How my curse was lifted

02.18.07 | 4 Comments

Man. It’s been two weeks since I’ve posted. Aside from a couple of colds and an adrenaline crash (following a two-week adrenaline rush), life as been good. But onto other things…

I was called into the ministry at the ripe old age of fourteen at summer camp at Oral Roberts University—as were fully one-third of the other boys at camp that night. Needless to say, for most who went up to the altar that night, it didn’t take. Ten years later, as I was finishing seminary, I figured out it didn’t take for me. (But you can read all about that here.)

Going back a little further. When I was ten, I got my “prayer language” at a revival led by Gospel Bill, the rootinest tootinest cowboy for Jesus this side of the Mississip. (For those of you who don’t speak charismatic, that means speaking in tongues.)

Okay, so jump to last month. I was talking to my dad on the phone, and he said that I was “the old Chutney”—original recipe?—while I was home over the holidays, in a way he hadn’t seen in many years. This kinda shocked me. Exactly who had I been these last few years?

But I had to agree. The previous few months—being intermittently un(der)employed and getting a diagnosis of bipolar II—had thrown me for a loop. They were the kind of months were soul searching happens, with or without your permission. The meds didn’t hurt either. I was more myself at Christmas than I had been in years.

We kept talking. He dropped the first whopper. “Do you still have a prayer language?” Well, I don’t know. I guess not. “Well, if you had a prayer language, you’d still have it. That’s not something you lose.” Huh-oh. Here we go.

Then he surprised me. “Yeah, I never really thought you had one.” I was stunned. Out of my gourd, as he would say. “I always thought you were acting, playing along.” This was news to me—he had never said anything about it before.

Growing up, I had always thought I had one, and I was quite proud about it. Pushy, even. A bit of a tongue-talking evangelist. Got some of my friends to do it. Was really proud of that.

As I look back, though, I didn’t. Not because I don’t think it’s not real; for some folks, it is. I was acting the part, being the good little charismatic. Instead of long hair and a skateboard, I spoke in tongues.

The a few minutes later, the second whopper. He told me he’d never thought I was called into the ministry. Dear god in heaven. “Why didn’t you say something before I got two degrees in religion?”

The answer was simple enough: I wouldn’t have listened. In fact, if he had told me, I would probably have found my way to the nearest two-bit bible school and become a Pentecostal trailer park preacher, just to piss him off.

I had doubted my “call” for a while. It was so manufactured. After four sleep deprived nights of hormone-fueled summer camp, it’s not tough to talk half a room of high school kids into coming forward at an altar call, for whatever it is you’re selling.

I didn’t get a BA in religion and an MDiv just because of that one night, of course. There was a multi-car pile up of reasons that compelled me to go there. It was a mistake, pure and simple. A series of mistakes. But I came by the honestly. I can’t blame myself for that.

But I have been blaming myself, since before I even finished seminary. Blamed myself, blamed others, blamed god—and cursed all three.

Since that conversation, I have felt like an unimaginably heavy weight has been lifted. I’ve been at a loss to describe it, until tonight.

At church tonight we were talking about blessings and curses. We talked some about the ancient understanding of blessings and curses, which were things people would die for, or kill for. Blessings and curses governed life itself. A blessing bestowed health and wealth and prosperity. A curse cut you off from that. It was that simple and that profound.

If you watch the HBO series Rome, you saw the episode a couple of weeks back where the centurion Lucius Vorenus curses his children when he finds out one of them is not, in fact, his child after all. He suffers a mental breakdown as he realizes what he’s done, withdrawing into an angry depression.

His friend comes to visit. Distraught, Lucius tells him of the curse: the children are gone, delivered to a life of want and suffering. His friends asks him, “But did you sacrifice an animal to it?” No, he says. “Well, then, it didn’t take, did it? You can still lift it.”

Some episodes later, the children are found and rescued from slavery. (I told you curses were serious business.) A priest is visited, an animal is sacrificed, and the curse is lifted. Life, for his children, can begin again.

Whether we call it as much or not, we still operate in a world of blessings and curses. We still bestow, with public words, health and prosperity, death and suffering. We no longer believe in the metaphysics, perhaps. But with those we are in relationship with, words can have the power of life and death, which is only natural for word-using pack animals.

I wouldn’t have thunk it, but when my dad told me he’d never thought I’d had a prayer language, never thought I’d been called to the ministry, he lifted a curse off me.

For years, I tried to live up to those curses, thinking them blessings. For years, I tried to live them down. For years, I’ve been furious that I haven’t been able to redeem all those years, or forget them, or simply release them. I needed to fix them, dammit, and I hated them for it.

But now, after that conversation, I don’t feel that way. I can’t tell you quite why yet—there are drawbacks to not having those blessing-and-curse metaphysics around anymore. Yet, somehow, I don’t feel the need to live and relive those years, to make good on them, to forget or redeem them. I just feel relieved.


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