Jesus Saves, Many Times Over

I entered the Christian faith when I was ten years old, although I didn’t realize for another twenty years that that was the moment I became a Christian. I was baptized on a cold, clear day in 1995 by a local fundamentalist pastor in a freezing cold creek, the water flowing over rocks in the shallow part, and the green water in the deeper part. It was between these two parts that Pastor Warren did the baptisms. I was terrified of deep water, but I had “gotten saved” after a particularly vicious spanking when I was five. My father had lead me in the “sinner’s prayer” in the back of an IPEC truck that had stickers on a roll inside. I figured if a spanking hurt that bad, I certainly didn’t want to experience the fires of hell, which I knew I deserved because I was such a dirty, rotten, filthy sinner, as my father was apt to say often. After all, I disobeyed my parents and I told lies about my disobedience. I think that was the extent of my sins at age five, but I was not wanting to go to hell, and so I confessed my sins and asked Jesus to come into my heart and save me.

Most of my Sunday School class had gotten saved, and almost all of us were at the creek to be baptized. It started out being just Nathaniel, I believe, but once Nathaniel expressed his desire to be baptized, we suddenly all wanted to be baptized. Ivan, our Sunday School teacher, was proud of us, and we talked about baptism in Sunday School for a few weeks before the baptism.

“Remember,” Ivan said, “baptism does not save you. It’s the next step after you are saved, an act of obedience, a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It’s very important, but that’s all it is. It does not make you a Christian.”

***

The entire church drove the twenty or so minute drive out to the creek. I was wearing a denim skirt and a button down ivory top with tiny red flowers on it. We didn’t have baptismal robes at this church, and so we wore our regular clothes. Some of the fancy fundamentalist church had baptismal robes, though. We were not fancy, we were a small-town church.

When it was my turn to walk down into the water to meet Pastor Warren, I suddenly panicked about being saved, and when I thought about it, I really didn’t feel saved, and so, as I entered the water, I prayed desperately in my head: Dear God, I’m sorry for my sins. Please come into my heart and save me. Pastor Warren held a handkerchief up to my nose, and I shook in fear, because I was terrified of being immersed into the water.

“Katy, upon your profession of faith, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, buried in the likeness of his death, and raised to walk in newness of life.” I freaked out when he immersed me, but I tried to calm myself, because after all, I was obeying God. This was part of my submission to God. As I emerged from the water, Pastor Warren instructed everyone to sing, and they sang, in unison:

“I have decided, to follow Jesus, I have decided, to follow Jesus, I have decided, to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

***

I said many versions of the sinner’s prayer over the years because I never felt saved. It was usually after I had committed some particularly heinous sin, like having a crush on someone.

I had also listened to Abba, Alice Cooper and Elvis Presley and kept them hidden between the mattress and my bed. There were also some fashion magazines hidden there because I was not allowed to have those either, even though I was seventeen. The year I was seventeen was the last year I qualified to go to youth camp for a week in the summer, where American college students from a fundamentalist college came to Australia to be counselors. My counselor was talking about the wickedness of rock music.

“Seriously, these bands even have ridiculous names.” Shae said. “I mean, come on. A band named Korn?” I shifted uneasily, knowing that listening to rock music in secret was one of my pet sins. “Also, if you play the songs from most of these bands, but especially bands like KISS, the songs are worship songs to Satan.”

So that evening, I had a conversation with Shae.

“Shae, I struggle with rock music. I don’t even think I’m saved.” I said to her.

“Well, you’ve grown up in a Christian family, you know what you need to do,” Shae said. “How about we pray together?” We sat down on one of the log benches, and put our prayer journals aside, and I began to pray:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I’m so sorry for all of my sins. I repent of my sins. Please come into my heart and save me from hell.”

***

Being saved again meant being baptized again, but I waited for two years, until I moved before I did it.

“Brother Barry,” I said to the pastor. “I want to be baptized.”

“Great,” Brother Barry said. “We are planning for a baptism soon. Prepare your testimony and we will baptize all of you on the same day.” I hadn’t shared my “testimony” when I was baptized when I was ten, but I was older now and I suppose that’s why people wanted to hear it.

That baptism occurred in the private swimming pool of one of the families in the church. I wasn’t as scared this time, although I was still afraid of deep water, Brother Barry was standing in the shallow end, and I could see the bottom of the pool because the water was clear. The church used the baptism as an excuse to have a potluck lunch, in celebration of the baptisms. We ate the lunch before we moved on to the baptism. I shared my testimony with the church members that were gathered around.

Brother Barry also explained that baptism did not make you a Christian.

“Remember, baptism is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. God asks us to be baptized, and so we do so in obedience to God. It does not save you or make you a Christian.” This had never actually made sense to me, but I accepted it as was told.

Then we went down into the water. This time, I was the last one baptized, because Brother Barry wanted to baptize the children first. I stepped down the steps into the pool, and made my way over to where Brother Barry stood, the sleeves of his blue dress shirt rolled up. He, too, put a handkerchief over my nose which he held there with one hand, and baptized me with the other.

“I baptize you now in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” He dunked me under the water, until I was fully immersed, and the brought me right back up. “Raised from baptism to walk in newness of life.” As I walked back up the steps out of the pool, one of the women grabbed my hand to help, and when I got to the top, she put a towel around me, and everybody else began to sing:

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

***

Crying, I sat in the front row of the church, pouring my guts out to Brother Harvey. My husband was beside me because Brother Harvey didn’t think that women should ask questions of the pastor without their husbands present, and their husbands were the ones that had to initiate the conversation because women were to learn in silence from their husbands as part of their submission. After all, the King James Bible clearly said so. Brother Harvey had been preaching through the book of Revelation, which he was taking literally and that literally scared the shit out of me.

“I’m not sure that I’m saved.” I told him.

“Go home, and read the Gospel of John, because the Gospel of John says that it was written that you might believe. Read it through carefully, and then read it again, and again, and let the Lord speak to you.” Brother Harvey counseled me.

I went home, and that night, completely devoured the Gospel of John. The next day, I read through it again, twice. My stomach was in huge knots and I felt nauseous. I didn’t want to be caught unprepared if the rapture were to happen right now. Somehow, during those three readings of the Gospel of John, I came to the conclusion that I was not saved, and so, when my husband got home from work, I cried and I told him, and asked him to kneel with me beside the bed, while I asked Jesus to come into my heart and save me for about the hundredth time. I just knew that this time, it would stick.

After I was done, I called Brother Harvey.

“Hi Brother Harvey. I’m calling you to let you know that I found out through reading John that I wasn’t saved, and I just got saved!” I said excitedly.

“That’s wonderful,” Brother Harvey said.

“I’ve already been baptized twice, but I know I need to do it again since I actually got saved.”

“Yes, you do,” Brother Harvey said. “And it needs to be very public, since people already thought you were a Christian.”

“I understand that,” I said. “What are we going to do about it?”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it,” he said.

***

Wednesday night prayer meeting rolled around, and we always went. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and whenever else the church doors were open, we were there, with our small children in tow. People shared their prayer requests, and then Brother Harvey asked if anybody else had anything to say, and he looked directly at me, so I raised my hand, and he called on me.

“I just wanted to let everybody know that I got saved on Monday. I know you all thought I was a Christian, and so did I. I did not mean to be deceptive, but I realize now that I was.” I said. Rachel, my best friend at the time, embraced me, and told me how happy she was for me.

***

Brother Harvey’s idea of a public baptism where the most members would be present, was to do it at the Easter service, which was fine by me. As the Easter service drew to a close, Brother Harvey announced the baptism.

“The person getting baptized today is Katy-Anne. She got saved a few weeks ago, after spending years thinking she was saved. Katy-Anne, please leave the service and go prepare for baptism.” I walked out of the service as they began the final hymn, to get changed into some more casual, but extremely modest, clothes. I was wearing culottes with autumn leaves on them, and a plain shirt that matched.

I met the crowd in the parking lot, where a cattle trough had been filled with water for the baptism. Brother Harvey stood outside the cattle trough, and I climbed in. He said a few words that I don’t remember, and then I did the baptism thing for the third time.

***

My priest jokingly told me that if there ever really was a rapture, which neither of us believe in, that I am certainly covered.

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Confession, or “Shame is a Bitch”

But would it set me free

If I dared to let you see

The truth behind the person

You imagine me to be?

Or would your eyes be opened

Or would you walk away?

Would the love of Jesus

Be enough to make you stay?

~ Casting Crowns, “Stained Glass Masquerade”

***

I had made plenty of confessions before, and I felt like I needed to do that more often than others did. But, this was my first confession with Mother Jennifer, and I was nervous, not only because of the content of my confession, but because I didn’t know her style. Even though the rubrics in The Book of Common Prayer were the same no matter which Episcopal Church you were in, each priest still had their own distinctive style, the little things that they preferred to do. She had been nothing but kind to me, and I couldn’t imagine her being any different in the context of confession, but I was still nervous. I always felt like the priest would hate me after my confession, even with the old priest to whom I made many confessions to.

I arrived at the church at the appointed time, and I was shaking with fear and nervousness. I had an appointment first thing in the morning. Mother Jennifer smiled as she let me in.

***

In fact, one day I had an appointment with my doctor, and she asked me:

“So, what have you been up to?” The doctor asked me.

“Mostly work and school.” I said.

“Where are you working now?” She asked.

“I’m working for my church,” I said.

“Is this the same church whose priest you cursed out?”

“Yes.”

“So, let me get this straight. You curse out a priest, and he gives you a job?” She laughed.

“Well, there was over two years between those two things,” I said “and it’s not the way I recommend anyone finding a job. I was so fortunate that he took a chance on me, and I think he did so because he had come to know me. I was honest about my rocky job history and all.”

“He must be a good priest.” The doctor said.

“He’s amazing,” I said.

***

Underneath this fragile frame

Lives a battle between pride and shame

~ Macklemore “Neon Cathedral”

“The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” is the slogan that the Episcopal Church is well known for, and it has always been my experience. Of course, the Church isn’t perfect, there are several things I could name that I don’t like, but the fact of the matter is that when I was down and out, at the lowest point in my life and fucked up beyond recognition, the Episcopal Church welcomed me. They didn’t try to change me and mold me into who they wanted me to be, they accepted me for who I was and where I was at.

I’m a person who takes things very seriously most of the time. So, when I say the words of the liturgy in The Book of Common Prayer, I truly mean what I am saying, and if I don’t, I don’t I won’t say it. It’s one of a few reasons I don’t allow my kids to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school, because they are too young to know what the words that they are saying mean. So, before I make a confession, I review the two options for a confession, to see if I’m truly willing to promise what is contained in them. I usually have one over the other that I prefer in each specific circumstance, and sometimes the priest will ask which I want to use and sometimes the priest will be guided to a particular one themselves. I always have a preference, but I’m also always willing to follow the direction of the particular priest, and, in all except one circumstance, the two have always lined up. I also prepare for my confession by reading, and praying, and taking inventory of my life.

It was in doing this for this instance that I came across something that was potentially life-changing for me. “Guilt is about behavior that has harmed others; shame is about not being ‘good enough’. To be ashamed is to expect rejection, not so much because of what one has done as because of what one is. In other words, guilt means that you have made a true mistake, and your actions have wronged someone or something. Shame, on the other hand, makes you feel that you are a mistake, and therefore worthless.” Says Hillary D. Raining in her book Joy in Confession: Reclaiming Sacramental Reconciliation. It made me realize that I had been living in shame rather than guilt. My therapist called it “low self-esteem.” Growing up, I had been repeatedly told that I did not need any self-esteem, that it was a worldly construct, that what I needed in my life was “God-esteem.” The thought process behind that was if I just radically pursued God and obeyed a literal interpretation of the Bible, my life would be amazing.

***

I remember one of many such conversations with my dad.

“Some people would tell you that I abuse you, remember, it’s important to keep family business to yourself.” He said to me. I had been brought up to believe that I deserved the abuse, and so, even though I was miserable, I thought it was my fault.

“But, I’m a sinner, and need to learn not to sin.” I said, shocked that people would think I was abused.

“That’s right, I only discipline you when you deserve it.” He said to me. “One day, when you grow up, people will try to get you to see a psychologist, who will try to tell you that you were abused and get you to explore those memories. Psychology is a wicked, worldly thing that has no place in the life of a Christian.” I remembered this conversation many years later, when I was having anger management issues at work, and instead of firing my ass like they should probably have done, they decided to give a very sheltered, fundamentalist eighteen-year-old a chance.

“You need some help with anger management,” my boss said in a disciplinary interview. “So, we’re going to require you to complete some counselling with our psychologist here on campus that usually sees students but has agreed to see you, for free, as a favor to us.” I should have said thank-you, but I remembered what my dad said about how wicked psychology was.

“My religious beliefs prevent me from seeing a psychologist,” I said sadly. “Would I be able to see my pastor for counseling instead?” I asked.

“I’ll consider it,” she said, “if he were willing to sign an agreement with us for a certain amount of sessions.”

Apparently, my pastor was willing to do so, but his counseling basically destroyed me.

“I feel so depressed,” I told him in the first meeting.

“Well, what I want you to do is to make a list of 100 things you are thankful for. If you start to be thankful for things, you’ll not be depressed anymore.” Even in my sheltered state, I knew this was a load of bullshit, but I really didn’t have any choice but to complete the assignment. “During the next few months, you’ll also read the entire book of Psalms. If you simply read the Bible, it will also help with the depression as you soak in God’s word.”

Weeks later, I was frustrated. I had written a list of 100 things I was thankful for, and I’d also read a lot of Psalms, and yet here I was, still depressed. This whole “Biblical counseling” thing didn’t appear to be working for me, but my beliefs dictated that I had no other option. My pastor would also use things I revealed in counseling in his sermons, and everyone knew who he was talking about.

“One of the young women in our church struggles with what the world calls an eating disorder” he said from the pulpit. “What this woman needs to learn is that she is trying to control her own life instead of letting God control it. If she let God be the Lord of her life, she would not have an issue. She wants to control something, anything, so badly, that she’s willing to not eat anything. She’s gripping so tightly to control she’s willing to make herself sick.” I slunk further down into my seat as people began shooting looks in my direction. I went home alone to my apartment to cut myself, partly to atone for my lust for control over my own life, and partly to drown out the fact that I had been betrayed.

***

Shame is a bitch, and I grew up with so much shame, and I suppose it transferred to my adult life more than I had thought. Shame is what made me believe that all of my sexual assaults had been my fault. I was a bad person that inherently had no real value. It’s part of what fucked up my relationship with God for so long. I guess to be brutally honest my relationship with God is still fucked up, but it’s getting better.

I’ve spent a good part of my ex-fundamentalist life working the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, usually alone. Although I went to meetings at first, I also felt like a misfit there, and never could be brutally honest about my addiction as others were about theirs, because shame overcame me. I felt like I was alone. The Southern Baptist counselor I was seeing at the time had recommended Sex Addicts Anonymous instead, because my particular problem was porn, but when I called about the meetings, they told me that it was a men’s only group and women weren’t allowed there, which made me spiral further out of control because I felt deep shame at having a “man’s addiction.” I’m also not quite sure if Sex Addicts Anonymous would have been the right fit, because as far as sex went I hated it and truly couldn’t see what the big deal was about. I could have lived my entire life without sex (except that I wanted kids) and been perfectly content.

So, when it came to my turn at AA, I would simply introduce myself in a way that wouldn’t expose me.

“Hi, I’m Katy-Anne. I’m an addict.” I knew they would assume I was a drug addict with that introduction, and I didn’t care. For me, having people think I was in recovery for drugs was far better than the truth. And so, even in a program that values honesty about addiction, I wasn’t able to be honest, which I’m sure reduced the effectiveness a lot.

I mean, I was able to follow along with Step 1, admitting that I was powerless over my addiction and my life had become unmanageable. I was able to do Step 2 with no problem, because I truly did believe that a power greater than myself, in my case, God, could restore me to sanity, although I was not sure how and I’d been struggling with this since I was 19 and God hadn’t magically made it go away yet. I guess I was still expecting for that to happen. Step 3 was a little harder, and I actually at the time had problems with the wording of the third step, because it said that we would make a decision to turn our lives over to God as we understood him, and I felt that it didn’t matter how people understood God, that my rigid view was correct, and therefore there was only one way to understand God.

I felt like I had been doing Step 4 my entire life, making a searching moral inventory of myself, although I didn’t understand the difference between using it to drown myself in shame and using it to better myself. Step 5 was where it got hard and fell apart for me. Admitting something to God was doable for me, but admitting it to someone else, I just couldn’t. After all, I struggled with something that I believed was mostly a man’s problem, which made me an oddball right from the start. I began wishing that my problem really was alcohol as that seemed far more respectable than porn. Step 6 was something that I totally wanted, but I couldn’t get through 5 to get to 6.

Step 7 was also something I could do, but after that, for me, the steps got harder. It was actually after my first my first confession with my new priest that I realized that confession basically took care of Step 5, but when I talked about that with my friend, Louis, on messenger, he said to me, in a message:

Well, you’re right, but really a good confession covers Steps 1 through 7 really well. He wrote.

You know, you’re right, I wrote. So yes, I progressed through Steps 1 through 7 during the confession process, however that eighth step isn’t so easy.

***

Louis and I had talked about the differences between confession in our respective churches.

I can’t buy this whole venial sin and mortal sin thing, I wrote. Do you believe that? I’m not trying to be disrespectful, I’m just curious.

Yes, Louis wrote.

I think that the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church probably have entirely different concepts on what sin even is. I wrote. My understanding of sin, much like my understanding of a lot of other things, had been evolving and was still evolving, since I came to the Episcopal Church. I still wasn’t sure that I was able to put into words what I believed about sin, but I like what the Catechism of the Church says about it: “sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” It was totally different to the fundamentalist view of sin.

Yeah, Episcopal confession is more therapeutic than anything, whereas Catholics believe it restores you to God and the Church. Louis wrote.

Well, if you read the forms properly, Episcopal confession also restores you to God and the Church, after all, it says that “I firmly intend amendment of life, and I humbly beg forgiveness of God and his Church” or “restore me to the blessed company of your faithful people” depending on which form you use.

Actually, rather than simply “confession” the Rite is actually called “Reconciliation of a Penitent,” which is really a good way to describe it, but we all get lazy and just call it “confession.”

***

I followed Mother Jennifer into the church. I noticed she had chosen to bring her purple stole with her, which is usually used during Lent, but it was also a color associated with penitence, so I was pretty sure that’s why she had chosen that one, because we were in the Easter season and white was the color for Easter.

She lit a candle as we sat down and opened our prayer books.

“This is to remind us that Jesus is present.” She said as she lit it.

We sat in silence for a few seconds, before I began:

“Bless me, for I have sinned…”