Ain’t nature grand? Even birds. And I don’t even like birds. (There is nothing wrong with birds, I hasten to add, O many bird lovers, but I have never felt the empathy with them that I do mammals. I am simultaneously slightly scared of the power of those beaks, and mortally terrified that if I handle one, its fragile avian skeleton will simply collapse like damp toilet paper in the rain. But they’re still neat to read about.)

Had an earworm in the middle of the night–ha! Earworm is such a useful phrase. So much more pithy and revolting than “song stuck in my head, damnit.”

This particular earworm was not, however, the A-team theme or the Fanta jingle or anything by Cake, but was an insidious blast from my childhood. It was the theme song to AWANIS.

I am slowly coming to the conclusion that attending AWANIS was a very common experience, but that everybody has mostly forgotten it. And it was pretty forgettable. It was neither particularly traumatic, (certainly not compared to Girl Scouts, which was like the Bataan Death March with cookies) nor particularly interesting. It was this Christian youth group thingy that met once a week–in my case Wednesday–where you got together, were divided by gender, sang a bit, listened to a sort of sermon lite, and then went back to classrooms and memorized bible verses. When you could recite them perfectly, they gave you little tickets, and you could then trade the tickets for toys that would bring shame to a Cracker Jack box. (Don’t ask what “Awanis” stands for, since I have no earthly idea.)

James actually remembers this thing too, although I think we’d been together for a good ten years before it ever came up in conversation, and we went “What? You too?! No way!” It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. Even at the time, I think I just considered it a waste of an otherwise serviceable Wednesday night, in much the same way that church was a waste of a perfectly good Sunday morning.

Thinking of my early religious experiences, as recent discussions have driven me to do, they all seem to be in this vein. I can’t remember any that weren’t a chore. I’m not saying they were BAD, per se–it’s not like people were attempting to cast demons out of my noggin or forcing me to attend book burnings* but they were uniformly tedious, and deeply forgettable. The highlight of AWANIS was the day one of the girls smuggled in some very-soft-core porn and we pored over it during the sermonette, giggling, horrified and delighted that this sort of stuff existed.

I don’t remember any of their names. I’ve never once thought “Hey, wonder where they all are now.” Other than the bloody earworm, I’ve never thought about it much at all. Nothing sticks in my memory from it. (Well, okay, there was that one time that I had just learned the word “flay” and demanded to know from the counselor, who was a well meaning young woman who had previously believed that she liked children, why they’d stopped at something as weenie as crucifixion and not gone on to the really painful stuff. But c’mon, I had a new vocabulary word, and how often did torture come up in conversation otherwise?)

I never liked church. I would devote every ounce of my fledgling skills at intrigue to weaseling out of it. Feigning illness Saturday night was too suspicious. I had to sacrifice a sizeable chunk of Saturday afternoon. I don’t think it had anything much to do with what went on in church–I just was bored, and fidgety, and hated having to wear dresses with a religious zeal that was noticeably lacking from everything else. I did not want to spend three obnoxious hours of sermon and Sunday school–and the two hours of prep, during which she would curl my hair, to my deep revulsion–that could be better spent at my own ends. If trapped in a pew, I would read the Bible, particularly the cooler bits of Revelations, and fantasize about animals invading the sanctuary, leaping across the chandeliers, and (depending on how far I’d gotten in Revelations that day) occasionally eating the congregation.

The thing is, I know there are people who loved church, even at my age, who went–ha–religiously, who were very close to their Bible study group and obsessed about their relationship with God. My relationship with God did not much interest me. For awhile I had planned to sell my soul to Satan once I was old enough (I have a hazy recollection of thinking that Satan would not be interested in the souls of minors) enjoy a lifetime of power and wealth, and then recant on my death bed, but the failure of Satan to come to the bargaining tablet put a crimp in that plan. But youthful Faustian ambitions aside, my childhood experience, long before I became an indignant teen or anything else, was one of profound lack of interest. And it wasn’t that there was any event that changed an early enthusiasm or anything else–so far as I can remember I never cared.

I wonder, occasionally, now that we’ve discovered that creative people have different brain chemistry and gullible people have elevated seratonin levels or whatever, if there’s something like that hardwired into us for religion. If some people are just inherently predisposed to enjoy their Bible study groups and be very into faith, and some of us, from the time we can walk, view it as pretty much a waste of our time. I don’t think it was family influence, per se–my mother and stepfather were devoutly religious (well, she was, and he claimed to be, although it turned out he was mostly interested in the female parishioners for something other than their spiritual charms)–so I wonder occasionally if it’s just that some of us (perhaps even a majority) are bored by the whole thing, and vow not to go as soon as we can get away with it, and some people are hardwired to view it as one of the important elements of their life. And whether there’s anything conscious involved, or if it’s just chemistry taking place in some terribly important part of the brain the size of a Chiclet.

The one thing I do remember vividly was that attempts to make Church kid-friendly were always met with withering derision on my part. I don’t know if they were noble but clumsy attempts, or if I was simply a cynic from birth, but I remember reading one of the rags they handed out with tales of kids overcoming whatever through Jesus and thinking, at the time, “Oh, yeah, SURE. Nobody in their right mind obsesses over whether to tithe part of their Christmas money. They can’t seriously believe that this is what kids think about, can they? My god, these writers are embarassing themselves. ”

And, lest I begin to do so as well, it’s off to paint I go.

*Except that once.

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