Sundays With The Christianists: The Day My Idiot Brother Brought Salvation To Flagstaff, Arizona
Catholic mothers suffer the most. True fact.
This post originated with an offhand comment in the Wonkette Sekrit Chat Cave; we were talking about one of those nice evangelical stunts to "help" sinners by telling them, in gory detail, precisely how hellbound they are, out of a spirit of "love." After a three-sentence summary of this Incredible True Story of Faith, Yr Editrix insisted that I write it up for Our Wonkette.
This is my favorite story about my idiot brother, who like me, is adopted. If I'd thought I shared a lot of genes with him, I never would have brought a child into the world. Because he is a private citizen, I'll be calling him "Nabal," after a minor character in the Book of Samuel whom a couple of fundamentalist websites call the stupidest character in the Bible. His name literally means "fool," possibly because the Bible couldn't get away with naming anyone "Asshole."
One sunny afternoon in late May of 1984, right after I'd graduated from Northern Arizona University, Nabal, my mother, and her husband Patrick, who she'd married my last year in high school, all piled into my terrible little shitbox prefab studio apartment in Flagstaff. They'd driven up from my mother's home in Sedona, which hadn't yet become the New Agey Woo center it is now. They announced we Had To Talk about some things that had blown up after church that Sunday.
It might help to know the theological factions in play here. My mother was a Legion of Mary-style Catholic who prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary for assistance with needlepoint projects. Unable to have kids herself, she regarded my adoption in 1962 as the direct result of divine intervention, following 20 years of prayer to the BVM. She regularly called me "Blessed Mother's baby boy," which has made for some great conversations with shrinks over the years. Patrick, who she'd met at church of course, was a super-devout Irish guy who'd come to America before the War and occasionally disappeared without notice to travel to Ireland or to Las Vegas, where he was trying to perfect his "system" to win at roulette. At one point, I'd romanticized him as some kind of idiot savant like Chauncey Gardiner in Being There, but he was more of an ordinary Catholic fundamentalist who thought everything in the Church had gone downhill after Vatican II. And Nabal, who came to live with us when he was 13 and I was six -- Mom adopted him a few years later -- had sometime over the last couple of years decided to go get Born Again, and attended one of those "Potter's House" storefront churches. Nabal was a carpenter in his early 30s at the time (say, you know who else...?), and was one of those Christians who thinks only he and Jesus are good enough to occupy heaven, as long as Jesus watches His step.
As for me, despite my miraculous origins, I'd pretty much wandered away from Holy Mother Church in late adolescence, when it struck me that going to confession for wanting to see my girlfriend's boobs seemed awfully silly. But I still liked Big Questions and going somewhere on Sunday mornings, so for the past few years I'd been attending the Flagstaff Unitarian Fellowship, a fact I'd mentioned to Nabal but not to my mother. On occasional visits home, I'd go to church with her and smile a lot. And then there was my girlfriend (and eventual first wife), "Michelle," a nice Lutheran girl who liked Jesus but had always gone to church more for the singing than anything else.
Given his embrace of Protestant fundamentalism, I honestly don't know why Nabal even went along with my mom and Patrick to Our Lady of Whatever that Sunday, but he did. Habit maybe. As it turned out, the service that day had featured a processional and crowning of a statue of the BVM as "Queen of the May," which offended Nabal's fundamentalist sensibilities as an egregious example of idolatry. I don't recall whether he walked out of the church in a huff at that point, but following the service, the three of them had a great big fight over whether my mother and Patrick were putting false gods before Jesus, and somewhere in there Nabal decided to bring out the Big Rhetorical Guns, telling my mom that if Catholicism actually had any merit to it, she'd have been a better mother. And that's when he told her the shocking truth about me: not only had Blessed Mother's baby boy left the Church, he was also living in sin with his girlfriend and had joined a cult (yes, of course he thought Unitarians were a cult). The "living in sin" part wasn't even true, yet -- Michelle and I were going to move in together in two weeks.
That was the conversation that they'd been stewing over all the way up to Flagstaff. And it spilled out, in my cramped apartment, with my mother crying, Nabal witnessing the Gospel Truth, Patrick fuming, me trying to explain to my mom that I still loved her and she was a good mother, and Michelle wondering just what the hell craziness she was getting into. At one point, my mother wailed, "I wish you'd just died!" because obviously a dead Catholic boy at least had a chance of getting into Heaven. She also wished she'd never let me go to college, since clearly all those books had turned me atheist -- again, not quite accurate; at the time I was more of an agnostic, not that this was a climate for subtle distinctions.
And then another shoe dropped -- it turned out that Nabal had recently withdrawn everything -- some $40,000 -- from a family account that for some reason my mom had let him have his name on. He explained that he was simply protecting the money, to keep Patrick from donating it to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. But that's OK, Nabal explained: he'd happily return the money once we all accepted Jesus Christ as our only savior and renounced false gods like the Virgin Mary, the saints, and whatever it was I thought I was worshiping at the Unitarian church -- most likely a coffee urn.
That's where Patrick, who was not a large man or usually given to violence, jumped up and shouted something very much like "Why, you scoundrel!" and almost decked Nabal. Our family's dysfunction had always manifested in the form of sighs, disappointment, and guilt trips, so this was the first and only time in my life I've ever actually had to hold someone back from punching someone else. Nabal went off to his pickup, and we heard the engine start.
Then, looking a bit like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, Nabal suddenly stuck his face through the open window of the apartment and leered, "Jesus LOOOOOOOVES you!"
Since they'd come up to Flagstaff with Nabal, Michelle and I had to drive my mother and Patrick back home, an hourlong trip that I only vaguely recall; I think I may have tried to explain to my mother that Unitarians weren't actually a cult, which I hoped she'd find somewhat more comforting than learning I'd joined the People's Temple. Nabal left -- with the embezzled money -- for Oregon, where he lost most of it in a failed attempt to build a house. He wasn't even convinced to give it back when I wrote to Walter Martin, radio's Bible Answer Man, to double-check whether Jesus ever said "Go ye and steal from thy family, that they might come to Me." Williams wrote back to confirm that extortion is not a legitimate method for bringing people to Christ, even if they're idolaters and godless Unitarians.
My mother eventually decided she was OK with my still being alive, and she and Nabal made peace, too, although I haven't spoken to him since we settled her estate after her death in 1989. Perhaps some other time I'll tell you the story of how he convinced her to change her will to make him executor and sole beneficiary.
Still, there's something to be said for having some family folklore like this to pass on. I recently learned that Kid Zoom has told the story to most of his high school friends; when I met one of them recently, she said, "Oh! Kid told us all about your brother! 'JESUS LOOOOOOOVES YOU!'"
Dear ShitFerBrains is out of the office, but will return next week.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.