My first convert to Christianity was Sarah Shapiro in the second grade. At least I thought I converted her.
After an exhausting evening drooling over her Playmobile mansion and American girl dolls, I shimmied under the sheets of her trundle bed. I wish I could reconstruct the dialogue. I was a huge fan of Jesus at the time so I’m sure I sold him hardcore. It likely didn’t feel much different than setting up a Fisher Price table at the end of my driveway and pawning off just-add-water paintings of Donald Duck to my senile neighbors.
Sarah was Jewish. And I was a strangely charismatic Catholic. I thought she was my best shot because she was only culturally Jewish. I mean, she didn’t even know we had half of the Children’s Bible in common. But she knew not to eat pork. And I knew you had best eat fish on Fridays.
I made sure she said the right words, specifically asking Jesus to come into her heart. That’s how my mom taught it to me, and it had stuck. Why wouldn’t this?
To be honest, maybe it did. But I have a feeling I was (and still am) a lousy evangelist. Not because I made any theological missteps at the age of seven that would have been critiqued by my fellow Zoobileezoo-loving friend. But because there were no roots to Sarah’s faith. There were, however, roots to her culture – daily, weekly, yearly reminders of her family’s tradition.
I think that’s why I’ll always be Catholic. Not because I defiantly received my first communion at the age of 5 or was home-schooled in catechism classes by the age of 11. But because I still use the “Hail Mary” as my breath prayer, I still expect sprinkled donuts after Sunday services, and I still have a wash of freckles across the bridge of my nose. And because my Nanny still says, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” when she’s real pissed.