Jesus in America and Other Stories from the Field [NOOK Book]

Overview

Drawing on ethnographic field work she conducted among Christians in her home state of North Carolina, Claudia Gould crafts stories that lay open the human heart and social complications of fundamentalist belief. These stories and the compelling characters who inhabit them draw us into the complex essence of religious experience among southern American Christians.

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Jesus in America and Other Stories from the Field

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Overview

Drawing on ethnographic field work she conducted among Christians in her home state of North Carolina, Claudia Gould crafts stories that lay open the human heart and social complications of fundamentalist belief. These stories and the compelling characters who inhabit them draw us into the complex essence of religious experience among southern American Christians.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780874217605
  • Publisher: Utah State University Press
  • Publication date: 10/9/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 140
  • File size: 695 KB

Read an Excerpt

Jesus in America

and other stories from the field
By Claudia Gould

Utah State University Press

Copyright © 2009 Claudia Gould
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87421-759-9


Chapter One

Jesus in America

Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? -Luke 2:49

Jesse lived with his mother and his father took an interest. Or that's what his mother said. "He cain't be here all the time, honey, but he takes an interest." When Jesse was little, he used to wish that he took more of an interest. He saw his father sometimes. "He never just high-tailed it out, like some men would 'a done." No, Dan, Jesse's father, turned up every so often at the door, and he always seemed real glad to see them, and usually he brought a present. Some kind of a present.

But ... What Jesse used to wish when he was little was that he turned up sometimes on the right days. Jesse couldn't remember him ever being there at Christmas, though his mama told him that he was there for Jesse's first one-"and he was just so proud of you!" Jesse asked about that Christmas a lot when he was little, whether it snowed and if they'd had a big tree that stood on the floor instead of a little one you sat on the table, like they always had nowadays. And who else was there-"Did Grandma come?" And whether he could sit up at the table and chew his Christmas dinner already or if somebody had to hold him in his lap and feed him soft stuff with a spoon. He wanted to be able to make a picture in his mind of what it was like, that first Christmas, when he was a little baby. If he could make a good enough picture, he would be able to remember it. Sometimes he thought he did, but then he'd think he was just remembering the picture in his mind. So that was hard.

And he'd never turned up on Jesse's birthday. Not even the first one, the day Jesse was born. "Some men do like to get themselves kindly out of the way for that occasion," Mama explained. That made Grandma laugh, but Jesse couldn't see what was funny about it. And then by the time he was one year old, Dan wasn't there anymore. He had started just taking an interest. When Jesse was little, he used to expect his Daddy would surprise him one birthday and open the back door just in time to see him blow his candles out. He watched for him, holding his breath for the candles, but holding his breath waiting, too. He never said, because Mama worked hard so he could have a nice birthday every year. And Dan did bring him a present whenever he came. So it was no use to make a fuss. It was just a picture in his mind, like his first Christmas, which had really happened, even if he couldn't remember it.

Now that he was twelve, it seemed to him like he'd spent a long time wishing that Dan was around. Sometimes, even now, when he knew it wasn't going to happen, he'd wish his father would be there to watch him play baseball at Shepherd's Field, because he'd started to be a real good pitcher. It surprised everybody, but he had. Mama came when she could, and Grandma almost always came, unless she was working. And it wasn't as if he was the only boy who didn't have a dad there to watch. Heck, Mama was right about that. Two or three of his friends' dads had just high-tailed it out of there. And one of them had died. In the war, Doodle said. "What war? There hasn't been any war since history." But Doodle just said, "You don't know ever' thin'," and Jesse didn't ask him about it anymore because he looked so mournful. Some of them kept trying to make Doodle talk about it, but Jesse thought it was probably bad enough to have your dad dead without having to explain it to everybody all the time. Hell, maybe there had been a war and he just hadn't heard about it.

Jesse missed his dad, but he wasn't lonesome. He had plenty of friends, and he sort of had a girl friend. Her name was Lois and she didn't go to his school, but she lived on his road. They never said they were going around together, but they usually met on the way back from school and they'd shared a couple of cigarettes Lois had got off her older brother. Once she had a marijuana one. She wouldn't say where she got it from, but she let him have a toke. He didn't like it much, but he guessed he'd get used to it when he was older. Like a lot of things. There was a lot of pot around. And stronger things, he guessed, if he'd been trying to get ahold of it. But he wasn't. Grandma would have a fit, for one thing. She'd have a fit just about the cigarettes. She was real strict. He thought Mama had done some drugs when she was young, and that made Grandma more strict with him. Mama wouldn't say, and he didn't like to ask Grandma. Some people said pot was better for you than tobacco, besides being easier to grow. Jesse wasn't too interested. He reckoned the time he'd tried it with Lois he might as well have been smoking shredded lettuce like little kids did. But it was the only time she'd let him kiss her-a real, sexy kiss with both their mouths open. That was actually kind of disappointing, to tell you the truth. He was more thrilled that she'd let him do it than the way it felt. And then she'd started laughing and then he had, too, and they'd smoked up the rest of the thin joint, forgetting to hold the smoke in, the way you're supposed to, passing it back and forth as fast as they could until finally it dropped in the grass and neither of them felt like trying to pick it up, they were laughing too much. There was only enough left to pinch between your fingers anyway. "Never mind," said Lois, "we can easy get some more." But they never did, so far.

He'd got into trouble at school. Not because of the pot. Nobody knew about that except for the boys he'd told. Not because of anything he'd done, really. Not because of bad behavior. Only daydreaming, Mrs. Teniers said, though he didn't remember daydreaming. He did look out the window a lot, it got so boring. And the homework he didn't do. And, he guessed, lying to Mrs. Teniers about why he hadn't done it, and lying to Mama about not having any. That was worst. And not going to school at all. And leaving in the middle of the morning. You had to lie to get away, unless you slipped out when the corridors were pretty busy. And the next day when you had to give an excuse. So it was bad behavior in a way. You could say. But not fighting or anything, or stealing. Or carrying firearms. There was a sign at Reception that said, "No Firearms Of Any Kind To Be Brought Onto School Premises." Jesse thought it made sense, especially after Columbine, but Mama almost screamed the first time she saw it. "I thought it was pretty rough when I was at school," she said, "but at least we never needed a sign like that."

It had been rough, too, when his Mama was at school. She'd told him stories about it. She had to get used to having black people in the same school, for one thing. They didn't used to be allowed. And they got some real tough backwoods white kids, too, down from the mountains. "But we never did have guns. And if the coloreds had knives they kept them to themselves." She hadn't liked school much more than Jesse did, Grandma said. One time she'd started to tell him about when Mama was his age and she was sneakin' off school, but Mama came in and said, "Oh Mom, don't tell him all that stuff. It'll make him think it's all right." Which it didn't, of course. He did it, but he knew it was wrong. It didn't exactly say about sneakin' off school in the Bible, but he guessed that bearing false witness was the same as lying. That's why you had to swear on the Bible when you were a witness in court. And there was honoring your father and your mother, too. Which you weren't doing if you were pretending to go to school and then hanging around town until it was time to go home.

He'd never killed anybody, or even any animals. It wasn't a sin to kill animals. Isaac in the Old Testament liked meat better than vegetables, and so did God. That was what made Cain so mad at Abel. But Jess never even managed to trap a coon when his Uncle Eddie had taken him and his friend Duane coon hunting. He'd liked being out in the moonshine, though, with Duane and Uncle Eddie, staying up all night with the dogs. He called him Uncle, but he was really Grandma's brother and that made him his Great Uncle. There were some commandments he didn't perfectly understand, like having other gods. He guessed that was really aimed at Chinese people and Arabs, people like that. Adultery, of course, you couldn't do until you got married. It's funny there wasn't anything about sexual intercourse in the commandments, because that was a big sin. Maybe it was covered by something else, like lying and false witnessing. But stealing. He was uneasy about stealing. He never had stole much. It never seemed really bad if he only took something like a candy bar and ate it right away or something like that. But the Bible said just not to steal. At all. And it was a kind of stealing, he guessed, even a candy bar. You could call it.

He would be able to put all that badness behind him now, though. He was going to the Christian school. He didn't have to. They would have had him back at the public junior high. They said he was smart enough. Only ... they always said it at the same time as they were saying he was bad. "It isn't even as though you were stupid, Jesse." Which made it sound as though it would be better if he was. They would have had him back; they wrote out a contract and he had to agree to it, and he had a book that he had to get signed every day, once at home and once at school. They'd sign it at school if he stayed there all day and Mama had to sign it if he did homework every night. Mrs. Teniers had to write in it what his homework was every day and he had to show it to Mama so she'd know. And there was some more stuff. He was going to have to repeat some subjects, not with Mrs. Teniers but with Mr. Mull, who taught fifth grade. That was because he had missed so much. That part hadn't sounded like a bad idea to him, because he couldn't hardly keep up with sixth grade math, but the principal said, "Now I know it will be a humiliation for you, Jesse, but you have only yourself to blame. And it isn't as though you were stupid." So then he knew he was supposed to feel bad. But you had to expect to get punished if you'd done wrong. He knew that much.

But it turned out he wouldn't have to do any of that because he was going to the Christian school. Mama said that he needed the discipline and Grandma said she'd help all she could with the fees. It made him ashamed because he knew neither of them had much money. He promised he would be good in the public school, but Mama said not to worry, it was for the best and she'd wanted him to go to the Christian school since he was six years old, but she didn't think she could afford it. "Sometimes God just does find a way to tell you what you can afford and what you can't," she said. And then she told him that it wasn't just the discipline, it was the teaching. The public schools were ungodly; they taught that evolution was true-Jesse hadn't got to that yet, or maybe it was one of the things he'd missed-and that it was all right to be queer, and plus the Federal Government had made it a crime to pray in school. And there were people trying to sell you drugs all the time. Jesse didn't know so much about trying to, because the older kids were always complaining about not being able to find any. But then they usually did find some, so he guessed she was right in a way. And everybody cussed. Well, that was pretty true. He was trying not to now, but before, it had been hard not to say bad words-really bad words-in front of Mama, because he got so used to saying them. Now he said "sexual intercourse" instead of "fucking." If he was talking about doing it. He didn't say neither one in front of Mama. If it was like, whose fucking fault is it, then he'd just have to leave it out. Mr. Daniels said things like "get out of the blithering way," and "what's the drooling idea," and he also said, if somebody made him really mad, "Why don't you just go and dump yourself?" which made everybody laugh, but you couldn't say that yourself. You'd just have to leave it out. When he was younger, and didn't completely understand, he'd heard Grandma say, "bang," to mean doing it. It made him laugh out loud, which was too bad because Mama and Grandma noticed he was still there and they'd kind of forgotten until then. Grandma and Mama and Aunt Alice was talking, and Grandma said something like, "They was always ready for a bang," and that was when he laughed. "It sounds like a firecracker," he said, and Grandma said, "Well, honey, if it's good, it is," and they all laughed, but Mama said, "Mama, hush up," and they sent him to bed. In the handbook for his new school it said that they mustn't use any vulgar language or there would be Disciplinary Action.

Mama said she wanted him to grow up to be a good Christian man, and that was more important, she said, even than a good education. Of course the Christian school had high academic standards, too. Not everybody who wanted to could get in. Even if you were able to pay the tuition. Jesse had to be interviewed, when the principal and the pastor mostly asked him about God and Jesus, and then he had to go to school for a day so that they could see what his behavior was like. And he had to have a letter from Reverend Finkle, the pastor at Mount Calvary, to say he and his family were faithful attenders. Even when Mama got the letter to say he'd gotten in, it was on probation. That wasn't anything against him; it was everybody they accepted. Attending Christ the King was a privilege and not a right. You could only stay there if you were willing to make the most of the opportunity.

It was called The School of The Church of Christ the King, but you didn't have to belong to The Church of Christ the King to go there. Him and Mama were going to keep going to Mount Calvary. He was glad about that because church was one of the places he felt happy. He never complained about going to church, and he never sneaked off. The preaching was boring sometimes, but the Sunday school was usually pretty interesting. They had to remember things, but they never had any tests. "All you really need to remember," Miss Gordon, the Sunday school teacher said, "is that Jesus loves you."

* * *

Jesse had to start the Christian school in the middle of the spring semester, because that's when he got suspended from junior high. He was a little nervous about being new when it wasn't even the beginning of the year. There wouldn't be any other new kids, so he'd get more attention than he really wanted. Mama said it wouldn't matter because it wasn't like the public school; nobody bullied you or tried to make you feel embarrassed.

Everything was different. Grandma bought him new pants, not too tight, it said in the letter, and not too baggy. You weren't allowed to wear jeans. Or baseball caps. Or T-shirts. Grandma bought him new shirts. You had to button your shirt all but the top button, and you had to have it tucked in your trousers. And you had to wear a belt. His regular haircut was all right; neat and short all round. Grandma gave him a trim the night before he started.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Jesus in America by Claudia Gould Copyright © 2009 by Claudia Gould. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword, Lee Haring....................1
Jesus in America....................7
A Red Crayon....................29
The Mountains of Spices....................35
Personal Storage....................63
A Moment of Rapture....................73
Jack at the Mercy Seat....................85
Afterword....................109
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