The last two nights, I received phone calls from two kids I worked with in the recent past. Daniel, now 17, called to tell me of his three month runaway spree that got him room and board at Hotel Hell, an institutional setting in western Nebraska. I liked this kid from the moment I met him. That was four years ago when I asked him if he had ever read my book. Daniel replied, “I’ve read all of your books. They are awesome!”
So when I asked him if he would like to play Vince in my upcoming play based on 8-Ball, Daniel laughed and said, “Ironic. You want me to be the kid in your book who quit drugs and wanted nothing more to do with them? Ironic.”
I later found out exactly what he meant. Daniel attended sixty percent of our rehearsals, high as a kite. He was usually so lethargic, it was a wonder he memorized his lines. And while he thought that none of the other actors noticed his sad state, they hung in there with him, accepting that he definitely had an addiction problem. Daniel went on to not only play Vince to a packed house at the Joyo Theater, but he and his two friends, received the highest marks over all the events for their presentation of my play at Lincoln’s Indian Education conference.
He called this past Wednesday night to tell me he was soon to be released to a foster placement, but I cringed when he told me of all the desperate things he did while on run. I wondered what the future held for him, as he was still in a state of denial. How badly I wanted to say, “I told you so. How come it was so obvious to me when I saw the writing on the wall in regards to all your troubles, you simply scoffed at me? How come no matter how hard I tried to warn you of the dead-end on the road you were traveling, you still ended up hitting so many walls at the end of that road?”
But I held my tongue and said nothing. Besides, it would have simply fallen on deaf ears.
The next night, I received a call from Jason, a 13-year-old kid, who I have met only over the Internet and through our frequent phone conversations. Jason is also living in a group home situation. I will not go into details, due to his privacy, but I cannot help but write about the pathetic story he shared with me about the Christian Group Home he is living in.
When Jason spoke of “paddlings” I thought he was talking about a game other kids were using as a hazing for new kids. But when he said he nearly had his wrist broken when he placed his hand over his butt to stop the wooden paddle from stinging so badly, he said the key word, “Staff.”
I asked him, “The staff there whack you with wooden paddles when you misbehave?”
Jason said, “Yes, spare the rod, spoil the child. It says that in the Bible. So if God says I must be punished for doing bad things, then I guess I should be. If it weren’t for paddlings, I would be a lot worse than I am now.”
Flabbergasted, I asked, “Do they hit you hard with these wooden paddles?”
“Hard enough,” Jason said, “to leave bruises.”
Again amazed, I asked, “Does your father know of them hitting you with wooden paddles?”
“Yes,” Jason replied. “He condones it, because it says so in the Bible. Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
I sat there thinking of the night long ago when those very verses of God-breathed Scripture were quoted by a deacon from the church where I was the youth pastor at. It was in the earlier days of my youth work, and while taking correspondence courses for the ministry, I was working with all the troubled Havelock kids who came my way.
On that night long ago, I found two 13-year-old girls drunk in front of Ballard swimming pool. They were running out into the street and playing “dodge” the passing cars. I ran over and latched onto their wrists and herded them over to the pool where I sat them down on the sidewalk. One of the girls, Kathy, puked up green grapes all over my new sandals. By the time I settled them down, I was so disgusted with them, I demanded to know where they had obtained the booze. Kathy drunkenly pointed to two 18-year-old boys over by the pool, saying, “They got us drunk, thinking they could have sex with us.”
Thoroughly pissed off at the two boys, I walked over and told them I was calling Kathy’s father, and as they both stood there looking sheepishly at their feet, I told them I knew what they had done. I then called Kathy’s dad, Bud, a Born-again Christian and deacon in our church. When I told him of how and why the girls got drunk, he came roaring down to the pool in his van. He squealed to a stop, and hopped out of the van, armed with a shotgun!
“Where are they?” Bud demanded to know. “Where are those little bastards who tried to take advantage of my little girl?”
I placed my hand on the barrel of the gun and eyed those two boys standing over by the pool shaking in their tennies. I dared not rat them out to the enraged Bud for fear of what he might do to them. And after calming him down, I managed to get him to give me his shotgun. As I unloaded it and placed it back in his van, Bud ran over to his daughter, swinging the deflated inner tube of a bike tire. He proceeded to beat her and her friend both, shouting, “Spare the rod, spoil the child! Spare the rod, spoil the child! Spare the rod, spoil the child!”
Each time he shouted out his Bible quote, he whipped the two girls on their butts and their upper legs. Both girls yelped in pain as they came up off the ground with each stroke of his tube. The rubber smacking their butts and bare legs sounded like the crack of a whip. He was so far gone in rage that he whipped them all the way over to his van. I could do nothing but stand there, blinking in amazement as this Godly man so hell-bent on punishing his daughter, beat her into submission. “Spare the rod, spoil the child!” he shouted once more as he peeled off down the street, driving Julie and her friend home to whatever punishment he deemed God wanted him to dole out.
I can’t make this stuff up. It actually happened, and as I sat there listening to Jason tell me about these abusive “paddlings” delivered by Christian group home staff, I shook my head in amazement that they took the Bible so literally that there was not an inch of reason in their deliverance of such punishment. I tried to convey to him that this was not only “abuse” of him and other kids living there, but abuse of the Bible, to take it so far out of context that they justified their actions basing them on Scripture.
Jason spouted, “Well, look at God in the Bible. He punished and condemned his own people! For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him, shall not perish, but be saved. If God didn’t want my staff to beat me with a wooden paddle, it wouldn’t be in the Bible, would it? If it says so in the Bible, then it is so!”
Speechless for several seconds in light of his remarks, I could not help think of another kid I had met over the Internet and just what he would say to Jason’s interpretation of the Bible and justifying the “board to the butt” punishment that God inspired these Christian staff to deliver to the wayward youth placed in their loving care.
Aeon, my 13-year-old friend down in Brazil, is not only an unbeliever, he is well-versed in the Celtic belief system. One night while conversing over the Internet, he said, “I don’t believe in God.”
I promptly responded, “You might not believe in God, but He believes in you.”
This enraged him. Aeon spouted off, “Your people have burned my people at the stake! Your people have hung my people and persecuted them all because of what they believe! And why? Because God ordered them to? Because God demanded that they burn, hang, and kill pagans? And you expect me to believe in this kind of God? I don’t believe in your Christian Bible! Because of that book, thousands have been killed because of your religion! And you call that right? You say your God is a just and loving God, and yet he demands that his followers trample all over those who don’t believe like them? That is not a god, that is a dictator? A God who demands that his people stamp out evil by doing something more evil is a loving God?”
I started to respond, “Hey, not my people who burned or hung anyone, don’t judge all Christians by what other Christian have done in the name of God . . .”
But I stopped myself, and saved my breath. Aeon had made some very good points and instead of offering my own self-righteous Christian opinion back to him, I found myself forced to “defend” the God of the Bible as he went on to say, “According to your Bible, God is wrathful, vindictive, and a jealous God? He is a God who punishes? A God who kills those who do not follow his laws to the letter? A God who made 678 commandments, knowing full well His people could never follow them, but who mercifully provided a system of sacrifice and atonement for them in the slaughter of thousands of innocent animals? Lots of blood and guts in the Old Testament. How do you explain, that God ordered his Hebrew people to attack cities and bash the heads of babies on stone walls? How do you excuse God from the fact that he ordered every man, woman, and child slaughtered before his soldiers? And why? Because they did not believe in Him or believe like the Hebrews? They were really the Chosen People? Really? What made them so special that God showed them such favoritism that he ordered any other tribe or nation to be slaughtered? This is a God of Love or a God of War? If this is the God of the Christian Bible, I do not want to follow him or believe in him, just because he demands that I have to. There are many religions, many beliefs, some more ancient than others, some right, some wrong. But any God who kills you because you do not believe in him, is no God I want to even know.”
It was spooky to hear Scripture in the mouth of this kid versed in Celtic beliefs, but it was spookier to me that I had accepted so many verses in the Bible, and never actually looked at them that closely. I know the Bible. I studied it for 4 years as I prepared for the ministry. I knew exactly what verses he was talking about. And I had no good answer for Aeon’s questions.
I tried to put the spin on the fact that all Scripture was God-breathed, but I could not wrap my mind around that fact, when so many verses made God look so bad. I then tried to put the spin on the fact that, Scripture was all inspired by God, yet written by Man. But if I ask my fellow Christians if any of those men made any mistakes in their interpretation, they considered me a heretic and not a True Believer? I thought of Godly men like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Kenneth Copeland, and Jimmy Swaggart. Now days, if people were told that these Men of God had written the divine Word of God, most would laugh at how ridiculous this sounds. So how can we set these other “holy” men apart and say they got it just right?
In regards to paddling, whacking, and whipping kids, I wondered how many other well-meaning, self-deceived Christians were out there, taking the Book so literally that they justified their abuse by calling it Godly discipline. I wondered what long term damage it did to these kids. In reality, these Christian folks are “using” Scripture to bend them, to mold them, to force them to abide by God’s rules. Those poor kids, and what a fine example these godly staff members are setting for their young charges.
When my mind can’t quite get around something tragic or so utterly ridiculous, I usually put a humorous spin on things, and therefore this all reminds me of a bumper sticker I once read: Read your Bible, it will scare the hell out of you!
Another saying also comes to mind: Don’t feed your children harsh laxatives, just beat the crap out of them!
But in light of hearing about these strokes with a wooden panel, in the name of God, it almost made me embarrassed to call myself a Christian.