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The service over, Melissa told her mother to go ahead and walk home; she wanted to talk to her father. She found him in his office. She closed the door behind her.
He was alone, straightening up his desk. He looked at her. "What's up?"
How do you start? How do you say it? She did not even think she could begin it. She wasn't pregnant. She wasn't on drugs. She didn't drink, and she never intended to start smoking. It would, she thought, be easier to do this if it was any of those things. What had happened to her was this: As Mrs. Lutz at Antwerp Junior High began her presentation on ancient mythology, she had explained exactly what a myth was. Then, she had spoken these words:
Maybe we are believing in myths.
"I, uh, don't quite know how to bring this up. It's about confirmation." She took a seat across from her father's desk. Dad figured out that his own family was now hitting him up for some free pastoral counseling, and stopped straightening up to take his seat in his plush swivel chair.
The minute Mrs. Lutz spoke those words, Melissa was personally sure they were true.
In fact, it made perfect sense.
"Is it the same thing we talked about before? Those Bannermans aren't misbehaving again, are they? I've talked to their parents about that. I'm sorry your teacher isn't any firmer with them, but I promise you, I will take care of it."
"The Bannermans are still a pain, but no, Dad, Mrs. Andringa has gotten a grip on it. Their parents must have done something." Melissa personally thought the Bannermans should be denied their confirmation ceremony. They didn't do their work, flunked the tests, and had given every teacher unlucky enough to have them a severe test of Christian tolerance. The last time Melissa had been in this office, it had been desperately trying to keep the Bannermans from chanting, "pastor's-daughter-sweetie-pie, virginity-will-go-bye-bye." But this wasn't about their ceremony, although they, and a few others, certainly didn't deserve one. "No, Dad. It's about the confirmation ceremony itself. About it -- and about me."
Maybe we are believing in myths.
Of course we were. How could Christianity be right, and everybody else be wrong? Was the world really created in six days? Did the Red Sea really part?
"Dad, this is pretty hard to say."
"Well, straight out usually works."
She cleared her throat. She gulped. Her stomach felt fluttery. "Dad, uh -- I guess everybody's willing to let people like the Bannermans go through with the ceremony -- "
"Melissa, you and I talked about this. You know I don't agree with it, in principle. Chuck and Diana Bannerman are absolutely adamant that Susie and Sean be confirmed. I can't say no to them, or to the others, even though their kids didn't do the lessons and don't care about church, because the parents would be so angry that they would probably leave. It's not worth having people leave. Mr. and Mrs. Bannerman grew up together in this church. They were married here. It's like their home. People have to make their own decisions about this. Let God do the judging. Not us. If the kids are lying when they make that promise -- it's not for us to say. And, maybe, when the kids are older, they will take their promise seriously."
"You agree, though, that it's probably a lie and that an honest person wouldn't do it."
Maybe we are believing in myths.
Hell, for one, had to be a myth. Melissa had decided that there was no way she could accept Hell.
Hell did not seem to be something people liked to think about. In church, Hell was easy to ignore. You could hardly even say the word without getting your mouth washed out with soap. But even so, Melissa had been taught that Hell was a fact. If you don't believe in Christ, you will spend Eternity in Hell. That meant that all the Hindus went to Hell, the Buddhists went to Hell, the Muslims for all their strictness and clean living went to Hell, the American Indians went to Hell, all the Africans with whatever they might believe went to Hell, and all the primitive tribes isolated on all the lonely tropical islands went to Hell.
And suddenly this didn't seem fair, or right, to Melissa. There was nothing wrong with any of these people except that they were not Christians.
"I guess I do, Melissa."
"Well, Dad, if they shouldn't do it -- " Melissa gulped again, and steeled herself to say it: "I shouldn't do it."
Dad's jaw dropped slightly, and his eyes went fixed. It was, she was sure, the last thing on Earth he had expected. And she had just trapped him with the Bannermans.
"You did the work," he finally said, "You passed the tests. You have every right to go through that ceremony. Your mother has already made plans for your party."
"I'm not ready."
He wasn't mad ... exactly. He was, mostly, having a hard time dealing with it. He couldn't say the first thing that came into his mind because she had trapped him with the Bannermans.
"Melissa, you have been in this church since you were a baby. You've been to Sunday school ... and three years of confirmation classes. You've read the Bible. You aren't a Bannerman. You conduct yourself well in this church. How can you not be ready?"
"Dad, you would be the first one to tell me that the window-dressing of showing up every Sunday does not a commitment make. I'm not ready to go up there and promise to be faithful to this church. It would be a lie. Are you sure you aren't just upset because of what it looks like -- because you are the pastor and I am your daughter?"
"That's the first thing your mother is going to say."
"And I can do it next year. Any year. There's nothing that says I have to get confirmed right now. We can do it next year, five years from now -- or ten. When I am ready. When it isn't a lie."
Which, she thought, would probably be never. No matter -- it was this year that she was expected to get confirmed, this year that all the kids in her confirmation class would go up in their gowns and take those vows. It was this year she needed to get past, and if she managed to pass it, she would not be offered a ceremony again unless she asked for one.
"Do you want to tell me why you think you aren't ready?"
He was looking at her like he'd never seen her before.
"I just have some -- doubts about stuff, and I think it would be a lie to go up there and say things that I'm not sure are true, and make promises that I'm not sure I want to keep. That's all there is. Really."
"All Christians have doubts on their faith journeys," Dad said.
She did not want to get into a theological discussion with him. This, she was sure, would lead to arguments and hard feelings. Besides, it was hard enough just to say this much. How could she tell him that she thought Hell was a myth? That God didn't exist? That the miracles in the Bible were probably made-up, or maybe some phenomena that people didn't understand, but could probably be explained someday? Television, for instance, would be magic to a savage. Could she possibly say that she didn't think Jesus came back from the dead at all, that he was just an impressive, but still mortal, human being who had come along at an opportune time, and so had changed the world? That when it came to sex, the church was all messed up -- that she didn't think gay people were bad at all and that she didn't even have any strong feelings about premarital sex or even dirty words, and that she was already on the side of complete equality for women? Would that ever sit well with her conservative parents, who still believed that God had given the headship of the family to the man?
Her parents would just shit bricks.
So, she stuck to her simple reasons:
"I'm just not ready. It would be a lie. It's a lie for the Bannermans, and it's a lie for me. Not because I'm a nasty Bannerman kid, but just because it's a lie. Dad, I don't want to do this ceremony."
He stared. He finally said:
"Your mother is not going to take this well."
"My mother would rather that I lied?"
"No, I don't think she wants you to lie. She wants you to be a committed Christian and to do the ceremony because you want to. And you know we'll have to call off the party."
"Party-schmarty! Who cares! How do you think I'd feel, eating cake and taking presents and having a houseful of relatives pat me on the back because I lied?"
The look on his face was somber. "You're right about that," he said slowly.
"No ceremony, then?"
"Not if you feel this way. But there are two months of classes left to go. I want you to finish them. There is nothing about learning that is a lie."
"Okay. I didn't think you'd let me off on that one, anyway. It's enough that you're not going to make me go up there and lie."
"But I don't get it, Melissa. And your mother is going to want to know what she should tell people."
"The truth, Dad! Just say it: She wasn't ready. You know what those vows are. You consider those promises important, don't you? Not cheap -- like the Bannermans think it is, something they have to do for show. Practice saying it: She wasn't ready."
"I will," he said. "And I want you to let me tell your mother."
"Fine. This was bad enough. And -- thanks, Dad. I know it took a lot out of you."
They walked home together. Dad seemed troubled.
"Am I an embarrassment?" she asked.
"We will get over that," Dad said. "We wouldn't be very mature if we couldn't -- get over that."
"You really think Mom's going to have a hard time?"
"Yes, I think so. That's why I want to tell her myself. She will go along with it, if I tell her myself."
And so, her father told her mother and did not involve Melissa. She never found out what was said. The party was quietly called off, and when the day came, Melissa sat primly in a pew while Susie and Sean Bannerman went through the ceremony with her other classmates.
I'm glad I didn't lie. I know I shouldn't judge those two, but I really think they're lying. They're going to go home and get a party and get presents and people will congratulate them for lying. I'm not sorry I didn't do it. I would feel like a turd.
But, she was sorry -- later. Her father, she believed, respected her decision and did not seem to make much of it. She had not, he said, exactly disgraced the family name. It was, he said, more embarrassing than anything, but only because he was the pastor. Confirmation could always be done later -- when she was ready. He was disappointed, but he said once more, he would not be very mature if he could not get over that. And, he said privately, it was more honest than the Bannermans.
But Melissa's mother reacted differently. She reacted as if Melissa had done something shocking -- and, she said a couple times, she felt like she did not know her own daughter. Not surprising, Melissa thought, since until now, she had kept her own beliefs completely under wraps. Now, it seemed that her mother, especially, was ever watchful -- if she hadn't guessed this, what else didn't she know?
Did Melissa do things her mother did not know about?
Was Melissa even a Christian?
Melissa avoided any mention of such subjects, because she knew they could well end up in a screaming match. Melissa found that her every move was questioned.
It irritated her, and made her long for the day she could leave.
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