by Traci Dolan-Priestley
“The Fruit of a Christian” is from a collection in-process tentatively titled Mountain Voodoo.
My inability to keep my mouth shut started early on in my life, and most often it happened in church. My grandparents were higher ups at Tinney’s Branch Freewill Baptist Church (Amen). That there is an oxymoron, because they ain’t nothing freewillin’ about being a Baptist. I spent a lot of time sitting up straight and following along in my “Precious Child and Holy Hymns of the Baptist, and All Others Shall Rot in Hell, Especially Catholics” book which was guaranteed to force feed Christian ideologies as surely as squeezing my nose together would make me open my mouth.
Trouble was, I didn’t exactly agree with all the things my holy hymnal said. I wasn’t really sure what was wrong with Catholics, other than they were allowed to drink wine (but so had Jesus), but my Mamaw called them a bunch of drunks and made my Papaw stop drinking his Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’m still not sure if the greater sin was drinking beer, or drinking Pabst. God will have to figure that out for me.
There was something else, too. My Sunday School teacher lived down the road from me, and she probably figured I was judgment on my parents for their Godless ways. She might have wondered a time or two if I was some kind of tribulation for her own sins. It may have been the way I narrowed my eyes at her when she said if you keep sinning, then God isn’t going to like you anymore. That’s not what I had read in the Bible, or at least what I thought I read, so I asked someone who wasn’t going to immediately start praying for my salvation – my mother.
Loretta Lee Mullins King tapped the ash off the end of her generic cigarette, the same ash I thought was going to fall into the bowl of generic oatmeal she was stirring, it had happened before, and told me the Freewheelers didn’t believe in everlasting salvation. If you sinned and sinned and sinned, eventually God was going to get tired of you and condemn you to hell anyway. Fuck eternal salvation, I’ll save you a seat in hell. Now, if that ain’t an example of God’s grace, I don’t know what is. What a damn Indian giver!
It didn’t do much good to ask my Sunday School teacher questions either. I was confused about why dinosaurs weren’t in the Bible, and whether or not Noah had them on the ark, and who did Adam’s and Eve’s kids marry, because marrying your brother is gross. She gave me a stern look and started reeling off scripture like a square dance caller . . . “And Jesus said, if you think they hate you, well by God, they hated me first, now step to your left and promenade.” That scripture would lead to me holding the distinction for the best interruption of a church service, one I held for almost fourteen years.
It was John 15, and I’m pretty sure it was close to Easter because it was one of the lessons Jesus taught the Disciples before the Romans crucified Him, although, to be honest, I was always told it was the Jews who killed Jesus, which I thought was just fucking dumb considering he was King of the damn Jews to start with! And Pontius Pilate wasn’t a Jew, he was a Roman. Don’t ever point this out to the fundies. They’ll just say the Jews handed Jesus over, and that was the same thing. Then ask them who would have died for their sins if Jesus hadn’t done it and watch their eyes roll back in their head. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
Anywho. . .
That was our Sunday School lesson, the fruit of a Christian, that’s what John 15 is all about, letting God prune the sin away from ya and you bearing fruit as a Christian. All I could imagine were peach trees, and I’m not sure why we were peaches instead of apples since I’d never even seen a peach tree, but peaches are my favorite fruit, so I imagined all of us Christians as peach trees, and God just snipping away at all of our sin. All I really accomplished by doing that was making myself hungry.
Now, I normally was home sitting on my butt watching Nova on public television during evening Sunday service, but it must have been Easter break because that fateful Sunday I was sitting smack dab on the front pew as Brother Fleetwood took to the pulpit. Brother Fleetwood could get a good one going. He used some sort of hair stuff that gave him a flattened Oral Roberts look, but if he moved around too much that hair stuff would feel the spirit and leave Brother Fleetwood brushing his greasy hair out of his eyes like a convict on a chain gang.
Brother Fleetwood didn’t just move out from behind the pulpit, oh no, Brother Fleetwood took to the floor, right in front of yours truly. There were two steps leading from the floor to the pulpit, and he spent at least half an hour on each one before staggering my way, kicking the tires and lighting the fires of brimstone and sal-VA-tion!
He asked, no less than half a dozen times, what the fruit of a Christian was. The Oral Roberts gel had seen the light and sweat and Brother Fleetwood is holding his hands out in front of him, shaking and baking with the power of the Holy Ghost, preachin’ and praisin’, and irritating the shit out of me. I mean, the man was standing right in front of me, pounding his fist, agitating like a washer, red-faced, sweat dripping, bellowing like an auctioneer at the Pearly Gates.
“Now, I wanna know, I wanna know, what is the fruit of a Christian? The Bible says you must bear fruit. We are the fruit of Jeeeeesus. Youuuuuu have been chosen by Jeeeeesus to bear fruit, and I wanna knooooooow what is the fruit of a Christian. And Jeeeesus said to loooooove each other as I have loved you! Now, I wanna know WHAT IS THE FRUIT OF A CHRISTIAN!”
I figured no one else had paid attention in Sunday School and it was up to me to answer him so he would shut the hell up and stop spraying sweat and spit all over me.
That shut him up all right, and everyone else too. His jaw dropped, and for a second I thought drool was going to drip out of his mouth right onto the floor. He looked like a wet, confused balloon that had just been pricked by a pin, and I had no choice but to stare back at him and wonder if my Mamaw was going to knuckle me in the back of the head. Awk-ward.
My Papaw saved me by saying that simple word, and a smattering of “Amens” came from the congregation, and I didn’t get knuckled in the back of the head. Now, word spread about what I’d said, and you’d thunk I was some kind of prophet. Even the Church of Godders, with their long hair and even longer skirts, patted me on the head at the IGA, even though my hair was so short I was mistaken for a boy, and I was wearing pants.
Like I said, my speaking up in church was the stuff of legend for many years, until Carlene Saulsberry one-upped me. Seems she was sitting a few pews back one Sunday when the preacher asked for prayer requests. Now, you could do spoken or unspoken, and pretty much everyone already knew who you were praying for when you said “unspoken,” like, “Hell, you all know my brother Ray is a drunk, just pray for him,” and crazy enough, everyone prayed out loud. You didn’t just bow your head and let the preacher pray for you and you move your lips like you cared about Aunt Maude’s bad hip, no siree, you had to pray out loud so everyone knew you were serious.
Now, Carlene wasn’t happy with an unspoken request, nope, she said it loud and proud.
“I’m requesting prayer for Melinda Elkins for sleeping with my husband.”
I’m sure that would have caused a twitter all by itself, but since Melinda and her husband, John, were sitting right across the aisle from Carlene and her husband, Rick, it caused more than a twitter. It was a cat fight.
Melinda and Carlene stepped into the aisle and started throwing insults, then punches. The preacher, some new fella from a few counties over, waded in and commenced with the laying on of hands. I almost fell off the barstool when my cousin Thermy called to tell me about it. She wasn’t there, she’s a Church of Godder, but of course the fundie phone lines were jamming all over the hollers.
If you’re going to be knocked off a pedestal, that’s the way to go.
“Well,” I said, “Jesus said, ‘These things I command you, that ye love one another.'”
“Virgie, you’re going to hell.”
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I’ll see ye sinners there.
Traci Dolan-Priestley is a graduate of Goddard College with an MFA in Creative Writing. Traci was born and raised in West Virginia and lives there with her husband, Gary, her son, Nate, six cats, and a spoiled rotten Chiweenie named Chico. She blogs at tracidolanpriestley.wordpress.com.