It was like the circus had come to town. The team arrived with a huge shiny foil backdrop and high-tech lighting effects and a famous script. They handed us a play, and by filling the roles and inviting our friends, we handed them an audience.
I was Teenager #2. My mother was Head Angel.
Scene after scene unfolded, all of them clichéd nods to one of fundamentalism’s favorite calls to the altar: “If you were to die tonight . . .”
Our heroes, of course, chose to accept Jesus into their hearts prior to their varied untimely demises. When their moment came, my mother, Head Angel, consulted the Book of Life, saw their name written there, and with a wave of her arm, welcomed them into Heaven and Jesus’ loving embrace. At that moment, the lights would go up on the foil and the whole church sanctuary shone with His Heavenly glory.
And then there was me, Teenager #2.
Scene: I’d skipped church to go get drunk with three of my friends and — surprising to no one — we all died in a car accident on the way home.
The lights came up. The Head Angel consulted her book, but our names were not written there. She drew her arm across her eyes and hid her face as her finger pointed us away from God and His heaven.
We were lost.
The room went dark, except for flashes of lightning. Thunder clapped. And when the music reached its fevered pitch, the Devil and his demons slunk onto stage, their faces painted black and red. They grabbed us by our arms, began dragging us to our fiery eternal torment. The lights came up, red this time. We screamed and tried to wrestle our way free — we begged for help — but the angels hid their faces. Jesus was nowhere to be found.
After we were dragged off stage and out of sight, the four of us giggled about it in a way that only 14-year-olds who’ve said the Sinner’s Prayer about a thousand times could.
Downstairs in the Fellowship Hall afterward, my mom said that even in a play, sending her own daughter to hell had been very difficult for her. She’d wanted to change the script.
I said something mock rebellious, and she drew her arm up over her eyes one more time for comedic effect. We all laughed. If there was a whiff of irony in the air, I can tell you we never sensed it.