What made you decide to become a missionary?
Jake, who was involved in Reachout with me. He went and did Arc the year ahead of me and he was a popular kid in my youth group who played guitar. He was one of the kids who played acoustic guitar during those youth group rallys. He went off and did that. And BJ, he was the bass player in those bands. Popular kid. They were the Christian kids who were supportive of me playing guitar.
So they were the cool Christian kids.
Yeah. They went off and did it and said this was a good experience and that I should do it. And part of it was I knew my parents weren’t particularly proud of the music I was making. You know? And I don’t know if they ever have been.
You were in college by this time, weren’t you?
Yeah, but keep in mind I had disappointed my parents pretty heavily with the whole Madison Theater thing. During my junior year in high school I was a big problem for my parents.
You mean getting arrested in front of missionaries and your church’s youth pastor?
People outside of the family knew. And my aunt knew. It was embarrassing. Missionaries staying at my house from the Central African Republic knew. And surely they told the other missionaries, “You won’t believe what happened at that house we stayed at during the missions conference! I was just hanging out talking to my wife and then the cops came and took their son away!” I’m sure that was embarrassing for my parents.
And I was way less of an academic overachiever than the rest of my family. Everybody in my family had this thing where, “This is what you do. You get good grades, you go to college, and you get married. You work and provide for your family. You become a good citizen, go to church, tithe.” You know, that was what was expected. I think they all signed onto that format for their lives. “That’s what a man or woman of God does.”
I was most into playing guitar, making art, and writing songs. I wanted to learn how to make records. The people I most respected at that time weren’t people at my church, they were people in the subculture.
But you clearly had a respect for some of the Christian musicians. They influenced you.
Yeah, but the music and art that my friends were making in my secular circles were still way more impressive than anything going on in my youth group. No barriers.
Do you think it was also a factor that there was nothing to live up to with those in your secular circle? You must have felt that you weren’t always falling short among them.
Yes. Playing music on the Christian side was just an excuse to make music and make my parents proud of me at the same time.
But your girlfriend at the time was very involved in youth group. You were in a band with her, too. That had to be a factor for a teenage boy. It must have played a role in keeping you immersed in that culture, right? Hormones and all.
Yeah, but she made me quit my other band.
Was she proud of you when you went off to become a missionary?
I suppose. She donated $10 a month support while I was on the road. She got right on being a good Christian girl. “I know what’s expected out of the Christian woman. I’m gonna go to Wheaton Bible College and then marry a godly man.” I think her family knew I was a fraud. Her mom and her sisters were always weird around me. Of course I did puke on their table during dinner once. That may have been the nicest they ever were to me.
As a missionary, did you feel like a fraud there, too?
Yes! Of course. You know this. It was the same thing as sitting in the crowd at the youth rally and seeing all these kids who are so fucking into Jesus and thinking, “What’s wrong? Why can’t I have this experience? Why can’t I feel what they’re feeling?” Every year I went to at least ten of those things and I’d think, “Oh, eventually it’s going to stick.”
And for the most part I was a good Christian. I told kids I was Christian. You know? I thought, “I’m gonna be the cool Christian who accepts the guys with mo-hawks and nipple rings. I’m gonna be the one who will be able to listen to Mudhoney records with my friends and not say, “You shouldn’t listen to some of this music cuz its dirty,” and at the same time be like “Yeah, I’m a Christian.”
I had religious conversations with friends of mine and I didn’t think I was judgmental. I told myself I would be that type of Christian, knowing all the while that I was identifying to people as a Christian but I felt like a hack. Like someone who says, “I play piano but I’ve only had 3 lessons.” Then someone asks, “You’re a pianist?” and you’re like, “Yeah!” That’s what I felt like. I thought one day I was going to get good at this. One day I was going to be a better Christian. That went on for years.
We were missionaries together. Did you think I knew something you didn’t know? Or did you detect something in me that I was not aware of?
You were a nice girl. I like nice girls. It’s my thing. I was more likely to be with the nice girl in a long skirt than the one with purple hair and a nose ring. Even though the girl with purple hair and me probably had more in common.
I think we had a lot in common, though.
Yeah. I think I figured you were a Christian who was a little more my speed of the kind of Christian I wanted to be. Somebody who could handle pop music and not get all bent out of shape. You sung in church, but you liked the Beatles. You professed to be a Christian, but you made out with me.
“She’s a laid back Christian. Alright.”
I identified as a Christian, too. But I don’t know if I ever was. I identified most with people in Arc who were probably frauds also. Or laid back. I knew Jake was laid back; he gave me a stack of Jimi Hendrix records. He was supportive of seeing my band play. I thought again, “Here’s another Christian who’s not all bent out of shape about music. Doesn’t correct their friends when they swear. Isn’t making nonbelievers uncomfortable. That’s the Christian I’m gonna be.”
But in Arc, just like those youth meetings, there was something missing. “Why can Jeff say that prayer with such feeling and emotion? Why does Tia have one hand over her heart and one in the air- and why is she whispering during the prayer? Why does everybody have this?” I wanted that. I wanted to have that same spiritual connection. It’s like these people saw a ghost and now they believe in ghosts. It’s like these people were walking through the woods and saw Bigfoot, and now they believe in Bigfoot cuz they’ve had this experience. That’s all I wanted. I wanted to have something that seemed so real to me that I thought this is what will steer me for the rest of my life.
How would you describe your belief now?
Holding on by a thread.
Do you think the Christian God is still a possibility?
I think the Christian God is about as likely as there being a ten foot tall ape walking around the woods. It’s possible, but it’s very fucking unlikely.
You say it’s possible, but don’t you have to believe fully? Christianity is an all or nothing thing.
God makes himself as hard to find as Bigfoot. I get in those moods where I think I’m going to hell if I don’t steer myself. The whole “turn or burn” mentality was downloaded into my head young. If I could seriously just get rid of that I’d be alright. The fear of the devil.
Do you have more fear of the devil than fear of God?
It’s like this. I didn’t smoke or drink or do drugs all through high school because I was afraid of what my dad would do if he found out. Not because these things were harmful, or because I wanted to make my dad proud. I’m afraid of not believing in God because if I don’t believe in God I’m going to hell. Not because I want to make God happy.
You have to do more than believe. The devil believes. Christianity requires you to accept that Jesus died for your sins. You have to be sincere. So what’s the point of saying “I don’t want to go to hell” if you aren’t sure of that? Won’t you still go to hell?
I’ve got to behave because I don’t want to get a spanking.
But what do you mean by that? Because saying that makes it sound as if you do get your morals from a fear of hell. Without hell, what would you do differently in your life?
And you think that shred of “maybe” is keeping you out of hell? I don’t think anywhere in the bible it says that the pathway to heaven is “to at least have a shred of maybe about God’s existence.”
I’m like the worst employee at any job. As a Christian I’m doing just enough to not get sent to hell.
It’s not true, though. You’re not. According to Christianity you are not doing the minimum requirement to stay out of hell. In fact, it’s worse because you might believe and yet you do nothing about it.
Realistically I don’t believe in God. But I’m still scared.
Do you think you are evolving, and that you just aren’t there yet?