God was magic

By The Columbia Chronicle

“So, I met Tina, the new minister at the Union Church, and I like what she’s saying.” Mom was in the passenger seat, my younger sister and I in back, and my father was driving us home after my elementary school’s annual picnic. This was the beginning of fifth grade. “This Sunday, we’re all going to church, to check it out. There’s Sunday School for Chris and Caitlin,” she said.

I wrinkled my nose and got mad. Except for weddings and a couple of cousins’ baptisms, our family never went to church—and I intended to keep it that way.

“What? No! Do we have to?” This was me, and probably my sister, too.

Church meant getting up early on Sundays, sacrificing the hours of pajamas, cartoons and sugar cereal and, well, it also meant going to church.

Church was dressing up, and I was hard-pressed to wear anything but a Metallica shirt and a pair of Bugle Boy jeans. Church meant going to school on the weekend, and I thought that five times during the week was enough already. Church was about God, and I didn’t believe in God because God didn’t make sense. God was magic—like a ghost. Ghosts weren’t real and magic was just someone being slick.

Mom had made up her mind and there was nothing we could do. “Yes, you have to. What did you think? We were going to leave you at home? We’re just going to try it,” she said.

Our family is creative. Dad writes songs on his guitar, Mom makes quilts and bakes incredible cookies, Caitlin dances and writes poetry and I write stories and the occasional song.

We’re imaginative, but realistic—we need fact.  Dad does legal work,  Mom uses specific measurements for quilts and baked goods, Caitlin’s dance is precise and balanced and I work as a proofreader.

We all value specifics. In Sunday School, the kids in Caitlin’s class were given pieces of posterboard and told to draw a saint. The other kids broke out crayons and drew Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa. Caitlin’s poster was of a brown-skinned woman with curls of hair coming off the sides of her head.

She held it up in front of the church’s congregation and said, “My poster is of my grandma because my Dad always says, ‘My mother is a saint!’”

Everyone in the church laughed, but my sister wasn’t joking. Those are the things we do in my family. We take things literally, and we elevate them from the day-to-day to the divine.

Our church attendance slowed after less than a year when Mom got angry at being left in charge of the Sunday School. By the time I was in junior high, we only went on Christmas and Easter, and I still fussed about that. Church hadn’t done anything for me. It was boring. I wanted my Sundays to myself. I argued about my outfit every week. The other kids in Sunday School were squares. We always left the reception before I could eat enough cookies to count on both hands, and I still didn’t believe in God.

I want to be responsible for my own actions. There’s no one else to blame if something goes wrong. I’ll get myself where I’m going.

Ten years later, I rode my bicycle from my apartment to my parents’ house. Dad met me on the stoop with his standard, “We gave at the office” line, then squinted and looked at me a bit closer. “Since when did you start wearing a bike helmet?” he asked.

“Well, I’ve been biking a lot for the last few years and nothing bad has happened to me. I figured that my luck was bound to run out, and I should either start believing in God or wearing a bike helmet.”

Dad looked at the helmet, a dorky black plastic beetle that I was pulling off of my head, then said, “Well, you can believe in God if you like, but whatever you do, don’t start going to church!”

I held up the helmet and said, “Don’t worry, Dad. I chose the helmet over God.” We both laughed and went inside.

Chris “C.T.” Terry is an MFA candidate in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia. His writing can be found at GullibleZine.BlogSpot.com.