It remains the finest moment of my eighth grade year, not to mention, my most controversial one. As you may have figured out from some of these posts, when I was a kid, I tended to have a healthy skepticism about a wide variety of religious matters, despite my upbringing and often grilled my religion teachers on a variety of issues that were long on faith, but short on logic.
Such was the case the day that my religion teacher told us how important it was to recognize Jesus’ return the minute the Second Coming got underway. He suggested that as good Catholics we would have no trouble with this because our faith would not allow us to question and doubt Him the way the Jews, Romans and other first century factions did.
As you can imagine, this didn’t sit too well with me. After all, if I understood the story correctly, the people who were waiting around for the Messiah to show up had a very definite image of what He would look like, what He would say and more importantly, what He would do. They were certainly not banking on a carpentry major from Nazareth whose birth story was tantamount to tabloid fodder. Think about it, when Jesus began His public ministry he was known for being a headstrong pre-teen who went off on His own in one of the biggest cities on Earth, making wine at a friend’s wedding, and having a loud-mouthed cousin who ate wild locusts and invented his own sacrament. Call me crazy, but does that SOUND the like the resume of a deity to you? I’m just saying.
So I couldn’t really fault people for not exactly “getting it” the first time around, and I thought it was rude to condemn a whole population for not jumping on the bandwagon right away. After all, whose to say we wouldn’t act the same way in similar circumstances? I brought this point up to my teacher, saying that it seemed pretty human to err on the side of caution and be suspect of anyone claiming to be the Messiah.
“Well, perhaps, but we won’t make that mistake,” he assured me. “When Jesus returns, we won’t question it, we will know.”
Hmmmmm….exactly how would we do that? I wondered. It seemed pretty easy to get things wrong from time to time. After all, only a few years before I had been duped right in Mass if you recall, so I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself to recognize the Second Coming if it were staring me in the face. I’d also heard of countless stories in which folks blindly followed crazy people that they believed to be God including Charles Manson and Jim Jones. It seemed to me that there was nothing wrong with their faith, it was just placed in the wrong thing. How would we somehow know the difference? “So let me get this straight,” I asked, “So, if I am walking home from school today and someone tells me that he is Jesus and He’s back, I am just supposed to drop everything and follow Him?”
“Yes,” my teacher told me.
This flew in the face of every “don’t talk to strangers” lecture my mother ever gave me. Not to mention, I could be following a lunatic. Yet, here was my religion teacher actually encouraging this behavior. I let it go for the time being and allowed him to continue on with the day’s lesson, but it continued to eat at me. A few minutes later, I raised my hand and he called on me.
“Yeah, OK…I didn’t want to bring this up before, but I’m Jesus…I’m back.” I told him.
The room fell quiet. There are certain things that you just don’t do in life. You do not yell “fire” in a crowded theater. You do not say “bomb” on an airplane. You don’t tug on Superman’s cape and you do not claim to be the Son of God if you are a 13-year-old girl attending a Catholic school. I knew that I was treading on dangerous ground and I couldn’t help wondering just how much trouble I could get in for making a statement like that. Still, I knew that there was something wrong with this teacher’s theory and I would not rest until I had made my point.
“No you’re not, Julie,” he told me, his face growing red.
“Oh yes I am,” I countered. “Where is your faith? You aren’t supposed to question it, you are supposed to just follow.”
He tried telling me that I couldn’t be God’s “Son” but I was ready for that argument. “I’m God, I can be whatever I want. Isn’t that what you are always telling us? I know I was a boy before, but….now I am going to get it right and be a girl.” (The girls in my class were delighted with this pronouncement of course.) I told him that if he would like, I would make him an apostle like some of the boys in the class who were known for clowning around. True to form, they rose to the occasion and got behind my new “movement.”
I can’t imagine what was going through my teacher’s head at the time, but I suspected that he would have loved nothing better than to smack me. Looking back on it, I really couldn’t blame him if he did. I was wayyy over the line, even if my comments were justified. I was just so mad that he was promoting blind faith and maligning others for having their reservations. We ask for proof in every other aspect of our lives, why not this one?
In the end, he could not prove that I was not the daughter of God and eventually he dropped the argument. (The class period was over by then anyway.) Unfortunately he never quite learned that some blanket statements should not be made. A few years later, my son ended up in his class and came home all excited that his new religion teacher told the class that if they ever had a faith-based question, they could come to him and he would answer it.
“So, he still thinks he has all the answers, does he?” I sighed, feeling that rebellious teenager rise inside of me. “Great, tomorrow I want you to go in there and ask him if Adam and Eve had belly buttons. That will make him squirm”
My son did as he was told and sure enough the teacher took the bait. Of course the whole class was perplexed by the question which prompted a discussion about evolution vs. creationism. Eventually he had to admit that he did not know the answer to my son’s question, but he was fairly confident from where it came. “By the way Chris,” he concluded. “When you get home tonight, please tell your mother I said hello.”