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What Can Wash Away My 5 Year Old Sins?

From the Houston Pride Parade 2011

Bandera Street Baptist Church circa 1989 or 1990.

The church was in walking distance to our apartment and my mom was in desperate need of an hour or two break from children. I don't blame her. I can't imagine raising children. I have a visceral reaction to noise which perhaps is another family heirloom I inherited added to the piles of gold plated neuroses.

The was the first time I ever got "saved." I remember a very nice, older, white lady with a buttery, southern accent and teased out, overly Aquanetted (gotta withstand the Houston humidity) hair.

"Now son, did you know if you were to die right now, you would burn in hell forever?"

Great! Something else I have to battle? The little old man in me (cause by then I felt very old) wanted to say, "Woman, I'm barely five years old. My brother was murdered less than two years ago. And, at least three times a month my mom has to fight off her drunken boyfriend with a butcher knife as he attempts to break down the front door. I already think I'm going to be murdered. Now you're telling me that if one were to succeed in causing my demise that I would burn forever through no fault of my own? What do I have to do to win at life, cause clearly I'm failing."

I didn't say that. I wish I had that verbosity at five. Instead I said what my mother always taught me when asked a question, "No, ma'am."

"Well, Jesus wants to save you. Jesus died on the cross for you with nails in his hands. You can be covered by the blood of Jesus. Do you wanna die and go to Hell or do you want Jesus to save you and take you to his kingdom where the streets are paved with gold?"

Cue comedic inner monologue: how soon can he get here?

"Yes ma'am."

"Okay. Let's go."

She took my hand and walked me into a cramped back room dimly lit by flickering candles. It was musty, smelled of damp wood, and left me feeling very uncomfortable. In the center of the room was a small cross on perhaps the smallest alter I've ever seen at a church. Maybe this was the kid's table of eternal salvation. We kneeled at the foot of the cross, and I repeated her words.

"Heavenly father, I come before you. I ask you to forgive me of all my sins (the only one I could think of was the time I'd stolen a piece of candy and my mom made me go back into the store to tell on myself, surely warranting eternal damnation). Please be my lord and savior. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, amen."

She said the final word with that southern A, the kind you hear in the word haven, not that strong ahh sound. To this day when I hear someone pronounce it "ahh men," I get the heeby jeebies. Not sure why.

Looking back on that experience now, I shutter to think what mom would've done if she'd been there with me. Would she have allowed this? Are there Christians who find this appropriate? Maybe I don't want to know the answers to that.

What I do know for sure, if I'd ever had children, this is not what I would want for them. They are not sinners just because they're born. I would not teach them about crucifixion and eternal damnation at such a young age (or perhaps at any age). Even if I were to believe all of this was true, there is no way a five year old could truly grasp the nature and severity of such a commitment.

At a church a few years later we discovered that if we committed ourselves to Christ, the church would baptize us after the sermon was over. Again, Houston summers are brutal, and spending an afternoon waiting in line for a pastor to dunk your head under water provided some relief. It even included a certificate which I collected each time, the overachiever that I am. Who needed that $40 season pass to Waterworld?