“Jesus is My Homeboy.”
Read the T-shirts above the counter. I stare at the image of a bearded man wearing sunglasses printed on black fabric. I have been awake far too long and my eyes are getting fuzzy. I begin to feel that the shirt speaks to my relationship with Jesus. I have to have it. I pull out ten dollars and watch as the tattooed teenager pulls the shirt down for me. She places it in a plastic bag and says nothing to me. As I’m leaving the store I realize I can never wear it out in public. I’m not an urban youth outside a medicinal marijuana clinic, I don’t own a ferret or sell hemp bracelets out of the trunk of my car. My grandma and any church going people would be offended by it. It is neither religiously acceptable or amusing in any average social context. Basically, the shirt I hold in my hands is useless. A silk screened, black and white reminder to me that religion might really be dead. I start to wonder what that means.
I’m scared that no one cares about the things they can’t see. Like the unspoken feeling we get when we’re not trying to make sense of everything. Like that feeling that everything is going to be alright when you’re driving home on the highway. Or when you smile at someone and know they feel the same way you do. Or even the invisible something that keeps us going when we think we might break. For some people they call it God, or fate, human instinct, or moments of clarity. The most important thing we can’t see is hope.
“Excuse me,” I say, navigating through the crowds. I climb down the stairs to the subway where people push and shove on their way up or down. Someone bumps into my arm and I drop my hat. I pick it up while people step around me. It’s covered in brown water. Great.
I’m on my way home. The place where I’ll go to sleep, wake up tired, and do this all again tomorrow. I get on the subway and try to balance in the middle. We are all packed in like sardines in a tin can. A sardine in a muddy hat carrying a Jesus T-shirt.
Religion used to be hope for a lot of people. When things got tough they knew it was for a reason. What do they believe in now? What should I believe in? Personally, I’ve been lacking hope sometimes. Everyone moves so quickly towards meaningless destinations. The goals I’ve been clinging to don’t matter all that much in the end. Whether it’s a job as a television writer, a pay check to buy another phone, or a person I think will complete me, it doesn’t give me anything that lasts. I wanted to go to university and I did. I wanted attention and I got it. I wanted to grow up, get a job, be important. But I’m not. Not really. I want something more but I don’t know what it is. As I clutch the bag containing that lame T-shirt I think about how even invisible hope has faded.
I asked my grandmother to get me a bible for Christmas. I saw a television show where people were religious and it seemed like they were happy. I could stand to gain some happiness of my own since I was spending my time watching TV alone on a Friday night. It was not lost on me that I ironically discovered Christianity on my couch while flipping through nighttime reality shows. But I needed to see what it was like. Aren’t we always told to question everything? Shouldn’t I question how I, and everyone around me, has dismissed religion without knowing anything about it? Or how we make it into a joke? As part of my ‘question everything’ training I decided to give it a chance and read the bible. Maybe it would mean more than I thought. Maybe it would help me find the invisible hope I feared losing.
When I get home I go to my room and stare at the bible on my bedside table. I want to go to sleep. But there it is. My guilt, all bound up and staring me in the face. I should read it every night. That’s probably what I’m supposed to do. I picture my grandma as she handed it to me. It probably meant something to her that I cared, that I asked her for it. I pick it up and I start reading. I skip to the pages that look like poetry.
I haven’t told anyone about reading it because saying, “I believe in God,” would likely be met with more judgement than if I said, “I believe in aliens.” Which I do by the way. Everyone expects me to explain why I wanted to read the bible. I’m not sure I know why. Nor can I enter into a debate about religion. I don’t have the answers and I don’t feel like arguing. Just because I read the bible doesn’t mean I want to, or am able to, discuss centuries of religious issues. All I have to say is that the bible is comforting to me right now. I don’t necessarily believe the stories are true and I don’t agree with how people have used religion to justify ignorance. However, I do believe in kindness, hope, and trying to become a better person. Wait, before you roll your eyes. Not everything I’ve read means something to me. Every church is different, every interpretation is different, but to me religion is about kindness. Couldn’t we all stand to be kinder people? To care more? Maybe if I learned to care more about other people I wouldn’t care so much about my own pointless goals. If I reach them, fine. If not, I could at least believe I’d be okay.
I can’t say I’m going to go to church every Sunday or pray every night. I don’t even know if I believe in God. All I know is that I was wrong about religion. If it can make anyone feel less lost then I understand. Watching people lining up to buy a new iPhone while pushing people out of their way makes me pray that there is more. I have to believe there’s more to my stupid life than money and offices and new technology. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that none of it matters, but it’s also difficult to admit that what matters might be invisible. I can earn money, get a job, and buy a laptop. It’s not as easy to change who I am. And that’s what scares me the most.
I enter into a lot of phases. Such as the year I decided I would become a horseback rider (turns out if you’re allergic to horses it doesn’t work out too well). Or when I wanted a tattoo to prove I was edgy (I’m not). I don’t know if reading the bible is another foray into uncharted territory that’s doomed to fail. But it has made me look at myself through different eyes. I think more about how my goals can actually mean something. Instead of focusing on success I could focus on being kinder to people around me. I want to believe that who I am could change for the better. It turns out that wanting to be better and trying to be better has given me something. Something I can only describe as hope.
“Jesus is My Homeboy.”
Reads the shirt I pull on for bed. I’m not about to wear it in public, but I still relate to it in some way. Yes, it is making a joke. I prefer to look at it as an attempt to connect to religion in today’s sarcastic world. Or maybe it’s just a ten dollar mistake. Either way, I don’t think the roots of religion are fading. The institution of church might be, but I’m not the only one who has invisible hope. Everyone wants to believe there’s more. I think as long as we care about something bigger than our own lives we can never truly be lost.
By Ashley Foy
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