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Oh Lord, Please Don't Burn Us

Underwriting support from:

Siona & Riley

Siona (6yrs) and Riley (9yrs) are the children of Erin & Amy Wilson.  They both attend GR Public Schools.  The Wilsons live a few blocks behind Wealth Theatre, on the Southeast side of Grand Rapids, in the 2nd Ward.

/Erin Wilson

/Erin Wilson

/Erin Wilson

Siona held a little blue book in her hand, as she slowly sauntered down the stairs.  A pocket book.  I could see it from across the room.  It somehow looked familiar but I couldn't place it.

I was anxious for what came next; Siona mostly saunters when she's done something wrong.

Through the haze of my morning head, I remembered: her room.  She was supposed to be cleaning her room.  You know, clean your room.  Move some stuff around.  Discover a shiny object.  Become terminally distracted.

I was gearing up to get my "parent" on.  Siona knew it.  She beat me to it.

"Papi?" she said, presumably batting her eyelashes.  "Can you… *read* this, to me?"

She held the little blue book high in front of her, clenched from the bottom by her thumb and index finger - the way you'd hold a cross to a vampire.

A cross - yes, yes, that was it.  The little blue book was a pocket-size copy of the Gospel According To Jesus Christ.  I was pleased with my ability to remember - I hadn't seen it for years.  It was technically Riley's (our nine-year old son) but Riley was technically an evangelical atheist, I don't know any other way to put it.  I think Riley's skin would start smoking if that book touched him.

Either way, why the h-e-double-hockey-stick was my six-year old daughter asking me to read her the New Testament?  How about Where's Coco Going?  Or Stinkyface?

"Isn't that book just tiny words?" I asked her.

"No, Papi!" she said.  "There are pictures!  But Papi?  Jesus looks weird in these pictures."

I can't always follow Siona's thinking, and sometimes, honestly, I'm scared.

I asked her to bring the book to me, which she did - I mainly wanted to confirm it was the King James version.  Bingo.  One chapter and she'd be happy to resume cleaning her room.

"Papi?" she asked.  "Can we go outside, and can I sit on your lap while you read to me, Papi?"

Girl melts me.  And as anyone on the SE side knows, the front porches are where it all goes down.  The food, the conversation, the music, the... reading of Scripture to Siona.

"Sure," I said, smiling, and off we went, outside on the porch.  I sat in one of our folding camping chairs and she climbed on my lap.  I opened the little blue book, as she nuzzled her head on my shoulder.

"The Gospel According to Jesus Christ," I began, turning the first page.

Siona took a deep breath, and slowly exhaled.

I could feel her nodding in agreement, against my shoulder.

"The real truth," she said, slowly.

I'm not making this up.  This is verbatim.

"Yeah," I said.  "Yes."

I began reading.

I had expected her attention to completely drift by the time I finished Matthew 1, with its antiquated King James dialect, the sequences of lineage, the names of the ancestors of John The Baptist.  I mean, I could barely comprehend what I was reading, myself.

But this girl - this six-year-old version of Bjork on nitrous oxide - found it gripping, and comforting.

I finished Matthew 4 without so much as a hint of boredom from Siona.  I, however, was starting to lose it: by the time I got to "blessed are the peacemakers," I began reading verses a la Monty Python's "Life of Brian."  Right out loud, to the whole neighborhood, in a falsetto cackle and bad English accent, "Blessed are the meek! Oh, I'm glad they're getting something, they have a heck of a time!" 

Siona smiled and nodded.

I wasn't trying to make a joke of it, I really wasn't.  I was raised a Christian.  I've sat through a thousand sermons, taken Communion many hundreds of times, and been baptized twice.  Regardless: once you've seen "Life of Brian" a certain number of times, "peacemakers" becomes "cheesemakers."  There is no going back.

I got serious as I began Matthew 6, about prayer.  As I read Jesus' instructions about how to pray, Siona slowly straightened up - slowly, like Noseferatu rising from the coffin.  She extended her hands up in the air in front of her, and drew them together, clasping her hands, and lowering them to her chest.  Praying. Really hard.

Whiskey.  Tango.  Foxtrot.

By this time, Riley had walked outside.  Great.  He had just awakened, I could see it in his eyes.

He saw us reading, and came closer, squinting his eyes and staring in disbelief.

"Siona!" Riley said, with disgust.  "OMG!"

Siona didn't care what his issue was: she wasn't having it.

"RILEY! We're reading about Jesus!  Or wait - no, wait."

She got quieter - she began whispering in my ear, so Riley couldn't hear her.

"Papi," she said, "I *always* get that mixed up: Papi, is Jesus God?  Or is God Jesus?"

I looked at her as if her head... had just rotated around 360 degrees.  This was the first time we ever talked about any of this!  Since when did she "always" get that part mixed up, about Jesus being God?  Since earlier this morning?  Since 45 seconds ago?

But she wasn't done.

"And the other thing that I always get confused," Siona continued, still whispering, "is why God is always standing in front of the letter 't'."

The letter… oh, no, she's talking about the crucifixion.

"The cross?" I asked.

"Yessss!" Siona said.  "That thing the black man stands in front of is a 'cross'."

Siona's primary exposure to the crucifixion of Christ… were paintings of Black Jesus.  Framed paintings on walls of homes we visited, meetings at churches where she accompanied me.  I tried to find comfort in the fact that it's probably more historically accurate; but I wasn't even halfway through my first cup of coffee, this was just too much, all at once.

"Well…" I started, fumbling for an explanation.

Riley was shaking his head, looking at me like I lost my mind.

I heard Jerry Seinfield's voice, saying, "Who are these people!?"

Riley took a step closer.

"Siona, you know that's all fake, right?" he asserted.  "None of that ever happened.  Please tell me you know that."

Again, Riley is nine years old.  For reasons I cannot explain, he has been a fundamentalist atheist since he was four-years old.  Any reference of Jesus Christ, or God, angels or the Holy Ghost… causes a reflex in him, which includes head-shaking and the "bleh" iteration of "Oh GOD."  Try it next time you see him.  He is allergic to religion like a diabetic to sugar, and I couldn't for the life of me tell you why.

Siona firmly demanded that Riley go away.  She sweetly asked me to continue reading.

"Con-tin-ue," she said, again nuzzling her head on my shoulder.

Riley shook his head.  He was really at a loss.

"You're only encouraging her," he chastised me, before walking away.

Correction: Riley is a 90-year old man in a nine-year old body.

I continued reading nonetheless, because nothing made sense anymore - I figured I'd keep reading the New Testament to my six-year old daughter until something made sense.

You know how… when Monty Python couldn't figure out how to end a sketch, they inserted a spontaneous detonation, and everything blew up, and then the word "fin" appeared on the screen?

Picture an explosion.


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 i love your children.

 "whiskey. tango. foxtrot."


Can I quote that later?

Very well written. Now (more than before) I have to go back and read your story about the water slide.

After a long day, this story cheered me up immediately. I love the contrast between your children - reminds me of my sister and me. Thanks for the smile. Great story!

i have found new life in this!  amazing!

and i have no idea how you did it.  i hid my daughter's under the bed...

such a great piece and had me reading and envisioning the whole porch scene. especially riley's allergic reaction. i am with marlee; i love your kids.

The fact that your children are free to be themselves says it all.  Their great kids and you're a great dad.


Erin, I enjoy your writing. This one in particular for a number of reasons...just wanted to say.

Nice work, but I must say that the the simile of a diabetic being allergic to sugar contradicts to the fact that a diabetic is allergic to sugar because they consume more than their body can metabolize. I mean no disrespect by that.