipulative.
The next program (and I only kept the radio on this station because NPR was still in its Jazz mode, and that is one genre of music that I haven’t latched onto yet), was a call-in show. I won’t even bother with the questions asked and the answers given by the two live-pastor-answer-men. But it was the tone and verbiage. Each pastor spoke with the voice of Pee Wee Herman that was awash in Karo corn syrup. It was constantly “blessing, be blessed, I’m blessed, feel a blessing.” I listened for a while and nothing they said related to reality . . . not normal human life on this earth.
It really dawned on me at that very moment that I had fallen—completely—out of love with the Evangelical culture. I’ve tried to love it but just can’t get it back. I can fake it, but there is nothing I can do to get it back. Absolutely nothing.
When the radio station advertised a “Prophecy Conference” and a “Marriage Enrichment Weekend” (reminds me of my mom’s neighbor, deacon in the Baptist church, who they caught beating the crap out of his wife and in response his church sent them to an Marriage Enrichment Weekend Seminar . . . rather than serious therapy . . . or to jail) I just cringe. I have no desire to go. I would rather go sit in a swamp with hemorrhoids. The last time I went to these things, a decade ago, it was because of “ought.” I go to my church each week because of “ought.”
But it is important to separate the falling out of love with the evangelical culture from that of God himself. There are more Gods (meaning the location and character of the one and only) than the Evangelical God. I could sit in a coffee shop with other believers . . . or just other humans for that matter . . . and deeply enjoy it, especially when we talk about God and his stuff. I can deeply enjoy the study of scripture and the study of history and the world, which God has made. I can sit in a Cathedral and listen to a chamber orchestra for hours . . . loving every minute of it. But the love affair with Evangelical seems to have faded forever. There are no more embers to fan.