I haven’t posted an except in a while so here goes…
“Hurry up and finish your Cheerios, Mr. Wick is going to be ready soon.” My mother flitted about the kitchen like a moth fighting for purchase on a porch light. “You still need to brush your teeth!”
Today was my first day of Bible Camp. My mother’s church was offering the service for two weeks, in the heat of July, without air conditioning. Most governments would have considered this cruel and unusual punishment. I hopped down from the table and proceeded to get ready. My mother had laid out my clothes last night flat on my bedroom floor. She apparently wanted me to appear as though someone responsible had dressed me. Button up shirt and khaki pants. Did she not realize that I’d be melting by mid morning? I looked at the silk-screened Yoda t-shirt and striped shorts sitting on my chair with longing and dismay. Reluctantly, I chose my battle wisely and buttoned up the plaid dress shirt with a sigh.
I’d never attended church before that day. My mother went regularly, but I had always been permitted to stay home with my father instead. The last few weeks I’d been asking questions that my mother could not answer. Questions like, “How can there be a God and your religion be right if there are lots of religions? Is everyone else wrong?” and “How do you know there is a heaven? Just because someone tells you to jump off of a bridge, you don’t have to do it.” She wasn’t very happy with me. My father had found it funny. She did not. After a few weeks of badgering her without remorse, she took up the quandary with her pastor. He was the one who had suggested she spring for enrollment in the Bible Camp. He assured her that all of my questions could be answered by studying the good word of the Holy Bible.
Before this day I had been fascinated with Chaos Theory. I was convinced that each and every action undertaken by each and every person had repercussions felt across the span of human kind. A boy in Guatemala eats a corn taco and a bird in Phoenix flies directly into a window. There must be a greater connection between all living things than just the random collision of molecules resulting in an acceptable collage of life. Like ripples in a lake, each initial change in condition affects every wave that the initial wave touches, changing each wave each changed wave touches, and so on and so on. Chaotic systems cannot be determined or predicted but they can be manipulated. Making changes in your life that you would normally not make can change everything for everyone.
I began to make changes to my behavior on purpose just to change the course of human kind. I began second guessing every action for fear of how it would affect the rest of the world. From this obsession I began to concern myself with faith and religion. My mother’s beliefs contradicted the mathematical validity of quantum chaos. Faith in a greater good allowed her to believe that everything happened for a reason. By this measure, when I decided to throw away my peanut butter sandwich, even though I was still hungry, the decision was not my own. That decision was either already made as a part of my destiny or the outcome of such decision did not affect the greater good so it was rendered moot. My decision did not affect the rest of mankind, only my own hunger two hours later.
There were too many factors in life. Too many beliefs and structures of thought for any one person to be more correct than the next. More and more I realized that all religious beliefs were nothing more than an answer to whatever question plagued people. They became for most a crutch. I was expected to accept one and move on. The questions I had been asking would all be answered as soon as I accepted a larger notion and allowed it to trickle down as truth. I ask a lot of questions. It’s in my nature. Accepting something without proof is not.
A few hours later, I found myself in the basement of the church, huddled around a long table with a dozen other five to eight year olds. The ceiling was incredibly low in the basement room. I noticed that the teacher’s hair was charged with static and magnetically clinging to the low tiles as she walked up and down the length of our table, passing out stickers as we colored our pages with pictures of our family and the church.
“And who is in that picture with you?” she asked as she passed behind me. She was already moving on to the next student when I answered.
“That’s me with Jesus and Buddha.” She paused, hearing what I said, but not hearing at the same time. The day came to an end and I headed through the parking lot toward my mother’s LTD Station Wagon with a piece of paper clutched in my hand.
“What is that? Did you have fun?” my mother asked as I approached the car with my six-year-old neighbor in tow.
“This is my homework. I need help looking up all of these passages in the Bible when we get home.” I wasn’t happy about the homework.
“Did you get lots of homework too, Joshua?” my mother asked my neighbor as we got into the car.
“Nope, just Travis. He made Miss Embry mad. She said he asks too many questions.” Joshua was a little tattle telling pain in my ass.
“I did not. She just wasn’t smart enough to answer the few questions I did ask.”
“What kinds of questions did you ask?” My mother already sounded defensive.
“Normal stuff, like why are Christian’s right and Muslim’s wrong? Why do Adam and Eve have belly buttons in our coloring book if God created them? THEN, she was very upset that I colored Jesus brown. I don’t even want to talk about that.” My mother just looked at me in the rear view mirror, visibly distraught at my first day experience.
That night we spent what felt like a lifetime looking up each verse in the Bible suggested by Miss Embry. My mother attempted to explain what each one meant to me but it was painfully obvious that she was half confused herself. Eventually we both opted for a break and a “do you understand?” followed by, “Sure” and a sigh. Homework complete.
The next day, I presented my paper, signed by my mother, to Miss Embry. “Were you and your mom able to shed some light on those blasphemous questions?” she asked.
“Nope. There are no answers in this book.” I took my seat after I handed her the paper I’d filled out explaining what I’d read in each suggested verse.
She took the paper, looked it over briefly and chose to carry on class rather than address my continued quizzical comments. Instead of engaging me in a heated debate over every question I brought to the table, Miss Embry chose to ignore my raised hand. I held it higher. She continued to ignore. I added “Miss Embry! Miss Embry! Miss Embry!” to each raised hand. She continued to ignore.
The day concluded so far out of her control that she left twenty minutes before the end of class. The study was resumed by my mother’s pastor, who spent the final moments discussing with us the importance of good manners and knowing our place with Miss Embry. As parents arrived to pick up their little ones, I was held back. “I need to speak with your mother.” I was then sent out to the car to retrieve my mom. This couldn’t be good. Joshua and I, as per yesterday, jumped into the back of the car, except this time, to wait for my mother’s return.
Twenty minutes passed before my mom silently slid back into the front seat. We drove straight home, bypassing the Dairy Barn where lunch had been promised. Joshua and I protested, but my mother continued her homeward course unabashed by our whining.
When my mother and I walked into the house, I was asked to take a seat at the kitchen table. After a few minutes, my mother came in and the interrogation began.
“Are you trying to embarrass me?” she asked in a voice laden with accusation.
“No. What did I do?” I was dumbfounded.
“I was asked not to bring you back tomorrow.” She sat down across from me at the booth my family used as a kitchen table. I must have smiled because her voice climbed an octave in disgust, “That’s exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?”
I stopped. I knew when it was best to just keep my mouth shut. No matter how I answered at this point, my mother was determined to make this my fault. There was no point in arguing. I may as well let her punch herself out.
“Answer me,” she continued. “No, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. I just hope you realize how this makes me look. I went to the pastor seeking help and you made me out to be the fool.”
Still I sat silent. “Just look innocent,” I thought to myself.
“Nothing? You have nothing to say?” She tapped her foot for a heartbeat. “No, I don’t want to hear it. Do you know what the pastor told me? He said that you were going out of your way to upset Miss Embry by asking her blasphemous questions and ridiculing her as being naïve and unintelligent because she was unable… nay, UNWILLING to give you an answer that you couldn’t argue about. I know you’re skeptical, Travis, and smart… but this was about good manners and being polite. One day you’ll learn when being right is not as important as being kind.” She huffed and walked out of the kitchen leaving me sitting alone at the tiny laminated table contemplating what I’d done.
I never returned to Bible Camp. I never returned to the church in any capacity in fact. Not until my uncle was married years later, did I even break the threshold of a building of worship. My mother has always blamed it on my need to ask questions rather than have faith. I’d like to blame it on Miss Embry for being a self-righteous jackass unwilling to mix it up with a kindergartener.