Church Camp (Pt. 2)

... I caught eyes with a girl from Clarksdale during one of the co-ed competitions. We didn't get to talk much because one of the camp counselors saw us and sent us on our ways. Immediately after that, we had to stop playing because Erica from my church collapsed like a sack of potatoes as she was rounding third base. It pissed me off, too, because I was up to bat next. Pastor Ryan woke her up and shoved crackers in her mouth like she was a parrot that wouldn't shut up. My teammates prayed for her. After she was able to stand on her own, everyone broke into song again.

Our God is an awesum' God,
He reigns from Heaven abuv'
With wizz-dom, power and love,
Our God is an awesome God...

I saw Rachel at dinner that night and asked her to sit with me. I got my plate and found my group's table, which was littered with wrappers from their Saltine crackers, and took a seat.

"So what church you from?" asked Casey, who was one of the fasters. I guess he thought he was doing me a favor by initiating meaningless small talk.

"Clarksdale First Assembly," said Rachel. All the guys at the table were staring at her, acting as if each word that came out of her mouth was more important than the last.

"Hey," I said, trying to liven up the conversation, "have y'all ever realized that the acronym for our church is F.A.G.? Think about it, 'cause you can't include 'of' because it's a preposition."

"Dude, that's not funny," Chad said.

Rachel decided the break the awkward silence that followed. "Why are you eating crackers?" she asked innocently. Do you want some of my spaghetti?"

"No, I don't want your spaghetti," snapped Chad. "We are fasting. Do you know what that is?" Rachel nodded.

"But why?"

"Because it's our way of letting Jesus know we care. He suffered, so we're gonna suffer, too. It's a spiritual thing. You probably wouldn't know anything about it. We eat crackers to keep our bodies going, but when we're just a little bit hungry, we pray," said Chad.

Rachel turned her eyes to me. I couldn't tell if she wanted to slap Chad or laugh at him. I shook my head and ate the bite of spaghetti I'd been twirling on my fork throughout the whole conversation.

For the next half-hour, everyone at my church explained to anyone who'd listen why he or she was fasting and why it was important to suffer like Jesus did. People used many superlatives to describe the fasters—brave, interesting, honorable—but no one used any words that came to my mind.

• • •

I tried tempting everyone to break their fast all week but was unsuccessful. Except for Matt. I knew he'd falter. He kept eating crackers during the day, but at night I'd slip him some of my Whoppers and an oats-and-honey granola bar or two. I didn't even speak to Matt, though, about breaking his fast. He slept on the bunk above me, so the second night we were there, I stood up and placed some Whoppers next to his pillow. I awoke in the morning just in time to hear nothing but the crunch of malted milk and sighs of satisfaction.

"God works in mysterious ways, don't he, Matt?" I said.

After two days of exclusiveness, Rachel and I broke it off. We decided we weren't meant for each other—she said I was unpure. I told her that what we did made her just as unpure as me. I also told her that "unpure" isn't a word (even though I found out later that it is). She said she was gonna pray for me.

To my knowledge, everyone followed through with their fasting. They planned to end their fast on Friday at the commencement dinner. Everyone looked to Matt for patience and guidance, seeing as he was taking this whole fasting thing so well. He might've even added a pound or two.

I showed up a little late to the commencement dinner. No one from my church even noticed. How could they? The cooks had put all their elbow grease together and concocted one hell of a church camp meal: lasagna, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, and fresh salad. Chad was perhaps taking the most delight in his meal and within minutes was asking for seconds.

I was relieved because my youth group was somewhat normal again, despite their trading stories over who suffered the worst, who lost the most weight, and who's gonna do it again next year. I kept to myself and enjoyed the meal, every once in a while glancing over at Rachel who, each time she saw me, lost her smile and scowled at me.

Just as everyone was getting their desserts, Pastor Ronnie, the leader of the camp, addressed us. He was a pretty odd cat, that Pastor Ronnie. He sweat. A lot. And the hair on his back curled and formed a layer on the outside of his T-shirts; it looked as though a thousand and some-odd miniature Batman figurines had thrown their tiny black hooks over the collar of his shirt to climb out of the jungle-esque surface that was his back. He was a large man, and despite his ever-noticeable bulk and intimidating presence, his voice sounded like a half-retarded, pissed-off Jack Russell Terrier. Now that I look back, I think he became a Christian for the sole reason of scoring chicks. Maybe he thought looks didn't matter to Christian girls, so
he'd hit the jackpot.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, boys and girls," Pastor Ronnie said, "but I gotta say something."

Eyes lit up around the room. Campers looked over and around, probably waiting to see some kid with his head down, crying. I, however, was thinking Pastor Ronnie's cup of faith hath runneth over and he just had to testify.

"Where's the group from Morristown? ... Hey, there! Listen everybody. I want you to take a good look at these kids. Those boys and girls are zealous for Christ." Everyone looked at us, wide-eyed and curious.

Patrick, the kid who wore hearing aids resembling a small kidney on each ear, raised his hand in spiritual affirmation. "I'm jealous of Christ, too, Pastor Ronnie!"

Pastor Ronnie ignored him and continued.

"You know what they did? Each and every one of them fasted this week. They suffered for our Lord, Jesus Christ. Now how many of you can say you'd do that?" I guess the whole audience didn't realize that that was a rhetorical question because nearly everyone in the room raised his or her hand.

"Matt, would you mind coming up here and saying a word or two?" Pastor Ronnie asked. Matt looked scared at first, then shrugged his shoulders and walked up to the podium.

"Everyone, this is Pastor Ryan's son, Matt. Now, Matt, tell everyone about the sacrifice you made to honor Jesus."

Matt walked grudgingly up to the microphone. "Well, I really don't know what to say. Uh, you can't do this alone. I want to thank God, first and foremost.

"Also, I want to thank my buddy, Kerry, for helping me get through it. Stand up, Kerry, let everyone see you." All I could think was how bad I wanted to call Matt a sorry bastard, but I stood up, looked around the room with a forged smile, and winked at Rachel.

"Thanks, man. Really ... thank you. Let's hear it for Kerry."

I wanted to rat him out, but I couldn't make myself do it. I was tired of being a part of his lie, though, even if I was the one that initiated it.

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