How to Stay Christian in High School
by Rowan Aubrey Sloane
1. Read in your geology textbook that the Earth is about 10,000 years old, global warming is a hoax, and all sedimentary rocks were formed when God flooded the world and Noah escaped on an arc with two of every kind of animal. Transfer to public school your sophomore year and prepare for the Spiritual Warzone that is a secular high school.
2. Go to high school service and Bible study afterwards every Sunday, youth group every Wednesday, and every available youth retreat.
3. Walk through a maze at the retreat center set up like a Jesus-themed haunted house, where there are different stations outlining the sheer depravity of man. Take in the gentle guitar echoing out from the walls and squint through the soft dim light. When you come to the end, feel an otherworldly euphoria you mistake for the presence of God. Cry as you rededicate your life to Christ for the dozenth time, hoping this one will last more than a few weeks.
4. Don’t tell your best friend Lauren that you love her. Watch her and your twin brother holding hands in church and try not to cry.
5. Pay no attention to latent feelings around gender and/or sexuality. They definitely won’t come up again.
6. Hold Lauren’s hand at yet another retreat as she cries when they show a video in the auditorium about how important fatherhood is. Look into her eyes and watch the tears get caught in her mascara, turning her eyelashes into spiders as the man in the video proclaims no hope for girls without fathers.
7. Read your Bible once a week at best. Feel bad that you don’t read it once a day, and that you don’t think every thought in the form of a prayer, like your mom does. At the start of the month promise to go through the book of Romans again. Don’t read anything else. Not Joshua, where the Lord commands the armies of Israel to slaughter the Canaanites. Not Revelations, unless you want to stay up all night again, sweating as it occurs to you that one of your family might be the Antichrist. Definitely not Leviticus.
8. Ride in the car with your mom and listen to her call the Democrats a Godless Party.
9. Sympathize when Lauren breaks up with your brother, but also feel just a little happy. Start dating few months later. Kiss while standing in the rain, wet and hot under the dumping autumn sky, and feel a surge go through your body and into the ground as she bites your lip.
10. Meet her in the lawn out back of the church, stepping in the dead husks of fallen leaves. As she breaks up with you, hold both her hands, then hug her and feel her body shudder as she sobs quietly. Realize a part of you is relieved and feel guilty about that.
11. Attend a Bible study during lunch every Wednesday at your school, because otherwise you would be eating alone in the band room. Also go because Jasnery is going, and you have had a crush on Jasnery since you met her almost a year ago.
12. Go on a missions trip to Mexico. Remember that even though Mexico is mostly Catholic, Catholics aren’t Believers, and are going to hell unless you do something about it.
13. Don’t talk about why Mexico is so poor.
14. Give a house to an old woman as part of the trip. Assemble its components offsite, at a sprawling villa with sweeping views of the Mexican countryside, owned by missionaries from the US who build houses to give to youth groups to give to people in Mexico who don’t live in villas like this one. Marvel at the its stucco walls, its colorful mosaic tile, its mahogany dining table where you eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and look out at the view. Notice in passing how small the house you are building is compared to this one. Glance at the Kaitlyn with the cascading curls and bright blue eyes who you finally worked up the courage to talk to this morning as you load the parts of the house onto a truck.
15. Set up the house in a slum outside of Ensenada. Ignore the neighbors as they ask in halting but clear English why they can’t have a house too.
16. Come back from the trip still riding the high of unrealized sexual tension and the holy spirit. Channel this into a two-week fervor for God. Feel guilty when it wears off.
17. Develop a crush on Monique who stands in front of you in choir. Spend rehearsals running your fingers through her hair as she smiles back at you. Don’t ask her out, because she has a nose ring and purple hair, is a smoker, is probably queer, and is definitely a non-Believer.
18. Notice that Cameron has started dressing better, wearing skinny jeans and short sleeve button downs and tortoiseshell glasses. Try not to think about the feeling in your chest as you share a king sized bed on a choir trip to Seattle.
19. For unrelated reasons, ask yourself if maybe you aren’t straight. Momentarily forget that bisexual people exist, and ignore all feelings around gender identity entirely.
20. Stop going to the Bible study on Wednesday afternoons, or the discipleship group on Sunday afternoons, or the youth group on Wednesday night. Explain to your leaders that you have homework, or rehearsals, or band practice. Give a non-answer as they ask if you have your priorities straight.
21. Feel guilty as you drift away from God. Every month or so try reading your Bible, but stop after a day or two. Tell God to fuck off one night when you can’t sleep. Swing back forth between devotion and rejection. As the momentum of this wears off, settle finally on ambivalence, remain this way until you graduate, and continue on indefinitely.
Rowan Aubrey Sloane is a transwoman, poet, storyteller, and essayist whose work explores the intersections of queerness, religion, and trauma. Her work has previously appeared in Sweet Tree Review. She is a student at Western Washington University.