by Eduardo Cruz Eusebio
Author’s Note: This humorous piece was written to be read live. It was presented less than a handful of times, at a Riksha release party event in 2001, at an Asian American Heritage month literary event at UIC, as well as at a luncheon for the Filipino American National Historical Society, in Green Bay Wisconsin. This is it’s first publication.
When I talk to other Asians, it always strikes me how very unique each of our lives are. We’ve all arrived, right here, with a thousand different stories to tell, of where we came from, whom we’ve loved, what we’ve toiled at, what we’ve lost, and what has fed our souls.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about my soul and religion, and how the religion of my childhood has never left me, no matter how far I’ve run
I was born in Manila, Philippines, and grew up in the American Midwest, in Minnesota and Illinois, with four brothers and a sister. Like many of you, it was odd enough being the only Asian kid, in every school I attended. But my Father’s Father had to go and get us hooked up with some weird fundamentalist religion. Oh, sure, the missionaries who recruited them in the Philippines were open and lenient, and in “meetings” they were allowed to give their own groovy testimonies, and there were no priests, only “workers.” And they didn’t have to go through all that weird Catholic, Mary & saint worshiping and nail-yourself-to-a-cross on Easter Sunday voodoo that 95% of the Philippines goes through. But all that changed when we hit the shores of America. It was bait and switch.
In America, that groovy religion, turned into a Menonite-ish, Christian fundamentalist sect where we went to Meetings for hours every Sunday morning, and bible studies on Wednesday nights. It was a sect that did not allow us to associate with the worldly things that bring joy to everyday life. Worldly things such as swearing, gambling, dancing, laughing loudly, going to restaurants, dating, fucking before marriage, and even fucking during marriage (for purposes beyond procreation). They frowned on the media: radio, television, newspapers and magazines. Anything that detracted from constantly reading the bible was frowned on. By the time I was 18, I’d read the bible cover to cover, more times than I like to remember.
Long hair on men was forbidden; short hair on women was a sin; perfume and makeup on either women or men was a no-no, women wearing pants or holding jobs outside the home was frowned on; blue jeans were rebellion, and closely associating with anyone outside the Church was discouraged. Recreational vehicles (like motorcycles and snowmobiles) were a waste of time and money. Displays of wealth were scolded, as well as displaying too much intelligence or pride. If they could’ve found a way to outlaw cars, and make my family pull a riksha they probably would have.
We called ourselves “The Friends.” Our church didn’t have a name. I was instructed to tell my childhood classmates, if they asked, that my church was “non-denominational.”
Yeah, like that cleared things up. As if being the only Asian kid in Minnesota, in an elementary school full of six-foot tall, blond, Nordic kids didn’t make me weird enough. I had to tell them, in fancy terms, that my church didn’t have a name. Eventually, I told them I didn’t go to church. When they didn’t buy that I’d say I was Buddhist. The lies continued. At one point, in college, I told people I was a Zen Atheist. Not only did I not believe in god, but if I met god on a road, I’d have to kill him. If you get that joke, you must be into Zen.
Anyway. We met in peoples’ homes, usually in small groups of less than thirty. A few families, gathered together. There weren’t that many of us. Maybe a few thousand in all of Illinois. Primarily living in back roads farm towns that time forgot. You know those tiny towns you blow by, just off the interstate? The depressing tiny, one decaying grain elevator, two busted out streetlights, one aging grocery store former rail junctions, that you glimpse once, and then forget forever? Well the towns “The Friends” called home were twenty miles behind the ones you see from the highway. Located where the roads turn to gravel and dust. A place where a boy marrying his first cousin wasn’t just acceptable, but preferable.
At Sunday meeting and special conventions, we spoke to each other in “Thees and Thous,” the way the King James version of the bible is written, in the language of Shakespeare. Sometimes we kept it up all day, even when others in the church weren’t around.
“Ernie, could’st thou passeth the menudo?
“Mom, cant’st thou stoppest, Eleazar from hogging the bibinka?”
It felt like we were trying to live in the 1600’s. I felt like a freak.
Later, in a college sociology class, I found out that we were an offshoot sect of what everyone else called Quakers. Except we were known by the larger world as “Two By Twos.” And I knew then, that I really was a freak. There were only a handful of Asian Two By Twos in the world, at that time, primarily recruited through Missions in the Philippines. Two By Two missionaries, busy converting those heathen Catholics.
As a Two By Two, facial hair on men was unheard of (This is the first moustache and beard I’ve had in my entire life. It’s taken that long for me to get over it.). But what was strictly forbidden was the wearing of brightly colored clothes, speaking loudly, or anything else that drew attention to the individual.
Can you imagine being Filipino, and genetically predisposed to wearing gaudy, dramatic and colorful clothes, genetically predisposed towards drama and trying to be the center of attention, and not being able too express that?
It wasn’t easy, but I found a way. I began preaching the word of God. Giving my testimony to the Lord on high. Let me tell you how that happened.
Twice every summer, we’d go to convention with hundreds of others in “The Fold”. Convention was held on converted farms, where for three days, we’d would listen to 12 straight hours of droning biblical testimony in stifling, hot farm machine sheds, with pea gravel floors, while sitting on hard wooden folding chairs. Comfort was unheard of. Staying awake was almost impossible. Sweating like 70’s Elvis under Las Vegas spotlights was standard. But to suffer in the name of God, in service to God, is to be closer to God. I’d like to go into how suffering for any cause is both highly over-rated and an invented dogma of the powers that be, who seek to keep us down. But that’s another story.
On the convention farm, we’d sleep at night in mens’ and womens’ dorms, which were converted cattle and hay barns. The men’s dorm always reeked of hay, manure, after-shave and funky armpit. Scents which, for some bizarre reason, combined to create an odor hat really wasn’t half bad. Weird, but I still have fond memories of that choking stench.
Don’t ask me what the communal outhouses were like. Okay, I have to tell you. Picture a six-foot deep slit trench with a long wooden building pulled over it. In that building hang a dim 20-watt bulb above a long bench with a missing rear board. Where the board is missing, you hang your ass over the fetid darkness, and let it fly into the abyss. Shitting in the darkness, shoulder to shoulder with other soldiers of the Lord, the bench shaking with the exertion of a dozen men and boys, is a dear memory that will never leave me, despite years of hypnosis and therapy.
But let me get to my giving testimony to God.
Before you could give testimony in Sunday meetings, you were supposed to profess, before everyone at convention, your belief that Jesus was your savior and your life was in his hands.
When I was fourteen, at an evening meeting, which was bearable, because the heat of the sun no longer pounded on the metal roof of the shed, cooling evening breezes occasionally crept in, and mostly the singing of hymns occurred, I stood before my sisters and brethren, accepting Jesus as my savior. And I did believe. I did feel part of this larger spiritual presence. Part of the cosmic universe, but still separate. Probably, much like an assimilated Borg on Star Trek, the Next Generation.
I stood before all, as the hymn “Just As I Am” soared with our purified souls into the hot rafters.
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
The next morning, I was baptized by total immersion in a green, algae-soaked pond, rimmed with smiling Two By Twos on one side, and lowing cattle on the other. The Two By Twos boys, trying in vain to see through the wet dresses of theTwo By Two girls (They wore several slips and dresses, so nothing would show, but it was a treat to our hormonally deranged teen-aged minds to see them wet, anyway.)
Every Sunday thereafter, I stood and gave my compelling biblical testimony in front of the Meeting. Finally, I had the spotlight! I usually picked a verse from The Book of Psalms, because they were short, simple, didn’t require a lot of interpretation, and could be chosen during the thirty-minute car trip to Meetings. Testimony consisted of reading biblical verses and then giving your interpretation of what it meant to your life. My testimony usually went something like this.
“Jeremiah 4, Verses 4-5
“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.
Declare ye in Judah, and publish in Jerusalem; and say, Blow ye the trumpet in the land: cry, gather together, and say, Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the defenced cities.
And I’d follow with my thoughtful interpretation.
“After reading these verses, I long to follow the way of the Lord and the path of righteousness, because the path of evil brings destruction to my defenced cities. And I long to circumcise myself to the Lord, who will take away the foreskin of my heart.”
You know? It’s verses like that that really make me wonder about people who interpret the Bible literally. And don’t get me started on the inconsistencies.
Anyway, by the time I was 18, I’d had enough, I’d secretly read about 1000 novels and other forbidden books, and was soon to attend college in a town far, far away (2 hours away, way on the other side of Illinois) and I really wanted to experience life beyond “The Fold”, go to a movie, learn about other cultures besides that bucolic and content, Norman-Rockwell painting I’d been stuck in since I was a kid, make friends with people who’d never read the bible, and have me some sex with some hot college girls.
I knew about sex. My parents didn’t tell me about it, but I’d read “The Song of Solomon” hundreds of times in the bible.
Song of Solomon, chapter 4, verse 1-5.
“Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.
Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.
Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.
Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.
So, you see, I was more than ready for some hot, sweaty, mindless sex with a bird-eyed, co-ed, with goat hair, sheep teeth, pomegranate forehead, metal-covered neck, and young goat breasts.
And I’d seen some moldy, twenty-year old copies of Playboy that a neighbor kid kept high up in his tree house. This was before they showed much pubic hair, so you can imagine my surprise later when I witnessed how very hairy the body of a real woman can be.
In the summer before I went to college, I’d decided that I’d had enough. I stood up in church and stated, “ I believe that Jesus, Buddha, Quetzocoatel, Viracocha, and Mohammed were different emissaries from the same god.” You can imagine how well that went over in a room full of Christian fundamentalists. I left the church, and began my life of sin.
Now, it’s twenty years later. And I stand before you with a spiritual hole in my heart that has never been filled. No amount of mindless sex, heavy drinking, gluttonous gorging, or endless shopping sprees can fill it. I used to ignore it, and rationalize my way around it, but it is there, calling to be filled with something spiritual. Something called God and fellowship. Something that can’t be acquired through gluttony or purchase.
And I think about returning to The Fold, and becoming a Quaker again. Sure, there was a lot of controlling going on, but also intense caring for our fellow humans and devotion to each other. Those Two By Two I grew up with were the kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever known.
It would be like putting on an old worn, but comfortable and familiar coat. I could slip it on, and belong to something again. Something better and bigger than myself.
But then I recall how much fun it is to go to dinner, then a movie, have a couple drinks, maybe shoot some pool, and then engage in some really great sex outside of marriage (for purposes beyond procreation). And I think to myself, “I wonder what’s on sale over at Pottery Barn.”
About the Author
Eduardo Cruz Eusebio is an Editor of riksha.com. A former publisher-editor of magazines and newspapers. He has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Columbia College where he also taught fiction writing and small press publishing. Over the years, he has mentored successful publishers and writers, and is an award-winning fiction writer with publications in literary journals and magazines. The Chicago Reader in their annual fiction edition published his award-winning short story “Disappear”. Eduardo teaches creative writing inspired by the Story Workshop method, in the ongoing Riksha Writers Workshop, at the Midwest Buddhist Temple. Eduardo’s speech at the Banyan Asian American Writers Collective is also published in this issue of riksha.com.