"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.