I was eleven years old, brand new in the youth group program of my father's Assembly of God church. Our pastor, different from the previous one I've described, took us to the local Catholic cemetery, easily the oldest cemetery in our small town, if not in the vicinity. Full of history. I always wondered, if I was still enough, if I could feel the ghosts of those who had been lain to rest.
But there would be no such reverence this afternoon.
I stood there with my peers on the grass, listening to our pastor's strong and passionate admonishments that went something like this:
"I can't guarantee you that you'll wake up tomorrow. You can't guarantee me that the sun will rise in the morning, that the Earth will still be here. There is no guarantee. You don't know when you will die. If you don't accept Christ now, you will end up in hellfire--period. You cannot wait until the last minute because you may not know when the last minute is. You may not wake up tomorrow. You must accept Christ. Now."
Fear, as you may have noticed by now, is the primary tool in the Assembly of God arsenal. The use of fear is hardly exclusive to Mormonism, but it is certainly a different brand. This is a more violent, in-your-face fear mongering. It is without apology. It is hardly denied even by those who commit it. It is born of fear and perpetuated out of fear. It is a snake that you will pick up to let it bite you because you are unworthy and deserve ever more pain for Christ. You will ask to be bitten and stomped and crucified for and out of your own righteous guilt that, if sincere, will never be satiated.
This particular graveside example is relatively mild, but it remains in my memory.
Eleven-years-old and being told to accept Christ or be consigned to Satan's terrifying grasp to endure an eternity of fire, torture, and misery.
Because I was a sinner.
No matter how hard I tried, how good I was in my heart and in action, I was a sinner.
An eleven. year. old. sinner.
Who needed to be saved.
Have I ever explained to anyone just how hard I tried throughout my lifetime to be good? I haven't because I can't put it into satisfactory words. And it wouldn't matter, because it wasn't ever enough. It just didn't fucking matter because in the end someone would come up to me, for reals, to tell me nothing I ever did would ever be enough. It didn't matter what church I belonged to--Protestant, LDS, didn't matter. The Mormons straight up tell you to aim for perfection even though you'll never get there. To even suggest such a thing in my father's church could be considered blasphemy. Only Christ was and is ever perfect.
Assembly of God is bloody. But it's supposed to be. Therein is humility.
I would never be enough.
I wasn't sure at this moment of my first real call to salvation if I'd been saved. I hadn't said "the prayer" yet--the one where you verbally "accept" Christ as your savior and call yourself an unworthy insect under his feet. But I believed in him. I accepted the story. I wasn't fighting it.
Apparently that wasn't enough.
Some people would tell me that's the point.
I don't know. It's all bullshit. A part of me knew it, I'm certain, beginning that very day.