"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.