I grew up in a religious family. As a child, my mother dragged me to faith healers who showed up once a month in Albuquerque and tried to “cure” my deafness. The faith healers themselves, while varied in the way they delivered their healing sessions, almost always shared the same routine. They would prop me up on stage in front of the church, and begin yelling something to the effect that I had somehow been wronged. By whom exactly was never answered, though I once asked a pastor, “If God made me deaf, why do we need faith healers to fix what God has done? That doesn’t make sense.” (My pastor immediately started praying, though I never got an answer).
When I moved to Colorado Springs some time ago, the very first thing I noticed were the number of multi-colored neon signs with the word JESUS prominently displayed on the side of buildings throughout the city. Almost all were multi-colored, although a few were in one or two colors only. As an atheist, I was curious about the signs and why there were so many.
One day not long ago, I had an interesting conversation with a waitress at a local restaurant. She was a tall, blonde girl who looked anorexic and spoke with a quick cadence – something like you’d hear from an auctioneer. I had told her I was deaf after I misunderstood something she had asked (I read lips – I wasn’t looking at her when she asked me what I wanted to drink).
She took my order, and I ate my food. When it came time for the check, she asked if I read lips (again), and I nodded. With intensely blue eyes staring down at me, she asked, “Do you believe in Jesus?”
“Sure. I saw JESUS last night.”
“What kind of relationship do you have with Jesus?”
“A relationship?” I asked back. “I think you misunderstood me. I said I saw JESUS last night.”
She looked confused and shrugged her bony shoulders. “Are you happy in your life?”
“Is there something Jesus can do for you through prayer?”
Of course I knew who she was talking to, but I decided to play along anyway. I confess that I often get the same question from Christians, who always seem to believe that somebody somewhere always needs saving – especially a deaf boy like me.
I smiled innocently at her, pretending to seriously consider her question. I shrugged and said, “Win the lottery?”
She laughed, and spent a minute or so explaining to me that God/Jesus is not about money, but about happiness. Undeterred, she pressed on again, “When did you last talk to Jesus?”
“I’m deaf. I don’t know that Jesus knows sign language, and I’ve never gotten an email from God, you know?” She seemed a little surprised – at least her eyes widened enough for me to notice that her blue eyes were really blue contacts. Her dark eyebrows, which I had just noticed, gave away the fact that someone had done a poor job of bleaching her hair because it was a yellowish hue that seemed unnatural.
“But you said you saw Jesus, right?”
“So then that means you must’ve talked to him. Where did you see Jesus, then?”
I paused for a second. Not wanting her to discover my intentions, I played along.
Sipping a half-empty glass of tea, I told her, “I dunno. Somewhere near the south part of town, I guess.”
“What was Jesus doing?” I suddenly felt like a criminal defendant on the stand, being cross-examined by a prosecutor set to achieve a high conviction rate. Her tone had changed considerably – or at least her body language told me as much.
“JESUS was flashing people.”
Instantly, her mouth widened, revealing near perfect teeth. I wondered if she’d had her teeth cosmetically done, but I wasn’t able to hold that thought long because she looked offended. Very offended, as if I’d mortally wounded her soul.
“Excuse me? What? He was doing what?”
“Flashing people. I think JESUS is for gays, too.”
Her body posture changed again, though I felt she was becoming frustrated with me. Feeling a little guilty, I decided to explain.
“Well, you know how the colors of the rainbow are ‘code’ for gays and lesbians, right?”
She nodded slowly and then leaned forward and put her hands on the table. Up to that point, she’d kept her arms crossed, and obviously discussing Jesus and gays in the same sentence seemed to draw her forth towards me, literally and figuratively.
“JESUS was covered in all the colors of the rainbow. There’s no mistaking it – JESUS is for gays and lesbians. I don’t know. Hell, I think the whole JESUS thing is gay, anyway.”
“You can’t be serious! Jesus is NOT gay! That’s impossible! The Bible says sodomy is a sin! I think you’re mistaken. Seriously.”
I nodded again. “I don’t know – all I know is what I saw. Seeing is believing, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but … tell me: what gave you the idea Jesus was gay besides colors?”
“The JESUS did. I swear. If you had seen JESUS, then you’d know what I mean.”
“No. Jesus most certainly did not give you that idea. You’re mistaken.”
“JESUS had gas, too. Quite a bit, in fact. I guess you could even say JESUS was quite excited by all the gas. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I dunno.”
She shook her head in disbelief. An awkward moment of silence passed between us. Trying a different tack, she asked, “Do you have a friend named Hez-SHUE?”
“Maybe you’ve got Jesus mixed with Hez-SHUE?”
“What? He’s got shoes? Who’s got shoes?”
“You know, the Spanish way of saying ‘Jesus’ is ‘Hez-SHUE?’”
“I have no idea what you’re trying to say. Who’s shoes are you talking about?”
Flustered now, she stood straight up and fumbled through her little black order book, and found my ticket receipt. “Here. I will pray for you.”
“You don’t have to pay for me. Thanks, though.”
“No, no. I said I will pray for you.”
“Oh, I see. No, that’s okay but thank you.” I slid out from the red vinyl seat and stood up. Facing her, I noticed for the first time that she was also biting her lip – a nervous habit, maybe.
“I’m atheist,” I said, smiling at her. “I stopped believing in religion a long time ago.”
“Bu- … what? Wait a minute!” Her mouth stopped moving. Her facial muscles tightened as her lips closed rather tightly. Her jaw muscles, I could see, were being flexed, and with a final shrug of her bony shoulders, she simply walked away without saying a word.
It’s too bad, really, because I wanted to ask her where I could get one of those multi-colored JESUS neon signs. I think it’d look pretty good hanging above my Playboy and Coors Light neon signs hanging in the garage of my house. At night, my friends and I sometimes sit in the garage, drinking beer. I use the signs as a source of light so I can read their lips as we talk.
I don’t know. I think I just might be in heaven here in Colorado Springs.Powered by Sidelines