Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
End over end neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life.

Words and music by Paul Craft, sung by Bobby Bare

I was bound to be religious, looking back. Significantly, my earliest memory is of a church. We lived in a village called Broughton, and I recall being in a church being bothered by a wasp or other bothersome flying thing and my father taking me outside. There was a pretty country lane, hedges and meadows teeming with life, and to complete the idyllic pastoral scene, there was of course the inevitable burbling brook. I would have been about two years old.

As good Anglicans, my folks duly made sure that my religious education was complete. There was Sunday School and church, the occasional saying of grace at the dinner table, and I recall being taught several prayers for use at bedtime. I was no Christopher Robin - I don't remember saying my prayers every night, but I do remember asking God to look after Mummy and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa. I just wasn't entirely sure who I thought I was talking to.

I also remember being scared by a couple of these prayers. They had a quality that I'm not sure my Mum and Dad had thought about, and as a wee kiddy of 6, thoughts of possible doom or death weren't exactly always conducive to good sleep. Take this example:

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head;
One to watch, and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away

I wasn't entirely clear on what my soul was at that time, but one thing was clear - it was something I needed in order to be able to go about my daily duties of squashing worms on the pavement, opening up dead mice to see what was inside, scrumping and jumping my bicycle over huge piles of builder's sand, planks and debris. I didn't want any angels taking my soul away, thank you very much.

The other was scarier still:

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Are you kidding? "If I should die"? This was supposed to make me feel better about God, and Jesus and so on? It's quite clear that I wasn't ready to think about death. Death was for insects, hedgehogs and such. I knew (thanks to the BBC) that occasionally death happened to other people far away. The one thing I didn't need was reminding that I was mortal. "Nearer My God to Thee"? No thanks, I'm just a kid.

I loved Sunday School, though. I loved getting those little stickers to fill in sticker books, I thrilled whilst remembering that it was Moses in the burning bush. Or God, talking to Moses, I got confused on the details, but I was just a child, for pity's sake. I also have vague memories of peering down the front of the teacher's dress, which for a seven-year-old could make for quite a memorable day. All this was to change as I grew up to the point where I could be safely shuffled off to boarding school.

Preaching to the choir

Make me, oh make me, Lord more than I am
Make me a piece in your master game plan
Free from the earthly tempestion below

I’ve got the will, Lord if you’ve got the toe.

I was ten years old, thrust into this dreadful place where I was forced into a school uniform that included a cap, for goodness' sake. We had Religious Education, in which we were told how lucky we were to be part of the True Christian Church, destined for Heavenly Salvation, unlike the unwashed heathen, doomed to eternal torment in the fiery Hell that was still rather fashionable in some Christian circles.

Then there was choir practice, if you were lucky enough. It was mostly fun, and we got to listen to the Headmaster playing the organ in the school hall, which sounds only slightly grander than it was. But the really best bit was getting dressed up in our red cassocks ("the Devil's colour", I once heard a visiting vicar announce), spotless white surplices and saw-like starched ruffs to trot up to Saint Peter's Church in the village for morning worship and evensong every Sunday. It was a treat, there were buns afterward, and it was a pleasant change from running around the rugger pitch for hours in the freezing cold. This wasn't to say that there was no downside. Other than chafed necks, there was the sermon, which lasted for a good hour, I swear. It was pretty easy stuff mostly, along the lines of "...I was reading Beatrix Potter to my son the other night...and it reminded me of Jesus...". There was enough of the "Ten Commandments" preaching, but this was generally gentle stuff, for the family audience. Which wasn't to say that he didn't occasionally look at the boys with a withering glance as he expounded on Scripture with a topic of "obedience" We were sometimes the Devil's children when out of our cassocks.

All the boys were obliged to attend service on Sundays and high holidays, and generally, they did so with good grace. There was just one exception that I recall, a lad who was with us for just one term, and who was browner than us. He must have been one of the unwashed heathen we heard about, though it was rumoured that his father was a prince of somewhere exotically foreign. Certainly he put more stamps on his weekly letters home than did the rest of us. I didn't notice that he lived in dreadful fear of Hell, but maybe he just didn't think it applied to him.

This was generally that gentle Christianity given to the privileged Englishman at the time, along with the assumption that God was, of course, British. Did our National Anthem not repeatedly implore "God Save The Queen"? We just assumed that He played cricket on his days off, so when He wasn't the benevolent white-bearded chap sitting on the throne, He was in whites, neatly clipping fours off Jesus' slow bowling. Fear God? Only if you didn't play with a straight bat.

The Good Book

Bring on the brothers who’ve gone on before
And all of the sisters who’ve knocked on your door
All the departed dear loved ones of mine
And stick ’em up front in the offensive line.

So my middle-school days passed in a blur of rugger, choir practice, Latin declension, getting caned, and being rotten at maths. But I loved to read, and to everyone's great surprise (including mine own), I started to read the Bible. From cover to cover. I can't recall quite why (might have been the stories of Samson and his slaying Philip Stein with the jawbone of an ass), but once I got through all the "begats" it was good fun. Reading that ...Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug: And Reu lived after he begat Serug two hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters... made me want to go to sleep. God knows (well, he would...) how many times the word begat appears in the Bible, but it's exactly n-1 times too many for this reader.

As time went on, it was increasingly the Christian Bible that guided my thinking, though I wasn't what you'd call "religious". I was more concerned with the broader, ethical issues than the mere moral choices, more upset over short-sighted rules-based thinking. The Ten Commandments I had memorised, but beyond not coveting my neighbours tuckbox contents, they didn't seem to have much to say about everyday life. Adultery was out of the question for the time being, and honouring my father and mother? Well, that was a move of self-preservation - if I didn't write the weekly letter home, I was in for it.

"Don't steal, don't lie" — that pragmatic part of Christianity made sense to me, unlike the seemingly endless war over whether Jesus wanted us to make the sign of the cross or the teaspoon. Genuflect when approaching the altar, Trinty or not-Trinity. Fish on Fridays was de rigeur in school, for some vague religious reasons, but once outside the gates, I had no compunction about eating any of God's creatures, provided they were dead. After all, it wasn't written in the book, so why should I be concerned? To me, the choices were personal, what you believed was mine, or yours, and no-one else's. In later years, I was to become one of the dreaded Jehovah's Witnesses, and my Bible knowledge would come in very handy.

They were tough years, though. I'd joined the Witnesses after a mundane caesura of drink, tobacco, politics and fornication, and giving all that up required a great deal of self-control and above all, desire to be a Good Christian. And so it went. Ten years of three meetings a week. And hours of Bible study. And Watchtower study. And door-to-door ministry. And prying elders and "putting on the new personality" and so on and on and on. Then I remembered that Christianity wasn't about rules, it was about principles, and I left them and their suit-and-tie cookie-cutter Watchtower-clonism.

West meets East

Yeah, Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
End over end neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life.

I started to look around at the differing non-Christian beliefs, and for the first time I seriously, consciously noticed something they all had in common. I sat in the middle of this web of spirituality, the old Christian ethic of "do unto others as you would have others do unto you" meeting the same thought in Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism. Now it was time for some serious thinking. I had long held that that I was more comfortable with "live and let live" than interference, letting the universe dictate what I should do. Reading books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Tao of Pooh I soon found that the philosophy I had thought mine own was expounded in much greater depth, poetry and antiquity in Taoism, Buddhism and the "Eastern" philosophies. Now I saw the ebb and flow of life as a more dynamic thing, and rather than the unidirectional (seemingly narrow) Christian road, life was a river, diverse, full of life, chaos, light. Fish. No more the feeling of being forced into a mould, of all the "thou shalt/shalt not..." with all the constraints and constrictions. "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free..." is what it says at John 17:17, and it was so true for me.

They say that Jesus was a Gay Black Hippie Jew - to which I add "Secret Buddhist", because if the Bible is right in what it says there, then being set free for me was realising that there's a middle way between the Christian way and no-god. Recognising that the world is immensely more complex, and that one's religion is still based on a kind of geographical lottery, I relinquished even the narrowest smidgen of thinking that there might be a "True Religion". I still hear them, crying or shouting about infidels, both sides equally wrong or right, and I despise those who demand obedience to some rule of law, with implied threats attached - as Einstein once said "If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.". Sorry, Fred Phelps and your type, but I reckon that the God you profess to follow would have you hate the sin, not the sinner.

I smile at the sides in the religious debate trying to score points off one another. Fundamentalist Christians oppose fundamentalist Moslems, who in turn hate the Jews, and frankly sometimes I'm hard put to tell the difference. Both use bombs and bullets, spin their tales of horror and hate to their own captive media. Creation Science meets the Scientific Skeptic and the internet chuckles to itself gently, as no one group has the monopoly on truth or humanity or happiness. I'm a little pagan, a tad heathen, more than a little Buddhist and very, very happy. I gaze in horror at the rules-based religion that so many fundies would have us live by — live and let live, I say. Drop kick me, Jesus? Sounds like a lot of hard work to me.

† Imagine my amazement to find that "...Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug..." is available on a t-shirt. DAMN. http://tinyurl.com/2knnas
‡ Tempest of temptation, possibly. Some sources suggest that Bobby Bare's rendition may have been a slip of the tongue, and that he meant to sing "temptation". I don't think so - he seems very clear on the word.

Did I mention that it's an earworm?

Junkill says re Drop Kick Me Jesus, Through The Goalposts Of Life: I remember this song! Some Southern Baptists were offended by it because they thought it made light of religion. So, a sequel, "Spitball Me Jesus Over the Home Plate of Life" was created.

Comic relief supplied by Landover Baptist Church, available at http://www.landoverbaptist.org, and by cracked.com.

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