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Churched by Matthew Paul Turner: Review By Mimicry

When I was in second grade, I was of the age, just like everyone else in my second grade class, to have my First Communion. Mental maturity or physical maturity, or personal belief for that matter, didn’t really come into play, but since June of 1981 had come and gone and I lived until September and the start of second grade, I was ready for The Lord’s Supper.
Now before you can do something so Holy and powerful as eat the flesh and blood of Jesus, you have to confess your sins, so a few weeks before you have your First Communion, you have to undergo a much less fun, and less celebrated, First Confession. My 14 classmates and I sat at Holy Spirit School and Mrs. Vote explained to us what would happen.
“Whenever you are ready, but don’t wait too long, go up to Father and say ‘Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.’ and then he will ask you to tell him what you’ve done’.”
I forget the exact script, but that was the jist of it. Then, in order to help us think up some sins that we could confess, she began to make a list on the chalkboard. Lying to our mother, lying to our father, lying to our sister, lying to our brother, lying to our grandma, lying to our grandpa, cheating in class, fighting with our friends… “You want to tell him about three things that were sins that you’ve done”
THREE! I looked at the board. I had lying to my mom down, but I was an only child so that wiped out a lot of my options. All of the fighting I did fit more under the heading of getting beat up, so I couldn’t confess that. I started to think through the 10 commandments. I loved God and didn’t bow down to statues… I said “gosh” instead of “god”…I went to church on Sundays, and Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays and any Holy day in between (benefit of going to Catholic School: on any day religion class could be cancelled and you’d have to go to Mass instead!) I honored my mother and my father (as far as I knew) and I still wasn’t sure about that adultery thing except that it was something that adults did. I was pretty sure I had probably stolen something. I couldn’t think of what, or when, but I was pretty sure I had.
“What if we only have two?” I asked. Mrs. Vote just kind of stared at me for a minute. I think she might have rung up an extra one in that moment while she was still talking and writing on the board, but interrupting your teacher wasn’t on her list.
“If you can only think of two, that’s fine, but try to have three.”
I stuck with my two. My first confession was still 3 days away, so I had time to add on number three.
***
The big day came and I was all dressed up in my school clothes and a tie. Since I wore navy pants and a long sleaved white shirt every day to school, getting dressed up was just putting on a tie or borrowing a suit that was too big. I was glad that for my first confession I just had to add the tie.
Our whole class went in and sat in the front few pews of the church. The priest said some stuff, and our parents looked across the aisle at all of us sitting together, proud as can be of their little confessors.
In a Catholic church, there is a stage area in the front. Not a stage like in a protestant church covered with electrical cables and theatrical lights and subwoofers propped up on Bibles, but a sacred stage. It’s an area of foreboding, and area that is very clean and clear and open and forbidden to civilians. You have to cross yourself whenever you pass the center line, so you learn to make your trips up there all on one side. I was an altar boy, so I had been all over on the sacred stage, except behind the altar. Only the priest went up there.
In front of the altar were two chairs, and after the priest said some things, he went and sat down in one of them, and then stared at all of us. There we were, expected, called, if you will, to come up and sit IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STAGE AND CONFESS OUR SINS! At least there was no microphone, but what about the cool closets on the side of the church?! What about the cool screen that you could go to and the priest wouldn’t know it was you confessing that you lied to your mother! Would he come next Tuesday and talk all about how we shouldn’t lie to our mothers like little Danny Sullivan did!?
One by one all of my friends went up and sat and talked and then came back down and prayed. They all seemed to come away with a big grin on their face, so it didn’t seem like such a bad thing. I went on up, hoping that no one else would go up at the same time and draw a lot of attention to me. It was bad enough having all of my friends sitting there watching, but their parents too! And my MOM! Would she hear? Would Father Foster tell her what I said?!
There was no turning back now, I crossed my self and stepped onto the holy stage. I went up and was greeted warmly and it was all over in about 15 seconds. After I was done, Fr. Foster told me to go say 10 ‘Our Fathers’ and 10 ‘Hail Marys’ and to not do it again. As I stood to walk off, he stopped me and said, “hold on,” was that not enough!? Did he just peer into my soul and notice one that I forgot?!
“Here you go, good job” he said, and handed me a Clark bar.
A Clark bar. Clark Bar
The crunchy peanut butter wrapped in chocolate taste of forgiveness was all mine. “Good job.”
I went smiling back to my seat and stared at my Clark bar for a few seconds before remembering the prayers I had to say.

***

That story was buzzing in my head the whole time I was reading “Churched.” I must say, if Matthew Turner wrote that out, it would be funnier than my version. (his website is www.matthewpaulturner.com )Turner does a very good job of telling stories in a way that you can definitely see what is WRONG about this story, but he doesn’t spoon feed you about what the right way should be.
Since a lot of the story happened when he was in 2nd ish grade, the book made me think a lot about how I’m raising my own sons. Do I mindlessly follow rules that when I really think them through, contradict the teachings of Jesus? Am I living a life-example that is different than the things I want my kids to learn about Jesus? I’m not sure, but Turner’s book has subtly made me consider those things, and consider how I steer my kids down their path towards God.
If you grew up in any church, Catholic or Protestant, this book is going to bring back some funny-only-in-retrospect memories. And if you didn’t grow up this way, you’d better read this book to make sure you aren’t awash in cultural legalism and calling it Christianity rather than living out the life of Jesus that has been resurrected into you.
So here’s the deal: I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up and read it if somebody didn’t ask me to, but I’m really glad that I did read it. I usually read stuff that’s a lot more complicated (on the surface anyway) and makes me angrier, so this was really refreshing. I wish all of my Christian books made my laugh till I had tears in my eyes. So I’m giving away a copy of this book. You can try to win one or go buy one, whichever.
So how should we do the contest? Should we do the comment thing and then I draw out a name? Or do some email thing? Or an in-person contest?
Oooh, wait wait wait! We’ll do an essay contest, yeah, that’s fun.
Write in the comments a short and weird church thing that happened to you growing up. I’ll read them to my wife, without saying your name, and the winner gets the book! That will be fun. No over-shares though, people, this is a public blog!
I’ll even give you a week to do it. You have until October 21 at Midnight.
The runner up will get a Clark bar.
Good job.

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