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Monday
Apr212008

Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam

Before scandal rocked my family and the subsequent divorce that marked the desintegration of normal, my parents were devout members of the Mormon church. Mom was in the Primary Presidency, a Church position that required her to lead all the children in song during Sunday School classes. I remember her teaching me, along with my four year old peers, my favorite of all the Mormon ditties.

“Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, to shine for him each day.
In every way I’ll try to please him, at home, at school, at play.
A sunBEAM! (the 'beam' bit was shouted at the top of my lungs) a sunBEAM!
I’ll be a sunBEAM for him.”


Like the song said, I figured Jesus wanted me for a sunbeam. I was his girl. I was special. I was part of “the chosen generation”. That’s what my Sunday School Teacher said, anyway. And I believed her. She wore pantyhose and high heels so she must know a thing or two about what goes on in the real world.

My generation, I was told, would lead the world through the most wicked times. Once we accomplished this task we were to wait around for The Second Coming. That would be the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. When all the dead people would sit up in their graves and the good ones would hang out in Jesus’ posse and the bad ones would spontaneously combust. Or something like that.

I privately envisioned a scene not unlike Michael Jackson’s legendary Thriller video in which zombies with decaying skin and shredded clothing lurched down the street after Michael. The Second Coming would be kind of like that I thought as I watched Michael's video on the fledgling Music channel MTV. Except with Jesus instead of Michael.

As spontaneously combusting and being relegated to the lowest kingdom of God would be, like, totally embarrassing I sang my heart out during Sunday School:

Choose the right when a choice is placed before you.
In the right the Holy Spirit guides;
And its light is forever shining o'er you,
When in the right your heart confides.
Choose the right! Choose the right!
Let wisdom mark the way before.
In its light, choose the right!
And God will bless you evermore


Throughout the coming years, as I ascended the ranks of Mormondom, more details about what Heavenly Father had in store for me when I died were proffered by parents, grandparents, teachers and my peers who ventured wild guesses about hell and damnation. My Sunday School teacher told me that after The Second Coming, everyone will be assigned to three main kingdoms. The Celestial Kingdom is like gaining access to the VIP section of the hottest night club in New York City. Everyone in the club can see you! They know how cool you are. They want to be you but alas, like the losers they are, they're denied access. They simply aren’t hip enough. You can always go visit them but don’t even think about trying to bring them back to VIP. God will totally bounce them.

It was drilled into my head from the time I could speak, that I must be righteous in order to gain entrance to the Celestial Kingdom. Let’s say I screwed up. You know, like I had pre-marital sex or didn’t attend church services or drank coffee (gasp!). I would be relegated to the Terrestrial Kingdom.

Those digs were reserved for those caffeine swilling masturbators among us who are not valiant in following Jesus, which upset me because E.T. was the Extra Terrestrial and he seemed like a pretty swell alien. To its credit the Terrestrial Kingdom is still in the nightclub, sort of like General Admission. We’ll still have a good time and all but we’ll always be watching everyone party up in the VIP section and wanting to join in the fun. And it just ain’t gonna happen. God says so.

Lastly, I was warned about the Telestial Kingdom. This fiefdom is strictly for murderers, adulterers, and others who do not accept the Gospel of Jesus. All who do not qualify for a higher degree of glory will enter this kingdom. Sorry non-members. You’re stuck chillin’ with the murderers.

Of course, if you gain a full knowledge of the Gospel and proceed to willfully deny (holy shit.. don't do it, don't do it!) and contend against the Holy Ghost, you’re headed to Outer Darkness. I likened Outer Darkness to where the three villians in the Superman series starring Christopher Reeve were sent. Remember? They’re stuck screaming in that piece of glass, spinning around in space? Forgiveness is not possible for these souls.

One Sunday after learning about the kingdoms I returned home and began peppering my newly divorced Mom with questions.
“Mom? Which kingdom are you gonna go to when you die?” There was a pause so long I thought she didn’t hear me.
“Mom?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” She was chopping carrots for the same roast dinner her mother had made every single Sunday of Mom's life. Roast, mashed potatos and gravy, a side of carrots or corn and jello for dessert. If Grandma was feeling festive she'd mix up some Kool-Aid and spike it with 7 Up or throw some mini marshmallows right into the Jello! That's right! Marshmallows in the Jello! This dinner is a tradition Mom continued to carry out with her four children despite the fact she didn’t attend Church anymore. In fact, the fervor with which she made the Sunday roast seemed to increase once she stopped going to Church.

“You don’t go to Church anymore. Does that mean you won’t go to the Celestial Kingdom?” I pestered.
“I don’t know”, she said again. She had stopped cutting the carrots.
“Well, how come you don’t go to Church but you still make us go?” I asked. Mom slowly placed the knife on the counter, rinsed her hands and left the kitchen. Moments later I heard her bedroom door close.

I didn’t understand why Mom didn’t come to Church like all the other Moms. One time I asked Brandon and he just shook his head.
“What?” I pressed.
“You know. Why do you play stupid all the time?” He kept his eyes on the television screen where Inspector Gadget was using propellors that shot from his trenchcoat to escape the evil clutches of Dr. Claw.
“Really I don’t know.” My head hurt. I had the vague notion that something bad had occurred in our family. But I couldn’t imagine what.
“Mom isn’t allowed at church.” Brandon finally said while still staring at the television.
“Not allowed? But they’re always telling everyone to come. Sister Johnson always reminds me to bring the inactive members and invite our nonmember friends.”
“She’s excommunicated, stupid.”

Excommunicated.

It filled my mind with darkness. Like when I tried to think about the end of the world or dying. Excommunicated. The mouthful of a word was dark and forbidding. Definitely NOT a good thing to be.
“But what does that mean?” I plowed forward in my questioning.
“It means she’s so bad the church doesn’t want her.”
“Why? What did she do?” I was horrified. Was Mom bad? Did everyone know Mom was bad? Was that why the neighbor kids called her bad names? I tried to ask Brandon more questions but he said “force field” and swooped his hand around his head to indicate the force field his mind had erected around his body forbidding any furthery communication. So I gave up.

The next week, when I learned that a united family, which lives and progresses forever and ever is at the core of Latter-day Saint doctrine I felt left out. My parents were divorced. Did this mean my family wouldn’t be together? Were we all bad? My throat got that funny, scratchy feeling that made me swallow a lot and my nose felt all tingly. Then, in Primary we sang a church hymn that made me feel more alone than ever:

I have a family here on earth.
They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them through all eternity.
Fam'lies can be together forever
Through Heavrnly Father's plan.
I always want to be with my own family,
And the Lord has shown me how I can.
The Lord has shown me how I can


That’s when I began thinking or our family as The Bad Family