Music Festival and the Solitary Sin

So I was fifteen or so and I was washing dishes part-time in a restaurant and three of the servers were Pentecostal, born-again Holy Rollers – two of ’em were brother and sister, the third was the brother’s girlfriend. They were squeaky-clean and so fuckin’ happy all the time – grinnin’ like idiots and praising Jesus over everything. I was a surly redneck kid who had just discovered beer and punk rock and who was just beginning to feel what would soon become full-bore alcoholism and clinical depression. I was a Christian, but only in a vague, sorta destructive way. I would shoplift beer, drink it while listening to Black Flag or the Replacements, then feel really fuckin’ guilty.

The Holy Rollers seemed to be in a better place than me. They were always goin’ on and on about how joyous everything was when Jesus was your Lord and Risen Savior and I wanted some of what they had. I figured that if I jumped all the way into the religion thing, I’d be able to shake off some of the shame and guilt and general feeling that things would get better if I got out one of my Dad’s handguns and blew my fuckin’ brains out. Maybe my grades would improve too. So I started talking with them and they were more than happy to tell me all about how wonderful it was to be saved. I was a project – and they were gonna bring me to the Lord, because that’s what evangelicals do.

Summertime came. I was sixteen and driving a primer-grey 1964 Comet – the sedan, not the sweet little coupe – which I paid like $200 for. It had a 289 V-8 which some asshole had put a four-banger carb on and it got about three miles to the gallon. But it went from 0 to 60 in a heartbeat and it was made outta sheet-steel so when I lost control doin’ 90 on a gravel road and slammed through some farmer’s fence, there was no damage to the car at all. It was a tank – with a big back seat that I used more for sleepin’ off alcohol than for makin’ out with girls. That was a great car. I couldn’t keep up with the maintenance and putting gas in it was taking up all my money, so I eventually traded it in on a piece of shit Chevette which got better mileage, but wasn’t as comfortable to sleep or fuck in.

The born-agains invited me to go to something called Fishnet – a Christian music festival an hour or so north. They went every year and it was so awesome and fun! And they’d pay for my ticket! And I could camp with them! My parents said I could go, so I went. And that’s how I learned that “music festival” means several hundred people standing around in a muddy field listening to bands they might’ve heard of and then standing in line for an hour to get into a porta-potty. I guess non-Christian music festivals have the added attraction of drugs – I dunno, because I never went to another music festival, Christian or otherwise. And there was no fuckin’ way I was gonna stand in line to use a porta-potty. I managed to sneak off into the woods to piss a couple times, but I just didn’t shit all weekend.

During the day on Saturday, there mighta been some bands playing – I don’t remember – but there was other stuff going on too, so I decided to walk around and see what the vendors were hawking. Some guy had a booth with books about how evil secular music was. I stood around for a bit while he delivered a frantic sermonette about the Eagles, who, apparently weren’t just coked-up, lame-rock douche-bags – they were also Satan worshipers! I wandered around and somebody told me there was a gathering for teens at a natural amphitheater, just follow that trail there, so I did that and found the place and sat way in the back, wishing I had some cigarettes and feeling guilty for wishing I had some cigarettes.

The teen gathering was actually another sermon. The preacher was one of those youth minister types who tries to include some hip, cool slang so the kids will know he’s not a square. I was kinda listening, but not really and then he said something that snapped me to attention. In a list of awful sins that led so many young people into the waiting arms of Satan – rock’n’roll, reefer, dancing – he said the word “masturbation”. And I ’bout shit my pants. Just the fact that somebody had mentioned masturbation out loud, in public, was a shocker, but he was saying it was a sin.

Now, friends, I knew masturbation was a bad thing, but I thought it was just bad in a secular way – something that was embarrassing and frowned on. I had no idea that it was actually a sin that would lead me straight into the waiting arms of Satan. I assume the youth preacher said something else, but I didn’t hear it. My brain was showing me five years worth of memories of my wicked sinfulness at double-speed. Good God, I was so sinful.

That night, there was some big name Christian rock band at the main stage and then some Evangelist got up and started raging about sin and wickedness and calling people to come forward and get saved. All around me, people were face-down in the mud speaking in tongues and praising Jesus, including the happy, squeaky-clean people I worked with. I had never seen anything like it, nor wanted to. My memory of it is totally batshit crazy. The realization that I had been jerking off for Satan, plus the fact that everybody around me was outta their pea-pickin’ minds threw me into an altered state and the next thing I knew, I was down at the front of the crowd getting born again – I guess, I really don’t know. It was weird and terrifying and confusing. And I was so glad to get home the next day and take a shit.

The born-agains were really hyped up that I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Personal Savior. The siblings’ father was the preacher at an Evangelical church and they really wanted me to go with ’em on Sunday. I put on a tie and drove out to the edge of town in my Comet to the cinder-block building that was their father’s church. It was about what you’d expect if you’ve ever seen a TV preacher, but after the service, the born-agains dragged me up to the front of the church and told the preacher/dad that I’d accepted Jesus as my Lord and Personal Savior, but that I had not yet received the Gift of Tongues. Preacher/dad grabbed my shoulders and started hollering for the Holy Ghost to enter me. I shit you not. People surrounded me, all of them touching me, which I don’t like – I just don’t like it when people touch me – and they were all yelling in tongues and praisin’ Jesus and the Holy Ghost and I was kirkin’ the fuck out. This was some shit I did not sign up for. And then I just started yammering out nonsense that was very much not the Gift of Tongues. Some part of my brain had figured out that the way out of this situation was to give the people what they wanted and had started moving my mouth. I was shouting out syllables at the top of my lungs and it worked – everybody stopped touching me to throw their hands in the air or fall out in a seizure or I dunno, because I got the fuck outta there, opened up the four-barrel and sped away. Done.

I continued to fail to be a decent Christian for a bit longer – I guess until the following summer. I couldn’t do it. Eventually, I just gave up. the only thing I got from my brief exploration of Pentecostal/Evangelical Christianity was one more thing to feel guilty about. Like I fuckin’ needed that.

Most people who I’ve told that I’m going to become a Lutheran Pastor have responded positively. Several have told me I’d be good at it. A couple have said they’ll come to my church. One said she already kinda thinks of me as her Pastor. A few have gotten wide-eyed with horror. I assume those people – a gay pianist and one woman who was raised Jehovah’s Witness and is now atheist and cut off from most of her family – are afraid that when I say I’ma be a Pastor, what I mean is I’ma be an Evangelical youth preacher tellin’ people that if they puff reefer or play with their privates they’re gonna go straight to Hell forever and ever. And ever. Shit, even the woman who said she already thinks of me as her Pastor turned me down when I invited her to go to Church last Sunday, because she doesn’t “need any more condemnation”. I tried to explain that Lutheranism is really more about being grateful for the forgiveness we’ve already got, but she couldn’t quite hear it. She’s still recovering – from drugs and alcohol, but also from the brainwashing she got growing up that causes her to think that Christianity is all about how awful and sinful she is and how she should be really ashamed of herself.

I understand that. If I hadn’t been called – if any of those other people had walked up to me and said “I’ve been called to become a Christian preacher”, I’d’ve gotten wide-eyed with horror. I’d’ve said “Congratulations – been nice knowin’ ya”, because I would’ve automatically assumed that becoming a Christian preacher meant suddenly condemning all your friends. I woulda cut that asshole outta my life before they could start telling me I was going to Hell for smokin’ cigarettes and saying bad words. Fuck a buncha preachers.

I actually quit masturbating, by the way. Not when I was sixteen of course. It was last year. I hadn’t fucked any women for six or seven years and it seemed like the next logical step. After a few weeks, I just forgot about it. I dunno if I’m better off, but I sure ain’t worse off for it. I do still smoke cigarettes and say bad words.

And I understand Christianity in a way that I never did before. I’m absolutely certain that it isn’t about condemnation or sin or rules or where you’re gonna go when you die. Christianity, as I understand it, is about recognizing that we sin – that I sin – and that it’s okay. God understands that I am weak and broken because God, as Jesus, has been weak and broken. And nothing I ever did or will do can make God love me any more or less.

So, I gotta show people who know me that the Christianity I’m talkin’ about ain’t the one they grew up with. I guess. Or not. The twink is doing pretty good – he’s sober and he has a good gig playing piano on a cruise ship. The one who doesn’t need any more condemnation is Cherokee – she can join the Native American Church and walk the Pollen Path. The ex-JW atheist is a dingbat, but she’s doing alright, puffin’ reefer and flickin’ her bean. Those people got their own ways of dealing with the shitstorm that is life here in USA, in the Zone of Middle Dimensions. It ain’t my job to turn ’em on to the new/old thing I found.

Anyway – that’s the story about my brief and tragicomic flirtation with Pentecostal/Evangelical Holy Rollerism. The interweb tells me that the Fishnet Christian Music Festival ran every year from 1975 to 2008. I guess I was there in ’84. Barry McGuire performed one year – the site doesn’t say when, but it wasn’t the year I was there – I’d remember that. I really like his song “Eve of Destruction.” I did some sinny stuff with a woman with the last name McGuire a few times, but let’s not go into that.

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