by Tamara Schmerse
Part 5 of 17
During this time, some of my uni friends had been accosted by the Red Frog Brigade. This was a Christian group that maintained a presence wherever there was fun and youth. They ran a bus service every Sunday night from the campus to the huge COC Church in the city. Some of my friends remembered that they had a religious side, and started going to services. I remembered the same thing about myself, and began to go along too.
The church was awesome; there were more young, attractive people attending any one Sunday service than there were citizens of the whole town I grew up in. The services consisted of rock bands, complete with mosh pits and stage diving, and special events like myth busters, travelling ethnic performers, theme nights and so on. It was a lot of fun, but did not provoke me to want to change my behaviour to any real extent.
This became glaringly apparent on one particularly uncomfortable weekend. I had been out partying on the Gold Coast with a group of friends the night before, and as usual picked up some random young man, and come Sunday afternoon I woke up with him still in my bed. I looked at the clock and unthinkingly cried
“Crap, I gotta go, I’m late for church!”
The young man looked at me and exclaimed
“You go to church? Cool! Me too! Let’s go together!”
The irony was not lost on me as I sat uncomfortably in the pew. We both jumped up and sang the songs of praise with equal enthusiasm. Anyone around us would think we were a nice Christian couple, eager to teach God’s ways to the lost youth of the city. If they only knew.
And that made me think: what do I know about any of the people in this building right now, jumping up and down and singing about living for God and God alone? What about the girl up on the stage with her low-cut top and tight miniskirt? Were all the young men in the audience really thinking about the words she was singing when they watched her bouncing around up there?
I felt ashamed of myself for the first time in a long time, and left the stray boy in the church. Having never given him my number (had I even given him my name?) I was confident I would never have to deal with him again. I went back home to the uni and took a long hard look at myself.
The first thing that had to go was my long, bleached blonde hair. It was always the first thing that got male attention, so I decided that I needed a makeover. And never one to do things by halves, I enlisted the help of one of my closest friends at the uni, to help me make over my appearance, my room, and my whole life.
Don was a Metalhead and took great delight in tearing down my posters of Eminem and Pamela Anderson and replacing them with Metallica and Slipknot. He took me shopping for black clothes and even gave me some of his jewellery. And he got his roommate, who was studying hairdressing, to chop my long hair off at my shoulders and dye it jet black.
With my new rebellious look I returned to the COC Church the following Sunday. I looked around for a new place to sit (yes, it really is that cliquey: Paris Hilton clones, and their Chihuahuas, sit over here, Axl Rose look-alikes sit over there). And so within the space of an hour and a half I had made a new best friend: let’s call him Matthew.
Matthew was around my age, and like me, hung out with people considerably younger. He liked the same music as me – Guns N’Roses, Metallica, Skid Row, and classic 80s metal. He had travelled a lot and even met some of my teen idols. So I enjoyed hanging out with him and soon we were spending more time together than just at church.
He took me for rides on the back of his Harley Davidson and we had picnics on the beach, where we wrote songs together, him playing his guitar and me trying to sing. He was looking for a girlfriend, so I tried to help him in his search. I told him that I was determined to remain single forever, but he kept trying to get me to go out with guys from church that fit my type: long haired rockers mostly. I took it all as good-natured ribbing and focused my attention on trying to be a “good Christian”. And then I discovered that Matthew, for all his well-known activism among wayward youth, had been having a similar struggle within himself – with much less success, I might add.
The first hint of trouble came about when somehow I discovered a secret set of shelves in his room, behind his normal ones. They were stacked with video tapes. I didn’t give them a second thought until one night at a party I heard one of his teenage female friends joking about his “video collection” and “if people only knew”. After some deep entreating of his trust in me, he confessed: this was his personal collection of home-made pornography.
But haven’t you been going to church for a long time now? The church teaches against sex outside of marriage, doesn’t it? Yes, he said, and that’s why he never had sex in any of the videos. He never had sex with any of the hundreds of teenage girls who starred in his movies. They were all performing sexual favours on him. But oral sex is not, technically, sex.
So yes, although he knew that his video collection was not something most of his church buddies would approve of, he did not feel like he had done anything wrong. He had not had sex with those girls so he had not committed fornication. Seriously? I had a hard time believing he actually believed that himself.
So even though my view of this man had been seriously tainted, I still wanted to believe the best of him, that he had made past mistakes, like myself, and was now trying to make it right, just like I was. So we continued living as best friends for another couple of weeks, until one fateful day he went clothes shopping without me.
He had purchased for himself two or three shirts, in fashionable colours and designs, and when I came over to his house the next day he showed me his new items. I was not impressed. Matthew and I had always been the 80’s rejects of the church – we wore faded band shirts and ripped jeans, bandanas around our heads and way too many silver bangles. We both painted our fingernails black and wore black eyeliner. And now here he was, buying the latest fashions? I told him (with humour) that he was selling out and wanted to look like the sheep. His reaction was, to say the least, over the top.
He completely blew up at me. Those shirts, he screamed, represented himself, and if I was not willing to accept them, then I was obviously not willing to accept him as a person. I was in total shock. I had never seen this polite, smiling man raise his voice to anyone, and here he was, screaming his head off at me, because I didn’t like his new shirts?? He ranted and raved and yelled crazy things, and in terror I ran out the door and home to my apartment, where I locked myself in and wondered how I could possibly have missed this person’s gaping mental illness.
A week went by and I did not hear from him. I did not see him at church, but being that there were literally thousands of people there and I sat in a different place, that was not surprising. Then a few days later, while I was at work, I received a very disturbing phone call.
It was Matthew. He sounded very odd. He began by saying
“Now don’t try to tell me you didn’t do it, I just want to know why.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, and being that I had come to regard him as someone that could not be trusted, I began to feel afraid.
It turned out that, a week after our “fight” over the shirts, someone had called the police and told them that he had drugs (that are also available in PHP New Jersey) in his house. A large squad of police came in the middle of the night and searched his house. They did not find any drugs, but what they did find, was a rather large cache of illegal firearms and other weapons. And it was not just Matthew that was in trouble here, as the guns belonged to some of the elders of the church, who had just been using Matthew’s house as a storage facility temporarily.
Interestingly, the fact that he was telling me that elders of the church I was attending hoarded illegal weapons was not what struck me about that conversation. It was the fact that he was accusing me of being the one that called the police, out of “revenge” over the shirt incident.
I was shocked and angry. This person had been my best friend for three months, and I thought he had gotten to know me pretty well. I had told him everything about my life, all the mistakes I made and how I was trying to make up for them. I thought he would know that I would never do anything like that. I had never behaved that immaturely in my life; I was not about to start at the age of 28. But no, he was convinced that it was me who brought this evil down on him and on the elders of the church, so I should be careful, as my actions had made me some “powerful enemies”.
As I was driving home that night, several thoughts ran through my head. Matthew was completely mentally deranged. He was a bad, evil person. And he was the Welcome Wagon of the COC church – the first person that you saw at the door, who shook your hand and said
“Welcome to church!”
Not only that, but his partners in crime were supposed to be elders of the church. The people that you looked up to, went to for advice and spiritual guidance. And they dabbled in illegal firearms on the side? Had the whole world gone mad?
Or was it just Christians who were mad? I started thinking about all the people I had met at all the churches I had attended over the years. There were definitely some crazies. I wondered if that was what religion was really all about – a crutch to hold up your life when you can’t hold it together yourself, as someone had once told me. Maybe that was the one thing all Christians had in common – delusions.
By the time I got home, my destructive thoughts had begun to take the form of, religion in itself was a delusion. No wonder there were so many hypocritical, lying, two-faced people there. That made me think back to the lesson I had first learned in Year 7 History. Maybe God wasn’t real after all. Maybe all the stuff I had learned, at the Baptist Church many years ago, and more recently at the COC, was just lies made up by crazy people to support their own delusions. I knew first-hand how talented some of these people were at lying.
So I did something that I had never been brave, or stupid, enough to do: I challenged God. I looked out the window of my apartment into the rainy sky, and said
“God, if You are really there, You have 24 hours to show yourself.”
Part 6 can be read by clicking HERE.