Once when I was in the fourth grade, I stayed the night at a friend’s house on a Saturday night and ended up going to church with her the following morning.
Her church fascinated me instantly.
It was at a busy intersection in a seedier part of Portland. Cigarette butts littered the parking lot. And the people were definitely a little rough around the edges. World-weary, you could say, clutching cracked little pleather purses and wearing clothes with holes in them and stuff like that.
It was certainly way less peptic and dull than the Catholic masses I normally suffered through of a Sunday morning, where even the homilies making direct reference to your eternal damnation were delivered with such a monotone trill that I couldn’t be bothered to look up from picking at my patent leather shoe sole.
Her church was nothing like this. In fact, we didn’t even have to sit through a boring service with all the adults. Instead, we got to go to a Sunday School class in the mildewed basement.
The Sunday School teacher was this super burnt-out looking guy who spent the entire hour regaling us with stories of his adventures as an alcoholic and drug addict, back in the days before he found God and swore permanently off the boozing and carousing.
It was awesome!
He used the word “party” more than any adult I had ever encountered. And, to form, “partying” was the celestial body around which all of his “lessons” orbited.
He told us about this time that he went to his friend’s house and drank like a case of beer and then drove home afterwards, and all he remembers is how the car was just sort of drifting from one shoulder of the road to the other and back, over and over, like something from a video game.
He also told us a bunch of stories about crackheads, including one story about this guy who was so high on PCP that he took off all his clothes and shimmied, totally naked, up to the top of one of those wooden electricity poles. And the crackhead wouldn’t come down, like, not for anything, and the cops were called and showed up to try and negotiate with the crackhead, and finally, after much enticing and entreating, the man agreed to descend, and he slid all the way down the wooden pole at lightning speed and got gigantic slivers all over his thighs and genitals and had to go to the hospital, where it took doctors like five hours to remove them all.
And after every few anecdotes, the teacher would pause and get this look on his face as if he were being struck anew, each time, with the realization that, besides having no salient point and nothing to do with Christianity, the stories were also completely age-inappropriate.
Then, he’d hedge by say something like: “And … So the point is … you’re all going to party. I mean, you just are. So when you do …”
And we’d all lean forward eagerly on our pinchy metal folding chairs, me cheek to jowl with this tiny legion of strange, sticky children, like miniature sponges, fresh out of the packages, not yet tainted by all the moldy revelations and encounters of misspent adolescence and adulthood.
And he’d declare: “The point is, be safe! Yeah! Be safe. Which reminds me of this other time …”
So, yeah. It was a pretty great Sunday School class.