Most people I know hated high school. But I loved high school. And why shouldn’t I? I mean, I was a star in high school. I was in the theater arts program. I often had the leading role in most of the plays. I was allowed to write music for one play. It was a perfect outlet for my creativity. And, since my parents were alcoholics, school was the one place that provided some stability and normalcy for me. I had many good, close friends. I felt loved and accepted. And since I was a theater arts student, I didn’t have any of those nasty, difficult, solid subjects, like geometry and chemistry to burden me down with any of that tedious troublesome homework. It was great. Imagine my chagrin then, when during my senior year, my dad got a promotion and announced that we were to move far away to the nasty little town of Pomona, since his new position would require him to live right on the grounds of the Pacific State Mental Hospital where he would be the new fire chief.
I was devastated at the thought of moving, especially halfway through my senior year. But my parents came to my rescue, as they so often did. They may have been alcoholics, but they weren’t bad people. My parents decided to set me up in my own apartment near the school so I could finish out my senior year. It was a small studio apartment about a mile from my high school. It was all legal because I had turned eighteen that January. Legally, I was an adult (that law had only just passed, by the way. Up until then, you weren’t an adult until you were twenty-one). The rent was (don’t laugh) $125 a month, utilities included. They set me up with a phone and a checking account. It was great. You can imagine how wonderful it is to have your own apartment the last year of high school. Well, it was even better than that.
I had a job at a local dime store as a stock boy. I used to make a whole $1.55 an hour. They gave me as many hours as they could, but things were always pretty tight. I couldn’t afford a class ring or my senior pictures or any of those things that normally went with the last year of high school. But, hey, I had my own apartment. And I would soon find that my apartment would be a source of supplemental income.
One of my best friends came to me and asked if he could rent my apartment every so often to “entertain” his girl friend. He offered to pay me ten bucks to stay away from my apartment until midnight. Well, I don’t know how well he could “entertain” his girl friend, but the thought of making and extra ten or twenty bucks a month was damn entertaining to me and so I seriously entertained the idea. In fact, I embraced the idea wholeheartedly.
Now this friend of mine, let’s call him Dick, used to play the organ for his church (he was Methodist, but who’s keeping track?). He was there every Sunday. He was very respectable. So was his girlfriend. I was not so respectable. In fact, I was seen as a downright libertine, for no good reason. I had a girlfriend. And I did entertain my girlfriend at my apartment, mostly because I had no money to take her out because of that apartment. I was no angel, but I never came close to living up to my reputation. Dick, on the other hand, had a spotless reputation. He was the perfect model of what most of the older generation wished we all would be. He was a clean-cut, Republican, war supporting, non-drug taking, rock and roll hating, young man. I mean to tell you, he sported a crew cut in the early seventies. My own hair touched my shoulders.
It’s important to be respectable, isn’t it? As a teacher, my behavior has to be beyond reproach. Lapses in judgement, which may seem incidental for most folks, could cost me my teaching license. So I don’t dare get caught with a joint, or driving under the influence, or visiting a strip club. I’m sure many of my old friends would be shocked by my perceived respectability if they could see me now. Here I am, going to church every Sunday, playing guitar for the choir, reading the bible to the congregation during services. Who would have believed it? The last thing I ever wanted to be was respectable.
The Christian church really started to lose track of those teachings of Jesus when it became respectable. For the first three hundred years of church history, it wasn’t too healthy to be a Christian. Most people of that time, the ones who worshipped a whole host of divinities, found the Christians to be annoying and often entertained themselves by offering them up to wild beasts and finding various other methods of sending them off to that heaven they were always talking about. But then, those early Christians were expecting that.
Jesus himself told them (according to the tenth chapter of Matthew), “I’ll be sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves, so be as shrewd as serpents and as simple as doves. Watch out for people. They will hand you over to courts and beat you in the synagogues. And when they do hand you over, don’t worry about what to say. You will be given what to say because it won’t be you talking, but the spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother and parents will hand over their children. Children will hand over their parents to be killed. You will be hated by all because of me but all those who endure to the end will be saved. When they start to persecute you in one town, flee to another. No student is above the teacher. If they hate the teacher, they’re going to hate you, too. But don’t be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that won’t be revealed. Nothing is secret that won’t be made known.”
Let’s face it, there is nothing in the Christian message that is appealing to society at large. Christians, if they follow the teachings of Jesus, are supposed to be non-materialistic. That’s just not good for business. Society needs consumers. Christians are supposed to bring peace and comfort. We’re not supposed to go off to war and kill people. That’s damned inconvenient for most governments. Christians are supposed to be fair with everybody. When it comes to big business and the poor, Christians are supposed to come down on the side of the poor. Most of all, Christians are not afraid. The greatest gift Christ brought was the release from all fear. After all, if you’re not afraid of death and suffering, what is there left to frighten you, except spiders, clowns, and bad country music? If we all quit being afraid of things, our entire economy would collapse. There’d be nothing to put on television. And no politician would be re-elected.
Jesus continued to tell his students, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I came to bring not peace, but a sword.” Now these are amongst the most controversial words Jesus ever uttered. Many conservative Christian leaders hold up these words to prove that Jesus had no problems with righteous violence. But that's taking the words out of context and missing the whole of the Greek translation. The word for peace, eirene, means more than just peace, it also means prosperity. In other words, Jesus didn’t come to create paradise on earth. He didn’t come to bring peace and prosperity. The other word, the one translated as sword, machaira—a short sword or dagger, also means war, conflict, and judgement. In other words, Jesus came to shake things up.
So when it comes to respectability, the only respectable Christian is the Christian who is not so respectable. In its desire to become a respectable, accepted religion, Christianity turned its back on those teachings that make Christianity …uh…Christian. Jesus said that whoever seeks to save his or her life would lose it. Respectability and Christianity are really incompatible. The need to be respectable comes out of that need to be liked and, well, respected. And those feelings arise out of fear. Christ came to liberate us from fear, not by getting rid of the things that frighten us, but by helping us see that there is nothing to fear in those things.
Still, the early church, tired of being persecuted all the time, was more than happy to fall in line with Constantine, the first emperor to be sympathetic to Christianity. And so the church gained power and Christians started marching off to war for the first time. It wouldn’t be terribly long before the church gained as much power as any “worldly” emperor ever had. The church became respectable, began to hold the rewards of heaven hostage, and generally became that which Jesus condemned.
Jesus taught that the only way to gain happiness, enlightenment, peace of mind, whatever you want to call it, is recognize that connection we all have with that divine spirit that enfolds all of us and everything. You won’t find fulfillment or real contentment anywhere else. Perceive that divine connection and find peace, or don’t—the choice is yours. See that connection and your life changes. You will behave differently when you are not motivated by fear and anxiety. And because you behave differently, people will not trust you. They will think there is something odd about you. If they find out you go to church, they will write you off as some kind of religious nut. And then they will all start to assume that you won’t do anything fun because fun is against your religion.
But Jesus never told anybody to stop having fun. Jesus never told us to be miserable all the time. Quite the contrary, he said he offered a life more abundant. Jesus only said that it was better to feel connected to God than to not feel connected to God so if something you do keeps you from having that feeling of connectedness, stop doing it, whatever it is for you. And what really connects you to that spirit is doing nice things for people. Jesus himself did a lot of fun things. Hell, his first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding party.
Talk about Jesus and be a selfish, greedy, judgmental bastard, and you will be a member of the religious right and totally respectable. You will righteously make sure to say the “under God” in the pledge of allegiance. Live the Christian message and you will piss people off. You’ll be feeding the hungry and marching for social justice. You’ll be happy without the need to fill your life with stuff. And, as an added bonus, you’ll be making the world a better place. So quit being respectable. It’s a lot more fun pissing people off. I should know.