"So basically, God knocked up Mary," I said, making no attempt whatsoever to conceal my mischievous delight at so succinctly and yet so crudely summarizing a key point of the second article of the Creed.
My father, with far more patience than I deserved, looked at me hard for a moment. Then he said, "You realize that if I had said something like that to my father during confirmation class, I would have been slapped right across the face."
"Lucky for me you're my dad and Grandpa isn't!" I quipped, grinning ever more insolently. Dad looked at me a moment more and then directed my attention back to the work at hand in a gentle but I'm-not-kidding kind of way. I escaped immediate punishment, but only because of the presence of the other confirmand in the room.
It was a no-win situation from the start. My best friend and I were the only members of the confirmation class in our little rural church. Her aunt, the treasurer, taught the first year; my dad, the pastor, taught the second. It's hard enough to take religious instruction seriously when one is in the throes of junior high, elementary algebra, and serial non-success with the opposite sex; harder still when the instruction is offered by one's nearest and dearest.
It is all too true that, among teenagers, familiarity breeds contempt
towards religion and relatives alike. I was a pastor's kid of a pastor's kid, and my grandpa might have been a PK too had his father not been a poor immigrant with young mouths to feed. Assorted clerical cousins rounded out our extended family's religious devotion, an intensely, proudly Lutheran devotion that probably extends all the way back to the Reformation itself. Being subjected to two years of weekly after-school classes to study this stuff was about as enthralling as kissing my brother. I was vaguely insulted to be there at all. Hadn't I learned to recite the Greek alphabet at the age of three? Didn't I know all the commandments and their explanations by second grade? Didn't I preface explanations for everything from the extinction of dinosaurs to my choice of breakfast cereal with "we should fear and love God so that..."? My wounded theological pride drove me to make an unbearable pill of myself all through confirmation. I had it all down cold. The subject matter was, as far as I was concerned, absurdly easy.
But... there was a little more to it than that. The thing of it is, you
can't be the PK of a PK without beginning to wonder if maybe fate or God or something is driving you on to be a P, too. And this seemed to me the most horrible of destinies.
My vocational plans since earliest childhood ranged from ballerina to spy to pediatric surgeon but consistently steered clear of any ministerial associations. This despite (maybe because of) the occasional comments of my dad's pastoral associates: "My goodness, Sarah, you'll grow up to be a bishop." (Okay, the purple clerical shirts and big pectoral crosses would be pretty cool, but the rest was distasteful to me. And too much work,
for that matter.) Or the time I realized that the last nine commandments point back to the first one: my dad said kindly, "What a good little theologian you are!" and I bristled in irritation. So it behooved my sense of superiority to express as much disdain as possible for the whole useless project of Confirmation. To this day, I can't remember more than a couple incidents in those two years of study, so determined was I to remain unaffected by the whole ordeal.
When the big day finally rolled around it signaled to me, if anything, the end of a lot of extra homework. A whole host of aunts and uncles and grandparents and clerical cousins turned out for the day. I was pleased to be the star of the show and even more pleased to be the only female confirmand in the church's history not to wear a white dress (it was green, but demure).
And then something curious happened. When the time came for our confession of creedal faith before the congregation, I started to cry. I cried and cried until I could no longer remember those words I'd been studying for two years and my discombobulated friend had to poke me in the side so I'd get a hold of myself. I didn't. I kept crying instead, for reasons I was completely incapable of understanding. After all that work to remain unmoved, I was graciously moved anyway.
In the end, all my efforts were put to naught. I may have thought the Mary thing was a great joke, but God's got the last laugh on me. Just this fall I started seminary.