When You Stay a Christian in College

“Anybody, any denomination, it doesn’t matter if they’re a rabbi or a cleric, you know, when they tell their sermons, you know. They do one every week, and they run out of material pretty quickly. They’ve gotta fuckin’ force in that Isaiah 4:13 in there, so they’ve all got this bullshit story about…

‘You know, uh, last Wednesday I was at the mall with my young niece and some of her skateboarding friends.’

And I’m like, alright, well, alright. You know it’s bullshit. He made something up about skateboarding.

‘Um, hey father? I’m a skateboarder and stuff and I love crazy punk music, but is there a place in Heaven for me?’

You know, whatever. It’s just crap.  It’s lies. It’s just like any politician with his fake story about people you never see.

‘I was in Flint, Michigan last week and a young lady came up to me and said ‘Senator, because of your opponent’s policies, I could not afford Christmas dinner and I was forced to eat my own eyeballs.’’

–          David Cross, “If Baseballs Had AIDS on Them”, Shut Up You Fucking Baby!

“Can I be baptized?”

I asked this in the bathtub. My mother stopped washing my back to ask why, what prompted the question. I told her about the man on the TV who touched his palm to a woman’s forehead and she collapsed, and either I wanted to be baptized to avoid collapsing or I wanted to be baptized to collapse out of happiness. I was supposed to be doing homework, likely math problems, when I saw it. The early 80s-made nine-inch TV in my bedroom was mostly used to play Earthworm Jim, but when I did homework I’d turn to actual programming. Most of the time I heard Home Improvement, and sometimes I heard World Championship Wrestling, but the night before my bath I turned to the televangelists’ station.

I sat on the edge of my bottom bunk bed and peeked over the arms folded on my knees to keep watching.

“Yes, I think we can arrange that,” my mother said.

“I prophesy and know all mysteries

All hidden things are opened up to me

But I don’t know the first thing about love

I don’t know the first thing about love”

–          Thrice, “Moving Mountains, The Alchemy Index Vols. III & IV: Air & Earth

How to Stay Christian in College was given to me around my high school graduation but I didn’t read it until this summer.

From: Pastor Dale & Catherina

“With our love, prayers, and God-speed as you graduate from high school!”

June 9, 2007

Matthew 19:26

For years it was on the pile. By the time I had my own apartment, I was angry at it. It’s spent its years in the closet of the spare room on top of devotionals and old Game Informers. I knew this book was going to make me mad. It made me mad. I sat on a bench at Winthrop Lake surrounded by dragonflies and goose shit with a blue pen to annotate on my own for the first time.

J. Budziszewski is a professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin. He sells graduating high schoolers fear. There is no beautiful prose in How to Stay Christian in College. There is no heart to it, just a screaming ruleset that blares like the fake bugle from electronic speakers on the tops of buildings at boy scout camp once the camps got too big and everyone’s explorations were replaced with schedules. Every metaphor is war-like. “Under attack” and “defend yourself” and “sword and shield.” There are endless stated facts without citations, without explanation. This is the way it ought to be because I say so. We can never be sure why God wants it to be this way, He just does. No, don’t ask that. No, don’t think that. No, stop wondering. Stop being that committed. Stop sending me links to the Gospel of Judas. If you’re going to read The Da Vinci Code, make sure you read it in a church.

Budziszewski sells fear not because he profits too greatly from it, but because he himself is afraid, as I am, as we all are. Fear makes good servants to the Lord. And good servants do, sometimes, have good wisdom. I am not above complimenting the book on its truths.

“Build new interests and attachments in a careful, discerning way.” True!, I write, agreeing that a rigorous moral code avoids basic college pratfalls.

“The early Christians risked death and torture for their faith.” True!, I write, even though he didn’t provide sufficient evidence or sources. That seems to be common knowledge.

“Jesus Christ was the Son of God.” True!, I write. Budziszewski has all the answers. He knows the right interpretation in every context. He knows that Jesus was as much God as he was human, despite other theories. He knows the Bible has been perfectly translated, word-for-word, in the past two thousand years. He knows. I don’t know. I have my guesses. I don’t think any of my guesses make me damned.

“I’ll spend almost the same amount of time on general and girl myths, but on guy myths my comments will be about 50 percent longer because guys take more convincing.”

“If sex is only for marriage, sexual arousal must be too.”

“They say, ‘But what if we plan to never have children?’ Sorry, unless you’re biologically incapable, never is not an option. God commands spouses to be fruitful and multiply.”

–          J. Budziszewski, How to Stay Christian in College

Budziszewski wants control but he doesn’t know he wants it. He can’t see the world any other way. If gays can marry he sees a world similar but doomed to sin, but he can’t even perceive of a world where straight people see gay people get married and no one bats an eye. There is always a war, always a cause, always a reason to metaphorically and, eventually, literally ram a man’s head into the broad side of a tree. This isn’t for him. He loves God. I know he does! He has the most basic concept, he has the essentials. Here is the story. Here are the verses. Here is a worldview that is inclusive and universal.

Is he a cheat? Is he a liar? Is he a fraud? He probably isn’t, or at least it would surprise me. He’s not the right hand of God, the chosen one to explain everything sternly, perfectly. He’s the right hand of society. He’s the right hand of men who cheat on their wives with every secretary in the office and of men who accumulate great wealth by using churches to sell their books and of men who accumulate great wealth by using wars to sell their bombs. The poor man wrote his book with all the sincerity of his heart. He’s grown now. He probably won’t make radical lifestyle changes in the next thirty-odd years.

I can’t sleep at night because of J. Budziszewski. I am J. Budziszewski. Some part of me is still overconfident and underprepared and eager for fulfillment. Some summer nights I stay up late and whisper to myself plans on how to fix things and how to make the world right and I forget that God comforts me. Some nights verses I remind myself of help me fall asleep. Those keep me alive and nodding my head, but they don’t actively fix anything. With Jesus a believer can survive anything. That doesn’t make the world a better place.

I called a girl “bossy” at the same time I admitted to crushing on her. As a bonafide child of God in the most classically How to Stay Christian in College sense she probably expected it. But she was a person, too, and nothing about that year went well for me.

“See, war is horrible. I’m generally against war. I didn’t even really enjoy my time in service, I just did it to get by. But sometimes there’s a proper reason. I mean, Pearl Harbor…how do you not go to war over that?”

          My dad, to me, 1-3 years ago

“They just have to understand their place.”

–           My dad, to his friend, about the Iraq War, at the beach cottage around 10 years ago.

My dad is sick with a sore throat while I write this. Get well soon, Dad.

My dad laughs at me when I express a viewpoint. He giggles a little, in an arrogant way that isn’t a real belly laugh, and might snort his nose once. I stopped telling my parents these things some time ago. The serious topics, religion or politics or what to do with guys who abuse animals, illicit giggles and snorts. No one ever tries to convince me of anything. There isn’t data, no, not even rhetoric. Old Southern women who get their news from failing newspapers and AM radio but love you with all of their hearts ask questions and then get upset when you try to give them the answers you thought they were seeking.

My parents taught me to be kind to others so I try and be kind to others while they say life is actually getting the hardest for us white people. My parents taught me to never fight so I take every little beating while they point fingers at fast food restaurant employees who run out of napkins. My parents taught me to run when I fear for my own safety and might encounter bodily harm so sometimes I run out of the house and down the street and down the interstate and into a parking lot and lie face down until the hurt seems to go away while everyone still sits at the dinner table, full after their meals, and talks about the walking speed of Hispanics.

One Christmas Eve my Uncle Max left the candle lighting and singing ceremony to stand outside in the lobby until we had finished our program. I wanted to cry and hug him. He was welcome to join us, but he knew that if he opened his heart he wouldn’t be welcome any more.

“But…how does it feel? To just stop breathing?”

“Strange. You realize…just how much…effort…it has been…all along.”

–          Alan Moore, The Saga of the Swamp Thing #25

When I got baptized I was able to go into the back of the church and see the secret doors to the secret rooms. As a child you only had access to a few areas of a few buildings because everything else was an adult’s office or a closet. I remember changing clothes in a bathroom I had never been in before and being shocked, just shocked, that said bathroom had been kept secret from me for years. That is what I remember about washing away sin. I looked at piping of the sink.

When I was brought up from the water, very thankful that my pastor was right and I wouldn’t drown and die, I was told that my sins were forgiven and I could go through life as a new man. He was probably right. A little voice in my head told me that I’d never have to work hard again.

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Another Weird Trigger for Insight

I was just the right age for the first Spider-Man film. I was twelve, maybe eleven, when Spider-Man was released at the end of my first day at a Star Wars convention. At the theater, my dad and my friend and I saw a lot of the same faces from the convention. The same sci-fi space opera nerds were also comic book geeks, which should be sort of obvious. Back in 2002 there was a really palpable enthusiasm for a superhero movie’s release. I saw a Stormtrooper take off his helmet and put on a Spidey mask. People cheered at the opening credits. I got goosebumps, partly because of their enthusiasm and partly because, even if I wasn’t alive for the forty years between Spider-Man’s introduction and his theatrical debut, I had gone back and loved him in my little span of time. Hollywood was filming the “unfilmable,” which is the same thing Hollywood said about the Lord of the Rings. Nothing’s unfilmable. Executives just try to suppress their imagination for as long as possible.

I went to a comic book club at the Fort Wayne public library when I was ten. The older kids were discussing the ins-and-outs (relatively, the utter minutia) of heroes. What they thought about ___ Crisis, or whatever. I asked if they knew anything about Pokemon and they laughed at me. That’s a totally fair response, especially in that environment. I’d do it now.

So my parents got me Marvel encyclopedias for one of my childhood birthdays. Hulk, Spidey, and the X-Men. I still have them. I remember poring over them, memorizing every character and their respective powers. I read every comic book I could get my hands on, but there were a lot of back-issues too expensive for my little allowance. Also, the 90s were a dark time and tried to be “gritty” and “adult” in ways that would offend my parents if they looked over my shoulder. So I read a lot about Cable without often having Cable issues in front of me. Did you know that one time Magneto ripped the adamantium out of Wolverine? Woah! The X-Force kills people! This picture of Mojo and his Mojoverse actually sort of scares the hell out of me!

The second X-Men film came out on a middle school band trip to St. Louis. It’s the best (was the best?) in that film series and definitely better than the first. I remember taking glances at my friends after the film’s best scenes, locking eyes and wordlessly asking them, “Are you seeing this? Can you believe they were paid millions of dollars to film this? This is so good – is this what we missed out on for not being alive in the 60s?” I saw X2 in the theater at least three more times.

What happened later in the decade is that the money got to be too much and the egos got to be too big. Executives wanted too many villains in Spider-Man 3 and dudebros got to direct X-Men movies and you tried to justify it, you tried to make it seem okay, you wanted that enthusiasm but it wasn’t really there. “Well, we have Venom now. That’s cool. Angel was in his movie for a total of four minutes and still got on the poster hanging outside. Better than nothing, right?” The movies started to suck and the directors and actors knew they sucked and everyone moved on. I remember remaining optimistic that 4 will turn it around! Spider-Man 4 will be great, X-Men 4….uh, clearly I hadn’t watched Superman 4: THE QUEST FOR PEACE.

It’s like I became resentful at every reboot announcement. Now Peter Parker isn’t a dorky anxious kid you can relate to, he’s handsome and hilarious to everyone and has no trouble – but he watched Star Wars once! The X-Men are attractive young hairless nobodies plucked from the Disney Channel, because we need people on the covers of teen magazines! Those movies aren’t bad. They’re okay. I just don’t care. I’m not overwhelmed and no one is cheering the opening credits. There are my favorite characters, doing what they do, as I have seen them do for the past 15 years, but this time it’s purely for money. Older kids don’t high-five each other walking out of the theater of The Amazing Spider-Man, they just walk back to their cars in silence, remembering almost nothing, and wait a month for the next shot. No one falls asleep in the backseat on the way home with a smile on their face.

The movie I saw tonight, X-Men: Days of Future Past, ends up justifying my theater experiences since 2000. It takes what I saw as the hairless tween nothings and weaves them into the “classic” (lol) series that got me so excited. It doesn’t leave me in the dust. It recognizes its own past, gives meaning to experience. Hell, to make sense of a lot of it you have to see the bad movies. To get the most you have to suffer through the past like I did. That’s all I’ve ever asked for: consequence. What I’m watching, reading, listening to should matter, it should have ramifications for the rest of the story. (As a complete aside, me saying “listening to” spawned a realization: I love mewithoutYou because their albums and songs establish continuity. Demon Hunter mostly sucks because they made one okay album they’ve been repeating for the past twelve years.) Sure, I’m not saying X-Men represents the highest caliber of art. It reestablishes my favorite parts of the series with time travel and retcons. Shoot a bit higher than X-Men, and for God’s sake don’t let Brett Ratner near a dead fish much less an important franchise, but try to give me the same feeling I had tonight: a smile on my face for the film I’m watching and for what I watched as a kid. I’m out of the 18-24 age bracket and am getting closer and closer to leaving 18-35, and Hollywood could ditch me for being old and constantly reboot in order to let new middle school kids standing outside the Smithfield Cinemas see the origin, new and cleansed and ready for accepting Teen Choice Awards. But with this one movie, one little two hours of my life that I’m never really going to expect, I knew my own childhood wasn’t totally whitewashed.

I’m not saying DoFP is this amazing, important experience to everyone. It’s a really good comic book movie, and if you don’t have my own history then that’s really it. It speaks to me – and that’s sort of wrong, because no one was thinking of me when they made it. They just did what came naturally, and I’ve been along for the ride for most of my life.