"Fundamentalist" Excerpt #3: "Youth Group"

In case you hadn’t heard, you can catch sin like you catch a cold. It’s best to stay away from the infected. That’s why youth group was the perfect place for kids to go to have some good, clean, safe, virus-free fun. In addition to good clean fun, every so often a decent youth pastor would come along, teach the kids some Bible, and inspire them to live godly lives. As it turns out, there’s no better place to nurture OCD, depression, and religious legalism than a youth group. Unfortunately, youth group helped to solidify the guilt-ridden, checklist Christianity that was crushing me. Well, maybe, getting “crushed” isn’t the right way to put it. Maybe God was just giving me a big hug, and I didn’t know it.

Avoiding the Bad Kids

In high school, my friendship rule of thumb was to avoid hanging out with school friends outside of school, because it was too risky. I felt too uncomfortable around vulgar joking. I couldn’t stand to be around people cussing; or drinking—man, that was the worst. Well, at least I could hang at the youth group and none of that stuff would be happening.

It’s funny though, some of my closest friends in youth group sinned just like the kids at school. They were true friends, they respected me, and they wouldn’t dream of sinning in my presence. You see, I was on higher ground and had a better shot at heaven than they did. But every so often, I’d let my guard down around the sin virus. I just had to wash my hands a lot and make sure I was up on my vitamin C intake. I was the guy all the parents trusted. If their kids were out on a Friday night with me, things would get goofy—in a sanitized kind of way, of course—but at least the fun times wouldn’t turn sinful. And if things did turn sinful, at least the Sani-Wipes and vitamins kept me safe from catching the sin bug.

I’d acquired a level of respect. I was nice to the popular kids, outcasts, nerds, and geeks. As for my own social standing, I was somewhere in the middle. I had a good sense of humor, people could tell that I was my own person, and I didn’t walk the wide road leading to eternal destruction. At least I wasn’t dismissed as socially pathetic. I mean, c’mon, I listened to Tooth and Nail bands. That had to count for something!

At the end of the school year, one guy wrote in my yearbook, “I hope one day, I’ll be brave enough to be myself like you.” Speaking of yearbooks, check out my simple, to-the-point yearbook quote:

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever,” (1 John 2).

Yup. That’s me, Mr. Popular.


"Fundamentalist" Excerpt #2: "The Life Verse"

Pop Tarts and Prayer

It’s only 7:00 a.m. and already my chest feels tight. Along with the tightness comes painful butterflies in my stomach. The angst travels up to my head and throws my mind into a doomed war. There I am, psychic artillery blowing up in my head, and all I have are a couple of cap guns. Before bedtime the night before I realized once again I have no peace about my salvation. I recite the Sinner’s Prayer sincerely, but something is amiss. I’m too wordy in my prayer again. It’s a dud. I go through the checklist again. As soon as I throw off my covers and my feet hit the floor, I reach up into my closet to retrieve my official record-keeping of the Sinner’s Prayer. I have to make sure my mind isn’t fabricating an imaginary salvation prayer. Most mornings, I’m not convinced. I have to make sure to get it right.

Once my salvation was secure and my heart rate slowed, I’d take a seat in our hand-me-down loveseat to pray and read Scripture. After all, it was the right thing to do. I’d been told my whole life how important Scripture reading and prayer was. At church, I learned it was the only thing that could keep me living right. If I failed this daily routine, I was doomed to fail in life. Morning quiet time safeguarded against bad things happening. If something random happened later in the day, I could rest assured they were related to skipping devotional time. I’d end up embarrassing myself by randomly puking in class, or I’d trip in front of a pretty girl. Worst-case scenario, I’d send someone to hell out of failure to witness to them.

    Skipping daily devotions was an affront to God; it conveyed that I didn’t care about living for Him. The last thing I needed was extra guilt. A couple of minutes into my daily routine, my mom would poke her head into the room, give me a motherly smile, and say that breakfast was ready. To my parents, my spiritual discipline was something to cherish. Their young man was growing up to be someone who put God first at the beginning of each day. My priorities were straight.

    At the end of the prayer time, though, at least I knew I’d kept my end of the bargain. It was a small victory when I could start my day right by nailing quiet time. That was a win in itself. The next challenge: getting dressed. If I chose the wrong T-shirt, eternities were at stake.

Witness Wear

Things were often easier with the life verse in mind. Take dressing myself in the morning as an example. The life verse took the guesswork out of color coordination and matching styles. If I was going to do right by what I wore, the choice was simple: I had to wear Witness Wear—you know a Christian-themed T-shirt.

When the life verse compelled me to be a witness for Christ, it was clear that Christian T-shirt day was upon me. I had a collection of my own, and my dad had a selection in his closet as well. His shirts were a bit more blatant in the gospel message. Days calling for bold witness meant I’d have to go with the old man’s attire.

One of dad’s shirts displayed a black crucifixion scene on the front. The back read, “He was wounded for our transgressions.” Another shirt had a close-up of Jesus holding out his nail-scarred hand and asking, “Who do you say that I am?” Mine were a bit tamer—for example, a psychedelic depiction of a galaxy with the words, “In the beginning, God.” I was compelled to wear these shirts because I was surrounded by lost people who needed saving. They needed Jesus. The T-shirts were brilliant. Wearing my witness spared me the guilt of having sinners’ blood on my hands. Jocks, potheads, pretty girls, ugly girls (who are beautiful in God’s sight, of course), smart dudes, smart girls, class clowns, the friendly and the assholes—they were all going to hell no matter how nice they were. I was God’s messenger, chosen for my high school, and if spreading the message meant meeting wardrobe requirements, so be it. 

PREORDER JOEY'S NEW BOOK, "FUNDAMENTALIST"!

"Fundamentalist" Excerpt #1: "The Sinner's Prayer"

Welcome to the new BC Blog! To kick things off, we're going to be posting excerpts from our good friend Joey's new book, "Fundamentalist". Be sure to preorder it if you like what you read.


THE SINNER’S PRAYER

I still remember the intoxication of childhood play on warm spring days. Life was good. After getting our fill of Cap’n Crunch and Saturday morning cartoons, all of the neighborhood kids would meet up outside and play all day long. We had our shared toy infatuations. I had all the normal characteristics of boyhood, obsessed with Skeletor, Luke Skywalker, and Optimus Prime. But what set me apart from those other neighbor kids went beyond your standard toy fetish. You see, I was obsessed with Jesus.

LIFE WAS CHURCH, CHURCH WAS LIFE

My parents were brought up as traditional Catholics and became born-again Christians when I was just a kid. That’s when they laid down the junior varsity Christianity for the real thing—you know, where you get serious about Jesus and make him the center of everything.

My parents did a great job raising us to value faith in Jesus. Mom or Dad would lead us in weekly family devotions where we’d learn a spiritual lesson, pray together, and talk openly about God. We were the type of family that went to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights, and I loved every single minute of it. I loved my church, the music, and all the people.

I’ll never forget one of the purest moments of childhood faith. I had experienced quite a difficult day. You know, kid problems—tragic stuff like missing Dukes of Hazard because the cable was out, breaking a favorite toy, and being forced to go to school every day. I remember quite clearly when the thought popped in my head that one day we’d be in heaven forever with no more worries or cares of this world. Dukes of Hazard would play 24-7. The cable would never go out, toys would never break, and it would always be summer vacation. I was consumed with Jesus—a little guy full of the joy of the Lord. But remember, our family was born-again. That meant that in order to be OK with God and maintain the joy of the Lord, I had to be a good boy.

I was so good that I even punked out my mom in favor of the Virgin Mary. I clearly remember my dad asking me once, “Isn’t your mom the prettiest woman in the whole world?” “Yes, sir,” I said. “Well, after the Virgin Mary, of course.” If I was going to be good with God, I was convinced that I had to have all of my spiritual bases covered, even if it meant that Mom was a runner-up to Mary in beauty. Despite all that, Mom was my spiritual cheerleader, helping me form a habit of daily prayer and Bible reading by adding “read and pray” to my chore list. This may have been the beginning of my checklist-keeping career.

CLICK HERE TO PREORDER "FUNDAMENTALIST" BY JOEY SVENDSEN!