Confessions of a Former Christian Gangster
We knew a lot about hell. Not as much about heaven.
I was in a small Christian gang at my elementary school. At first glance, you might not have believed we were gang members, but if you looked closely at the twinkle in our eyes, you would have read the message, “We can die at any time. Jesus will catch us. How about you? Do you know who’s catching you?”
That’s a lot to read in a set of eyes. But you could, because we were looking at you for a very long time, staring, willing your salvation. We stared because Christian culture never taught us the rules of eye contact, the laws of social interaction. We were above the law, people united by our defiance of death, and our sense that there isn’t time for social niceties, not when you’re in the game of saving souls.
Now do you believe we were a gang? Of course you do. Only people in a gang would be tough enough to shout with their eyes at strangers, saying, “Do you know where you’re going when you die?”
We were training to ask this question with our mouths too, and in the meantime, we were wearing jean jackets and owning off-brand Trapper Keepers like bad asses. We didn’t need brand names. Our names were branded in the Book of Life.
We quietly celebrated the fact that our true hearts were buried in the beyond: God’s country. It made us light on our feet. The school and playground could fall away beneath us, collapsing in atomic fire, and we would simply lift off as gently as kids on cables in a swanky Peter Pan production. Then the winds of the world’s burning would sail us all the way to Jesus’s Neverland.
One year, a new girl came to school. Amelia MacArthur. She lived in a lonely old farmhouse, and she told me a wonderful story about it. A little farm girl died long ago, and for some reason the farmers buried her beneath one of the flagstone steps leading to the front door.
I thought about that little dead girl all the time. I imagined you would know which stone was hers because you’d feel coldness reaching up into your foot, climbing the marrow tunnels of your bones higher and higher, heading for your heart like…