The Religion final is a surprise, as we had suspected, with none of the practice questions asked. Instead, the question ‘Is God dead?’ followed by ‘If you believe that, how has the demise of God and Church changed the world? If you dispute God’s death, how can you prove He is still alive?’
I mumble a curse under my breath, superstitiously careful not to take the Lord’s name in vain during a religion final. Jack has challenged me to respond to Professor Rhinehart’s questions. The first part of the question is aimed at those who agree with him that there is no spiritual world. Instead of ignoring it, I decide to respond by citing the tenets of our civilization that follow Jesus’s teaching of love and forgiveness. ‘Jesus is God, you know,’ I remind him. That is not going to win me points. It takes about an hour to list all the ways society follows Christian tenets. Next, I think about my own faith. Jace’s continued presence in so many people’s lives can be explained in non-spiritual terms – we honor him by remembering his example and enforcing his dictum to ‘protect the young.’ I write that I’m divinely inspired to pursue good works in his memory. Instead of saying it is Jace who is my guardian angel, I call him Teen Jesus.
For a conclusion, I observe that many people are dispirited with the secular world. The Church’s history of failing to meet the spiritual needs of its followers is not a conscious policy but the misplaced assumption of the believers’ ignorance. Proscribing a litany of rules to follow has resulted in corruption within the institution, as clergy mistake their own prejudices as the proper path to Jesus. Interference in politics and education has led to a distrust of the Church’s motivations. As history proves the Church wrong, such as with Galileo, the inability to admit error (infallibility) makes obfuscation and outright lying necessary to protect the Church’s role and assets in the secular world. The agony and ecstasy of individual worship remains unsullied, yet the secular activities and political wheeling and dealing besmirch the Church’s reputation and prevent it from fulfilling its mission of bringing the word of God to its believers. As a result, lay people, (i.e. Joan of Arc and Mother Teresa of Calcutta), arise from the masses to convey God’s message. Those with trusting hearts respond naturally to these organic and sustainable messages. Disbelievers are required to reexamine their beliefs when miraculous events or lives are made known.
I write a personal passage to finish my essay: ‘I believe in Teen Jesus because he is a parable of the actual Jesus. My best friend suffered and died but is kept alive in my heart because I believe he is a supernaturally inspired person. Not just in music, where he was a genius and prodigy, but in his love for others. This parable played out in the 1975 Easter mass at St Patrick’s in New York City. As we played the music we loved each other so much that his spirit was absorbed into the crucifix above the altar. As I played ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond,’ dozens of small diamonds burst forth from the crucifix. Teen Jesus is unlike the actual Jesus, in that he is not perfect and sin free. He is like all young people, confused and isolated. He felt no one loved him, until he loved me. Then, everyone with whom he came into contact loved him back. All this discussion about religion and theology will never sway my total belief and love of Teen Jesus. He lives on in my heart, next to the Jesus of my Confirmation.’
It is more than I had planned to write. I am not sure if just boycotting the final under the name of Teen Jesus would be more effective. I am just glad to get it off my chest. I do not despise Professor Rhinehart. I just wish he was not teaching Religion.
I walk out of the classroom with an hour to spare. Wandering off campus I soon find myself at St Paul’s. I can hear the raucous sound of rock guitar and drums emanating from the basement classroom. I walk in on the boys rehearsing for their Christmas party debut. Father John is there.
“I thought I’d come by and encourage the boys,” I explain my prohibited attendance to their training.
“You’re a welcome guest,” he smiles.
“So, this is the band?” I ask, once they let me loose.
“Pretty much, although there are a few secret members who may show up for the party,” Liam announces. Father John looks perturbed but says nothing.
“You’re all coming to the party, right?” Kevin confirms.
“We’ll all be here. Are you guys ready to rock out?”
“Well, it’s mostly dance music – early rock.”
“Let’s see your dance moves.”
They look chagrined. “We mostly just stand there. It’s hard to play and move around.”
“Are you sure? I find it hard to play and not move around. What’s keeping you from dancing.”
“We’ll look like geeks.”
“You don’t think you look geeky just standing there while everyone is dancing?”
They just look at each other.
The drummer, Keith, jumps up. “I knew you guys were lame just standing there. Let me show you how to do it.”
He goes to center stage, while I grab an extra guitar. Keith asks me to play a dance song. I start “Shout,’ the Easily Brothers song covered by the Beatles.
Keith goes crazy at first, swinging his arms and running around, then he slows it down by squatting while still moving, and finally going totally crazy. He is a total 12-year-old. Kevin and Liam start playing with me. I turn off their amps. They throw down the guitars and join Keith running around, shouting and waving their arms. When I finish, I ask, “You don’t seem afraid to act geeky together?”
They cannot stop moving and shaking.
“Okay. Now play it and move with the song. Just let your body go and don’t think about it.”
It takes a few minutes, but soon they find their natural rhythm and seem less disjointed and more in synch.
“I wish I were half as good a teacher as you are.”
“No. They need someone who’s here all the time. Have you been practicing that English soccer song?”
“Yeah. It’s easy for me. The beat is perfect.”
“The kids will be amazed when you rock out tomorrow night.”
He grins from ear to ear.
The rest of the Mower gang is waiting for me to go to lunch. Jack takes my arm and has a suggestion for the Christmas party.
“I want to do a hymn, the prayer of St Francis, in honor of Father Frank. It’s called ‘Make me a Channel of your Peace.’
“That sounds like a buzz killer,” I quip, making Jack looked pained. I quickly reverse course. “Of course, we can do it. Best to make it a benediction to start the party. Let’s practice it before we eat.”
We all go to the boiler room. Jack knows the hymn and soon teaches all of us. I am stuck on drums, Jill on Bass, Jack on his Moog, while Minehan sings and is lead guitar. He admits he learned the hymn as a little kid. The 3D girls will be the choir backing David. What a somber way to celebrate the end of finals.
After eating, there is a note on our dorm door for me to report to Professor Rhinehart’s office. It doesn’t take a genius to realize I am in trouble again, my first week back. At least, I have my apartment in Hollywood to fall back on. Leaving Harvard will be a relief. Then, I think about Jack and regret my impetuosity. Jack volunteers to come with me. David and the girls insist they come to wait outside for my sentence.
“You don’t need to be here, Mr. Stone,” Professor Rhinehart accedes to Jack’s privileged status, “but you may have something to add.” Addressing me, “I’ve read your final and want to discuss what you assert. After our confrontation at the beginning of the semester, I hoped we would civilly discuss our disagreement about the Bible. Unfortunately, I never saw you in class again.”
“I felt I was too much of a distraction. Dean Epps put us on notice that our continued misbehavior would be cause for expulsion.”
“In no way did we mean to attack you, Professor. I do stand by my belief that you denigrate God by refusing to recognize the role that faith plays in religion. And, your hair looks better.”
“Unlike most freshmen, you seem fully capable of standing up for your principles. After reading your final, I want to offer you a position as teaching assistant in next semester’s Beginning Religion class.”
We look shocked. “I’ll be on work/study next semester, but I’ll be honored to do it next fall. Is it a paid position?”
“I’ll have to wait, then. It is not a paying TA position but you will not have to pay tuition that semester.”
“My dad will be so pleased.”
“Fine. Now that that is settled. Please explain how this ghost thing works,” he still does not believe me.
“I am not disputing your faith but it must be strong to feel the spirit of Teen Jesus, as well as the need to be young at heart.”
“So, I’m excluded?”
“Well, you’d have to see the humor in all your notes seeming to fly up and away during our confrontation.”
“No. Teen Jesus was going crazy from you disputing his existence.”
“You really believe a ghost was flying around my lecture hall, disrupting my class?”
“And how do you control this ghost?”
“There is no controlling Teen Jesus. He’s fifteen years old. You may not want him back if you hire me as a TA.”
“On the contrary. I’m most anxious to meet him.”
“He just showed up,” Jack announces.
“You can sense him.”
“More than that, we see him and can speak with him telepathically.”
“This is so 17th Century,” Professor Rhinehart exclaims.
“Welcome to the Ghost of Harvard Past.’
I look for any glow of belief around the professor. None is evident.
“Will he behave in my class next fall?”
“You understand how hard it is to accept your explanation?”
“That’s not important. What Teen Jesus wants is for the kids to be protected by the Church. Other than that, he’s just happy to be with me. All our friends accept him. He teaches them how to play music. You should come to St Paul’s Christmas party tomorrow night. You can see him in action.”
“Okay. I’m giving you an A for the course because faith is important, more important than attending my lectures. We’ll be there tomorrow but my wife will think I’m crazy.”
“Is that new?” I joke.
Outside the office, our friends are anxious to see if I have finally been expelled.
“He hired Tim to be a TA next fall,” Jack announces.
Jack insists we celebrate the end of finals at the Ritz. I convince him to invite the Irish Step Dance crew from St Peter’s Parish in Dorchester. The alternative is to go to the Rat after dinner. He quickly accedes. I contact the security guard at the Ritz who is pleased to arrange for the kids to attend. Jack books a private dining room at the Ritz. I’m disappointed that our impromptu serenading of the main dining room will be skipped. We decide not to dress in formal wear, so the St Peter kids will feel comfortable. I invite Father John and Dr Marier to attend, hoping it will encourage more involvement between the choir boys and the Irish Step Dancers. The girls are disappointed not to be wearing their prom dresses.
Our dinner group has expanded to twenty attendees, including the St Peter youth leader. He is pleased to meet the St Paul’s Choir teachers, cross-river diplomacy. The meal is exquisite. We seat everyone so the college kids are next to the junior high dancers. Everyone toasts ‘Mummy’, our patron. Jack turns red as usual. Father John says Grace. Everyone crosses themselves then promptly forgets being polite. The noise level amps up, as no one is shy. One Dorchester boy stands up on his chair, stomping to get our attention, and sings ‘Jingle Bell Rock.’
I stifle my tears, remembering Jace teaching that song when caroling with the swim kids. Jace appears, flying around and touching all the kids on the head. The whole room glows. Father John explains Jace to the other two adults. They raise their wine glasses and toast ‘Teen Jesus.’ Jace explodes into a burst of mistletoe which hangs above everyone. All the girls get kissed, Minehan making a big production of kissing Carol. Jack and I kiss Jill on either cheek. Then the three of us males kiss the remaining 3D girls. The adults shake their heads, whispering about what each of them is seeing.
“It’s not a miracle,” I assert. “It’s just Jace playing Teen Jesus. He likes kissing. He’s fifteen.”
The junior high kids cheer. The boy who started it all sits there with a smug look at what he instigated.
The step dancing goes well. Jack quickly learns how to turn tap dancing skill into Irish step. I remain left-footed, exasperating my 14-year-old partner. I improve a little bit but soon have rotating partners. The girls don’t have much patience with me. The security guards are celebrating at the side, with a hidden whiskey bottle making frequent appearances. Minehan and I go over to join them, but the mystery bottle fails to appear. We are suppressing their celebration. The two of us go up to the Ritz’ roof, reliving earlier nights up there.
He punches me lightly on the arm, “You know how to rile us up,” he admits.
I put an arm around him and squeeze, much to his discomfort. I let him go.
“Y’all need rilin’ once in a while,” I proclaim.
“Ya ain’t comin’ back here, are ya?” he asks.
I realize he’s right. “I wanna,” I admit, “but I have a life in Hollywood. It’s my destiny. How about you? Ready to be more than a sneaking-in freshman.”
“I’m glorious, like you. No need to move ‘cross country. But back to Waltham seems just as far.”
“Y’all gonna abandon my boyfriend?”
“Jack needs to grow up some more. Won’t he follow you out there?”
“It’s too easy for him to play second fiddle to me. He has to find his own path.”
“Four years at Harvard seems like a lifetime. He needs to give up that god-awful MOOG.”
“Maybe he can be his own string quartet and join the Hayden Society.”
“I’m working on my third movie and playing in pick-up punk bands. I can’t ignore real opportunities.”
“Jack’ll follow you, ya know.”
“Naw. I’s East Coast born and raised. The Rat’s my future.”
“Don’t set you sights too high,” I joke.
“Yah. We’ll carry on. When I’m fifty, I can join a real band and rescue them from rock obsolescence.”
“A true rocker in your own rocking chair.”
“Thanks. Let’s go back to the party before we get maudlin.”
“You learned that word at Harvard?”
Soon it’s Saturday afternoon and time to get to St Paul’s. The kids need encouragement, playing their first show. Father John is also ready for his new role as folk rocker. My promotion to Religion TA has me bursting with the need to preach. I decide to dedicate the party to Father Frank’s Franciscan roots. I ask Father John if our band can do the benediction including a hymn. He completely gets me now. I promised not to play ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’
The parish hall is decked out in Christmas decorations, with punch and cookies set up in the back. It reminds me that the audience is all pre-teens. Kevin, Liam, Keith, and the bassist (who’s name I’ve forgotten) are surrounded by most of the girls who have been invited. The boys are too busy basking in the glory of the girls’ attention to be nervous about their show. When we start setting up on stage, the boys and their followers rush to the front of the stage, peppering us with questions about what we plan to play. We just ignore them, knowing they will be disappointed to hear we are just doing the benediction. Dr Marier is pleased that his boys are excited about a hymn. It’s time to start – 4 pm. I see Professor Rhinehart and his wife standing in the back with Dr. Marier.
“Hello. Welcome to St Paul’s and the annual Christmas party for the choir school. Nice to see girls here today,” I step up to the mic. The kids cheer my mention of girls.
“This fall, Dr Marier welcomed our Harvard band to introduce rock n roll to his boys’ choir. I know he had concerns that our music may not be spiritual enough to play in Church. On our first day, Kevin and Liam were the only students. Tonight I am so proud of them and their band for their amazing progress on guitar. I know they will make this party rock.”
The kids all cheer as Kevin waves to his new fans. Liam just looks happy. Keith can’t stop from doing a short Irish jig.
“Their enthusiasm reminds me of the good priest who guided Jack and me as we found our ability to play like you boys. Father Frank heard my confession on Good Friday before we played Easter mass at St Patrick’s in New York. I was shaking in my boots that he would not bless me and relieve me of my many sins. Father Frank knew that my heart was pure and soon I was telling my dad that his list of complaints had been expunged. Father Frank is a Franciscan. I would like all of us to bow our heads as I recite the St Francis d’Assisi prayer,” I pause, as the kids are shocked to be praying at a party. What did they expect? We are at Church.
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sew love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.”
I skip the second verse of the prayer. The first verse is enough to think about.
“Now our band is going to play a hymn based on the St Francis prayer.” I walk over to the drums, as Jack plays a moody intro on the MOOG, and David thunders with the guitar chords and sings ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’
“Get up here, boys. We played a hymn, now let’s see you play rock n roll.”
The girls all scream and rush back to the front of the stage. The kids take their instruments back, Kevin counts off, one-two-three-four’ and he speaks the intro to ‘Do You Love Me’
‘You broke my heart ’cause I couldn’t dance, You didn’t even want me around. And now I’m back to let you know I can really shake ’em down’
Songwriters: BERRY GORDY JR, BERRY, JR GORDY © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
The kids instantly react moving back from the stage and showing off their dance moves. The girls are dancing with each other, as the boys watch. A couple of girls make their move and pick out the boys they have their eye on.
Liam takes the mic and shows his rockabilly roots with ‘Rock Around the Clock’
His guitar skills have taken off. The girls and some boys rush up to the stage. A couple of girls are jitterbugging together. The boys see their opportunity and grab girls who were moving by themselves and get them to swing with them.
Kevin drags Jack’s MOOG out to the mic, hitting the keys and singing Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’
I think Dr Marier is going to have a heart attack. Father John calms him down as several black kids take over the dance floor, swinging their partners around and then grabbing new ones from the shocked onlookers. Pretty soon everyone is dancing.
Kevin takes the mic. “We have a surprise. Our girlfriends are going to sing ‘Stop in the Name of Love,” as three twelve-year-old girls jump up on stage, blushing furiously. They line up side by side and have obviously practiced their hand movements.
After an hour of non-stop dancing, the band takes a break. They rush by us, with by their new fans/groupies – the wages of rock. I wave at them with a thumbs up. I turn to Father John.
“They won’t be denied,” he laughs.
Dr Marier comes over and compliments me on the benediction. “I’ve always favored the Franciscans. They understand the mission of the Church is not to glorify Christ with riches but to provide spiritual help to the poor.”
“Father Frank understood me and made me comfortable in the Church after I had a bout of Baptist fever.”
“There was a trace of revivalism in your benediction,” he laughs.
“Wait until you hear Father John play and sing.”
“Really? I didn’t know.”
“You’ll be pleased. Maybe next time you can do a duet.” I look for some glow surrounding him. He is still a work in progress.
Few adults can feel Jace’s presence. It makes me wonder why he is not here. He instantly arrives.
“You didn’t tell me,” he complains. “Tommy’s latest girlfriend refuses his advances, unless he renounces me. She’s a work in progress.”
“You missed the boys. They were great. There’ll be a second set. Then Father John is singing ‘Hallelujah.’
“Which version? Tim Buckley or that Jewish guy.”
“The folk one, Leonard Cohen.”
“But he’s Jewish.”
“So am I,” Teen Jesus proclaims, and then thoughtfully reflects, “Maybe my conversion will allow me to grow up.”
“Not exactly a sound basis for conversion.”
The kid band comes back out, girl groupies in tow at the front of the stage.
Kevin grabs the mic, “Welcome back. We want to slow it down and make it a bit more romantic.”
The girls sigh as the boys sing to them.
“Here’s Richie Valen’s ‘Donna,’
None of the girls want to dance, as they sway in front of Kevin, their twelve-year-old idols. Liam comes up and sings the chorus with Kevin, not one to lose the spotlight. They discuss the next song. It’s a Richie Valens love fest with ‘We Belong Together’
Enough about love. The next song veers into Jan and Dean’s ‘Deadman’s Curve’
The boys know that a bad boy image is killer. The girls’ hearts are breaking.
Next is the Standells song about our hometown, ‘Dirty Water’
The girls think it’s an original song by the boys. It’s time for the finale. I jump onto the stage, taking the mic from the boys.
“Boston. You are my home. And here at St Paul’s there’s a talent you never suspected. Welcome our own Father John and his folk guitar to remind us all we’re still at church. You all know the chorus. So sing along.”
‘I’d heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well, it goes like this
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
All the kids are stunned. The boys choir all joins in on the choruses, ‘hallelujah, hallelujah.’ The girls are surprised at the turn of the music. I join Father John at the mic.
“We all can be together because the music moves us. Here’s a song that is new and says what we really feel.” The good father rocks out on the guitar leads while I sing.
‘For once in my life I’ve got something to say,
I wanna say it now for now is today.
A love has been given so why not enjoy,
So let’s all grab and let’s all enjoy!
If the kids are united, Then we’ll never be divided.
If the kids are united, They will never be divided.’
Songwriters ALEXANDER WILKE, D. PARSONS, J. PURSEY
Published by Lyrics © CACOPHONY LIMITED
I sing the next verse and the band runs on stage with their girlfriends and start singing with Father John and me. The kids in front of the stage have their arms around each other and are repeating the one-line chorus. We play it over and over. It’s a show stopper.