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I was seven years old when my father accepted Christ. Up until that point, my family had been largely secular. With the exception of weddings and funerals, my brothers and I had never even set foot in a religious establishment. But my father brought home the Bible as if it were a present for us. My brothers, Eli and Zach, who were eleven and thirteen at the time, eventually came to regard this alien theology as a new game, with its fascinating stories and rules (not to mention bloodlust), or perhaps a costume; a chance to lose themselves in a new identity – one of their choosing, not one they’d been imbued with. My mother and I regarded him as if he had contracted a communicable disease or, at best, adopted a new fad – like when he had come home with a boat when times were more prosperous – even though the closest body of water was over 200 miles away.
My father accepted Jesus on a balmy Spring Friday. He came home and we all sat down to dinner as if it were just another evening; but we knew it wasn’t – after all, this was lasagna night. Once we were seated, he grabbed my hand and that of my mother, and had each of us grab the hand of the son seated next to us. He then instructed them to hold hands. He bowed his head and requested that we do so, as well. Too intimidated to protest, we complied, and he announced imperiously,
“Dear Lord, thank you for this bounty you have placed before us, and thank you for the gift of your only begotten son, Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary Christ, to whom we owe our salvation. Thank you for the other blessings you have given us and we pray that they may continue and grow.”
He then started to eat, while the rest of us just stared, too shocked to pick up our forks, wondering what strange creature had possessed our father, who ate as if he had just told us he had replaced a light bulb.
In some ways, one cannot blame him for accepting any hope that was offered. God knows he needed it. Five months earlier he had been laid off from the factory in which he had worked for 25 years. He received unemployment benefits, but they were hardly enough to help with the expenses racked up by three children. Fortunately, my mother made a fair living as a nurse, but we had still become pretty proficient at scrimping and saving. His days at that point consisted of lining up what few interviews he could, but the going was slow for a middle-aged factory worker in the worst economy since the Great Depression competing for a shrinking number of jobs against people half his age – and factory work is the kind of employment that always prefers strong young bodies eager to learn over middle-aged ones who are stuck in their ways, experience be damned. My father did have an Associate’s degree in business, but everyone knows that, as far as hiring managers are concerned, that is merely the new GED.
After dinner, he had us remain at the table, as if he were about to give us a chore list or a new set of rules – and indeed he was. My parents had done this before, but this wasn’t my parents, this was just one, doing so without the consultation of the other.
“We’ve been living lives of sin, but from now on we are going to live in accordance with the Scriptures,” he decreed. “We will go to church on holidays and every Sunday.”
“What denomination do you intend on being?” my mother politely asked, slyly omitting the inclusion of the family by the use of the pronoun “you.”
“Christian,” my dad announced, plowing ahead obliviously, “We’re gonna get more appropriate television channels and a Christian Internet filter. From now on, there’ll be no more rock music.” He leaned forward in a conspiratorial whisper, “I heard even the great Norman Greenbaum was Jewish…”
“I just don’t think ‘Christian’ is a real denomination, honey,” my mom protested.
“Who’s the Christian here?” my dad curtly replied while my mother rolled her eyes. Once my dad’s train of thought had left the station, it had to unload all its passengers before my father could be talked to again. At least he hadn’t changed that much. He addressed us children, “And you kids are going to start going to Sunday school every week while your mother and I attend Bible study.”
“Now wait just a minute…” my mother protested. Still trying to be understanding, she gently attempted to redirect him, “Why don’t you tell us where this is coming from before anything else?”
My dad sighed as if he had told us the story three times before, “I was walking back to the train from another interview [he didn’t need to tell us it hadn’t gone well] and there was this guy in the town square. There was a crowd around him, so I knew he had something to say. He was crying and gesturing, criticizing the inequalities in society. Then he said something that resonated with me: he pointed out that suffering is only temporary and it’s not this life we have to be concerned with. He said this life is the doorway to Heaven, and all we have to do is let our righteousness be the key! The man’s name was Thomas Evans, and he’s the pastor at The First Church of the Rapture. He promised that God and Jesus will provide the rest if we just provide Him with the faith.”
“Provide who with faith?” my mom asked.
“What about Jesus?” she pressed.
“Him, too,” my dad continued, “So I asked the wise man what we needed to do and he said believing in Jesus is the main thing…”
“What about God?” my mother questioned again.
“Him, too…but to stay on the right track we need to attend his church, follow Scripture, and avoid temptation,” my dad claimed.
“All right, dear,” my mom conceded without meaning it, “We’ll work towards that? But we’ve all had a long day – you especially, and to the best of my knowledge, sleep is not yet a sin,” she reminded. My father rarely caught on to her sarcasm, “So let’s get some shut-eye and we can discuss this later, okay? God isn’t going anywhere.”
“But our salvation might!” my father protested.
“Then are there any other new rules, darling?” my mother inquired.
“I guess not…” my father conceded like a scolded child.
“Then I think a good night’s sleep is just what the messiah ordered.”
My father nodded sullenly and we all departed to our respective rooms. He had always been like this: easily excitable, and we – my mother best of all – had learned how to accommodate this tendency over the course of their 15-year marriage. We expected this new obsession to last an evening, or at most, a week, so once we stopped his verbal juggernaut, we figured, there was a good chance it would never again rear its disruptive head. We had faced similar trials to this when my dad had discovered Civil War reenactments, Harry Potter novels, and tropical fish (there is a special tank in Heaven for those poor, scaly martyrs to fishdom, with 24-7 brine shrimp feedings and no chance of going belly-up), so that night we took our private ships across the sea of slumber with nary a gust of wind.
 The songwriter responsible for the 1969 single, “Spirit in the Sky.”