Charlie Davis stood quietly, his hands pressed neatly to his sides. He was surrounded by a group of seven teenagers and two adults. They were fervently carrying on in a language he couldn’t understand. They called it tongues. They explanation they gave him was that it was a secret language between them and an invisible holy spirit. In their explanation they rationalized that this spirit operated in shadows and inside their heads. They rationalized that the voice they heard in their mind was the true God and that the rest of humanity needed to adhere to their experience with this God of theirs.
It was a nice way to confuse emotion with the will of an invisible super being. It’s the antithesis of the vastly important attribute that accompanies a coming of age: the ability to control one’s emotions. Charlie’s face filled with bewilderment as a pudgy young girl next to him shouted out to no one.
“Lord!” She bellowed. “Heal his disbelief. Set him on fire for your glory.”
“Oh yes!” The woman behind him echoed. “Speak into his heart and set him on fire, lord!”
This is nonsense, Charlie thought to himself. The leader of the zealots stood in front of Charlie and placed his hands firmly on his shoulders. I don’t like to be touched, Charlie thought.
“The truth will set you free.” He exclaimed. “Surrender, young man! Let God’s love wash your sins away.”
Charlie thought to himself that these people built up their pyramid scheme with religious language and guilt. Guilt and fear, he told himself.
Charlie was beginning to regret coming to this place at all. Against his better judgment he had accepted the invitation of an attractive young girl from school. In hindsight he reprimanded himself for falling prey to this siren. This siren’s name was Regina.
She was a pretty young girl. She stood against the wall with her head bowed in embarrassment. Her blonde hair was pulled tightly into a ponytail and she pulled nervously on her red sundress. Charlie didn’t know it but she was just as humiliated as he was. Truthfully, she had invited him here to tinge the sting of discomfort she felt when her parents demanded she attend the service. She could only watch helplessly now as her handsome young crush was lambasted by zealous evangelical baby boomers and their children.
Charlie had made the unfortunate admission of disbelief when pressed by the leader during an altar call. An altar call is the opportunity to publicly repent and adopt the orthodoxy of the church. “We’ll pray for you, son.” The leader announced. “Can I get some intercessors to intercede for this young man?” The leader retaliated, believing this an opportunity to wage “spiritual warfare”, thus leading Charlie to his current predicament at the hands of the zealots.
“Thanks,” Charlie muttered when the group concluded their hysterics. Regina and Charlie took their seats once more as the worship band took the stage for the finale. When the lights dimmed and the band resumed their songs, Regina kissed Charlie softly on the cheek. His spirit swelled like a puffer fish.
“Sorry,” she breathed, hardly audible.
Charlie smirked and took notice of the spectacle once more. The more fashionable and well associated teenagers stood on stage playing their instruments. They were doing their best to act cool and casual. The bassist bowed his head in a display of utmost reverence.
“Holy God, we give it all to you,” the leader sang through the haze of the smoke machine. The tone of his voice had a special piety to it. As the service concluded the leader took the podium once more. “Let’s go out and bring Jesus to our city. Let’s take this city back for the lord. Amen.” He smiled and dismissed the congregants.
Afterward, Charlie and Regina sat together in Charlie’s beat up junker of a car. It was an 88’ Cutlass that Charlie had bought at the beginning of the school year. He’d worked as a bag boy at the local grocery store and saved up to purchase it. He was quite proud of it. Regina laughed sheepishly as Charlie sang along to a radio song. Regina found Charlie quite charming. He’s a very polite young man.
“I’m sorry I dragged you to this,” she said apologetically.
“It’s okay,” Charlie told her. “It was weird though. It’s weird that hardly anyone in that room full of people would stop to ask what’s really going on in there.”
“I know,” Regina replied. “Honestly, I don’t know what the Hell’s going on in there.”
“So why do you come to this thing then?”
“My parents are all about it,” she said while reaching to turn the radio down. “They’re sold on it. That’s why most kids come anyway, that and the pizza. Why did you come tonight if you don’t like it?”
Charlie frowned for a moment and thought carefully about how to tread forward without embarrassing himself. “I like you,” he said fearlessly. “And I didn’t know what to expect,” he confessed. “It was more humiliating than I could have imagined.”
“I’m sorry,” Regina responded. “I didn’t know they were going to single you out and go all “exorcist” on you.”
“It’s alright,” Charlie said with a smile. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
Charlie met Regina as school began the following day. The two stood giggling with one another as Charlie fumbled to reach his history book through the mess of empty soda bottles and old papers in his locker.
“Hi Charlie,” a voice sounded behind them.
They turned to see the pudgy girl from the previous night gaping at them. “Hi,” Charlie said.
“I just wanted you to know that I’m praying for you,” she told him, glancing to Regina. “I’m praying for you too, Regina. I’m praying that you’ll be careful in the company of the unsaved. I don’t want you to be led astray. No offense Charlie, but you’re in rebellion against God until you repent.”
Charlie gazed at her speechless. He felt Regina stir next to him.
“Clarissa…” She said knowingly.
“Yes?” The pudgy girl replied, shifting the weight of her backpack.
“Go fuck yourself.”