When I first arrived at college, I was stoked to learn that with the fast approach of autumn, revival was on its way. A giant poster in the lobby of our dorm advertised the upcoming event.
“REVIVAL!” gleefully shouted the poster to all who looked its way. The words hovered in bold, all-caps directly above the perfectly combed back hair of a man who, for whatever reason, appeared to be tasting his glasses. While his face was somewhat boyish, anyone could see that he was wise in preacher years, which I figure to be the equivalent of about two for every one of ours due to dealing with the likes of me on a regular basis. At the bottom of the poster, he was described as the possessor of gifts to inspire us to renew our commitments to the Lord. According to the poster, Revivalist John Calvin Smart had led thousands to the Lord—including “several hundred in South America, Africa and Canada”—and specialized in talking to young people about relationships and the sanctity of marriage. For anyone who took the time to stop and read between the lines, it was clear that Pastor Smart was going to talk to us about sex.
Well, if there is one thing that an Evangelical teenager loves to talk about, it’s sex. We just talk and talk and talk. And we love it. Second to Jesus, there is no more fully covered topic within what I like to call the “follicle fold.” * It’s a familiar topic for anyone who has regularly attended Youth Group:
- How to avoid it;
- How much more fulfilling our lives will be for not having had it;
- How many of our godless peers are having it; and,
- How much after all that talk we still can’t wait to have it.
But anyone could see by the solemn look in Pastor Smart’s eyes and the perfection of grooming on top of his solid head, he meant business. He was not messing around—and neither, said his hair, should we.
A week went by and finally the day came when we would see Pastor Smart live and in the unadulterated flesh. When my American Lit class was over that morning, I practically flew to the chapel auditorium. I could hardly wait—and from the buzz of my fellow classmates filing into the auditorium on the long-awaited day, finger to nose, neither could anybody else.
From even outside the building, the jubilant tinkling of an old-timey piano compelled us forward. Squinting over the heads in the line in front of me, I could see that Pastor Smart’s whole family was up there on that stage. His wife was the one responsible for the holy rollin’ stylings on the piano, of course. To her right, their three children jammed beside her. Farthest from her was a boy of about 14 who played a mean saxophone. Periodically, he would let it hang on the strap around his neck while he clapped his hands out in front of his chest, inciting the congregation to various whoops and hollers. Next in line was a girl who appeared to have only recently hit puberty. She played the fiddle. And finally, towering over them both by about a foot was a boy playing a single maraca. Something about his eyes implied that he wasn’t quite right, but it didn’t matter to his playing one bit. He just shook and shook that maraca like it was what he had been born to do.
At the doorway, I spotted a familiar face. It was Gloria, my new roommate. As usual, her outfit appeared to be freshly pressed and her curly hair reflected the lights above as if varnished. She handed me a chapel card, an index card sized piece of paper that documented one’s compulsory attendance at chapel. Administered by the chapel chicks at the beginning of chapel and then collected by the same at the doors at the end of chapel, these cards represented an airtight system of attendance regulation…just begging to be circumvented by the industrious.
Gloria was a “chapel chick”. The job of “chapel chick” at my university was for the more progressive womyn of the school. Like holy club bouncers, chapel chicks monitor the doors of the auditorium and take roll of all who enter there. Because of their elevated stature and position in the public eye, chapel chicks must conduct themselves appropriately at all times—both on and off campus. At my school, this necessarily meant making sure that they represented their school well by speaking kindly to people, not using foul language, and making sure that their pedicures were perfect.
Gloria shot me an ivory white smile as she passed me a chapel card.
“He’s over there,” she informed me over the music, nodding toward a blond head sticking about a foot over the others in a nearby pew. “He asked me to let y’all know.”
I gave her a nod of thanks, choosing not to get hung up on her persistence in referring to me in the plural, and headed over to where Scott had saved a seat for me.
On the other side of me sat Ophelia, a girl who lived on the floor above me and with whom I had been fostering a friendship. Although from Texas, Ophelia seemed about as turned off by the whole fluff and spray culture as I did. Short, blond, and predisposed to the use of a bandana on her head to which she referred as her thinking cap, Ophelia struck me from the beginning as a genuine person. Add to that the fact that she was funny and intelligent, and I was pretty sure that I had found the person who would be my best friend for the next four years. Little did I know that after college, she would move to Austin, join a rock band and come out of the closet. To this day, we remain close friends.
Ophelia shot me a wry smile and nudged me on the arm.
“Thought you weren’t coming,” she told me.
“As if,” I snorted back.
Just then, Pastor Smart supernovaed onto the stage with mike in hand and began belting out the words to the song his family was playing: If God is for us, who can be against us? Soon, the entire congregation of college students was on its feet singing along. With the Smart Family Band in the lead, we tore through hymn after hymn, clapping and singing for nearly half an hour. When we finally sat down, we were exhausted and sweaty. A couple of the wilting chapel chicks had opened a few windows near the back, through which they were attempting to suck the life back into their perfectly applied cheeks and rosebud lips.
“Sex!” Yelled Pastor Smart from the stage, startling us all into attention, “is a beautiful thing.” He looked around at us, ludicrously daring anybody to contradict him in the looming silence, broken only by the static shock of a dropped maraca somewhere on the stage behind him. A shock of adrenalin had risen to my chest with the unexpected yelp of the word that was the culmination of my heart’s desire. I think Scott grabbed my hand. “Say it with me now, ‘Sex…is a beautiful thing.” We repeated after him, hesitantly at first, and then with more gusto. Soon, the entire student body was chanting the mantra he had given us. Some even stomped their feet to it. One of the basketball players behind me shouted it out with all his might.
Then we stopped. He pressed the microphone up to his mouth and spoke in a low, booming voice:
“But only in the proper context.”
We all watched Pastor Smart, now pacing back and forth across the stage as he formulated what was coming next. Oh, how he had our attention then. He took a turn by the pulpit, back to the piano, jogged back to the center, bounced in place for a crescendoing eight count, and then erupted with, “and that proper context is within the context God planned for us—a holy, love-filled, godly marriage as demonstrated to us by His love for the church!” His hands were raised, people were whispering amens, a few people were crying.
“Everybody, I want you to do something with me.”
Eagerly, we awaited our orders.
“Look to your left, look to your right…your future mate, might be in sight.”
Obediently, with smiles on our faces, we did as we were told, although Scott and I did admittedly get stuck in the middle in a passionate stare as I did not want to leave open a door for too many other possibilities.
For the next twenty minutes, we listened in rapt attention to Pastor Smart’s plan for a godly and lasting marriage—a plan, which as far as I could tell, mostly involved not doing it before we said ‘I do’. By the time he was panting, exhausted over the pulpit Salvador Dali style, we weren’t ready for him to stop. We needed more. We had so many questions.
Almost prophetically, he seemed to understand this. At his cue, the ends of the pews were suddenly flanked by chapel chicks, their Skin So Soft arms heavily laden with stacks of cards. At first, I thought it might be time to hand in our chapel attendance cards, and I scrambled to dig mine out from my back pocket where I had kept it for safe-keeping. But no, it was something else. They were coming down the pews now. When the stack came to me, I grabbed one off the top, hungrily studying the wallet-sized wisdom Pastor Smart had prepared for us.
At the top of the card was printed the words “Smart Chart,” followed by a list of acceptable activities in which young Christian men and women could engage, as well as a list of unacceptable activities. The activities themselves were color coded and ranged from green to red, not unlike the color-coded warning system issued by Homeland Security in order to warn people of a terrorist attack and impending doom. But we all knew the only terrorist who threatened the breakdown of this list was Dark Lord Lucifer himself, a being who made Osama bin Laden, or in those days, Gorbachev, look a trifle.
Hand holding, of course, was at the top of the list over the color green, followed by hugging. Closed mouth kissing was next on the list, superimposed over a kind of yellowish-green, with open mouthed kissing following close behind it. By the bright yellow color of the chart, however, you could see that open-mouthed kissing was crossing into some sort of danger zone, which was followed directly by heavy petting and oral sex placed in boxes of orange and reddish orange, respectively. At the bottom, enveloped in call girl red, was the word “intercourse,” so that you knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was a slap in God’s face and would lead ultimately to one’s demise and eternal pain.
A prayer was initiated. In the background, the piano softly played “Just As I Am.” Pastor Smart mopped the distinguished brow under his immoveable hair. People began coming down to the altar in droves.
It was soon after this that the mike was opened up to testimonies. Pastor Smart was there to challenge us, after all. Was there anyone out there who could offer a word of encouragement? How was God working in our lives? Was God moving anybody to speak? Would anybody like to share? This takes honesty, people. Guts.
The word shot through me like a conviction and I was grateful that I hadn’t hunted down the chick who had heisted my backpack. The heel of my foot grazed thankfully the pile of books I had stacked under my chair.
The first person to the mike was a diminutive girl whom I recognized from the cafeteria. She usually wore a white smock and had a giant scoop in one hand, but I could tell it was her.
“I just wanted to say that there is so much pressure out there and it’s good to have people to stand strong with you. Thank you Pastor Smart.”
A smattering of applause.
Another person approached the mike—a guy, red hair, pale faced.
“My brother had sex and got,” he paused as a wave of emotion washed over him, “a venerable disease. God punished him for his sin, but it’s not too late for you. Y’all should listen to Pastor Smart. He’s really…I don’t know.”
Pastor Smart nodded, smiling knowingly.
Next up, a boy I recognized from my Fine Arts class. He’s tall, curly haired, terrified.
“I’m just….” He looks out over the audience, starts to lose his nerve. His face has gone an eerie shade of pale.
“Go on,” says Pastor Smart, “it’s OK. You’re among friends here.”
“It’s just that, I’ve done,” he pauses again.
“It’s OK,” says our speaker, “you’re among friends. There is no judgment here. We have all sinned and fallen short. God has forgiven you.”
“No, I need to say it. I need to confess.”
Pastor Smart nods; begins moving towards him.
“It’s just that, I’ve had this struggle for so long. I’ve tried to stop, but I can’t.”
Ophelia grabs my arm. I look over at her blankly.
“I—I keep asking for help to stop. It’s that thing guys do.”
“OK,” says Pastor Smart laughing mildly, now trying to intervene. He begins reaching out for the microphone.
Oh my goodness, I think to myself, realizing where he’s headed. But he’s on a derailed train headed for a cliff.
Sit down, somebody yells out. You don’t have to –
Finally, he blurts it out.
“I can’t stop… masturbating. There, I said it. I can’t stop! I’m an addict!” He breaks down into a fit of sobs. Several people rush him off the stage. Pastor Smart grabs the mike, says something unintelligible. We all sit there in numb shock. A few guys in the back are already making wisecracks. Chapel is dismissed.
Nobody knew what would happen next. There was a rumor that he had been placed on suicide watch. What he had ended up doing was condemning himself to certain social death—one which would end up following him around the country as he changed schools a total of three times.
And all because of his desire to share.